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 a concern for worker safety into a booming $250,000 business projected to grow even bigger thanks to a recent national distribution deal and another in the works.
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, Smith decided to find out what she could do about it. She did a little research confirming 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. Instead Smith 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, Smith 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. Smith knew she was on to something. Her big problem was figuring out how to get her product out of the garage 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 Smith. “When you have a great product and you find the way to sell it you have a winning combination.”
So Smith got a website, liftyourtable.com, and began listing her table risers through online retailers like Amazon.com and EBay. She found an American manufacturer to start making her risers, freeing her up to take care of real business.
In 2014 Smith 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 Smith. Her plan won her a best-in-cohort award in CVWBC’s signature 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 $50,000 in 2015, just two years later.
This year’s projected revenue is $250,000 thanks to a distribution deal with Grainger, a leading distributor of commercial and industrial products. She now employs two to three part time workers in addition to her husband and herself.
Smith is currently expanding her product line to include other ergonomic devices including cushioned standing mats and kits that turn regular tables into standing desks and surfaces suitable people with wheelchairs since most armrests don’t fit under standard tables.
While she comes off as an unstoppable force of nature, Smith is quick to say she couldn’t have done this alone. Not only does she have a husband whose skills compliment her own and that she works so well with, 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 Smith. “But with a mentor helping you, they push you. They keep you going.”
In fact, Smith 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 regularly contributes to workshops.
“I’m excited about being able to give back,” said Smith, who grew a concern for worker welfare into a booming business in just a few short years, proving once again, you can do well by doing good.
Written by Cassandra Stern, a freelance writer from Albany, CA.