Sam Wolf is the founder and “Chief Wellness Spreader” of LuckyVitamin, an online retailer of health, wellness, bath, and beauty products. The company’s origins date back to 1956, when Sam’s grandfather Ed Wolf opened a pharmacy outside of Philadelphia. Driven by a passion for alternative medicine, and under Sam’s direction, the Wolf family business has evolved since then into a global destination for consumers seeking natural, non-pharmaceutical remedies for health concerns such as anxiety, diabetes, acne, joint pain, and high blood pressure.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Take us through the LuckyVitamin story. When did the family business begin, and when did you get involved and take things in a new direction?
SAM WOLF: It starts back in 1956, when my grandfather actually opened up a local community pharmacy. It was a pharmacy business, a conventional drug store business. He took that store in suburban Philadelphia, worked that store himself, grew that business. My father grew up and ultimately joined that business, and eventually took that business over from him, and ran that business up until the early ‘90s. The pharmacy industry went through some changes and challenges, and it was time to exit that business and move on to something different.
At the same time, in the early ‘90s, my mother went through another issue with breast cancer. It wasn’t the first time she had dealt with that, and she and my father really started to question why they were having these recurring cancer issues and what it was in their lifestyle that they could potentially change to help prevent that, or just live a healthier life altogether, as I think many people do when you start to deal with illness and ailments.
Around 1996 they actually decided to go back into business after getting really educated and learning a lot about the alternative and natural ways of living a healthy lifestyle, and opened up a store that did exactly that. They opened up a mom-and-pop health food store in the original location where the pharmacy business had started and some property they owned there.
For me, that was my first exposure really into the natural and organic lifestyle. At that point, I was going to high school, and I started to work in the family [business]. I was there when we opened up the store; I helped out stocking the shelves, running the registers, helping customers—really just learning all aspects of the industry and the business there, not necessarily thinking it was going to be something I would maybe return to after college and spend the rest of my career doing, but certainly something that I think embedded in me very early on. Ultimately I did come back in 2004 after I graduated, and decided to take the business and spin it off in a new angle that could bring the success we were finding in the regional area with the health food store to a much larger audience across the entire United States.
Q. So, you weren’t planning on joining the family business originally. What were you studying in college? What caused you to change your mind?
A. I was actually going to go to law school. That was my next step. I had started to prepare for that, took my LSATs, and started to fill out applications. During all that, I realized I really wasn’t ready to jump back into several more years of education or take on the expense of all that, too, at the same time.
So, I decided to take a year off. During that year, I started to have some conversations with my father around what was going on with the industry. I had a lot of background and experience at that time in the e-commerce space; I had done that while I was in school and interned for a web development e-commerce company. I saw that there was a definite opportunity—the dot-com bubble that had existed in the late 90s or early 2000s was over, and companies were actually starting to mature and create sustainable businesses that could exist through the online distribution channels.
With that, I saw the opportunity. My father and I basically had a handshake agreement that I would spin off a new division of the business. It was about three months after I graduated that I started working on that, and I spent the next six months or so pretty much locked up in my bedroom in the house that I grew up in, keeping expenses low, and working on a business plan, and starting to put together the foundation for what would become LuckyVitamin.
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