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Are You Really Ready to Grow?

At the end of 2008, Francine Glick, the CEO of Livingston, NJ-based Water Journey, was just about at the end of her rope. Glick started Water Journey in 1997 with a product called Hands2GO, an alcohol-free hand sanitizer that's made with a minimal amount of chemicals yet still kills 99.9 percent of bacteria. "The retail sector fell off a cliff," she recalls. Clients like Babies R Us, Toys R Us, Duane Reed and Whole Foods stopped placing new orders. Glick was worried but determined to ride out the recession.

Holding on paid off. Last April, the H1N1 epidemic hit and Glick was inundated with demand for Hands2GO. "The phone did not stop ringing," she says. "All our large customers called and said 'give us everything you can.' In one day, we sold two months worth of inventory." Glick had to scramble to ramp up production in order to meet continuing demand. In the process, she realized that there were several steps she could have taken proactively to better position her company for growth. Here's what she learned:
1. Cultivate great vendor relationships -- and great backups. Glick relies heavily on a contract manufacturer as well as suppliers of bottles and tops. But when H1N1 hit, every manufacturer of hand sanitizer products was putting the squeeze on vendors. "We could typically get stuff in six to eight weeks, and suddenly we were looking at 12 weeks," she says. "In the middle of an epidemic, 12 weeks doesn't cut it." Glick had to scramble to find alternative sources of components, and she was forced to pay a premium to get them delivered quickly. Now she knows that it's smart to always have a list of good alternative vendors on hand.

2. Have good systems in place before you need them. Water Journey is a small virtual company; Glick works out of her home in Livingston, NJ and has employees in Stamford, CT; Brooklyn, NY; Atlanta, GA; and Richmond, VA. E-mail was the company's primary means of communication, which can slow you down in the best of times. Now, Glick uses Basecamp, web-based collaborative software that allows her employees and clients to message one another, share files, and manage projects far more efficiently than e-mail. In retrospect, she realizes that investing in the system before she reached a crisis point would have been a good idea, even though it was more infrastructure than she needed at first.

3. Leverage new opportunities. H1N1 panic sent new clients from industries that Glick had never tapped knocking on her door. "Pratt & Whitney contacted us and wanted to test our product with the people who work on their titanium jet engines," Glick says. "We said sure, and now they're a big client for us. That's even more exciting than increased demand -- being able to penetrate new markets." The experience made Glick realize that she needed to think more creatively about her client base, so she commissioned a marketing study to determine what other markets might be worth pursuing.

4. Don't underestimate the need for cash. Glick admits that she could have done three times as much business if she'd had more money for manufacturing. Limited resources meant limited growth potential, and she isn't about to let that happen again. She's now seeking $250,000 in angel investment to build up inventory and would like to raise an additional million later in the year to introduce more products.

Water Journey's revenues topped $700,000 last year, compared to $500,000 in 2008, and Glick is predicting $1.5 million this year. She's now confident that she's properly prepared not only for another wave of H1N1 but also for whatever unexpected opportunities might come her way.

Are you positioning your company for growth -- and if so, how?

Tall grass image by Flicker user aussiegall, CC 2.0