While many companies are struggling in this challenging economy, McMinnville-based Betty Lou’s Inc. just logged its best year ever.
Founder and President Betty Lou Carrier said business was up an impressive 36 percent in 2011. As a result, she is planning to hire at least 15 more workers to staff a second shift.
A move from its cramped Granary District quarters to the former Skyline mobile home plant, which encompasses 105,000 square feet off Booth Bend Road, set the stage for more acceleration of production. And it’s about to begin.
Carrier gives a lot of the credit to Key Bank, saying it has consistently lent her the money she needed to finance growth, expansion and acquisition.
When she was bursting at the seams in her Granary District quarters, she approached Key Bank’s Carole Maylender.
She told Maylender she not only needed money for a new building, but also for new state-of-the-art machinery to equip it. And Maylender came through, which allowed the company to purchase its current home in 2008.
For Key Bank, the timing was perfect.
It had recently launched a Key4Women program with a goal of lending $3 billion to women entrepreneurs within three years. And Betty Lou’s project fit right in.
“I love that they believe in me,” said Carrier. The deal proved to be a win-win for Maylender as well. Carrier found her indispensable — to the point where she hired her one-time banker to serve as her executive assistant at Berry Lou’s.
But for Carrier, success hardly came overnight.
It all began 33 years ago with a simple desire to limit her children to healthy snacks and treats. They were virtually impossible to find commercially, so she started making her own.
She used honey and brown rice syrup instead of refined sugar. And they proved as tasty as they were nutritious, so word spread fast and requests came pouring in.
Besieged with demand, she launched a home-based business. And it remained home-based for eight years.
She worked a route from Seattle to Sacramento, selling her creations under the Betty Lou’s Smackers name. Then she tried showing her wares at a trade show, and discovered products like her nut butter balls stood up against even fancy chocolates.
Deciding the time was right to get into the business in a bigger way, Carrier leased a First Street building now being used by Habitat for Humanity. After 15 years there, she moved to a 9,000-square-foot building on Seventh Street in 2000, and gradually expanded into several nearby buildings owned by Granary District entrepreneur Kelly McDonald.
She began plotting the move to expansive new quarters featuring fancy new equipment in 2008.
In addition to her own products, Carrier has been manufacturing similar products for other firms. By 2003, she had 35 workers turning out products for eight vendors.
But that’s nothing compared to today. Today, she has 125 employees manufacturing products for 45 companies.
The company’s contract business recently presented an expansion opportunity of its own, when Betty Lou’s was able to acquire Angell Bars.
Betty Lou’s had been producing an organic, all-natural candy bar for Angell, founded by Christopher and Susan Angell four years ago in San Diego. Now that it has been able to bring the Angell bar into its own stable, it is planning to add new flavors to the line.
Already, Angell bars are available in more than 700 retail locations throughout the U.S., and Betty Lou’s plans to expand that.
Most of the company’s clients prefer to remain confidential, but there is one that doesn’t, Elizabeth Hasselbeck. Last year, Betty Lou’s had an output of 23 million pieces. That reflects the scale of the company’s current operation, which has come a mighty long way from Betty Lou’s original kitchen table.
And the Skyline plant came with seven acres of land, allowing for additional expansion in the future.
“I started out just wanting to help people with their health,” said Carrier, whose products are all-natural and gluten-free. “I never envisioned doing this. It’s just taking me along with it.”
The business, marketing under the motto “Just Great Stuff ... and Plenty of it,” is not only sweeping Carrier along in life, but also two sons — Vice President of Operations Fred Brayton and Vice President of Sales John Sizemore. And that’s not to mention various grandchildren and nephews.
Not content to rest on its laurels, the company is constantly on the lookout for new opportunities. Last year it found one in a powdered organic peanut butter.
Regular peanut butter features 16 to 18 grams of fat and 190 calories, hers 1.5 grams of fat and 45 calories. The directions call for mixing two tablespoons of the powder with a tablespoon of water until a smooth, even texture is achieved.
“Kids love it,” she said. “It’s fun to make.”
She said it’s also popular with body builders, who add the powder to their protein shakes.
Other Betty Lou’s products include layered fruit bars, low-glycemic protein shakes, cookies and a line of organic “Just Great Stuff” bars with unique ingredients, including acai, raspberry, spinach, kale and broccoli.
While other companies have cut payroll and downsized operations in the worst economy since the Great Depression, Carrier’s has rolled right on through it. In fact, she said, “We are looking for key employees.
By Molly Walker
Of the News-Register