Yelp is all about connecting people with great local businesses, and we recognize that these businesses — led by artisans, doers and creators of all kinds — are the lifeblood of our communities. Behind every business is a great story. The Tucson Makers + Shakers blog series showcases local makers, artisans and innovators. Find out what makes them tick and discover why they love being in business in Tucson.
Allow us to introduce RBar Energy. You may have seen these round energy bars for sale at your favorite grocery store (Sprouts & Whole Foods locations in Tucson sell them!), or maybe someone offered you one as a snack on your last hike up on Mt. Lemmon. Brian Cornelius, CEO of RBar Energy is a local cyclist and maker who has a passion for creating energy bars that are made with real, fresh ingredients, that taste delicious.
Can you give us a little of your background and tell us about how you got on the path to where you are today? How did you get your start?
I was a cyclist at a relatively elite level and racing all over the country and needed something simple as a snack. I would take dried nuts and fruits and put them in a put them in a blender and turn them into bars and my friends told me I needed to open a business. I spent the next three years hand-pressing over 150,000 bars. I was trying to figure out how to automate a line and not compromise the product. The bar hasn’t changed, it is still just as fresh and only seven ingredients or less.
What was the moment you knew your brand had to happen?
I certainly don’t remember it being one of those a-ha moments. I remember my friends saying if you turn this into a business we would buy it. (Laughing) It was more of a taunt.
What has been your biggest challenge?
I suppose you could say the biggest challenge is brand recognition, really figuring out how to get the brand out there. It’s actually really difficult to launch a consumer packaged good. Generally customers are really used to the brands that they buy, and it takes a lot to get them to switch. Making things in a new way, making things that are really fresh in smaller batches takes a lot of planning.
What do you do to make sure you are regularly inspired?
EXERCISE. I love exercise. Even though I’m not racing bikes anymore I still mountain bike quite a bit, a few times a week at least. I get up at 4AM and go for a ride before the sun’s up. Most of the good ideas come when I’m out pedaling a bike. I go to boxing classes in the evening. Exercise frees the mind.
What’s the most helpful piece of customer feedback you’ve received?
The new flavors: a lot of those were customer suggestions along the way. Bringing these and doubling our line (going from 5 flavors to 10) were based on customer suggestions.
What’s your advice for other makers, business owners or someone who wants to start a small business?
There are gonna be a lot of people who tell you you can’t do it. I had maybe two people telling me it was a good idea at the time. You gotta just find a way to turn that into fuel. Find a way to turn that into motivation.
What makes you most excited about having your business in Tucson?
I have been in Tucson for about 20 years. I moved out here in middle school. I graduated from the UA. Best part about being in Tucson from a business standpoint is that there’s a really tight knit community. I can leave work and be out at a trailhead in about 10 minutes.
If customers come away knowing just one thing about your business, what do you want that message to be?
We’re a fresh, simple, delicious, and affordable snack. Those are the things that really matter. Give us a try!
Shop for RBar Energy bars on their website: https://www.rbarenergy.com. Also available at Whole Foods Market and Sprouts Farmers Market.
By Amanda Schreiber, Yelp Tucson Marketing Assistant.