Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy that translates to “constant improvement.”
It’s a concept that Rebecca Brady, the $1 million grand prize winner of 43North’s 2021 pitch contest, applies to multiple aspects of Top Seedz, from how she treats employees to work efficiencies to the markets in which she does business. Her seed-cracker business is located at 247 Cayuga Road in Cheektowaga, and it plans to relocate to a downtown facility next year to increase production levels.
“Keep thinking and staying on your toes,” she advised. “I enjoy a good problem to solve.”
Employee retention and support
As the founder and CEO, she tries to put herself in the shoes of her employees by working alongside them on their daily tasks. Sometimes this is necessary because someone is sick or an order must be pushed out.
The practice allows her to adjust roles to make it easier on her 30 employees, many of whom are refugees. Some employees, for example, can rotate jobs so that they are not standing in the same spot all day.
Brady also provides incentives, such as a $10 gift card, for employees who come to her with suggestions on how to make their jobs easier. She tries to create a positive atmosphere by organizing team-building activities every couple of months and being as accommodating as possible with people’s work schedules “Even if it feels like it’s a lot of money to do those social activities, I think it pays off in the end because turnover is so expensive,” she explained. “When people leave, morale suffers as well.”
Manufacturing and operations
Brady is looking to increase efficiencies as the company has grown since its inception in 2017. It’s as simple as rethinking workflow. Someone used to follow along with a set of scales as workers filled cracker containers, for example. The weigher is now resting on a scale. “You do it all in one location and use less real estate for the same job,” she explained. “You improve your efficiency.”
When the company grew large enough, Top Seedz began offering online ordering in 2019. It has a higher profit margin and requires less physical effort from seasoned employees. She added a software system that digitized logistics and communications about two years ago, which Brady describes as a “game changer.” Previously, there were numerous hard copies in various locations.
The company has a one-year roadmap in place to plan the direction of its existing products as well as new product extensions that the company may launch. “We can possibly increase the value of every store if we introduce another product line to that store,” she said.
Exploring new markets
Brady recognizes the strengths of local independent stores and incorporates them into her company’s growth strategy. Broken crackers that are too small to sell in regular-sized containers are packaged and given to food banks or sent to smaller, independent shops that order Top Seedz online.
Larger stores typically do not have the workers or space to store such samples, whereas independents typically have customers who are loyal to their stores and have relationships with the store owners, managers, and/or employees. She described them as “little influencers.” It’s a bit of a domino effect. According to Brady, local distributors must see that there is local demand, and larger chain brands require retailers to have a distributor before stocking their items.
“First, we create some demand locally,” she explained. “They’re adaptable. If it doesn’t work, it’s not working. That’s an intriguing work model.” She’s also gotten Top Seedz a booth at a local farmers’ market and visits there once a month to demo the products herself. The company will also collaborate with events that are relevant to their customer base, such as a half marathon, and will provide the organizers with Top Seedz products as well as a discount code to distribute to participants.
Brady said that no matter how big her company gets, she still asks questions and helps others when she can. “I just talk to everybody,” she explained. “If I have a problem, I don’t hesitate to ask because someone else has probably had the same problem.”