Untitled Document
My Vega Story
by Robert Cheeke -
Vega Ambassador
since 2005

It is very likely that if you’re familiar with my online presence you’ve seen me promote Vega a time or two, or perhaps hundreds of times. What is Vega? Vega is a plant-based nutrition product line formulated by former professional Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier. You know, protein powders, energy bars, and the like, all plant-based and mostly common allergen-free. Founded in 2004, I first tried a Vega meal replacement drink in 2005. I promptly spit it out in the sink. I wasn’t a fan. I tried the products just weeks before meeting Brendan in person, when we filmed a documentary called Vegan Fitness Built Naturally, which I produced and recruited Brendan to be part of. Back then there was only a powder, and Brendan was actually finalizing the design of the forthcoming Vega energy bar on my mother’s computer while visiting me in Oregon from Vancouver, BC where he and Vega are from.

Though I wasn’t sold on the taste or texture of Vega, I was sold on the intent, on the direction the brand was moving in, and I was sold on Brendan. Brendan is the formulator of the products but not the company President. That’s Charles Chang. Charles phoned me in 2005 asking me if I wanted to collaborate since my documentary was just about to be released. I agreed to send out packets of Vega and a brochure with every DVD sold. We sold hundreds of copies fairly quickly and ultimately around 1,500 DVDs after a year or so. He also asked that I do the same for each Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness t-shirt I sold, which I did. I joined Brendan at a vegetarian festival sampling the Vega products to attendees in the fall of 2005 in Vancouver, BC. That is when I met Charles for the first time. He showed me blueprints of a 16-page Vega brochure which featured a photo of me on the cover, along with other athletes who used/supported Vega. That was pretty exciting for me.

A few months later, Charles asked if I wanted to officially join the team, helping the company launch products in the US by being a sales rep for the state of Oregon where I lived. I kindly declined, unwilling to leave my $10 an hour job working as security guard at Hewlett Packard for a job in sales, something I wasn’t comfortable with, without a guaranteed income. Not satisfied with my answer, Charles asked me a few more times. I boldly came to the conclusion that I could give it a chance and take the job if Vega could match my monthly take home income, which was around $1200. Charles agreed and flew me out to Los Angeles to join Brendan, Randy, Vega’s General Manager at the time, and himself to manage a Vega booth at the Natural Products Expo West. Expo West is a trade show for natural product industry professionals. Those who are buyers, sellers, manufacturers, suppliers, and so on were on hand, 50,000 in total from more than 80 countries. It was then that I officially started working for Vega. I also gained a better appreciation for the taste of the products which helped me become a better salesperson for them.

I began my Vega career as a sales rep for Oregon going store to store trying to get products on shelves and ultimately into customers hands through in-store demos, sampling, sales and promos etc. As Vega
hired reps across the country I maintained mild success in Oregon, leading the nation in sales for a few months out of the year. In addition to managing stores in Oregon, I wanted to go on a national tour to festivals such as the one I had attended in Vancouver and a vegetarian festival I had exhibited Vega at in Portland, OR months later. I got in my car and drove five hours from Portland to Vancouver to meet with Charles to share my tour proposal with him. Appreciating my efforts, and seeing potential in the idea, he granted me the position and I toured from Boston to San Francisco and many places in between attending 10-15 events per year, exhibiting and selling Vega. That was a fun and exciting time which also allowed me to promote my own personal brand and develop and grow my company, Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness, further.

The sales job was stressful at times and I really wasn’t cut out for store to store sales, so after a few years of ups and downs, I asked to do something different. I sat down with Brendan and Charles at my fourth consecutive Natural Products Expo West working for Vega and fired myself from the job. I wholeheartedly believed someone else could do it better and I personally wanted to move on. Some of the stores I had opened up accounts with were online stores, and my interests were all pointing toward doing business online. I asked to maintain four online accounts to manage and to continue my tour. That wish was granted and my job as an Oregon sales rep for Vega was replaced by someone else to grow sales in that territory. I walked away from my base salary of $1200 that Charles promised and continued to provide for me for years, plus the commission I was making, and many other perks involving expenses such as fuel paid for year after year, annual funded trips to Los Angeles for Expo West and so on. I lost my passion for that specific position and it was time to move on and so I did.

With a strong desire to be mobile and work remotely in my new online-only sales position, coupled with my insatiable longing to be in the sun, I moved to Los Angeles. I continued to manage tour events, speak at festivals and grow sales for my online stores, www.bodybuilding.com, www.veganessentials.com, www.foodfightgrocery.com and www.veganproteins.com. Working on commission, I get paid for sales from just those four stores. Most reps with Vega manage well over 100 stores in their region. Even with a total number of stores I can count on one hand, I still manage to make it into the Top 10 in sales for all US sales reps from time to time when I have a great sales month, but I’m often near the very bottom, two or three spots from last place of the 30 or so US sales reps we have which collectively cover all 50 states.

In 2011 my tour with Vega was coming to an end with a mutual desire to go in different directions. After nearly seven years on the road, I was ready to start slowing down. Vega was also changing focus and not putting resources into exhibiting at as many vegetarian festivals, but rather into bigger events like The Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon, and didn’t need me to manage those events with the growing and capable staff now working for the company. With that, I wrapped up my tour with Vega in late 2011 and attended a couple of other events in the spring of 2012 to train a few new hires and pass the torch onto others. At the time of my writing, in October of 2012, I simply manage four of the more than 6,000 stores Vega sells to, and that commission is where I still make the bulk of my income. The other forms of income I generate come from book sales, clothing sales, and affiliate partnerships I have on www.veganbodybuilding.com.

With one large online store (Bodybuilding.com) and three significantly smaller vegan stores, that is how I make my living with Vega. I’ve become close friends with Charles over the years, often taking trips up to Canada to visit with his family, and Brendan and I have maintained a friendship for seven years. Though I know friendships mean something, I also know that we have a business relationship and any day I could get a call or an email letting me know that my services are no longer needed. The four stores I manage could be turned over to house accounts. I know that day is likely coming and perhaps that is why some of you have seen me post about Vega well over 100 times online. I guess I thought that more is better. More links, more promos, more sales, more, more, more. But now I’m starting to realize that stories are far more effective in spreading ideas and information than sales or announcements with timely deadlines.

If I stay true to the direction I think I’m moving in, you probably won’t see me posting links, sales, promos, and let’s face it, internet spam, all over Facebook, Twitter and other social websites moving forward. I think I’d rather just tell stories and share experiences. Sure, I’ll still need to re-post and re-tweet messages when my stores offer a sale, that’s part of my job, but reposting once rather than fifteen times ought to be sufficient. I would love to encourage readers to visit one of my stores when making your next Vega purchase, but ultimately I was hired to grow the brand, regardless of where customers shop. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed using the Vega products over the past half-decade, especially the innovation and creation of the sports product line, which is right up my alley. The pre and post- workout products are some of the best in the industry, and the protein bars are becoming the new go-to protein bar on the market. The company has grown from a handful of people in the office to a worldwide team of passionate individuals working together to make a positive difference in the lives of many. As actors, musicians, and professional athletes alike embrace Vega, we know the foundation of our success lies within each consumer who supports Vega on a regular basis. That has been the fun part about working for Vega, each individual interaction at a store, a festival, a talk, or national expo. I’ve made a lot of friends through my “work” that has felt like “play,” which is the way work should be enjoyed, in my opinion.

I’ve had a wonderful opportunity working for Vega over the past seven years and the President, as well as top level managers, employees in the office and our associates, have all been very kind, very generous and very gracious towards me.

Behind the scenes I’ve been heavily recruited by at least four other competing brands, some of which would provide me greater opportunities to grow my own personal brand. I’ve turned them all down because I never forget that Vega took a chance on me, gave me opportunities to prove myself and be successful, and the constant support I’ve received during my tenor at Vega makes me feel right at home. My loyalty sticks with those who stood by me when I fired myself twice and not only still had a job, but had a job that was a better fit for me, each time. Perhaps I’ve missed opportunities by not leaving and joining forces with another emerging brand or company, but I don’t really care. I don’t want to change my behavior for more money or to see myself in magazine ads, or as a spokesperson that rivals Brendan’s role as the face of Vega. I’d rather be happy and live a barefoot lifestyle, traveling the world managing my four little Vega accounts, working alongside my friends like Charles and Brendan.

That’s my Vega story.

Robert Cheeke
Vega Ambassador

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