How Kimberly Scott did more than "lean in." She built an Inc. 500 company out of a $40 investment.
Kimberly Scott always knew she was meant to make a difference in people's lives. Where – and how – to make that difference, however, wasn't so easy to pinpoint.
"My employees say, ‘You're not like any other owner I've worked for!' I just tell them I want to make a living and enjoy what I'm doing. It's a journey." – Kim Scott, The Great Gourmet
After separating from her husband and moving back in with her parents one difficult year, the Federalsburg, Md.-based single mom's drive to make a difference took a backseat to reestablishing her life and providing for her daughter, Ashley.
Scott attended a community college but after graduating, "I thought I'd be a secretary," she says.
Not so. Scott landed a stable new position at a seafood harvesting and processing company in Easton, Md. Still, something was still missing.
"The logistics of how everything got done was fascinating to me," Scott explains. "At lunch, I'd go into the production room and ask the workers tons of questions. Why was this so important?"
At that point, Scott had an epiphany.
"I thought to myself, ‘I can do this. I can create a company all on my own,'" she explains. "But instead of generating profit for profit's sake, it could help change the world – and leave a legacy after I'm gone."
With a crumpled wad of $40 in cash, a single Sam's Club freezer and a website domain, Scott began what would transform into one of Inc. Magazine's 500/5000 fastest-growing companies in the next three years: The Great Gourmet.
Finding her niche
Although Scott was able to build a website for The Great Gourmet, a company that sells wholesale seafood to retail markets, there was one small but significant problem.
If you build it… they will not necessarily come.
"To start drawing people to my site, I needed to market my company and myself," says Scott. "What makes us stand out from another small business?"
For Scott, this wasn't a difficult question to answer. All she had to do was take a look at her overwhelmingly male competition.
"I'm a woman-owned business in a male-dominated field," Scott explains. "There aren't a whole lot of female business owners out there, let alone in the seafood industry. It was a niche I could really market as my own."
But marketing herself as a female business owner in a male-dominated industry wasn't enough. Scott knew she had to adapt the model in a different way if she were to make a mark.
"We couldn't compete with those larger corporations," she explains. "The only way for us to be profitable was to go in as a low-end leader. We were cheaper and offered many services for free with no dedicated sales team. All of our referrals were word-of-mouth. Our business was built on relationships."
All the while, Scott says, her UPS driver Rusty Murphy was by her side.
"Rusty was there with us from the beginning," she says. "When we got our first couple of orders, I wouldn't even wait for him at the door. I'd run down to his car and we'd jump up and down in excitement over those first orders."
After reaching $5 million in sales and a spot on Inc. Magazine's 500/5000 fastest-growing companies list just three years later, Scott says that excitement and support from Murphy and UPS still hadn't ceased.
"I wouldn't have been able to do it without UPS," she says. "That was one of the greatest contributions. They encouraged us and were there when we needed them most. If we had orders coming in after hours, they'd stay just to make sure we got everything out on time."
Empowering female colleagues
While branding herself as a female business owner was a strategic marketing move, for Scott, the title holds a far more personal significance.
"In my industry, my male counterparts make significantly more than my female ones," Scott says. "When I go to conferences and meet other male business owners, they often try to challenge me, maybe believing I'm weaker because I'm a female. They quickly find out that I'm not."
Although women are making an increasingly prominent mark in entrepreneurialism in the U.S., the gender disparity still exists. According to data from the National Women's Business Council, women owned 36.3 percent of nonfarm and privately run businesses in 2012, compared with 28.8 percent in 2007.
As a woman whose beginnings were anything but entrepreneurial, Scott wants to serve as an inspiration for – and help change the lives of – other aspiring female business owners.
"Whether it's being a mother, a professional or just to be fun and carefree, there's too much pressure for women to focus on one aspect of their lives," explains Scott. "Why shouldn't we have it all? Female-owned business owners are very capable and successful at creating balance."
She hopes that empowerment will translate to her daughter as well, who is now 25 years old and co-owner/vice president of The Great Gourmet.
"I try to stress to my female friends, colleagues and my daughter to communicate with confidence, and to have balance," she says. "But most importantly, to do what makes you happy."
Leaving a legacy
In addition to empowering her female colleagues, Scott funnels her desire to do good in the community through several other ways.
"The Great Gourmet has worked with charities in the past, including Say No To Abuse, which was one of our own," Scott says.
Although the charity is no longer up and running (Scott says time conflicts with The Great Gourmet wouldn't let her funnel as much energy as she believed the charity needed to be successful), she continues to speak out against abuse, donate to organizations and complete mission work with her church.
Although watching Scott speak against abuse on a podium or staying active in her community might seem like the most obvious way her dream to change people's lives is manifesting, it might be most apparent on The Great Gourmet's assembly line.
"I'm constantly making crab cakes, filling boxes and doing anything I can to help out at work," Scott says. "My employees say, ‘You're not like any other owner I've worked for!' I just tell them I want to make a living and enjoy what I'm doing. It's a journey."