Liberty Bottleworks exec shares valuable tips with other small businesses.
In 2008, Tim Andis worked as a salesman providing foreign-made water bottles to Amazon, REI, Whole Foods and other retailers. When those companies told Andis they wanted American-made, BPA-free reusable water bottles, he searched the United States to find a supplier.
Sometimes the best business ideas come about because of an unmet need. This is the case with Liberty Bottleworks.
He didn't find one, so he came up with an idea: He could manufacture those bottles himself. Supportive customers placed orders totaling more than $1 million; with those commitments in hand, he raised the money he needed and built a company around core values:
- Manufacturing an American product with American materials
- Providing jobs to military veterans and people with disabilities
- Creating a factory that produces zero waste
- Creating a product that is sustainable instead of disposable (on average, Americans use more than 200 disposable water bottles a year)
It worked. By 2013, Liberty Bottleworks, based in Union Gap, Wash., had sold its millionth bottle.
Here, Andis, the company's CEO and founder, shares some of the secrets behind his company's rapid growth:
1. Consider keeping production nearby.
Andis estimates he saves 35 percent on every bottle by not having to ship it from overseas. Plus, he can respond more quickly to demand by being closer to materials and customers, and by controlling his own manufacturing facility.
Takeaway: Could local manufacturing work for you? Explore options and compare costs and benefits as you launch your business – and as you grow.
2. Don't overlook qualified segments of the labor market.
At Liberty Bottleworks, about 35 percent of the 40 employees are military veterans; almost 10 percent have disabilities. "These employees are incredibly loyal and committed, and that creates a culture of gratitude within the company," Andis says.
Takeaway: "There are a lot of qualified people out there looking for jobs," Andis says. And by opening doors to sometimes-overlooked candidates, "we've found fantastic, creative, engaged employees."
3. Give customers an aesthetically pleasing product.
Liberty Bottleworks employs four full-time artists and hires dozens of independent artists. "Nobody's going to buy our bottles because of our practices. They buy them because they're beautiful bottles. Ultimately, our success is driven by the art we produce," Andis says.
Takeaway: Determine what drives your customers to buy your product. Would making it more functionally useful or making it more attractive boost sales?
4. Go green.
The company follows a manufacturing process that reclaims scrap instead of paying someone to haul it away. "For every dollar we spend on scrap, we get 50 percent back in recycled content. It happens to be green, and it makes good economic sense," Andis says.
Even imperfect bottles find homes. Partnering with Rotary International, bottles with blemished graphics go to orphanages and disaster relief sites. To further stay true to its green theme, Liberty Bottleworks uses UPS carbon neutral shipping.
Takeaway: Could "greening" up your supply chain benefit you financially and/or set you apart from the competition? Here are some ideas to get started.
5. Find technology that enables your business.
Before creating his factory, Andis came across cylindrical digital printing technology that places textured, high-resolution graphics on every bottle. The company has created more than 20,000 designs using this method.
Takeaway: Is there a method or new technology that could take a core part of your business process and make it even better?
6. Watch for opportunities.
Andis thought his bottles would sell primarily through major retailers. Turns out, that's only about 35 percent of his business. The company's custom graphics capabilities, which can offer a personalized product, have attracted customers such as Redhook Brewery, Harley-Davidson and the Dave Matthews Band.
Takeaway: Don't limit your options.
7. Build your brand.
Liberty Bottleworks put its logo on each WorldShip® label on each package. "It's an added level of sophistication that comes across to the consumer," Andis says.
According to Akil White, a UPS account executive, the branded label brings in an additional two to three orders per week, or about $5,000 in additional revenue per year. "It is in essence free advertising," White says.
Takeaway: Could a UPS Branded Label work for you?
8. Look for ways to save time and money.
WorldShip is integrated with the Liberty Bottleworks operating system, making it easier to track shipments, manage invoices and payments, and supply information directly to customers. White estimates that this integration saves the company $12,000 annually.
Takeaway: Savings can often be found by examining and revamping processes. Here are some ideas for saving money for your company, unlocking the hidden value in your business and saving time.
Have tips of your own? Comment below.