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Business Observer Thursday, May 12, 2022 1 week ago

2022 Top Entrepreneur: Erin Meagher, Beneficial Blends founder and CEO, Tampa

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Erin Meagher leads the company through the pandemic and into new facility and products.
by: Louis Llovio Commercial Real Estate Editor

Company: Beneficial Blends is an organic and CBD oil company manufacturing private label organic food, beverage, supplements, cosmetics and home goods products.

Earlier this year, Beneficial moved into an 80,000-square-foot facility, bringing all its operations under one roof. And, despite supply chain challenges the past two years, it’s 2022 revenue is projected to top $25 million, up from $20 million last year.

This is a far cry from where founder and CEO Erin Meagher was when she started the company in 2009.

Back then, Meagher was teaching kids about business and entrepreneurship at Osceola High School in Pinellas County.

One day, while reading the local paper, she ran across a story about a woman whose husband had Alzheimer’s disease. The woman was slipping coconut oil into his oatmeal each morning. While it wasn’t a cure, it began to improve his quality of life and allowed him to do small things around the house.

Meagher researched the benefits, discovering coconut oil helped with brain health, heart health and cholesterol levels. These were issues most people dealt with.

“So I was like, ‘Hey, I think I have something here,’” she says. Meagher figured if she could come up with a brand of coconut oil and talk about the benefits, she could make a go of it.

“I started the brand, Kelapo Coconut Oil, in 2009 and figured if I failed at that, then I’d just go back and start teaching again. And it really took off from there.”

Tipping point: A trade show in Boston in 2010 was the company's coming out party. 

It was there when the then-startup company’s coconut oil supplier walked up to her and said, “Just to let you know, Erin, we’ve decided to come out with a brand of this in the U.S. market too.”

“Some people would have probably taken it as a sign right there," Meagher says, "that you should wrap this up before you even get started. Your supplier is saying they’re going head-to-head with you in the U.S. market and they’ve been around for seven years as a company?”

But Meagher didn’t let the situation overwhelm her. Instead, at that critical moment, when her company could have ended before it began, the budding entrepreneur’s self-described naivete and stubbornness kept her going.

"There’s funny moments like that when you have to keep making those decisions to keep going," she says, "to keep pivoting and keep moving forward.”

Key decision: Meagher says there's been multiple decisions made at critical moments of Beneficial Blends' life, like putting her tenacity to use at that trade show, that have moved the firm forward.

A big one? Moving into manufacturing products rather than just selling branded goods. This, she says, allowed the company to expand its product line as well as its reach.  

“By the time we got there, it was like, ‘Wow, now we can add all these additional services and we can have all these additional customers. And now, today, we’re adding in new production lines that we never thought of doing before, and we’re expanding so much further outside of oils, we’re handling anything that’s liquid — energy shots and flavor enhancers and all these other things that that we are able to move into today.”

Best pandemic decision: At the start of the pandemic, Beneficial Blends was operating out of two buildings, when a larger space opened up across the way. Moving there would have allowed the company to stay in the same location while growing and remaining in two buildings.

Meagher was about to sign the lease when the pandemic hit.

So she held off. At the time, no one knew what was going to happen and she was preparing for the worst. What she didn’t want was to be on the hook for a new lease if things went really bad. 

That allowed the company to patiently wait out the pandemic and the market, eventually finding an 80,000-square-foot facility, which it moved into in January.

“It’s much larger than it would even have been in those two buildings combined,” she says. “We were able to get locked in at a great rate and got a long-term deal on it. That would have passed us up if we had secured that other building at the beginning of COVID.”

Biggest mistake: Meagher says the decision to install a new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) platform was critical for the company’s growth — but the timing couldn’t have been worse.

The new system, which went in around 2017, was designed for Beneficial Blends to bring all its operational system into one place, handling financials, inventory systems and critical programs. This was key, especially when tracking inventory is essential to its operations because of government oversight.

As the firm began implementing the new system, its CFO announced he was retiring. Then Meagher and her husband learned they were going to have a baby — the first of what's now three kids. 

“In hindsight, I think that set us back,” she says. “We didn’t have the people and the energy to do the implementation correctly…We’re probably way ahead of other companies our size who probably don’t have this kind of thing. But, man, that one affected me for years. That affected the company for years, trying to fix, correct, learn. That was a big one for us.”

Up-at-night worry: It’s no surprise Meagher’s fear these days is supply chain issues. 

The issue was at its worst in 2020 and 2021. Even now major concerns remain and small and mid-size companies like Beneficial Blends have felt the brunt of it.

The concern extends beyond getting the ingredients the company needs for its products. Vendors are facing shortages getting what’s needed to transport oils.

This is coupled with worries about inflation.

Meagher worries consumers facing higher prices will forgo Beneficial Brand’s products at stores.

“It’s something different every day,” Meagher says. “It’s so funny when you’re like, ‘Man, I never thought I’d see that supply chain issue or that thing happen.’ And then you’re like, ‘Oh, man, it happened.’”

Outside work: With three young children at home, Meagher says there’s only one focus when she’s not working: Spending time with her 5-year-old girl, twin 3-year-olds, boy and girl, and husband.

“When we come home, in the evenings and on weekends, we want to spend all the time with the kids, right? Because they’re just at that age. It’s such a precious age and they want to spend time with you too. So, there’s a lot of absorbing, absorbing as much as we can with them on the weekends and doing a lot of family stuff,” she says.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much my life right now. Work and the kids.”

 

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