Nutraceutical Market Highlight: SMK Global – The Art of Modern Contract Manufacturing in the U.S.
Avni Patel, Founder and CEO of SMK Global, together with her husband AB Patel, President and CSO SMK, opened a Dietary Supplement Contract Manufacturing business in 2019 and since then has produced quite a few successful products. You can find nutritional supplements manufactured by SMK Global on the shelves of the biggest retailers in the United States – Walmart, Target, Costco, etc.
“AB and I knew we wanted to start a supplement business since 2010. The question was when? About 8 years later, we were saturated in our careers and thought now or never so decided we might as well start now.”
“SMK started with 2 employees in a very small 1 room office and large open warehouse. From there we embarked on a journey to build a manufacturing facility from scratch whilst forming a team of passionate individuals. In the first Phase we were able to construct production rooms and train our core team. Little did we know that we would outgrow our production capacities and need to hire more people quicker than we imagined. This phase was relentless and fun at the same time.“
“AB and I would spend 16-18 hours 7 days a week at the facility doing everything from using a forklift to receive 28 pallets, gowning up to help in the production rooms, then heading to important meetings with customers and vendors. Top to bottom, we did everything ourselves and literally built the company with our own hands. In the next phase, we focused on hiring supervisors, managers, and directors. We automized processes and filled the gaps. Building a company of this scale has been a rollercoaster ride for us from day one and is still just as thrilling. We are just as passionate about our work today as the day we started, and that is what we look forward to every day. The rest is history.”
Today we are going to talk with Avni Patel about her challenges and advantages of contract manufacturing in the current supplement market conditions, as well as SMK Global business approach.
Avni, before we go into the depth of today’s market challenges for manufacturing business, can you tell us – why nutritional supplements? Why did you choose to manufacture vitamins?
To be honest, both of our parents had retail businesses in the USA, and we knew that we wanted to do something larger than that. Our vision was big and with our combined experience in the Supplement Industry it only made sense to pursue this business. We knew we didn’t want to launch a brand like everyone else, instead there was a demand for manufacturing service and the challenge made it even more intriguing.
AB is a pharmacist/formulator extraordinaire aka the science guy and I on the other hand love the idea of Business Plan, structure, marketing, finance etc. We had the confidence so why not to start manufacturing the product that we are so familiar with. It wasn’t even a question for us it was more like an obvious fact that we would do this business.
In the last 4 years I have seen so many things and have learned a lot. I think I have learned more in the last 4 year than I have in the combined 30 years prior. We try to provide an environment at SMK which is unbiased to race, age, or gender. Where people can be themselves and grow. You kind of try to provide a space that you never got yourself.
What was your focus when you created your production? Which innovations and business ideas did you want to implement first?
Both AB and I knew that we wanted to have a Smart and Efficient operation. He is really the one who knew more about the technicalities of the machines and how to optimize them for high output with the highest production yield and quality. We worked many hours with our engineers to get the best equipment up and running at our facility.
We worked smart to ensure that our business was set up according to modern progressive ways. If you run a company like a mom-and-pop operation it will remain at that scale. At work we stayed professional in our ethics and operated as if we were building a large business. We never got comfortable with a mediocre result. If that meant, we had to pick our brains for extra few hours a day we did. Based off our experience we emphasized we would solve problems for customers through communication, efficiency, in an economical way. It’s a win-win for all stakeholders.
What were the biggest challenges for your business and yourself, launching your own production?
There are many answers and many ways to answer this question. I’m sure If you asked me in that time, I was in a different head space than today. Honestly, a huge challenge is knowing when to stop working to take time to take care of yourself and individual health. Normal challenges are part and parcel of starting a business. For example, Funding, Hiring employees, training employees, setting up SOPs, qualifying vendors, servicing customers and the list goes on. These are all things that can be solved with proper planning, preparation, and sheer determination. If you are determined, you can tackle the hurdles it’s just a mater of a few weeks here and there so project management/ time management skills are something that you inevitably will learn and will be your new superpower. When your goals and intentions are clear nothing can stop you.
What was your main principal when you were hiring your team? What qualities in people are the most important for you?
I love this question by the way. See we are not building rockets here nor do we need rocket scientist, so the skills required can be taught or learned. The most important thing for me was whether it be of 2 people or 200 people, our team must be very pleasant to work with. I look for hardworking honest people who have empathy towards other human beings. You can interpret that however you want. Spending 8-10 waking hours with your co-workers has to be pleasant and not miserable and everyone has the right to expect that. It is my responsibility to set the pillars in management for this to happen. In my company bullies aren’t encouraged or celebrated like other places. That is very important to me. We come to work as efficiently as possible so we can go home to our real personal lives as soon as possible, its as simple as that. When the work environment is correct, magic happens.
Despite the pandemic situation, inflation and challenging markets, it looks like your company continues growing. How did you manage to sustain your growth in quite tricky conditions?
Our industry has grown throughout the pandemic, so I have to acknowledge that, while other industries have suffered a lot. We are very lucky in that sense. Other than that, our team enjoys coming to work and getting things done, weather it be a pandemic, a snow storm, or other challenges. We figured things out as they come. We live in New Jersey where we have ample work force if you are willing to compete with the “amazons” in terms of compensation and treat people right, you will find many people who want to work. We focused on the solution and got through each challenge.
Supply chain interruptions occurred in a lot of industries across the world, and the nutritional supplements market has not avoided that as well. How does SMK Global manage to deal with it?
We have the best vendors and have worked with them on building a relationship with trust and respect. Our suppliers have been more than helpful in giving us heads up so we can procure important materials in time. We have worked with our customers to plan and deal with the situations. Our supply chain, purchasing, and production planning team have been very aggressive and kudos to them for meeting AB’s and my expectations.
What are the new equipment additions that you have made this year?
We have added high speed stick pack machines, new jar packing lines, additional blending machines, and smaller machines to automate assembly.
Everyone talks about sustainability and social responsibility today, what is SMK Global’s approach to it?
Truth is, I need a successful business to fund my true passion which is more philanthropic work. Sustainability and social responsibility are very important to me as an individual and you will see reflections of that at SMK. SMK allows me to do what I love at a slightly larger scale than if I were to do it on my own. Not all business has the luxury to be able to do that. We are very fortunate to be able to do this from our first year in business and that’s all ill say on this topic.
Why did you choose cricket as a sport you want to support?
I have supported other sports and athletes as well and would do so if I encounter someone that I can help. Cricket is the second most popular sport in the world after Football/Soccer. Cricket is so intriguing and complex; it teaches you a lot or I can say everything you need to know. Also, I am passionate about promoting women’s cricket. That is very important to me. Women deserve to have fields, proper bathrooms, sponsorship, career paths in cricket and much more.
Any exciting plans for the rest of the year and the goals for the next ones? Plan is the same, keep working!