Teen Blazed His Own 'Trail'
April 20, 2012
“It is true of the nation, as of the individual, that the greatest doer must also be a great dreamer.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Being a teenager is tough, but being a teenager with braces is tougher. Braces can create social awkwardness and wreak havoc on eating habits, as Justin Avery Anderson found out. An avid granola fan, Anderson could not enjoy his favorite snack after he got braces because the granola tended to snap them.
The summer before his freshman year of high school, Anderson, now 25, was on vacation with family friends in New Mexico where they came across homemade moist granola. On the car ride home, his mother’s friend said, “If someone were to sell something like this, they’d be rich.” That’s when the light bulb went off and the idea for his company, Anderson Trail, was born. Upon returning to Houston, Anderson went to work, eventually coming up with the “original recipe” for Anderson Trail granola. By his junior year, Anderson had a prototype product and was soon meeting with buyers from Whole Foods and Central Market.
One of his largest initial hurdles was finding a commercial facility to create his product. He thought he had secured the use of a catering kitchen, but a week before his first major order with Central Market was to be delivered, plans for the kitchen fell through. Thumbing through the Houston Business Journal, Anderson was able to find a new kitchen. And by working around the clock for four days, he was able to fill his order on time.
Anderson has had help along the way. While attending Texas Christian University, he had a chance meeting with Scott Ward, co-president of Russell Stover Candies. Ward was immediately impressed with Anderson and later invited him on a tour of Russell Stover’s manufacturing plants. “It was truly like a Willy Wonka experience,” says Anderson. Five years later, he still keeps in contact with Ward and views him as an invaluable mentor. “It’s really important to find mentors in your industry that you can connect with and get advice from,” he says. “I found that it really helps you save money by not making some of the mistakes they made, and it’s always great to have encouragement from people who are already successful.”
Despite his success, Anderson still faces obstacles. “One of my biggest challenges has been access to working capital. I think that’s a problem many small business owners face. It’s really hard to get a loan from a bank or a line of credit right now,” he explains. He was able to find an investor to co-sign for a line of credit, but last year a request to increase his credit line was denied, even with his investor’s strong credit history.
Anderson, who has two employees and sells his granola regionally, continues to be inspired by his product and his customers. “One of my favorite things to do is hand out samples of the product and get to know my customers. It’s great being able to tell a mother how healthy the product is and tell her kid it tastes like a crumbled up blueberry muffin.”