Jennifer Cramer is CEO and Brett is Vice President of The Spice Lab, a Pompano Beach, Fla. company selling over 240 artisan sea salts, premium spices, seasonings and loose teas offered in unique packaging and sold by gift and specialty food stores, major retailers and online.
Founded in 2009, The Spice Lab was recognized in 2016 as one of the fastest growing private companies in America, named to the INC 5000, South Florida Business Journal 's Fast 50 and Florida Companies To Watch by GrowFL.
The company has earned numerous industry awards and accolades for its innovative products and packaging. In 2015, Jennifer was recognized by South Florida Business Journal as one of South Florida's Most Influential Women and named to the Sun Sentinel newspaper 's Top Workplace Professionals.
This is the third consecutive year that The Commonwealth Institute has named her one of the Top 50 Women-Led Business Leaders in Florida. Jennifer has a Bachelor’s degree in Art History from Florida Atlantic University and a B.S. degree in Interior Design from Lynn University.
In this interview, Brett and Jennifer share The Spice Lab startup story with us and how they handle the fast growth/expansion of their business. They also share their strengths as a couple/family running a village-like business. Enjoy!
Brett and Jennifer's advice for entrepreneurs starting a business in Florida:
Make sure you have an iron clad village of support around you — the hours are long and you are always exhausted — but your village will always hold you together.
What motivated you to start The Spice Lab? How did the idea come about?
We were selling our tech business in 2009 and Brett became interested in artisan sea salts and began ordering 5 and 10 bags of various salts. Realizing the huge amount of salt that had been delivered to our door, he decided to make holiday gifts for family and friends.
He crafted a wooden base from scrap lumber to hold test tubes of the salts. When people saw what he had created they asked to buy them for gifts for others so he put them up on Amazon, just before Thanksgiving. That following Monday, he discovered we had sold out—and The Spice Lab was born!
What is unique about your business? Is there a competitive advantage that you have over the rest?
We are unique in that we carry the largest selection of gourmet sea salts from a single source. We also now have spices, seasonings and loose teas—and probably about 20 different packaging options—so a great selection of products to appeal to many different channels. And we are one of the largest U.S. importers of Himalayan Pink Salt which is one of the fastest growing categories in grocery.
Most businesses evolve over time. Is there a way that you slowly evolved the mission of The Spice Lab to serve your customers better?
There is nothing slow in how our business has evolved. We have been rapidly expanding every year – with more products and into more channels. When we finally move into our 75,000 sq ft space next month, (from our current 15,000 sq. ft. facility) we will be better able to handle more private label and custom product development. Right now, we are at maximum capacity.
Have you ever gotten a disappointed client or customer? If so, how did you handle the situation?
We are firm believers in—it’s not the fact that there is a problem, it’s how you handle the fix. The customer might tell someone we did their order wrong—but then they tell the friend how we went out of our way to get them what was needed to correct it.
Recently, I had an order going to Miami (30-40-minute drive from us) and he needed it by a certain date—there was no time for the post office to deliver it so I had one of my employees that lived in the area hand deliver it to their door—they were extremely grateful and sent me pictures of the dishes they created with the salts.
What do you consider the biggest milestone that you have hit with your business? What was the biggest thing you did to get there?
Every time we move to a bigger space 1,000 – 3,000 – 15,000 and soon 75,000 square feet, we stop and stare at each other in disbelief at the success and growth that we have had in the last seven years.
Our first Costco order was a big milestone. Early on, we became a HAACP certified facility with the quality control measures in place to guarantee consistent, high-quality products. That positioned us well to be ready for working with Costco and other major retailers.
What’s the biggest thing you struggle with as a business owner? Do you have any advice for how future entrepreneurs can overcome it?
Our biggest struggle is managing growth. We went from Brett, myself and my mother to 53 employees so quickly. We went from a customer list of Mom and Pop shops across the country to box houses and retailers across several continents. It takes a lot of planning and a few leaps of faith to make things happen at this speed.
Hiring the best people and working with a good banker that can see your vision is always a must.
Who has been your greatest influencer along your entrepreneurial journey? How did they shape The Spice Lab?
Our greatest influencers have been our fathers. Both were entrepreneurs – Brett’s dad, a General Contractor and Jennifer’s dad in Insurance – so we have always known what it's like to build a business. We worked for our Dads from an early age and know the value of a long day’s work.
What does a typical day look like for you? Is there something you make a point to do?
No day is typical—with work, kids, the retail shop—it is pretty much run all day. I make a point to talk to as many employees as possible. Whether it's something fun or asking about their families, I like them to know I'm around and interested in what they are doing.
We have one employee that hosts events for the neighborhood kids to get new school supplies in the Fall, or feeding the homeless for Thanksgiving—we try to help wherever we can and support the community to give back. That is the most important of all the things we do around here.
Brett is a problem solver—so every day is a new problem to solve. He also checks on all the lines and makes sure everything is running smoothly and jobs are getting out on time.
How does being an entrepreneur affect your relationships with your friends and family?
We work with many of our family and friends—Jennifer’s Mom and Brett’s brother both work in the company—and we think of our work as an extended family.
We are at the office more hours than home. It’s like living in a small village and everyone has a part in running it. We do family-style lunches often and like close families, we bicker but always make up afterwards.
What advice would you give to our readers who want to start a business in Florida? Where should they start?
Florida is a one of the better places to start a business. Good weather, no state taxes, plenty of workforce and easy commuting.
Shipping rates leaving Florida are also inexpensive because of the empty trucks leaving the port to head back North.
Make sure you have an iron clad village of support around you — the hours are long and you are always exhausted — but your village will always hold you together—we accept all care packages of meals, childcare, errand running—anywhere someone can pitch in for you makes you so grateful for the help no matter what state you are living in.