Where are our young, local, small business entrepreneurs now that we need them?


From Dave Smith
My Foreword to Finding The Sweet Spot by Dave Pollard

[To counter the efforts of those who would foist The Masonite Monster Mall on our community, we need young entrepreneurs to galvanize new local businesses at the potential Masonite Transition Park. The intended gathering of Big Box Dinosaurs and other chain and franchise stores to force their way in, feed at our community trough, and leak their ill-gained revenues and profits to parts unknown, rather than allow small locally-owned businesses to thrive and re-circulate our money locally, will leave our community with lasting scars. If they overrule local citizens and government through their big bucks purchase of the initiative process, and the zoning of the Masonite site is changed adding $30 million to its value, then you can kiss local small business opportunities here goodbye for a generation at least. It's highly doubtful, for many reasons, that a mall will ever be built. But by keeping the zoning industrial, we will keep the property price within reach of local appropriate technology startups, with good paying jobs, rather than having some retail monstrosity imposed on us from outsiders. Recessions, with great changes upon us, are opportune times to help create the next world of business. Because credit and investment capital is tight or non-existent, businesses will have to be started on shoestrings. This is good. It focuses attention and requires great tenacity. The choice is ours. This book is a key business how-to manual from Dave Pollard for budding entrepreneurs. And here is my Foreword. -DS]

3/27/09 Ukiah, North California

A couple of stories, one a “business failure”, the other a “business success.”

During the seventies, with high unemployment and energy shortages a fact of daily life, some friends and I started and ran a very successful natural food cooperative in Menlo Park, California called Briarpatch Natural Foods. It was created to fill a real community need, following the age-old business adage of “find a need and fill it.” People had time on their hands, and natural foods were expensive, so by working 8 hours every three months, members were able to purchase healthy foods for at least 30% less. Three of us co-managed the store, and the work of unloading trucks, stocking shelves, buying fresh produce at the produce terminal, running the cash registers, and everything else needed to operate a small grocery store was done by members. At one point, there were over 350 families on the waiting list.

Because labor is, by far, the largest expense of doing business, taking most of that cost out of the expense statement created not only cheaper food but an enormous forgiveness for the obvious inefficiencies of volunteer, untrained labor and the lack of basic business skills by its enthusiastic and smart, but woefully unskilled management. What fun we had playing store!

It eventually proved to be unsustainable long-term for the simple fact that business is cyclical and when Silicon Valley exploded into runaway growth and success, no-one had time to play store, and the store didn’t adapt quickly enough to the rapidly changing times that did it in. All vendors were fully paid, all member investments were fully returned, and the graceful ending of a beautiful success left us only fond memories. By our current business standards, it was a failure because it didn’t grow and make its “investors” a ton of money. By those of us most intimately involved in the daily business of running a community cooperative, it was one of our most beautiful, successful business experiences.

On the other hand, Smith & Hawken, the $100 million garden company I co-founded is considered an enduring entrepreneurial success. I disagree, and here’s why.

Smith & Hawken’s original mission was to supply sturdy, well-made tools to very serious craftsmen (and women). We started with legendary garden tools made by a 200 year-old company in England and sold them to small organic farmers and serious organic gardeners. Because they were priced at four times the price of the poorly-made, throwaway garden tools at the local hardware store, we thought there was a very limited market that would only require us working part-time, leaving us room to do more important things. When we tried to branch out into woodworking tools, the customer base we had built the brand name on asked us what the hell were we doing. We told them we were a tool company and we wanted to sell other well-made tools. They let us know that we were not a tool company, we were an organic garden company, and they were uninterested in Japanese carpentry tools. All well and good, as our own personal values coincided with the altered company mission, and the company became a very successful garden company that listened to its customers and doubled in sales for many years, requiring typical entrepreneurial sacrifice and dedication.

But now, long after the founders have moved on to other pursuits, and the company has grown huge and changed hands several times, it has been purchased by the largest home pesticide distributor in the US, betraying the fundamental values of the brand, its founders, and many of its customers. A brand standing for good values will now be used as a halo around a company that stands in opposition to those values. For me, that’s a failure.

You may say “big freaking deal, get on with your life” and that I have done. But values have always been what I wanted my life to be about, and what I consider anti-values are now associated with my name. A lesson learned.

Values are also what Dave Pollard and this book are ultimately about. As practical and ground-breaking as this book is, always lurking in the background is a question of values. Dave not only shows us how important it is to thoroughly research the real business opportunities that need filling, and teaches us how to do it, he also asks us to explore what it is we love doing and what we’re good at as equally important to fulfill our yearnings to be useful and make the world a better place.

Yet this is not a warm and fuzzy “do-it-and-the-money-will-come” wish book. What you’ll find here is an excellent, non-academic, no-nonsense, down-to-earth, hands-on, “insight-full” working guidebook, led by an innovative, caring, and extremely bright wise man who may not know all the answers, but, much better, shows us how to go about finding them. However you may define business success and meaning for yourself, this will become one of those books you often turn to for idea sparks and trouble-shooting… one that keeps giving… a manual that stays close by after you’ve dog-eared, starred, and underlined the pages most useful to you.

It is, most importantly, a timely book. I’m convinced that the coming changes will be a time that requires the most from each of us. As “big-corporate” and “big-government” failures to negotiate the transition to decentralized renewable energy and sustainable living become increasingly apparent, it will be up to each of us, especially those of us oriented in small community business, to step up to the responsibility of meeting real local needs. Opportunities abound in cultural transitions, especially those that are potentially devastating if creative answers are not found and implemented.

It will be the combination of independent can-do spirit, entrepreneurial innovation, collaborative teamwork, the sense of service, and deep reverence for nature’s ways that bring us safely to a renewable standard of living. Temperate needs, slower growth, and appropriate scale, coupled with modest returns on investment will become the responsible means of doing business when nature becomes a partner rather than just a “resource” to exploit.

Grab this book and a friend or two, and head to the woods for a few days of study, hiking, and brainstorming. Explore what you are good at, what you love doing, who you love and want to work with, and then come back ready to make it happen no matter what.

If necessity,
mother of invention,
begs for creative release,
but doesn’t know how…

the book is here
and your time is now…
~
See also Dave Pollard’s In Search of the Sweet Spot in Ode Magazine→

…and Dave’s Review of my book To Be Of Use

…and History of the Briarpatch Network

~~

2 Comments

Nicely stated introduction (“To counter the efforts of those who would foist The Masonite Monster Mall on our community…”) to your forward of Dave Pollard’s book.

In the forward you wrote:

“But now, long after the founders have moved on to other pursuits, and the company has grown huge and changed hands several times, it has been purchased by the largest home pesticide distributor in the US, betraying the fundamental values of the brand, its founders, and many of its customers. A brand standing for good values will now be used as a halo around a company that stands in opposition to those values. For me, that’s a failure.”

That’s a tough one. Not so extreme, but I’ve heard similar sentiments from founders of local private (alternative) school s and a few charitable non-profits. No ‘businesses’ changed hands, but core values can just as easily be sold out, compromised or forgotten.

You also wrote:

“Grab this book and a friend or two, and head to the woods for a few days of study, hiking, and brainstorming. Explore what you are good at, what you love doing, who you love and want to work with, and then come back ready to make it happen no matter what.”

Good advice, no doubt the book is an excellent point of departure, but it is a worthy endeavor to “(Grab) a friend or two, and head to the woods … explore… and then come back ready to make your (vision) happen no matter what.”

Do it once, do it twice. Do it frequently. And yes, it’s important to have the right tools and some inspiration. And “Finding the Sweet Spot” sounds like it would fit the bill.

~mb

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