Winner of 2016 Faces of Entrepreneurship Award
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but if you ask any inventor, they may say the real devil is noticing that need. Then, of course, you have to do something about it.
That’s how it was for Bethany Smith of B Team Solutions, LLC, who turned concern for worker safety into a booming business and created a product category in the process.
Smith and her husband, Bob, run a small catering company in Bermuda Dunes, California. When workers mentioned back pain after long gigs preparing food on the portable work tables commonly used in their industry, Bethany decided to find out what she could do about it. She did a little research connecting awkward surface heights to back pain and went searching for something that seemed so simple – an inexpensive, easily portable way to raise work tables up to a more ergonomic height for standing workers. But Bethany couldn’t find any affordable commercial solutions, and certainly nothing that seemed professional and – most importantly – safe. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to think of things that go wrong when you mix sharp knives with wobbly work surfaces.
Instead of throwing up her hands, Bethany got into the garage. Eventually, she and her husband created a simple, stable riser that fits on the bottom of table legs – an inexpensive solution for small businesses that care about their workers’ health.
In 2014 she sold about $3,400 worth of risers – mostly soft sales to other caterers, vendors, and trade show exhibitors – small businesses that rely all on the same kinds of folding tables. Bethany knew she was on to something. Her big problem was figuring out how to get her product out of the garage and into people’s hands.
“Sales 20 years ago and sales now are so different, and being online is the difference. It’s how people shop now,” said Bethany. “When you have a great product and you find the way to sell it you have a winning combination.”
So Bethany got a website, liftyourtable.com, and began listing her table risers through online retailers like Amazon and eBay. She found an American manufacturer to start making her risers, freeing her up to take care of real business.
In 2014 Bethany began to realize that if she could get just a little help, this sideline project could outgrow her catering business and become her real breadwinner.
That’s when she turned to the Coachella Valley Women’s Business Center (CVWBC), enrolling in their signature entrepreneurial program, “It’s Your Time.” It gave her access to mentors, classes, and workshops, and helped her create a working business plan.
“The business plan I made through that class made all the difference,” said Bethany. Her plan won her a best-in-cohort award in CVWBC’s entrepreneurial class. “I still use that plan. We keep it updated, but it’s still the same basic plan.”
That’s pretty good considering the company’s exponential growth from an extremely modest $3,400 in 2013 to $250,000 in 2016, just three years later. In 2018, they doubled that number, and this year they have plans to increase sales four to five times.
All of that growth has been possible thanks to distribution deals with major retailers. Bethany first landed a deal with Grainger, a leading distributor of commercial and industrial products. Now she is selling her table risers through Walmart.com, Overstock.com, Jet.com, and, most impressively, Nordstrom Rack. “They’re our biggest corporate client right now and they have approved our product for all their stores,” Bethany said.
While she is selling her product in 13 countries and all 50 states, Bethany knows there’s still a lot more room to grow. “It’s a really simple concept but it’s something that almost every work and school and office and even home environment needs. If you have a folding table you should have a set of our risers. So we virtually have unlimited growth potential. It’s just up to us to figure out how to get the message to people that don’t know the product exists. Because we created a category.”
Right now, Bethany’s focus is on finding new partners to distribute her risers and make them available to more people. Though her sales are mainly online, she hopes one day she can go into brick-and-mortar retail. “Once I get into Bed, Bath & Beyond I’ll be done. That’s my dream distribution. So many people would be able to find it and that’s one of my favorite stores,” she said.
While she comes off as an unstoppable force of nature, Bethany is quick to say she couldn’t have done this alone. Not only does she have a husband whose skills complement her own and that she works so well with, but she also got a lot of personal support along the way from business mentors.
“When you work for yourself if something is daunting you, you just don’t do it,” said Bethany. “But with a mentor helping you, they push you. They keep you going.”
In fact, Bethany believes the mentorship she’s received was so crucial to learning things vital to her particular business – like wholesale pricing structure and online marketing – that she now serves as a peer advisor at CVWBC and teaches a workshop there once a month. But she knows she must keep learning. “Nobody ever knows everything and things are always changing for the people that know everything.” So she continues taking classes and improving her skill set.
Bethany has also found a community of women manufacturers with whom she can bounce off ideas and talk about her challenges. “One of my buddies and I are going on a field trip to a box manufacturing company tomorrow. We go together and you don’t feel like an island, you don’t feel like you’re just a geek by yourself all excited about boxes.”
One of Bethany’s proudest accomplishments is being able to run a business that helps people, even in a small way. “It’s not like we have a life-altering drug or anything, but we have something that can really make a difference in somebody’s workday,” she said. “That’s a great mission for us to go and save backs all over the world.”
Written by Cassandra Stern, a freelance writer from Albany, CA.