Marketing Puts the Spice in Keri Rhodes’s Career
By Becky Kramer
Keri Rhodes (’09 Mktg., Intl. Busi.) works in the fast-paced world of startups.
She’s the marketing director at Spiceology, a Spokane company named to Inc. Magazine’s list of 5,000 fastest growing US companies last year. Cofounded in 2013 by an executive chef and a food blogger, Spiceology partners with entities like the NFL and celebrity chefs to promote its 400 different spices and blends and develop new products.
“We’re innovators and disrupters in the spice industry,” says the Carson College of Business alumna. “You won’t find us going head on with McCormick and other established brands in the spice section at the grocery store. We have a much different approach.”
Instead, Spiceology sells products like Korean BBQ spice for Brussels sprouts in the produce section and spice sachets and rubs at the meat counter.
Rhodes leads a four-member team in the marketing department at Spiceology, whose products are carried by retailers ranging from Williams Sonoma to Ace Hardware. Spices are ground in small batches in Spokane for quality control. Blends carry names like Vampire Killer for a garlic parmesan mix and Everything Potato for an herb-spice topping.
Rhodes joined Spiceology in 2021 after spending eight years at Kaspien, a Spokane ecommerce startup. At both companies, Cougar alumni recruited her to work with them. The career moves are indicative of how relationships she formed at WSU influenced her professional life, Rhodes says.
“Cougs share so much passion for WSU; it lasts a lifetime. I think it stems from being such an amazing community for a college experience,” she says.
By choosing WSU, Rhodes displayed an early affinity for bucking the status quo. She grew up in Issaquah and followed her older sister to Pullman because few of her high school classmates were headed there. “Meeting new people and having new experiences was the kind of challenge I wanted,” she says.
On the Pullman campus, “you fully focus on college,” Rhodes adds. “It’s all about the school and the people. Students don’t leave every weekend, so you get to know your peers really, really well.”
Rhodes was active in her sorority, worked as a Call-A-Coug telemarketer, and took part in Coug Guys and Gals, a student ambassador organization for WSU Athletics. During her senior year, a sports marketing internship at WSU helped prepare her for job interviews.
“My boss threw questions at me, coached me, and it was through his connections that I got my first job,” she says. “I always encourage students to take full advantage of everything WSU has to offer. The more people you know, the more connected you are. And those relationships really do last forever.”
Early in her career, Rhodes worked for Drugstore.com, which introduced her to the rapidly evolving world of ecommerce. The company had recently been acquired by Walgreens, and it was an early leader for online sales in the beauty/drugstore marketplace.
Rhodes landed at Kaspien when she followed her now-husband Chase (’09 Kin., Health & Fitness) to Spokane, where he works as a high school teacher.
“The company was run by a bunch of recent college grads with a lot of passion and energy,” she says. “Kaspien was scrappy, growing, and it was profitable, which is unusual for a startup. I saw the opportunity.”
Rhodes started in affiliate marketing for Kaspien, advanced, and stayed with the company through a period of rapid growth. Initially started with a focus on eco-friendly products, the company evolved into a large, third-party seller for Amazon, Walmart, eBay and other ecommerce sites. In 2016, Kaspien—then known as etailz—was sold to a publicly traded company for $75 million, and it continues to have a large Spokane presence.
Opportunity beckoned again when another Coug connection encouraged Rhodes to work for Spiceology. “They were growing quickly, and he thought my skillset could add value to the company.”
Besides her background in operations marketing and team development, Rhodes had experience with professionalizing a startup company. “I think of it as getting away from short-term fixes and focusing on sustainable, scalable development,” she says. “I liked the idea of working for another Spokane startup, where I’d be contributing to the community.”
Since joining Spiceology, Rhodes has supported the firm’s efforts to increase sales to home cooks and grillers by leveraging influencer chefs.
“When the pandemic hit, we were very focused on restaurant sales. That’s how Spiceology was established and how the company had grown,” she says. “Very quickly, we were able to pivot into different direct-to-consumer sales campaigns.”
Partnerships with influencer chefs and other food celebrities—such as the Food Network’s Grill Dads and Alvin Cailan of the Burger Show—have been very productive for the company, Rhodes says.
“Chefs drive consumer behavior, now more than ever,” she says. “People who know about Spiceology love it and often become promoters, which has really contributed to the brand’s organic growth.”
Rhodes also stays connected with WSU and the Carson College. She’s the vice chair of the college’s marketing advisory board. The group worked with students last spring to organize a marketing symposium focused on job opportunities in the field.
“It’s rewarding to help Carson students with that real-world connection to industry,” she says. “I remember being a student and thinking, ‘Gosh, what jobs are out there for a marketing major?’ I love being able to help students connect the dots.”