This article first appeared on Food Magazine.
Starting a business from scratch can be daunting. Especially when you accidentally fall into it. That’s what happened with Renae Colbert, who along with her husband Chris, started up medicinal herb business Herbal Connection six years ago.
Coming from a corporate background, Colbert wasn’t totally green to the nuances of B2B enterprise, but she was to herbs and their medicinal properties. How she came into the business was not due to a life-long ambition to be a connoisseur of herbal remedies. There was a much more practical motive.
“The reason I got into herbs was because I had a medical condition that I struggled to have traditional practitioners diagnose and help me manage,” she said. “I went looking for alternatives to try and fix that problem on my own, and in doing so I found relief in natural medicines. I credit my naturopath with getting my health back on track. I couldn’t have done that without medicinal herbs. I had such a life transformation that I knew I had to do something with it. I just knew there were so many other people that could benefit from the products.”
Initially, Colbert had designs on blending her own teas and a range of other products, but quickly realised that the wholesale side, and to a lesser degree processing, were the skill sets that she and her husband could best utilise. Six years later they now employ five full-time staff and the business keeps on growing. As with any growth, it’s important that the business side of the enterprise runs smoothly. Colbert even knew right at the beginning inventory software was a key ingredient to making Herbal Connection a business that wouldn’t cause any unnecessary issues. Thus Colbert invested in Unleashed Software.
“We were a small business, but because of where we had come from, our understanding of warehousing and what we wanted the business to be and what we wanted it to grow into, we knew we needed a robust inventory software solution,” she said. “It needed to have the ability to grow with us and have the function and features that we were going to need down the track. This is what Unleashed gave us. While we didn’t need all of its functions at the beginning, it was great because we could start off small and then have Unleashed grow with us.”
For a growing business, having a software that grows with you is beneficial.
And the aforementioned ability of the software’s features to expand as the company grew turned out to be fortuitous because the company has done exactly that.
“We had no inventory management system when we first got started and we only had maybe 150-200 SKUs,” said Colbert. “We now have in excess of 500. The business has quadrupled over that time, so it was great that we had the software which was easy to set up and use. Any time there is an update, it’s easy to update. It integrates with all of our other software, such as the eCommerce platform we run for our online presence. It also integrates with our accounting software. We made a decision right from the get-go that we were only going to use a product that spoke to everything else. I needed it to be easy.”
Being the owner of a small business means that Colbert has to wear many different hats. The last one she wanted to have was that of being an IT manager.
“I needed to know it was plug and play and it was going to work,” she said. “It’s very intuitive. If you know your way around a computer, it’s easy to figure out.”
There are a couple of features that are her favourites, including the ordering function, and it also helps out with the customised processing Herbal Connection does for certain clients.
“I find the reordering my inventory reports as one of my favourite features,” she said. “I couldn’t run the business without that ability. It’s easy. I do it once a week. I put purchase orders to my suppliers, and it is done.
“We also do production for clients. We are a certified organic producer and we have a lot of clients that want us to do their custom tea blends for them. Those blends are built into the Unleashed system and we find that particularly useful.”
Being certified organic is an important part of Colbert’s business, however not all of Herbal Connection’s products have the certification. Again, this is where Unleashed comes into play and saves the business a lot of time.
“The software gives us the ability to differentiate between what’s a certified organic product and what isn’t so when it comes to audits and things like that,” she said, “it’s easy for us to track the certified organic product coming into the warehouse and its movement through the warehouse.
“It also tells us if a product has got different blends; what order has it got added to – we get to track it all coming in and all going back out again.”
Herbal Connections makes good use of Unleashed to assemble their tea blends.
The medicinal herb market continues to be a growing space, according to Colbert. More people are becoming aware of what it means to take care of themselves and what they need to do to put their own health in their own hands.
“More people are coming to that realisation that they have to do something about it,” she said. “This particular situation – COVID-19 – only highlights that for people. We find we’ve had an uplift in business as a result of this because they are looking for things to help boost their immunity. They’re looking for things that will help support their families and keep them healthy.”
And it helps that they have an inventory software that can keep up with the increasing demand and can adapt to the company’s needs.
“As long as you have your inventory levels set up, it’s really a case of clicking the supplier, run the report and reorder. It can be that simple,” she said. “We’re all over this software. There is not one part of that software that we don’t use.”