1 month ago

Auburn student, 19, succeeds in business venture despite lockdown

Brock Murphy was enjoying spring break on the Gulf Coast with friends, briefly leaving behind the worries of starting a new business. Burn Nutrition opened its doors Feb. 1, and the owner/operator of Auburn’s latest health café needed some time to unwind.

Then COVID-19 changed everything.

“It was tough,” recalled Murphy, a junior in the Department of Supply Chain Management in Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business. “I had just opened a business; I’m in charge of making sure this business is successful. It was hard to tell some of our young employees that they’re not going to be able to work their normal hours. I was basically going to have to redefine the wheel for our business and find a way to make us successful. The week after spring break was one of the hardest weeks of my life.”

Murphy is 19 years old.

Since opening the doors to a shop that specializes in health-alternative, multicolored, flavored teas that carry names such as Captain America, Miami Vice and Cotton Candy – and a variety of vitamin-packed protein smoothies – Murphy has had the opportunity to use lessons from classes at Harbert College and apply them to his business.

It’s a good thing, too. There have been shipping problems with popular flavor packets and, with the onset of the coronavirus, Murphy had to brainstorm new ways to attract customers – and keep the ones that line up outside the storefront on Opelika Road in Auburn.

“In one of my first supply chain classes at Auburn, I learned that at the end of the day, supply chain revolves around customer satisfaction,” he said. In other words, getting the customers what they want as quickly as they want it and feeling good about the process.

“What we focus on at Burn is that initial two or three minutes, so that our customers have the best satisfaction experience possible when they walk in. I’ve read many books on Chick-fil-A, and there’s a reason why people come back there. At Burn, we hope to provide that same quality service.”

For several weeks this spring, Murphy had to creatively explore new ways to bring in customers. Under COVID-19 restrictions, customers could no longer walk through Burn’s doors, so it was operating curbside only.

“Once all of this started, the manager and I really had a lot of time to figure out how to boost sales,” he said. “It was just the two of us sitting there going from ‘X’ amount to almost less than half of that,” he said. “We were watching our new business fall apart.”

Then Murphy had an idea. He boosted Burn’s online and social media presence with a smartphone app, reaching out to customers with a promotional “loaded tea of the day” option. Those who ordered the option had the opportunity to win complimentary offerings. “That started drawing more people,” he said. “Things were starting to get back to normal a little bit, and then, all of the sudden, business grew exponentially.”

Employees who hadn’t been able to get their normal hours were needed again. Inventory sitting in a back room was being used. Curbside pickup and social media promotions saved the day for Burn Nutrition.

“People ask me all the time, ‘What has been the biggest thing you have learned?’ I said that it was the ability to adapt to the changing circumstances,” Murphy said. “Every day you might have to change to the circumstances. This time was very difficult, but I saw this was an opportunity to use my knowledge that I had gained in school to keep my business afloat.

“We had to increase our staffing levels to where we had three people making all of this product, one answering the phone and more delivering curbside. The curbside model really helped us build brand recognition. It built up a lot of regulars – and that’s where we are now.”

But satisfying regular customers is challenging when their favorite products are unavailable. For two weeks, flavoring packets for nearly half of Burn’s most popular loaded teas were not shipped. There were disruptions in the supply chain.

“Our supplier said they were doing everything they can to get the trucks out of the packaging facility,” said Murphy, who delivers 20 to 30 loaded teas to East Alabama Medical Center each morning. “Due to circumstances beyond their control, they experienced many different shipping delays.”

Murphy could not have forecast the disruptions, which are now resolved, but the process – and meeting customer demand – have made him fond of a necessary supply chain management discipline: forecasting demand. It’s a science, for sure.

“We haven’t been able to serve Cotton Candy loaded tea, which is a popular one, because of the necessary flavoring that hasn’t come in,” he said. “That’s on me for not ordering it early on. But the biggest thing I’ve learned is … at the end of the day … having too much inventory is bad, but running out of inventory is way worse.

“For us, we’re still trying to figure it out. The way our business works, we have only one place that we order from, so there are not really any other avenues. It’s hard because our product is expensive. Our business has really grown, but if I go out and order ‘X’ amount of dollars of product and then everybody decides to no longer drink the teas/shakes, then my numbers drop and I’m sitting on a ton of inventory that has a shelf life of three months. It’s hard because you just don’t know, especially during this time.

“What I’ve been learning in supply chain is trying to figure out the demand side of things. It’s taking a look at what’s been ordered in the past, what we predict to do this month and divide a few other factors. As you come up with your numbers, it changes every time. If you don’t do it correctly, you’ll lose money. To be a business, you have to be on track to make a profit. The only way to do that is accurately forecast the demand.”

Murphy, who forged valuable relationships growing up in Daphne and working at beach rental outfitters along State Road 30A in Florida, shares ownership of the business with two others, and admits his own role is built on “sweat equity.”

It all began last July when Murphy happened across an advertisement for what he considered a “nutritional club,” which became Burn Nutrition. He phoned a friend, and eventual investor, that afternoon.

“‘I think one of these would do well in Auburn,’” he told his friend. “’There’s a market for it, and I’m surprised no one’s put one there yet.’” Months later, Burn Nutrition’s Auburn location was born.

“People come in here and ask me if they can speak with the owner,” said Murphy. “It’s funny. But to get all of this experience so young, I’ve learned so much about leadership style. For me, it’s building some credibility because it’s tough at 19. Most people don’t want to listen to a 19-year-old. A lot of people are like … ‘You’re 19 and doing this?’”

Murphy is no stranger to business ownership. He owned and operated a commercial and residential lawn-care business in high school, and brought those aspirations on to college.

“My goal is to one day have a company with a huge online presence that revolves strictly around supply chain,” he said. “I chose supply chain management at the Harbert College of Business because it’s a major that really revolves around the customer experience and getting a product to the customer from point A to point B in the quickest amount of time. That’s what’s going to make me successful in the long run.

“The level of detail that the professors here go into in explaining how a supply chain works and the fundamentals that come along with it are going to be a game-changer for me.”

It’s already paying dividends.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 mins ago

Netflix releases trailer for movie filmed in Alabama starring Tom Holland

Netflix on Thursday released a trailer for its upcoming film “The Devil All The Time,” which was filmed in Alabama and features an ensemble cast including Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson.

The streaming content giant says its new movie “renders a seductive and horrific landscape that pits the just against the corrupted.”

The trailer released Thursday showcases a grim, unsettling tone with multiple shots framed in darkness and scored with ominous music.

The movie was filmed in 2019 from February to April. Several locations across Alabama were used during production, including a street in downtown Anniston that was dressed to match the movie’s post-World War II setting.


“The Devil All The Time” is an adaptation of the 2011 novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock, which spent weeks on the bestsellers list. The film is directed by Antonio Campos.

The movie appears to have piqued the interest of many on the internet. It accrued 1.6 million views on Youtube in the first five hours it was online.

Tommy Fell of the Alabama Film Office told the Elmore Autauga News that “The Devil All The Time” is the largest production to shoot in the Yellowhammer State since Tim Burton’s “Big Fish” in 2003.

Holland portrays the son of a WWII veteran who is pitted against an evil preacher portrayed by Robert Pattinson and other nefarious characters in the small town where he lives.

The various spots the crew used across Alabama will be used to create the small Ohio town where the movie is set.

Holland is familiar to many moviegoers as the most recent actor to portray Spider-Man, a performance that earned him high marks from critics and many devoted fans.

“The Devil All The Time” will premiere September 16, exclusively on Netflix.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

24 mins ago

Retirement Systems of Alabama head: Trump ‘enjoys conflict and turmoil over progress and a United America’

Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) CEO Dr. David Bronner had some harsh words for President Donald Trump this month.

In August’s RSA Advisor, a monthly publication from the group, Bronner entitled his normal column, “The ‘Economic Terror’ of 2020.”

“We are slightly past halfway of 2020 and to be honest, it feels like a decade of problems thrown at the world in a mere six months. Unfortunately, our president enjoys conflict and turmoil over progress and a United America,” he wrote to begin the column.


“I have known President Trump for over 25 years,” Bronner continued. “We have played golf twice, and sat beside each other during numerous public and private events – the Miss Universe pageant and the Elevated Acre Park dedication in New York City. Our relationship cooled when he built Trump Towers with illegal immigrants from Poland and abused contractors in the process.”

“Take his unusual management style, add to it the world’s worst pandemic in our lifetime, toss in legal protests (don’t forget that is how women got to vote), some taken over by rioters – and here comes hurricane season,” he warned. “How do these things affect and impact Alabama? When Alabama started to develop tourism 27 years ago, we had about $1.8 billion in tourist revenue – most of that was from the beaches. Revenue grew to $17 billion in 2019. If a solution to COVID-19 is not found, that could easily be cut by 50% to 75%.”

Bronner subsequently highlighted vaccine development efforts as a source of optimism before making some economic observations and predictions.

He then concluded the column with praise for former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who recently denounced President Trump.

“In time, we will get past these serious problems – from racism to health pandemics – if we listen to the real heroes of America like General James N. Mattis, our former Secretary of Defense: ‘In unity, there is strength,'” Bronner wrote.

The Advisor issue, including Bronner’s column, is hosted on RSA’s website online, which utilizes an “AL.gov” domain.

A physical copy was also sent to the more than 370,000 RSA members, who are State employees and retirees. Additionally, Advisor copies are traditionally placed in RSA-owned buildings and certain governmental buildings, including the State House, for distribution. The Alabama Great Seal is displayed just above Bronner’s column.

The federal government maintains “.gov” domains and regulates their usage. It is the policy of the federal government that “political information” not be shared on “.gov” websites, which could put the RSA’s domain in jeopardy.

The Code of Alabama states, “No person in the employment of the State of Alabama, a county, a city, a local school board, or any other governmental agency, whether classified or unclassified, shall use any state, county, city, local school board, or other governmental agency funds, property, or time, for any political activities.”

Bronner is the highest paid state employee in Alabama. In Fiscal Year 2019, he was paid $754,684.98, according to records published by the Alabama Department of Finance.

This is not the first time the RSA head has publicly attacked Trump or made controversial political statements.

During a meeting of the Alabama State Employees Association in October 2015, Bronner said of then-candidate Trump, “I know the bastard, he ain’t worth anything. I assure you, if Mr. Trump was president, you wouldn’t like it. That I can promise.”

RELATED: How an Alabama state employee built a billionaire’s lifestyle in a taxpayer-funded job

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

34 mins ago

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing to boost Alabama investment by $830 million

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Mazda Toyota Manufacturing (MTM), the joint venture between automakers Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., plans to make an additional $830 million investment in Alabama to incorporate new cutting-edge manufacturing technologies to its production lines and provide enhanced training to its workforce of up to 4,000 employees.

“Toyota’s presence in Alabama continues to build excitement about future opportunities that lie ahead, both for our economy and for the residents of our great state,” Governor Kay Ivey said.

“Mazda and Toyota’s increased commitment to the development of this manufacturing plant reiterates their belief in the future of manufacturing in America and the potential for the state of Alabama to be an economic leader in the wake of unprecedented economic change.”

The additional investment brings the total figure in the state-of-the-art facility in Huntsville to $2.311 billion, up from the $1.6 billion originally announced in 2018.


The investment reaffirms Mazda and Toyota’s commitment to produce the highest-quality products at all of their production facilities.

The investment also accommodates production line modifications to enhance manufacturing processes supporting the Mazda vehicle and design changes to the yet-to-be-announced Toyota SUV that will be both produced at the Alabama plant.

The new facility will have the capacity to produce up to 150,000 units of a future Mazda crossover model and up to 150,000 units of the Toyota SUV each year.


MTM continues to plan for up to 4,000 new jobs and has hired approximately 600 employees to date, with plans to resume accepting applications for production positions later in 2020. Initial hiring began in January.

“Mazda Toyota Manufacturing is proud to call Alabama home. Through strong support from our state and local partners, we have been able to further incorporate cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, provide world-class training for team members and develop the highest quality production processes,” said Mark Brazeal, vice president of administration at MTM.

“As we prepare for the start of production next year, we look forward to developing our future workforce and serving as a hometown company for many years to come,” he added.

Full-scale construction of the Alabama plant continues, with 75 to 100 percent completion on roofing, siding, floor slabs, ductwork, fire protection and electrical.Construction began in early 2019.

“This newest investment by our partners at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing shows the company’s continued confidence in the ability of our community to provide a strong, skilled workforce to meet the demands for quality and reliability,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.

“We look forward to the day when the first vehicles roll off the line,” he added.

“We are excited to learn of this additional investment being made by Mazda Toyota Manufacturing,” Limestone County Commission Chairman Colin Daly said.

“We continue to be grateful to MTM for their belief in our community and look forward to our partnership with them for many years to come.”


Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said MTM’s new investment will magnify the economic impact of a project that is poised to transform the North Alabama region.

“With this enhanced investment, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA is adding new technology and capabilities to a manufacturing facility that was already designed to be one of the most efficient factories in the automotive industry,” Canfield said.

“We’re confident that the groundbreaking collaboration between Mazda and Toyota will drive growth not only for the companies but also for North Alabama for generations.”

(Courtesy of Made In Alabama)

2 hours ago

Alabama coronavirus update: Hospitalizations begin to decrease, new cases falling

There is good news in Alabama’s fight against the coronavirus this week, with a number of key metrics including hospitalizations showing the state making progress while the disease remains highly active.

Hospitals across the state admitted an average of 108 COVID-19 patients per day over the last week — a number that is far higher than preferred by healthcare professionals — but also the first time the rate has declined on a week to week basis since the beginning of the pandemic.

Previously, the seven-day average of hospitalizations had hovered between 160 and 200 since July 17.

Yellowhammer News used numbers from the coronavirus information hubs BamaTracker and Johns Hopkins University for the data in this article.


There was an average of 1,156 new coronavirus cases confirmed in the Yellowhammer State over the last seven days. That is is down from an average of 1,415 for the week concluding on August 6, a roughly 18% decline.


Notably, Alabama’s total number of coronavirus cases since the virus reached the state exceeded 100,000 this week and reached a total of 101,491 as of Thursday morning.

Another good sign for the state is that seven counties reported no new cases on Thursday. For virtually all of July and early August, only one or two counties each day did not report a case.

Especially encouraging to infectious disease experts is the decline in the percentage of tests for COVID-19 that are coming back positive.

According to the data, 13% of the tests given each of the last seven days in Alabama have come back positive, and though that is well above the national average of 7.8%, it is a welcomed decline from a statewide high of over 20% that happened over the week ending August 2.

BamaTracker says the ideal range of tests coming back positive is 1%-5%.

On average, 24 people with coronavirus died each day for the last week in Alabama, one of the highest rates from throughout the pandemic.


The state’s death toll now stands at 1,821 with another 69 people who are presumed to have perished with COVID-19 but have not yet been confirmed by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

According to experts, a surge in new cases follows the occurrence where the virus was spread by about seven to 14 days. A corresponding increase in hospitalizations occurs around two weeks after the surge in new cases, and the concluding uptick in deaths comes two to four weeks after the increase in hospitalizations.

Those expert findings would indicate Alabama’s increase in deaths stems from behavior occurring around the weekend of July 4, though figures like State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris are quick to point out that something as complex as the fluctuations of a pandemic are never attributable to one single factor.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

3 hours ago

Black Alabama Sons of Confederate Veterans member opposes monument, flag removal

Daniel Sims, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has added a unique perspective to the debate over removing Confederate monuments and flags from public display.

Sims, who is black, interviewed with Huntsville-area WHNT about the subject this week.

Wearing both a hat and shirt depicting the Confederate flag, while also holding a full-size Confederate flag on a staff, Sims told WHNT, “Regardless [of] how the next person feels, I’m not going to take my flag down.”


“If I’ve got anything to do with it, ain’t no monument going to come down,” he added.

Sims was reportedly adopted as a child and now holds his adopted family’s heritage as his own.

“My whole family’s white,” Sims explained. “[I] went to an all-white school, grew up in an all-white neighborhood. My grandfather was white, and he was the main one who fought in this war here (the Civil War). And he’s taught me everything I know.”

WHNT reported that the interview took place in Albertville, which is located in Marshall County. According to the most recent data published by the Census Bureau, the county’s population is 79.8% white, 14.7% Hispanic or Latino and 3.2% black.

About the push to take down a confederate monument and flag specifically outside the Albertville courthouse, Sims added, “It may make my blood boil if they just come up here and feel like they could just tear it down. I don’t see me still living if they do that right there. That monument ain’t hurting nobody. That monument ain’t killing a soul. It ain’t talking bad to nobody. It ain’t even racist.”


The clip has gone viral, garnering about 400,000 views in 12 hours. The WHNT reporter who conducted the interview noted in a tweet that Sims has reminded some viewers of an old “Chapelle Show” character, Clayton Bigsby.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn