Born in New York, but raised in Central Florida, Lourdes McAgy, Owner and CEO of Total Nutrition Technology, built an award-winning business from the ground up. Through a combination of personal savings, borrowed money from family members, rented space and sheer determination, McAgy expanded from 1,000 sqft and one employee to 100,000 sqft and nearly 100 employees. McAgy shared the story behind her journey and how Total Nutrition Technology has managed to become a significant player in the production, contract manufacturing, private labeling, research & development, packaging and fulfillment of nutritional supplements and dietary products.
“After graduating from The University of Central Florida with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology, I moved to Chicago and got a job with Optimum Nutrition,” McAgy said. “We did reverse engineering and made products for GNC. I did that for three years before getting married and moving back to Florida. I spent some time working in a micro lab in a pharmaceutical role as a biologist before the idea first surfaced to start my own company.”
From Startup to Second Stage
With experience in reverse engineering and nutritional supplements, McAgy took the plunge in 2005 and started making her own products under the private label, ‘TNT Supplements’. She used $10,000 of her own money towards the purchase of supplies and equipment and borrowed an additional $20,000 from family members. After a year in business, she outgrew her 1,000 sqft location in Orlando. Fortunately, McAgy was able to find a less expensive and much bigger 5,000 sqft space in nearby Lake County.
For McAgy, the move to Lake County was a real turning point for the business. “We were able to expand, buy more equipment and get into contract manufacturing and private labeling. Increasing our capabilities allowed us to automate the 30,000 packets we were originally doing by hand each month. We also picked up a smoothie franchise as a client and started making products for GNC.”
Besides early funding, one of McAgy’s first major challenges was the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. With the exception of Total Nutrition Technology and one other business, the entire corporate park went out of business. Times were tough, but, thanks to McAgy’s strong leadership and strategic vision, Total Nutrition Technology not only survived, they also expanded a few years later.
“What allowed us to get through it was being humble and asking for help,” McAgy said. “I worked with our vendors and customers and was able to secure extensions on capital and orders. By 2012, we started doing much better. In fact, in 2012, I started looking at buying the land around me. The banks were still recovering from the recession and were willing to negotiate on the price of land. I ended up buying 19 acres of land, at a very low price, on which we eventually built 30,000 sqft for manufacturing and another 60,000 sqft building for distribution and fulfilment.”
Maintaining a Competitive Advantage
Today, Total Nutrition Technology does business with a variety of customers, including Kraft/Heinz, the federal prison system and many other businesses and startups that depend on contract manufacturers to get their products to market. They remain competitive by developing and distributing an array of products, offering many different services and by incorporating an “entrepreneurial spirit” into everything they do.
“In a lot of ways, our advantage is being able to sustain ourselves through controlled growth and by making a slew of different products,” McAgy said. “If one aspect of our business isn’t doing so well, another one can help sustain us. We also view our customers as partners. If they grow, we grow. Everything we do is with their best interests in mind. Our mindset is that we’re all in this together. I think that’s a big missing gap in the private label and manufacturing world. We see things much differently. We’re all in it to win it together and our approach has always been very entrepreneurial. We look at things differently than most companies in our industry. Our employees question things and propose new areas and opportunities for us to consider.”
McAgy, continued, “Much of that entrepreneurial spirit comes from working so closely with our partners. They’ll come to us and say, ‘I really want a single serve product packaged like this’. We’ll look into it and what it entails and we’ll take it a step further by calculating ROI and determining if it will be profitable or not. We make our partners feel like they’re with us and we’re with them.”
The ability to manufacture at one facility and conduct fulfillment and distribution at another, only steps away, is a huge advantage for Total Nutrition Technology. Customers utilizing both sides of the operation realize significant savings and are able to take care of everything in one location. From creating labels to sample testing and formulation specifications to production, packaging and fulfillment, McAgy and her team make it cost-effective and seamless for their customers. They’re also very good at reaching their target audience.
“Marketing is conducted through a variety of channels, including trade shows, television appearances, word-of-mouth referrals, inside sales reps and even the research and development team reaching out to bid on government contracts,” McAgy said. “We utilize all avenues of marketing.”
Total Nutrition Technology’s workforce currently consists of 91 employees, including science staff sourced from various staffing agencies. From Production staff to Operations, R&D, Accounting, Bookkeeping, Logistics and the Outbound team, the duties of employees are as diverse as their range of products and services. What keeps them together is a culture that starts at the top.
“Our culture definitely starts with me and trickles down,” McAgy said. “I’m very energetic and that extends to my employees. The environment we work in is creative, happy, exciting and vibrant. From production to fulfillment, there’s always a lot of different things going on. However, we maintain a ‘let’s do this together’ mentality.”
Total Nutrition Technology is very involved in the community. A couple years ago, McAgy started a scholarship at her alma mater, The University of Central Florida, which provides economic assistance for Central Florida women with a science background that hope to eventually start their own business. She also speaks at different schools as a way to share her journey and offer advice and feedback to students and faculty. At the company level, they donate items to the community, contribute to a charity for terminally ill children and raise money for local radio station 106.7’s Baby DJ Fund.
According to McAgy, operating in Florida is beneficial for a number of reasons. “No state income tax is huge,” she said. “Florida is also a great environment. You have the sun, beaches, beautiful natural resources and it’s inexpensive to operate and build here. In terms of affordability, we’re very much in front of other parts of the country. Being in Central Florida, we also have access to talent in our own backyard. We have several UCF alumni on our team.”
When it comes to opportunities that would allow the company to experience additional future growth, McAgy points to cash flow, staying ahead of the FDA’s quality controls and motivating her staff. For the latter, McAgy is an avid reader on the subject of motivation, morale and growth. She even shares books and lessons with her employees. Some of her favorite authors include Dave Ramsey and John C. Maxwell.
What Does it Mean to be a Florida Companies to Watch Honoree
“Honestly, it’s so prestigious to be nominated,” McAgy said. “At first, we didn’t fully understand what it was. We originally thought it was part of the county. When we found out it was state-wide, we were in shock. To be part of something so big and to be able to contribute back to Florida is really special. This award is for everyone, especially our employees.”
McAgy continued, “In terms of why we were selected, I think it’s because we’re that company that’s out there doing something significant for our state. We’re creating jobs for Leesburg, Lake County and the rest of Florida. Our entrepreneurial spirit is also a big part of it. We’re creating and engineering new products and we’re not afraid to take a chance on something new.”
McAgy was quick to give credit to her loving husband who backed her through it all. After selling their house and downsizing, to have fewer bills, they moved to a less expensive area and made additional sacrifices for nearly 10 years. She also credits her parents for instilling in her the values of hard-work, determination and understanding how to operate a successful business.
Looking ahead, McAgy would like to grow the distribution side of their operations. She also wants to develop more federal business. Long term goals include building a separate manufacturing plant to produce products completely free of certain allergens. They’re also launching a concept that’s similar to the way K-Cups work in a Keurig machine. However, instead of coffee grounds, the pods will be filled with powdered greens, fruits, proteins and other plant based products to be mixed with your favorite liquid.
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
“Stay humble and ask for help when you need it,” she said. “Also, pick a great partner. When I got to college talks, I also tell the students, ‘who you pick in life will encourage or discourage you.’ You need someone to back you. You also need to figure out what you don’t know. Expect to always be learning something new. Once you think you know everything, you’re doomed.”