Written by Olivia Putnal Tuesday, May 08 2012
Snapshot: Harriet Shrater, Co-Founder and CEO of Minimus.biz
Los Angeles-based Minimus.biz, founded by Harriet Shrater in July 2004, has changed travel for many. Thanks to the Shrater family and their manufacturers, from condiments to shampoos, you can get almost anything you desire in travel or trial size. Their products have traveled around the world and into space – aboard NASA missions for six years, allowing astronauts to feast with their favorite condiments and spices. On the perks of running a family business, Shrater proudly states, “I enjoy the challenges of running a business, and to tackle those challenges alongside my family makes it even more rewarding.”
Womenetics: Tell us a little more about how the business came about.
Harriet Shrater: My family and I were renting a cabin in New Hampshire for a week. There were four of us – four different salad dressings, four different cereals, and the list went on. At the end of the week, we had all of the leftovers from the larger sized items and wished there was a place we could have gotten our favorite brands in single serving sizes. That led to researching the market and seeing that there was an opportunity, not just for the food items but also for all things small. We launched Minimus.biz just a year later.
Womenetics: Your products were brought aboard NASA’s Discovery aircraft. What was that like? Did the astronauts request specific things?
Shrater: We’ve been working with NASA for six years and have supplied condiments to every supply mission to the International Space Station. While not a large customer (there are only a handful of astronauts up in space at a time), it is exciting to be a part of the space program. We do not get specific requests from astronauts, but taste buds are actually less sensitive in space, and the astronauts really like hot sauces and other types of spices for their meals.
Womenetics: What are some of the most unusual things you carry? And what are some of your favorites?
Shrater: The unusual items include lightload towels, dental finger wipes, sunscreen for tattoos, mini rolls of duct tape and much more. Personally, I like the fat free salad dressing packets. I usually have some in my purse in case I am out at a restaurant that does not offer a low-fat dressing option. I also like the toilet seat covers for traveling and the mini Tabasco bottles because our customers love them. Most of all, I love our travel-size spray starch because we found that it didn’t exist anywhere in the world, and so we had it manufactured. The generic toiletry kit is another of my favorites, as it was put together to have an easy solution for nonprofits like homeless shelters, women’s shelters and disaster relief.
Womenetics: As a family business, have you faced any challenges? Has it helped your business?
Shrater: It has helped – I have a lot of family members employed in the business, and I can rely on their loyalty and work ethic. The challenge comes at family gatherings to steer clear of talking about work all the time!
Womenetics: What role does each family member play?
Shrater: My son is the COO and marketing guru; my husband volunteers with business development and facilities. My brother heads our fulfillment operations; my brother-in-law runs our wholesale department, and my sister-in-law oversees customized kit production. My other sister-in-law works as our book-keeper part-time, and my daughter does our graphic design work remotely from the East Coast, where she has her own firm, RS2 Studio.
Womenetics: How did you secure funding to begin Minimus?
Shrater: We self funded the startup and began small.
Womenetics: Is there anything you wish you would have known?
Shrater: There is a large amount of government regulations and paperwork, especially as they relate to human resource issues, often being a time-consuming and costly effort. I would have become more knowledgeable up-front, instead of learning it over time.
Womenetics: You started a blog to communicate with your customers. What has been the response? Tell us a little about this tactic.
Shrater: Our blog, newsletter, Facebook, Twitter and now Pinterest, were setup to interact more with our customers and create a personal connection. We felt this was important, especially since we are an e-commerce business.
On the blog, we communicate with customers about interesting projects, promotions and coupon codes. Lately, we have been offering tips for people that go beyond the products that we carry. For instance, we recently did a five-day series on packing for ski trips, and we will be doing one soon on packing for cruises.
Womenetics: It seems as if your company is always evolving. Where do you get the ideas for what to offer next?
Shrater: It’s a combination of different sources. First and most important are customer requests. We will seek out solutions for customers asking us about products they are interested in. Then we have our existing manufacturers expand their offerings. We are constantly receiving pitches from other manufacturers, but we also seek out products and product categories based on our own ideas and overall strategy. A group of managers meet bi-monthly to consider new products for inclusion in our offerings.
Womenetics: You’ve certified Minimus as a woman-owned small business. How has this affected the company?
Shrater: Being a certified woman-owned business has opened a lot of doors, especially in the area of government contracts. It’s still a highly competitive marketplace that brings its own set of challenges.
Womenetics: What do you feel is the single most important thing to know when running a business?
Shrater: You need to enjoy what you’re doing because it takes a lot of time and dedication.
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Olivia Putnal is a writer and editor in Atlanta. She formerly wrote web articles and blogs for WomansDay.com in the areas of health, fitness, beauty, fashion, entertainment, news and food.