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Starting a business is easy – growing it into a successful business is not everyone’s cup of tea. Or coffee, or mocha…you see where this is going? To a Chai and Coffee mix product company called Big Train.

What started on a napkin as an idea to help coffee shops make blended ice coffees and a company name derived from a man’s fascination for trains, lead to a thriving business that manufactures and distributes beverage mix products to more than 30 countries around the world. In May, 2006, Big Train was acquired by Nautic, a holding company. Today as Big Train celebrates its 20th year in business, the company is in a growth mode, hiring new employees and developing new product lines.

James Wendt, Ecommerce Marketing Manager says, “We think Big Train is a great name as it symbolizes strength and our made-in-the-USA heritage. The name also stands out from our competition.”

Big Train has a reputation in the foodservice industry of coming up with easy to make beverage mixes that taste amazing. The company got its start with independent coffeehouses. Now retailers, restaurants, and nonprofits are turning to Big Train for their beverage needs. The demand is spreading – More consumers now purchase Big Train so they can make barista style drinks at home.

Steph Gorell, a Chai-lover, has this to say on Big Train’s facebook page, “I’m completely addicted to Big Train Spiced Chai. I go through a case (four 3.5 lb bags) every 2 months or so. Sometimes I wonder if the company from which I order thinks I run a coffee shop — but I don’t. It’s just me!”

Big Train now has over 200 products, including chais, blended ice coffees, real fruit smoothies, non-coffee drinks and more. Wendt says, “Making drink mixes isn’t rocket science. But crafting great tasting products that are easy to make, is both an art and a science.”

Like other SMBs Big Train faced its share of growing pains, particularly with systems and technology. A decision was made early on to invest in enterprise class software and systems to drive efficiencies from sourcing, inventory tracking, ERP and CRM. These investments helped Big Train scale and continue growing.

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One of the biggest challenges Big Train faces is the fluctuating cost of ingredients. As the global commodity markets become more competitive, the costs of ingredients rise. Political and environmental changes can affect the supply chain. Big Train’s buyers need to be constantly aware about strategic sourcing opportunities to get the best deal. Wendt believes that a win-win policy and a close decades-long relationship with suppliers will help them deal with these challenges.

As technology changes at lightning speed, Big Train is adapting. Some of their advertisements now have QR Codes in them. Social Media is revolutionizing how customers make buying decisions, and Big Train is tapping these resources to get the maximum mileage out of them. Fan submitted recipes, videos and photos are priceless and help generate a buzz to rival a great cuppa.

Wendt says, “One of our strategic goals this year was to launch an innovative customer loyalty program that gives back to our customers. Thanks to Apptivo, we partnered together to create and deploy a unique loyalty management system that is as easy to administer, as it is easy to use for our customers.”

Wendt’s advice to Small Businesses just starting out is, “Create products and services you can be passionate about. Hire the best people with the best attitude. Set strategic and tactical goals to get over road bumps. Love thy customer. Celebrate victories”.

We’ll say cheers to that!

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