Vegan Distribution, a distributor of plant-based products for the food-service industry, was started by a group of friends with a shared dream of “creating a compassionate and sustainable food system,” says owner Sharon Lu.
“To achieve that, we work closely with local communities and suppliers to source meat and dairy alternatives and make them easily accessible to the local eateries and institutions,” Lu says.
Since Vegan Distribution’s founding in October 2013, the company has worked hard to effectively manage its limited resources as a small business.
“As a bootstrapping business with limited resources, we constantly had to evaluate our position to ensure we utilize our resources effectively,” Lu says.
Lu had to think carefully when faced with two new potential opportunities to grow her business.
“[It came to a time] when we were faced with decision to continue the buying services model or to expand to retail channels, and we were also approached with the opportunity to acquire another specialty business to expand our distribution reach,” she says.
Lu soon sought help from SCORE in making a decision about whether to acquire the second business.
According to Lu, Grunat has not only helped to address her specific business questions, but has also generally instilled Lu with an improved business mindset.
“Based on discussions with Mitch, I have learned to think more professionally and objectively and am able to look at the big picture from another perspective, and that has helped me as a person to grow within our team,” Lu says.
Lu suggests that anyone considering starting a small business seek out advice from experienced industry professionals, such as SCORE mentors. For those who request a SCORE mentor, she says, “Be ready to work hard and be dedicated to achieve your dream, and also be flexible at the same time.”
Vegan Distribution was named Outstanding Diverse Small Business at the 2017 SCORE Awards.
Lu, who previously worked with another SCORE mentor on her other business, requested a new mentor after attending a SCORE workshop on social media. Lu was assigned to work with mentor Mitchell (Mitch) Grunat, and the pair immediately got to work on weighing Lu’s options for the merger and acquisition.
“Mitch assigned me to review the financial and other relevant data to determine the potential benefit of such opportunity, and we made a decision according to the analysis,” Lu says.
Ultimately, Lu says, Vegan Distribution acquired the second business and was able to “consolidate and streamline our products and services to have an efficient operation.”
Lu and Grunat now meet on an as-needed basis, such as when Lu has pressing marketing or operations questions.
“There was another time when I had questions about operation efficiency and marketing effectiveness, and how to balance those two while maintaining an excellent record of customer service, without burning out the team,” Lu says. “Mitch helped me to assess the pros and cons of the situation, and we were able to maintain a healthy balance and effective growth in both directions.”