Employer in focus: Bulk Nutrients
Image: Jess, Aron, Pauline and Chanaka
In 2008, when keen gym goer Ben Crowley returned to Hobart after living in Japan, he struggled to find affordable, high-quality sports and nutritional supplements.
Recognising a gap in the local market, Ben embarked on a journey that would see his original idea – to import supplements from overseas and sell them on at a profit – snowball to become the biggest supplement production business of its kind in the country.
In this interview we speak with General Manager Jess Crowley about the growth of Tasmanian success story Bulk Nutrients, one of our long-term employers.
What was the inspiration behind Bulk Nutrients?
Ben, the owner and founder of Bulk Nutrients, had been teaching English in Japan. When he came back home, he found that supplements were so much more expensive here in Australia. Ben’s original business idea was simply to import supplements from overseas and sell them on. But, as he did his research, he discovered a gap in the market for very pure, high-quality, locally-made products. As luck would have it, online shopping was becoming popular at the time. That meant he’d be able to produce the supplements locally and ship directly to customers, eliminating the need to build in a margin for stockists.
Bulk Nutrients is based in Grove, 35km south-west of Hobart in Tasmania’s Huon Valley. Was the business always based here?
The business began in a room in Ben’s house at New Town, ten minutes from Hobart’s CBD. We then built a 60 square metre shed at Sandfly, 10km from where we are now.
When we outgrew that, we moved to our current location which was originally about 2,500 square metres.
When we first moved here, we didn’t imagine we’d ever fill that space, but now we’ve almost outgrown it and we’ve bought a block nearby with a 5-year plan to build a greenfield site.
In the very early days, how did you promote the business?
Before social media, we spent a lot of time in online forums where body builders shared their training tips and talked about products they liked. We gave away a lot of free samples which we found was an effective way to get our name out there.
We also went to a lot of events and gave out free samples.
Still today, most of our customers come to us through word of mouth. Google ads and other paid advertising are secondary. By having good relationships with customers and providing a quality product, we know we can rely on our customers to recommend us.
Speaking of recommendations, you also use brand ambassadors to promote your products. How do you recruit them?
We tend to mine our existing customer base. By reaching out to our customers who are already loyal, understand the philosophy behind the brand, and align with our values, we know they’re going to be genuine ambassadors.
It’s a two-way street – they help us grow our customer base and, through our network, we can help grow their following too.
Your team has grown significantly over the last 14 years. How do you go about recruiting staff?
When we began, we only had 4 or 5 staff, so it was important that we had people with broad skillsets so that on any given day we could all perform each other’s jobs. But as we grew, we needed more specialists. We currently have around 85 staff.
It’s always been important to us to have staff who believed in our product, even if they personally didn’t use it. The main thing is that they’re aligned with our philosophy of lean manufacturing, doing things effectively, and passing on those savings to customers.
Whenever we have a new position, we try to recruit internally or go out to our employee base and ask if they know anyone suitable. We only advertise externally when we don’t have a recommendation from an internal person, or if we’re looking for a completely new skillset.
As the company expands, what are the challenges?
Maintaining a positive and supportive culture is quite easy when you have 15 people, but it requires more effort when you have 85.Training our managers around good people management is important. We want our staff to feel they’re part of a supportive, like-minded community. If anyone here is going through a rough time personally, we want them to feel that they can still come to work and feel supported.
How do you help maintain a positive culture?
We do a few things, actually.
We have an employee of the month program that celebrates when staff embrace our company’s values.
If it’s been a tough time or if we’ve had a big day, we’ll buy burgers for lunch, donuts as a treat or something like that. Yes, we pay people to do their job, but we also like to recognise when their jobs are much harder than usual.
The past couple of years we’ve introduced a profit share arrangement where, twice a year, we allocate a portion of profits back to staff based on hours worked. It’s a way for us to acknowledge that everyone is contributing to the success of the business.
How big do you want Bulk Nutrients to get?
When Ben started the business, he thought he would consider it a success if it turned over $2 million a year. We now turn over considerably more than that per month!
We have a goal to grow by 17% this year in revenue, and that growth should come out of the introduction of more automation. We’d really like to be a $50 million a year business in the next few years, and we’ll just reassess from there.
Do you plan to remain a Tasmanian-based business?
Being a Tasmanian business is a strong part of our identity. Regional living and working is important to us and we want to continue to provide local employment. We want to continue being a sustainable family-owned business that remains here in Tasmania well into the future.
We’re the biggest business of our type in Australia – you can be a big business in Tassie. You don’t have to move to Melbourne, you don’t have to be based in Sydney. We’ve got great staff, fantastic skillsets, and we want to continue to do that here.
How important is sustainability to you?
Being sustainable is a key pillar for Bulk Nutrients. We’re mindful of the fact that we do have to ship a lot of products – we’re actually Australia Post’s number one Tasmanian customer – so we want to make sure that everything we do is as sustainable as possible.
For us, it’s about being very efficient in the way we do things, how we group orders so that we can do the minimum handling between here and when it reaches the customer. All our plastic bags are fully recyclable.
We’re very mindful about the impact on our local environment. We’re partially solar powered and we have hydro power for the rest of our organisation. Because of the way we process dry powders, there’s not a lot of water use, or chemical use either.
Are there any big developments on the way?
There’s new legislation coming in that means any encapsulated products need to be sold as therapeutic goods instead of foods. To prepare for these changes, we’re currently fitting out a secondary site at Huntingfield which will be Tasmania’s first pharmaceutical manufacturing facility.
That’s exciting for us.
We’ll be able to manufacture capsules under the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) which is potentially an opportunity for expansion into export. Our products are quite big and heavy, so shipping overseas is not very cost effective. However, shipping capsulated products is.
How does Bulk Nutrients support communities?
We do support a lot of community events, but our favourite thing we’ve done is Bulk Gives Back.
Last year we gave away $1,000 a day for 100 days to 100 small not-for-profit or charity organisations across Australia. Applications were open to organisations that turned over less than $20,000 a year and who were often too small to be eligible for government grants.
We know that giving $1,000 to an organisation that’s annual turnover is $4,000 is a game changer. A small soccer club can buy new kit for the whole team, particularly in rural and remote areas where players mightn’t have the capacity to buy their own gear.
Bulk Nutrients was one of the major partners of the Tasmanian JackJumpers basketball team in 2021-22
The JackJumpers are fantastic to work with. Their personal philosophy is very much aligned with ours. You put in the work, you support your teammates, you stay humble, and you aim for success.The partnership was a bit nerve wracking initially because it was the biggest one-off sponsorship we’d done. But they’re performing amazingly, which is a bonus for us as sponsors.
Why did you choose Spirit Super as Bulk Nutrients’ default super fund?
My parents always drummed into me the importance of being engaged with super from a young age. As soon as I began working, I started putting money into my super.
I had a positive experience with Spirit Super, or Tasplan as it was back then. When it came time to choose a default super fund for Bulk Nutrients, it was an easy decision.
What I like about Spirit Super is that we get workplace visits from Superannuation Advisers who come and talk at our staff meetings and do one-on-one meetings with our staff.
We encourage our staff to engage with their super as part of planning for their future. Super is so important and even small changes now – like making small contributions, changing investment options – can have a really powerful effect over the long term.
I know it’s hard to think about super when you’re 18 or 20, but if you do, there’s a lot of advantage to you in the future.
If your super’s going to be invested for the next 50 years, you want to make sure it’s in the right investment option. And it’s important to see it as your own money. Take an active interest in it because it is yours. Just because you can’t touch it yet, don’t forget it is yours.
Our team are the experts in super, so you don’t have to be
As a Spirit Super employer, you get ongoing super support with access to super experts, workshops and webinars, super updates, tools and resources.
Our Employer Relationship Managers can give you as much or as little support as you need to help you meet your super responsibilities.
As a Spirit Super member, we can provide you with intra-fund advice about your super and Spirit Super account at no additional cost.
To speak with a Superannuation Adviser, give us a call on 1800 005 166.
This is general information only and doesn’t take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before making a decision about Spirit Super, you should consider if this information is right for you and read our Product disclosure statements, Target market determinations and Financial services guide. These are available at spiritsuper.com.au/pds or by calling 1800 005 166.
Issuer is Motor Trades Association of Australia Superannuation Fund Pty Ltd (ABN 14 008 650 628, AFSL 238718), the trustee of Spirit Super (ABN 74 559 365 913). Any advice is provided by Quadrant First Pty Ltd (ABN 78 102 167 877, AFSL 284443) (Spirit Super Advice), which is wholly owned by the trustee.