“You don’t know what you don’t know. It’s not about being male or female, it’s about being authentic to yourself.” - Merrilee Kick, CEO & Founder of Buzzballz, LLC.
BuzzBallz, LLC, is a woman-owned, alcoholic beverage manufacturing company located in Carrollton, Texas, that sells ready-to-drink cocktails in containers that are in the shape of a ball. Twelve years ago, Merrilee was a teacher grading papers by the pool, in the process of completing her MBA, and enjoying a beverage in a glass jar. She thought having a glass jar by the pool was probably not the best idea. Staring at a votive candle sitting on a table nearby, Merrilee thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I made a round container to hold my cocktail, that was in a shape of a ball?” This simple idea became the main subject for her final thesis “Party Balls.” Little did Merrilee realize, this was the beginnings of a single working mother, raising two sons, who turned a simple idea of a cocktail in the shape of a ball into a company whose revenues are on pace to exceed $100 million dollars in 2021.
Competition in the adult-beverage market is tough and BuzzBallz couldn’t achieve success by just selling their products domestically. Merrilee realized that she needed to expand globally and sought international distributors and buyers. “When you are selling a consumer product, you’ve got to get it out there” said Merrilee during an interview with The Biz Doc Tom Ellsworth. After speaking with others in the industry and attending trade shows, Merrilee learned about the U.S Commercial Service and the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM). The U.S. Commercial Service Gold Key business match-making service and EXIM’s Export Credit Insurance was exactly what Merrilee needed to help grow BuzzBallz internationally.
The U.S. Commercial Service’s Gold Key program helped Merrilee find international distributors. EXIM’s insurance policy, which protects U.S. companies from nonpayment by foreign buyers, enabled Merrilee to offer her distributors open account credit terms, knowing that the accounts receivables were covered for commercial and political risks. Since 2017, BuzzBallz has been utilizing an Export Credit Insurance policy from EXIM and brokered by Meridian Finance Group. "EXIM has given us more flexibility to accept credit terms for international buyers,” said Merrilee. “It’s a win-win situation for them and for us. One time we had a buyer who didn't pay. EXIM covered the loss that would have been detrimental to our business, and saved us a lot of money. So now we always take EXIM insurance to just make sure we are covered.”
BuzzBallz’s Vice President of Marketing Tracy Frisbie participated in a town hall event with EXIM and the U.S. Commercial Service titled, “What’s the Latest ‘Buzz’ with Exporting.” During her remarks she said “Coming out of the pandemic, there are going to be a lot of distributors that are strapped for cash. We need a resurgence of international business. EXIM credit terms will help us get those repeat buys, help our distributors get on their feet again, and get our product moving again”.
Merrilee and BuzzBallz achieved this success through a tremendous amounts of hard work, dedication, and sticking to her values. BuzzBallz is the true definition of family owned and operated. Both of Merrilee’s sons, Alex and Andrew Kick, have leadership roles in the company. In addition, Merrilee treats all her employees as if they were family.
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a significant shortage of cleansers. To keep the doors open and employees paid, BuzzBallz began to produce hand sanitizer. It was an all-hands-on deck situation, with everyone chipping in to help produce and bottle the new product. In the end, BuzzBallz used nearly $500,000 of materials and produced approximately 18,000 gallons of hand sanitizer. The incredible part of the story is that BuzzBallz donated that entire supply to businesses and the local community. Anyone one who needed the hand sanitizer, was told to come and load up their trucks. This incredible act of selflessness and generosity is the reason why the country is now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic.
Another example of Merrilee’s commitment to her employees was made clear when she realized that childcare and virtual schooling would be a huge problem during the pandemic for her employees, particularly those who worked the early shift. In her own words, learn how an elementary school called “The NEST” came to fruition:
“We started a little elementary school called The Nest and this was prompted by the COVID issues everyone was having. Our employees don't have the money to pay for a nanny or private all-day tutor when their kids were asked to stay home for remote learning. Many of them are 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th graders, and they didn't know how to handle technology issues, and they weren't old enough to be left at home alone. Our employees still had to work to make the rent payment at the end of the month - they didn't have the luxury to work from home. So, we started The Nest. We hired a TEA Certified Teacher and Teacher's Aid, and we set up a large conference room like a classroom. We fitted out the room with school stuff and invited elementary students from our employees to come, free of charge, from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, and we would check their temperature, feed them a snack, help them with homework, and help them get logged in to their school. It was a pretty neat situation and helped out our employees. The children loved our teacher and aide too - it was a great benefit for our employees. Now children can return to school and are going back now that COVID has subsided. I feel good about what we did for those children and their parents."
EXIM is proud to support entrepreneurs like Merrilee and U.S. small businesses like BuzzBallz. Subscribe to the EXIM blog to learn more on how EXIM supports U.S. businesses export their goods and services.