After finding success in Canada and Japan, Nancy Smithers, an herbalist for over 30 years, finally introduced her organic vitamin and mineral line, Nova Scotia Organics, to the U.S. in 2015. She is continuously recognized for her achievements. She’s been the recipient of the Lifetime Organics Achievement Award from the Canadian Health Food Association and the Premier’s Commendation recognizing leadership in Quality Management Practice.
Smithers’s farm-to-factory approach was conceptualized in her kitchen and has grown into a 30,000 square foot manufacturing facility. I catch up with her after a recent conference to participate in a little Q&A.
Natasha Clark: What do you do?
Nancy Smithers: Manufacture USDA certified organic dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals and herbals.
Clark: Tell me a little about your background in business?
Smithers: During a previous marriage, I worked in a large family business where I learned the art of working with with financial institutions and legal issues in business. I have always managed my own stock portfolio using a trading platform however I didn’t have any knowledge of the manufacturing business beforehand and had to learn everything as I went.
Clark: What makes your company unique?
Smithers: We only produce USDA certified organic, non-GMO and chemical and pesticide-free products. We freeze-dry many of our own ingredients in our manufacturing facility.
Clark: Tell about some of your specialties?
Smithers: Our products are all plant sourced with the exception of our calcium which comes from eggshells. They are very high quality and contain no fillers, flow agents or chemicals. I formulate all my products and we manufacture them in our facility in Nova Scotia which has a Health Canada site license, something required in Canada for manufacturing natural products. We handle everything from start to finish right in our facility.
Clark: We are proud to provide a platform for female entrepreneurs. As a woman, did you encounter any unique experiences in establishing your business because of your gender?
Smithers: I did not encounter any difficulties when starting Nova Scotia Organics because there were not many people in the industry when I started. As a business owner in general, I did have difficulty because 23 years ago this was a new industry and consumers were used to only the large pharma companies producing vitamins and herbal supplements. It was difficult in Canada to get my products known.
As a woman I was not taken seriously as business person and my business was considered a cottage industry.
Clark: What made you decide to open your own business rather than work for someone else?
Smithers: My sister was a healer and had two physiotherapy clinics. She wanted quality products and felt there were no products on the market that had what she was looking for so she asked me to start growing herbs and making herbal remedies for her.
I loved the outdoors and gardening so I agreed to do it. I had no clue about what herbs I would use so I hired a master herbalist to teach me. At first I gathered herbs from the wild and started manufacturing in my kitchen. I realized that would not work for long so I purchased a farm close to my home and started growing.
I started out making herbal tinctures, liquid herbal remedies. From there I realized that consumers were more interested in pills so I bought freeze dryers for herb drying and an encapsulator to make herbal capsules. Later, I went on to make tablets, sachets and herbal powders
Clark: With so many companies doing more things digitally, how do you stay relevant?
Smithers: I’m working with a social media and PR team to help me in the digital area.
Clark: If you could give advice to readers who want to break into your industry, what would it be?
Smithers: It is a very difficult market and unless you have a very special product that no one else has, be careful. Find a mentor who has been down this road. Branding is very difficult and expensive.
Clark: What was one of your biggest challenges when launching your company?
Smithers: A few of the biggest challenges I faced were branding and getting out and selling to the stores, having people believe in my product and competing with the large pharma companies who have buying power.
Clark: What revenue sources did you use early on to get going?
Smithers: I used my own money to start.
Clark: What are some things you do to stay motivated?
Smithers: To stay motivated I had to get rid of fear, exercise, eat well and stay passionate about my products.
Clark: Many entrepreneurs struggle with turning their startups into sustainable businesses. What would you say are the top things women need to keep in mind?
Smithers: Have a plan. Be positive. Stick to quality. Stay focused. Be passionate about your business. Be hands on.
Clark: How do you juggle spending time with your family and pursuing your passions?
Smithers: I started by business when my children were older so I was able to easily balance my family and pursing my passions.
Clark: What do you see as the next logical phase in your entrepreneur journey?
Smithers: The next logical phase in my journey is to keep growing my business and find new, niche products to manufacture.
Clark: I would love to learn more about why you waited to introduce your product to the U.S.
Smithers: I only produce certified organic products and organics have been slow to be accepted in the U.S. It has only been in the past two years that I’ve really seen a major movement in people understanding what chemicals are actually in the products on the market. I wanted to move earlier but we were so new and the price point was too high to compete with traditional supplements.