The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines stewardship as "the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care." Under such a definition, Sandy and Roger Riedinger are stewards of an unparalleled legacy of bodybuilding integrity. As owners of Beverly International they have developed and expand upon a tradition of sports nutrition quality, customer care and passion for bodybuilding and the fitness lifestyle that is unique in the industry.
But the story starts much earlier. Nearly four decades ago and over two thousand miles away, another fitness couple was building a legacy that would have a lasting impact in the lives of thousands of fitness-conscious lifters. Jim and Carole Heflin, have had an impact on the sports nutrition industry that can only be fully appreciated by those that have lived to see the sweeping changes that they have ushered in.
In the mid-sixties, Jim Heflin was a director at the Beverly Hills Health Club in West Los Angeles. This was the health club that catered primarily to the movie community and Beverly Hills. It consisted of two clubs – one was for men and the other was for women. He also worked part-time at the International Health Club, located near the Los Angeles International airport at the Hyatt House hotel.
Also working at the International Health Club was a gentleman named Bernie Ernst (pictured right). Ernst was a doctor of chiropractic and a noted bodybuilder of the time. He trained at Muscle Beach and was regularly profiled in the Strength and Health and the Weider publications.
At the end of the decade, Bernie put together a syndicated TV show called "Body Buddies." His show eventually replaced the Jack Lalanne show. At this time, Beverly International was just a concession at two health clubs. Because of his time-consuming commitments with the syndicated exercise program, he approached Jim Heflin to see if he was interested in buying the franchise. I saw the potential to enter on the ground floor of something that was brewing on the horizon, Jim recalls. This was at the beginning of the onslaught of a huge bodybuilding craze that was fueled over the next couple of years by Arnold Schwarzenegger and the release of Pumping Iron. I saw tremendous potential so I made a deal with Bernie and bought the two concessions.
Those that know the reputation Beverly developed over the next four decades would have little trouble guessing Jim’s first move after taking over ownership of the company. He immediately decided to upgrade the products to reflect the very highest levels of quality. Jim developed a product called Multi-Pak, which became the most potent mega-vitamin in the marketplace. The increased dosage (beyond the typical "barely keep you from getting scurvy and rickets" potency that customers were familiar with) served as an industry wake-up call. Jim also developed a milk protein-based weight gainer called Size. It was the first weight gainer that did not rely almost entirely on syrupy simple sugars and soy for its calorie source. He then upgraded Beverly’s protein powder by introducing an Ultimate Egg and Gland Protein, which was the forerunner of the egg proteins that later became very popular.
Jim’s marketing plan was a simple one (and one still used by Beverly today). He was confident that he had the best products available. All he had to do was let lifters see what he had to offer. He began by visiting gyms in the Los Angeles area with these four products. Soon this expanded so that he was spending weekends in San Diego and then Sacramento and San Francisco and eventually Phoenix and beyond, going from city to city, health club to health club, personally introducing the Beverly International product line.
During this period Jim met Dr. Donald Wong, the publisher of Muscle Digest. Wong had heard positive feedback about the Beverly line so he had it chemically analyzed. This impressed him further because Beverly was one of the very few which legitimately matched label claims. For this reason, he gave Beverly a great deal of publicity, including placing Jim’s products on the cover of the magazine.
Beverly was also involved in a double-blind study in which thirty-two peptide-bonded amino acid products were analyzed for content. Beverly was the only one that met label claim. In fact, their formula had slightly more hydrolyzed protein than was listed. Among the other tested products an average of 80% of the content claimed on the label was not present in the correct form and most were just plain fake – comprised of useless fillers. This commitment to quality has served to earn Jim and Beverly International an enduring legacy as not just an exemplary person and businessman but also a pioneer in the sports nutrition world.
Never satisfied with his current best, Jim was constantly busy making contact with people that were the top professionals in product development aspects such as biochemists, nutrition researchers, those in the mixing industry, manufacturing, and raw material suppliers. "I told them my plan to come out with a full product line that was totally legitimate, something that was beyond the imagination of those currently in the field." It is easy to imagine his plans were met with skepticism, but anyone that has spoken to Jim Heflin learns quickly to recognize his sincerity and commitment. These relationships led to Beverly releasing some of the most well-received and influential products of the past forty years.
Beverly is often referred to as "old school," but in the early years the products were genuinely acknowledged as being the industry’s cutting-edge supplements. The thing is, back in the late sixties and early seventies, sports nutrition marketing was years behind the science. In fact, science wasn’t even a big consideration when developing a product. Jim Heflin was unique in his quest for the best, scientifically developed and effective products. It took the rest of the industry two decades to even come close to catching up.
Today we might have an even worse situation, where the marketing is years ahead of the science. In other words, pseudo-scientific catchphrases and unsubstantiated claims direct sales for most of the industry. Beverly has stayed true to Jim’s dictum of solid scientifically proven formulas, avoidance of unproven trendy ingredients, the highest available raw ingredients and simple effective products. In the current "(marketing) cart before the (research) horse" supplement market, "old school" is considered high praise! "Old school" has also become synonymous with "proven."
When Beverly International first appeared on the market, sports nutrition was an extremely narrow category, filled primarily by Weider and Hoffman. Most of the available products were inundated with low quality soybean proteins and weight gainers full of sugar. Low potency vitamins were the norm. There was literally nothing of quality in the athletic market. This sorry state of affairs is further illustrated by a story Jim shared with me about an eye-opening early conversation he had with a raw materials supplier:
I was developing our desiccated liver tablets. I knew the quality liver came from Argentina because there were certifications that there weren’t steroids or growth hormones used on the cattle and there weren’t any insecticides or chemical fertilizers used on the grass. I called a supplier in New Jersey and told him what I was looking for. He laughed and asked, "Well, what grade do you want?"
I asked, "How many grades are there?" He said, "Five." I asked, "What’s grade one?" He said, "Well that’s the highest grade. That’s the pure stuff." So I asked, "What is grade five? He said, "It’s got a little bit of liver in it, but you can pass it off on the label."
This was Jim’s first lesson about the realities of the supplement world and the concept of blending (that’s where you add a little bit of the real thing with a lot of cheaper ingredients yet claim full potency) that was almost universal among the vitamin products sold at that time. Jim definitely knew this practice was not for him. "I made it a point to make sure that whenever we dealt with a raw material supplier that they knew we wanted the highest quality available, no ifs ands or buts about it. I also made sure we had regular analytical assays of the product to make sure they continued to use quality ingredients."
Jim goes on to give a sobering example, "One product line [no longer in business] sold a liver and yeast tablet which was actually brown sugar and yeast coated in caramel to give it a dark color. Another company was selling their version of 100% Egg which was a poorly processed dairy whey powder that was 70% lactose and had no egg in it at all. I made a promise to myself at the beginning that I would never feed a lot of bologna to people and use celebrities names to push things of lower quality, which was what my competitor’s were all doing." It didn’t take long for Beverly to develop a strong reputation for his no-nonsense way of doing things.
Jim continued marketing the products on his own by traveling to all the major cities in the US. As things grew he realized that he needed to develop a network of distributors. Early Beverly distributors included Ken Adcock in the Southwest, Paul Chapman in the Southeast, and Dave Spindel on the east coast. Another of the very first distributors was John Parrillo. He was a powerlifter at the time and had worked with some bodybuilders in the Cincinnati area. He was impressed with the Beverly products and approached Jim at a show in the Atlanta area asking to be a distributor. World powerlifting champion Ricky Dale Crain became a distributor in the Oklahoma area. There was also a bodybuilding promoter named Kevin Noble that distributed in Illinois. Others joined in as the company grew, including a young man named Roger Riedinger, who was a private Beverly distributor through his gym in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.
In addition to the distributors, Jim also traveled to up to thirty shows a year (making it to 46 of the fifty states) as well as Germany, Holland, South Africa, Sweden and England. Beverly became truly international with distributors in Singapore, Tahiti, China, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, South Africa, numerous African nations and almost every European country. Beverly had warehousing in Southern California, Baltimore, Tampa, Oklahoma and Texas. There was also a gentleman in Holland that started a major Beverly distribution hub throughout all of Western Europe.
Popularity of Beverly products among lifters grew and top champions used Beverly as their secret weapon for reaching top condition. As Jim recalls "When we would go to major trade shows it was comical because almost invariably the celebrity bodybuilders that were in booths hawking the products of our competitors were buying products from us. In fact, we went to one show and all eight of the endorsing athletes were buying their personal items from Beverly."
It was common to have a world-class bodybuilder walk up to Jim at a show, cautiously look around, and point to the Beverly products and whisper, "Jim, that is the stuff that I use." Jim and his employees did the dietary work for most of the top champion bodybuilders of the era, both men and women, including a streak of eight straight Ms. Olympia’s that used Beverly products.
The Second Generation
While Jim Heflin was building Beverly International, over two thousand miles away a young Roger Riedinger had graduated from lifting in his basement gym and was winning some local acclaim as a college track athlete. For Roger, his love of lifting was ignited at the age of eight, when his older brother received a Heathway’s fifty-pound barbell set as a gift.
As an athlete, bodybuilding training gave him a decided edge over his track-and-field competitors. "In high school back in ’63-64, the coaches got caught up in the current craze and quit traditional weight training and just has us training with isometrics," he recalls. Over the summer months Roger followed his heart, passed on the isometrics and trained hard using the tried and true bodybuilding techniques he had learned from Iron Man, Strength and Health, Muscle Builder and the other bodybuilding magazines of the day. When he returned the next year, his strength had surpassed everyone else on the team. It also resulted in receiving a scholarship to The University of Cincinnati for track and winning the high school Kentucky state discus title. During the summer following his senior year, he used weights to pack an additional fifteen pounds on his 6′1″ 170-pound frame in order to be a serious collegiate thrower.
It was during this period that the first rudimentary lesson of a lifetime study of nutrition became apparent to Roger. "Everyday I would walk home from practice and get a quart of chocolate milk. I gained five pounds over the course of a month, so I knew there was something to nutrition." Shortly after this, Roger got his first Crash Weight Gain #7. "I took the entire seven cans and gained five to seven pounds, just like they promised. It was soy and sugar so I probably would have gained just as much if I had consumed the same additional calories just from milk." Roger began to earnestly study the bodybuilding magazines, attempting to decipher truth from marketing and experimented with things like brewer’s yeast, desiccated liver powder, soy protein, Hoffman’s Protein-from-the-Sea (which he threw away after one spoonful) and Energol. In Iron Man, he picked up ideas about mixing powdered milk and other kitchen ingredients into homemade shakes since he had yet to find anything effective. Then, he finally found something he liked.
I think it was around ’71 that I first got my Blair protein, Roger recalls. I remember my step-dad was angry when the postman would bring this case of protein. He would growl, How much did you spend on that? and I think at the time they were eighteen dollars a canister. That was a lot of money for me to spend. The Blair protein was totally different from the Hoffman and Weider products I had tried. Blair’s was noticeably better in taste, mixability and digestability.
In addition, Roger was a mega-vitamin guy even back then. His approach was similar to the Vince Gironda programs of the time, with a constant grazing of vitamins, kelp tablets, liver tablets and amino acids. He tried them all.
Although track and field was his primary focus, his heart never wandered far from bodybuilding. "I kept waiting to compete until I was 210 pounds at 6′1″ like Steve Reeves," he recalls. "I never got there." Although there were not all that many shows around, Roger attended a show every chance he could and was "in heaven" when the ‘77-79 Olympias were held just two hours away in Columbus, Ohio.
It was at one of these early shows, that Roger first met kindred-spirit Jim Heflin. "Jim went to all the shows. I would go to his booth and talk to him for at least an hour." With proper supplement and nutrition knowledge, Roger was ready to make his shaky debut at the 1980 Mr. Youngstown. Still, watching contests as a spectator and going through the anxiety-filled first show are two vastly different experiences. "At that first show I was 187," he recalls. "I walked into the auditorium, saw the other competitors, got scared and left. I went back and they still hadn’t started." At this point Roger didn’t realize that ALL bodybuilding shows of that era started late. "There were twenty-eight guys in my class. Laura Combs was guest-posing and she was backstage pumping up with the same weights that I trained with in the gym. It was a little bit intimidating."
"The guy that was obviously the best guy in the show was pumping up with one of the spring crushers popular at the time. He was doing a movement in which he had one hand against his body and was pulling the bar in towards his body with the other arm. All of a sudden, the handle slipped out of his oil-covered hand, smacked him in the forehead and knocked him unconscious." This competitor’s "last minute prep mistake" allowed Roger to move up into third place. "All my friends thought I should have won. " Roger modestly adds, "I’ve found out since then that everybody’s friends think they should have won. But I was thrilled out of my mind to get third-place and I think that’s what urged me to go on." Roger obviously enjoyed the whole process of contest prep, competing in about a dozen contests between 1980 until December of 1985 culminating with the 1985 AAU Masters Mr USA title.
In addition to competitive bodybuilding, Roger ran Polaris Total Fitness between 1980 and 1986. His mentor, Jim Heflin advised him on basic business set-up and equipment selection. One thing Jim didn’t have to advise him on was the pro shop. Roger was a devoted Beverly user by then and provided Beverly products and rudimentary nutrition contest prep counseling to the gym’s members.
Sandy worked next door to the gym as a dental assistant and the two were deeply smitten. Roger describes their early courting in true gymrat fashion. "This is how much I cared for her, when I was going to make my first 405 pound bench attempt, I went over next door where she was working and told her when you get a break come over here, I want to try this and I want you here when I do it. And she did." Sounds like true love!
In 1990, Jim sponsored the Riedingers’ Northern Kentucky Bodybuilding contest. While he was visiting for the contest, Jim asked Roger and Sandy to become regional distributors, filling the spot that had been held by John Parrillo, who had split away to introduce his own product line. At this point, Roger was working as a middle school math teacher and then an elementary school principal. Not surprisingly, he also ran the attached community fitness center. Sandy ran the day-to-day operations of a Beverly distributor, while Roger concentrated on marketing in the evenings and weekends. This was when his popular No Nonsense Magazine made its debut. The newsletter’s simple message and easily applicable advice reflected Roger’s early Iron Man influence and his passion for bodybuilding.
The Riedingers’ lives experienced a major change in 1998. "Jim wrote us a letter," Roger recalls. "I thought, Oh no! Here it is. I figured the letter was going to be Jim announcing he was either shutting down or selling the business. I had guessed he might be selling it to a larger mainstream supplement manufacturer. Instead, he chose to maintain the integrity of the brand he had built, he offered us the opportunity to take over beginning on January 1st of 1999." At the time Beverly had just a handful of distributors but Sandy and Roger worked harder to promote Beverly through their newsletter and reaching out to new customers. "Throughout ‘98 Jim had asked me two or three times when I was going to be able to retire from the school system," Roger says, but I didn’t make the connection. Now all we had to do is look at the letter and we saw that it was a dream come true."
Looking back over his life’s work, Jim Heflin proudly says, "We could hold our head up high and feel good about the fact that we always gave our customers quality. This is one of the reasons I picked Roger and Sandy when I decided to sell the company. We knew that they cared about the same issues so we didn’t even consider anybody else. When I retired I felt clean and felt good about it. I felt like I did service. Roger and Sandy are continuing along that same path."
To go from the relatively simple task of being a distributor to handling the manufacturing and general direction of the company was a huge shock. Jim Heflin came to Kentucky in December of ‘98 and stayed with the Riedingers for more than two weeks to help with the start-up. Warehouse space became available a quarter mile from them at the perfect time. All that remained was to hire the proper help.
"As soon as we decided to purchase the company we went through our entire list of 150 personal clients and we decided on one person to help us," Roger says. "It was Steven Wade. He was going to the University of Kentucky in Lexington and managing a gym in Paris, Kentucky. We had helped him with some shows. He was twenty-one at the time and really entrenched in what he was doing and he gave up EVERYTHING to move up here and live in this tiny little apartment for the first couple of years. He and Sandy handled the operational part of the business while I still worked at the school and worked on the marketing."
While some companies may have looked for someone from a marketing background, the Riedingers set higher standards. We wanted the best person, and believe it or not, the fact that Steven was an Eagle Scout entered into our decision. We were looking for an intelligent person with good moral values and the same desire to help other as we did."
"Roger and I talked about his plans with the company and the magazines," Steven recalls. "My experience with Roger and Sandy was that everything they said they would do, they followed through on. That made the decision an easy one. We felt like Beverly was this secret we had discovered and we were just tremendously excited to share with people what we knew!"
The next person hired was Lana. She was not a consultant-type person, like the bodybuilders and fitness competitors that guide and set up programs for customers (even though she has become quite the expert in the years since). Her role was administrative and she had worked for Roger as his assistant when he was a grade school principal.
Rob Quimby and Mark Ritter joined next and the ranks eventually grew to a dozen employees, each committed to helping the Beverly family of customers reach their goals. Currently, a streamlined staff of Steven, Mark, Rachel, Rita, Tim, Greg and Lana help Roger and Sandy run the industry’s most unique supplement company.
The Beverly Difference
"Beverly International isn’t for everyone," Roger says. "We were talking recently about mass distribution, like you see with some of the major name supplement brands being in Wal-Mart, grocery stores, pharmacies and wholesale outlets. It’s not something we would even want to do. We couldn’t make the price concessions.. and its not from a profitability perspective on our part.. it is because we would be forced to keep looking for price concessions from our suppliers and that could eventually lead to a quality concession as well." Obviously, Jim Heflin’s lessons have not been diluted over time.
Another important distinction of Beverly is their bodybuilding-focused marketing. While many of their competitors begin by positioning themselves as "hardcore, serious bodybuilding supplements," only to eventually soften their marketing in order to appeal to the wider mass market (with the hope of going public and selling the business for big bucks), Beverly has stayed true to its serious lifter roots. "We are very proud of our bodybuilding affiliation," Roger says. "We look at the bodybuilding community as the elite buyers, not the bottom-feeders as some of the other companies seem to view them. If a supplement is good enough for someone at 5% bodyfat trying to get to 4 1/2% bodyfat you can be sure it will be effective for anyone."
One of the most remarkable aspects I have noticed about Beverly is how they have managed to surround themselves with such good people – employees, support personal and customers. When I asked Roger about this he is a bit surprised that I have noticed the phenomenon but the wide smile that creeps across his face tells me that this is not something of which he is unaware. "It is almost like a magnetic attraction factor," He says.
Sandy embellishes, "When I talk to Beverly customers I notice strong commonalities in how they word things and in their general tone. Certain things seem to repeatedly come up - not only experienced lifting backgrounds and a lifelong devotion to training, but also church upbringing, commitments, and moral issues. I think because we stand for honesty and truth in the industry and because these people also believe in what we do, it becomes a part of their life, so they are choosing the best road." The term "Beverly family" is a heartfelt reality, not a marketing catchphrase.
The greatest evidence of this family environment is that Jim and Carole Heflin remain in close contact with the Riedingers, and are a constant presence at the Beverly booth at the Arnold Classic expo. "Carole loves coming out to the shows," Jim says. "It gives us a chance to get together with Sandy and Roger, who we love."
The admiration is obviously not one-sided either. "Jim was so far ahead of his time that it was just amazing," Roger says. "Jim was working with one of Linus Pauling’s research assistants. He was constantly learning all he could and applied it to the business and helping people."
Sandy says, "Jim is very conservative, non-flashy, very comfortable with himself and his surroundings. He seems very satisfied with good nutrition, health, happiness and security in his home life. I believe he prides himself in his knowledge of this field. He truly loves to help people. When we took over the business, we sorted through tons of diets that he designed over the years, hand-written or typed - no computers – a tremendous amount of time and effort because I think his heart went out to other people and that’s why he tried to make the best products so that they could succeed. So yeah, he’s a pretty good guy."
"He drove a van almost every week across country to shows and I don’t think he was doing it to build Beverly," adds Roger. "I think he was doing it to make contact with people first hand. He lives it [bodybuilding] himself."
If ever there were a model of someone making a lifetime commitment to fitness, it would be Jim Heflin. In fact, while trying to set up the interviews for this article, I was pleasantly surprised that I kept missing Jim because he was at the gym training. "I feel guilty if I miss a workout," Jim admits. "I’ve been training regularly for 57 years.
"We have never seen him eat sugar," Roger adds. "We know he goes through exactly four servings of Muscle Provider a day to make sure he gets enough protein. He limits his intake of red meat because he is concerned about his family’s history of heart disease, even though his father lived until his mid-90s. I have never seen him without energy. He is pretty amazing."
The mutual respect extends beyond Beverly’s founders and its current owner. The underlying respect for Beverly’s customers that Jim Heflin used as his moral compass has remained the untarnished core of Beverly’s operations to this day. This is why Beverly International remains the most respected sports nutrition company in the industry!