Behind The Brand: Raven Thomas, CEO of The Painted Pretzel
"At first, I didn’t want to do it. I thought, 'Why would they pick me? I just make chocolate-covered pretzels. It’s not anything glamorous." - Raven Thomas, The Painted Pretzel
There are entrepreneurs and then there are business savvy, mini-moguls who appear on Shark Tank, command the respect and business partnership of heavy hitters such as Mark Cuban and land a life changing --deal of a lifetime overnight. Meet Raven Thomas. She is all of these and much more. I had the pleasure of learning about the woman Behind The Brand. She is genuine, Godly, humble, the wife of retired NFL player Eric Thomas and mother to two young boys. Raven is the Founder and CEO of The Painted Pretzel. Haven’t heard of her genius business and delicious brand? Get acquainted and get motivated!
Name: Raven Thomas
Husband: Eric Thomas
Anniversary: June 24, 2000
Occupation: Entrepreneur (thepaintedpretzel.com)
Husband’s Tenure and Teams: Started with the Jaguars, Buccaneers
Children: Two. Jeremiah (10), Aaron (8)
Cities You've Lived in with NFL: Jacksonville and Tampa
Favorite place to visit: San Diego
Your first car: Ford Contour
Music on your playlist: Adele and old school music like LL Cool J. I have a mix of old and new
Hobbies: I like to workout/exercise! CrossFit, Orange Theory Fitness and running sprints are my speed!
Your favorite memory: The day I met my husband.
LM: Where are you from originally and how did you get to where you are now?
RT: I’m from Atlanta, Ga. I arrived in Arizona because of my husband’s work.
LM: How did you and your husband meet? What’s your love story?
RT: We met at a party our freshman year of college at FSU. We started talking because neither one of us were dancing and I wasn’t the type to have boyfriends. But he was different; we didn’t see each other again face to face for like a year. My friend used to be lab partners with another football player so I would have her spy in class. When they would do work, she would spy (on him). Fast forward to a few months later, we had a class together over the summer. Once we had that class together, the rest was history…that was 20 years ago.
ON THE NFL:
LM: What are some of the challenges of being married to an NFL player and what do you like about it?
RT: Well, we got married when we were 24 so we were young. A challenge for me was not being able to settle down in a way. We lived in Jacksonville but then we lived in Tampa. NFL sent him to NFL Europe and then he came back so it’s just very unstable. That part is hard. I ended up going back to school and getting my Masters but not when I wanted to because of the instability. When I did go back, I was flying back and forth. He wasn’t a superstar so it was more like “will he have a job next week?” and that part is also tough to deal with. It is stressful. He was in the NFL for two years and then he played (in the) arena league. He had a stable contract with arena and he was very good at that. Of course the fact still remains that one injury could cause you to lose your job. When Eric left the game, he left on his own. His transition was very easy in that he didn’t long to play anymore.
LM: What is one piece of advice you can give to other women that you wish you would have known prior to your husband playing in the league?
RT: Probably that it’s not what I expected. I don’t know what I expected but I know it wasn’t that. Expect the unexpected! For a few families it’s different, but for the masses it is not glamorous!
LM: Do you believe there are any misconceptions or stereotypes of NFL WAGS? If so, what is your view?
RT: Yes. I think that a lot of times WAGS are seen as gold diggers or just trying to “come up”, get a meal ticket or are in it for the glamour (of it all). I remember someone told me, “Oh, you came up.” That was funny because we’ve been together since he was on the bench at FSU. Sometimes that (“come up”) does happen but overall with most of the women I’ve met, that’s not the case. The other misconception is that these women live off their husbands which is also not true.
ON SHARK TANK:
Editor’s Notes: The Painted Pretzel partnered with Mark Cuban for $100,000 in return for 25% equity in the pretzel business. Result – The Painted Pretzel is selling in hundreds of stores and has partnered with Landmark Theaters thanks to Mark Cuban.
LM: Let’s talk about your business, The Painted Pretzel for a moment. Tell us how your idea came about and what the journey has been like?
RT: Well, it came about by me going to a spa. Clarification, my sister worked at a spa. The owner would make little snacks around holiday time (Thanksgiving, I believe) where she would have little chocolate-covered pretzels and candies but I recall thinking that she could do better than that. I also liked the idea of giving them as Christmas gifts because I was pregnant with my second child and didn’t want to spend any money on gifts. I did it and everyone liked them, like a lot! Because I am a perfectionist -I said to myself that I need a website (probably didn’t need one at the time) but, people started buying them and it started to grow from there. After that, I thought maybe I could sell them in a store so I took the pretzels to a candy convention in Chicago and I received really big orders from all these stores. It was never my plan to have a business.
LM: Talk about the Shark Tank experience and how that came about?
RT: I hadn’t seen the show before. My father-in-law watched it and suggested I watch it and try to get on the show. At first, I didn’t want to do it. I thought, “Why would they pick me? I just make chocolate-covered pretzels. It’s not anything glamorous.” I ended up sending in an email to the show explaining my business. I didn’t hear back for nearly a year. I had completely forgotten about even wanting to be on the show. One day, the casting director for Shark Tank called me to see if I was still interested. They had already made their choices for the season I applied to but they had saved my application. I almost thought it was a joke it was so random. I still had to send in my video because I hadn’t done that yet (I had only sent an email). My husband filmed me in our home kitchen. It was hilarious! To this day, I think they picked me because they said this girl cannot be serious. It was unedited. My husband filmed it on his way out the door- one take and that was it, we sent it in.
LM: What role does Mark Cuban play in your business and how has it been working with him?
RT: He’s not involved with the day-to-day operations of the business. He gave me money and if ever I need to contact him, I send him an email and he will respond really quickly. He has a million people who work for him (marketing etc.) so whatever you need; it’s readily available. At this point, most of our things are made at a huge candy factory. They’re not technically my staff but they make it for me. I have one person who really helps me with the day to day. I’m very hands on and I am a perfectionist so there is still a lot about our business that I like to oversee. Most of the manufacturing details, I hand off elsewhere.
LM: How did the Shark Tank episode affect your business?
RT: It’s funny because I made the deal in June but, my episode didn’t air until February. No one knew and I couldn’t tell anyone. For that period of time I ran my business as normal. Literally the moment after it aired, my business grew 1500%! I knew right when my segment aired because my sales jumped immediately! Just being on Shark Tank alone, my business grew. From there, it’s just continued to grow. I’ve been in over 6000 stores and before the show I was in all the Neiman Marcus stores. After, I was in TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and then doors opened to where I had to actually decline offers. I’ve been in movie theaters also! Before the show, I was getting turned away from some places. That part is shocking, really.
LM: It sounds like the show really catapulted your business!
RT: Being in front of millions of people changes things. Customers are calling, emailing and ordering. It wasn’t this beautiful, lovely thing. It was actually just chaos! It was wonderful and terrible at the same time because it was just so much to deal with. I think my episode is the most-aired on CNBC. I could not pay for that kind of publicity. People ask me, how do you get on? And I say “I don’t know.” During my season, somewhere around 34,000 people applied.
LM: What do you think makes you different?
RT: I think I’m just not afraid to fail. When I went on Shark Tank, I kept getting asked if I was nervous. The only moment I was nervous was when I walked down that long hallway when they call your name. I just didn’t want to fall! Once I got to my spot, I was fine. I did care if they gave me a deal but not to the point where it would change anything. For me, I’m not living by someone else’s standards. I’ve failed many times in business and I think that’s big. That is resilience.
LM: What’s one piece of advice you can give aspiring female entrepreneurs?
RT: Do not be afraid! If you have a dream birthed in your heart, go do it! You shouldn’t let it die there. Whether you are successful or not (and success should be defined by yourself) you should at least try! If you allow your dream to die, it’s like living a life unfulfilled.
LM: What would you like people to know about you?
RT: I’m just a regular girl who once I got started with my business-- I just couldn’t stop. I’ve attempted to stop before, but I felt like this was the path God had for me and everything I’m about is about Jesus. I live for Him on purpose but everything else is accident.
LM: What are your goals?
RT: At this point I’ve decided I just want to really enjoy life. I want to enjoy the things that are around me: family, business, and life in general. At times, I can get so busy that I don’t have time to enjoy anything else. I still work 65 hours per week in the business but I had to start shutting it down for at least a week around the holidays. It’s good to aspire to do and be more but that shouldn’t be your main focus. I’ve accomplished a lot already so I need to be able to step back and say job well done. My goals are to enjoy what I’ve done, enjoy our kids and not let the business be the center of my attention.
LM: What are you most proud of?
RT: I’m proud that I didn’t lock myself in a box (as of yet). I’ve been willing to go where and how I wanted to go instead of going along with how other people think I should. I think that takes a lot of courage. I started this business eight years ago and it was after my first year that I attended the candy show (in Chicago). When I was there, I heard “Oh, that’s a really cute idea” like I should try something else because my idea was silly. I heard that multiple times. I never let the negative talk change my mind or deter me. I just kept going. The arena league folded around the time I went to Chicago and when that happened my husband didn’t have a job but, we had money saved. This was a crossroad for us where I could either try to make it into retail stores and really make this into a business knowing my husband didn’t have a job or I could go get a job. I could’ve gotten a job – but that’s not where I was supposed to be.
LM: What are you passionate about?
RT: I’m most passionate about living a life that’s pleasing to God where people can see me and know what I stand for. I’m passionate about my family remaining focused on things of God. No matter what we have, what we’ve been given; being able to stay centered on Him is important. Through the ups and downs, neither has broken me because I stay focused on Him.