A business always starts with an idea – but without proper execution, a good product will never reach its potential.
Rooibee Red Tea first began as a failed new product. Jeff Stum, an executive at the large wine and spirits company Brown-Forman, decided to try his hand at developing a tea spiked with alcohol. After experimenting from 2006-2007, Stum realized that though his original idea was unsuccessful, the tea without alcohol actually tasted quite good.
Stum partnered with a local bottler but quickly realized that he would need more business expertise if he wanted to get the venture off the ground.
Enter Heather Howell. “I found myself going into something I really care about,” she said. Soon after Howell’s arrival, Rooibee Red Tea was picked up by two nationwide distributors, and the company took off.
Howell’s experience working for Fortune 500 companies that focus on healthcare and nutrition prepared her for marketing Rooibee Red Tea. You have to think about “who does the grocery shopping,” said Howell. “One of the main reasons I truly believe that Rooibee Red Tea has been so successful is because we are surrounded by a decision-maker, myself, that truly understands what moms are looking for – because I am one.” She wants to make sure the drink is healthy – especially for children. Rooibee’s motto fits too: “inspire wellbeing.”
The company has done extremely well. Since May 2010, when Howell joined, the company has grown 697 percent – and there are no signs of slowing.
One of Howell’s big projects was to create Rooibee Roo, the tea line for kids. “It launched on May 9th, and we’ve already had thousands and thousands of cases fly out the door.” The new line was featured in the Wall Street Journal.
Howell is also heavily involved in encouraging women interested in business. She currently serves as Chairwoman of the Board of the National Association of Women MBAs and is a founding member of the Louisville National Association of Women MBAs chapter.
She strongly believes that women should be more highly represented on the boards of major companies, and she encourages women to strive for their best. “Any time that I feel like I can help another woman be successful or get another person ahead of the game, that is truly what makes me happy.”
When Rooibee Red Tea was featured in Facebook’s office kitchens, Howell even had the chance to talk with Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and author of Lean In, a book that advises women on how to achieve their goals.
“That’s the beauty of America – if you have an idea, you can see it,” she said. Howell looks back fondly on the days of setting up tents at farmers’ markets as she tried to market the product. And now, she talks to Costco.
Being an entrepreneur is “a ton of hard work,” said Howell. “There’s no playbook for this.” But she offered a tip from her experience – seek out a mentor who will give straight advice. “Along my journey, I’ve been so blessed that people will sit across the table from me and just tell me what I need to hear.”
Launching a business is never easy. “It is truly an intensely emotional ride,” said Howell. “But I do think that the reward is so great – being able to create jobs and being able to inspire people.”
The world needs more people like Howell. She envisions a bright future for Rooibee Red Tea and works very hard to make that vision a reality, all while “inspiring wellbeing” in those around her.
First published at Opportunity Lives.