Like many senior design teams in the business school, the Stevens students involved with Scrumptious Secrets of Vermont have been friends and classmates for four years. So when you sit down with them for an hour to discuss their natural food subscription box business, there is plenty of friendly banter, joking and reminiscing.
In fact, the only time the team is quiet — silent, actually — is when Jessica Spanier shares her vision for the company once she graduates.
“When you think of Scrumptious Secrets, I want you to think of our high values, our determination to put the customer before ourselves,” she said. “We’re not going to be a company that only makes decisions based on making the biggest profits — yes, that will be considered, but we’re more focused on our customers, our employees, our suppliers and the communities where we want to make and impact.”
Scrumptious Secrets, which the team registered as an LLC, made $600 in revenue in the first week and a half it was accepting orders. But it’s clear that mission of doing good in the community — the group has committed to sharing some of its profits with Hoboken Grace Community Church — is as important to Spanier as the lessons she’s learned as a business student at Stevens, and it seems Scrumptious Secrets is on its way to becoming the success she envisioned since falling in love with Vermont as a girl on family vacations.
“I found myself selling Vermont — try this honey, this maple syrup — long before I was a business student,” she said. “Coming to Stevens, I was inspired inside and outside of class to continue to develop the idea of what I’d do with Vermont products.”
That passion and enthusiasm was instrumental in attracting fellow Business and Technology students José Hautea, Roselynn Imperial and Brandon Griffin to the project. Imperial said she remembered being approached by Spanier to recruit her to the team.
“It was very clear she believed in this — and if you believe in this so strongly, then I believe in this,” Imperial recalled. On the team, she handles research and does due diligence to support the team in interviewing customers or looking into new features.
Hautea, who handles marketing and edits the content on the company’s website, ScrumptiousSecrets.com, appreciates the role of Stevens in the team’s success.
“One of the advantages to being such a tight-knit community in the business school at Stevens is that over the years, we’ve had many classes together and done numerous group projects together,” he said. “Everybody has a sense of what everybody’s strengths are by the time you do the senior design project.”
Solving problems through Stevens training
That ability to work well together has helped Scrumptious Secrets tackle obstacles, like their website — a challenge for which their tech-centered business education prepared them. Brandon Griffin created various iterations to meet immediate demands of the business; the team eventually graduated to the current version when payment systems on other platforms proved unreliable.
“Every time we hit a wall, we’d take a step back to see if we could find something to fix the problem,” Griffin said. “And Jessica is able to oversee what we do and see how things work well together, combining our ideas, helping us understand where our problems lie.”
Another challenge was their distribution model, which evolved to become a subscription box model after input from the project adviser, Professor CV Harquail. An advantage of this model is some additional predictability in managing supply chains and inventory, which they learned about in project management and logistics classes.
Vermont, Spanier said, “has its own time. It’s our biggest challenge. The suppliers have their own schedules, they’re not reachable around the clock.” The flip side is, when Scrumptious Secrets does connect with them, they get the kind of service small businesses are know for. So when placing a big order — like extra Garuka bars for the Innovation Expo on April 29 — suppliers are willing to work with the students to ensure batches are fresh for the intended customer.
A related, and thornier, issue is how to scale up a business that relies on many small businesses as suppliers. “Vermont products are small batches from small businesses. They’re not scalable,” Spanier said. “There’s a solution, we just haven’t figured it out yet. But we’ll keep testing until we do.”
A personal touch
Customers or gift recipients who get a shipped product from Scrumptious Secrets will see a great many touches, from the hand-selected assortment of natural products to a handwritten note to the recipient. Those are the kind of personal touches that the team hopes will resonate with customers.
Figuring out what was important to customers was something the team took seriously in doing its market research. But the students have incorporated ideas from customers without sacrificing the vision of the company.
“You have to be able to mold your product into what consumers’ vision is, so that when they see it, they’ll relate to it, buy it and tell their friends about it,” Hautea said. “But for us, it’s just as much about knowing what we stand for — natural, non-GMO and helping the local community. You have to do both.”
Members of the team are going on interviews with various companies in the New York area and beyond. Griffin is interested in management, while Imperial wants to go into consulting and Hautea wants to get into gaming. But each is proud to have played a role in getting the business started.
“Everything’s been a lesson,” Spanier said. “You’re always trying to figure out how every piece of the puzzle fits when you don’t know what the big picture is. But I have full intention of getting that funding and taking Scrumptious Secrets of Vermont into a new spectrum of scrumptiousness.”