Tea for Many Twos: Rooibee Red Talks Business

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As the CTeaO (chief tea officer) of Rooibee Red Tea, Heather Howell, 41, oversees all operations of the beverage company, which produced 500,000 bottles of organic rooibos-bush teas last year. Before that, Howell managed an employee-recruiting program at Humana.

She says that if she and Rooibee Red Tea founder Jeff Sturm, who worked at Brown-Forman before he started the company in 2009, hadn’t already been in Louisville, it easily could have started somewhere else. “I think the best way to ask the question is, ‘Why do we stay?’” she says.

What are the advantages to being located in Louisville?

“Louisville’s geography. Everything east of the Rocky Mountains one can get to their destination in 24 hours. As a consumer-product company, our business becomes a logistics business. Shipping and getting our Rooibee Red Tea goods to their destination is critical to a consumer brand’s success.”

Howell also attributes part of the company’s success to another big local export — bourbon. “Our bourbon industry creates an ecosystem for beverage companies to thrive,” she says, adding that making Rooibee with Louisville tap water doesn’t hurt either.

Because your business has grown up here, what advantages do you see to being an entrepreneur in Louisville versus other cities?

“I can call our mayor and he’ll respond. I can reach out to other CEOs in the community and there is a sense of humility and familiarity. I often refer to Louisville as Louis-Village — a place where everyone comes together to help one another.”

What challenges do you see?

“Every city has negatives and positives. The challenge is the need to secure investment capital for a rapidly growing consumer brand. I always caution entrepreneurs that getting loans from a bank is much different today than it was a few years ago.”

What kind of companies do you see opportunities for in Louisville?

“Companies are about people. The greatest opportunity Louisville has is to focus attention on continuing to develop the best educational institutions in the region. I always say great cities equal great academia. (As a recruiter,) my eyes were open wide as I interviewed candidates and traveled to cities with top-ranked academic institutions. It was enlightening to see that high-functioning cities are in fact built around universities. Business needs top talent to grow and sustain.”

Article Photo: Mickie Winters 

Cover Photo: Rooibee Red's Facebook Page

About Amy Talbott
Piscean. INFJ. Cat person. Runner. Mediocre housekeeper. Excellent cook. Scours the sleaze on Craigslist so you don't have to.
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