Natural Foods Merchandiser

Profiles In Encouragement

Lynda Sadler: "We won't sell out our ideals."
Lynda Sadler has spent many hours contemplating the paradox of success.

As president and co-owner of Traditional Medicinals, an herbal tea maker based in Sebastopol, Calif., she's helped build the company on the basis of philosophical ideals she nurtured in the 1960s. She's an ardent environmentalist and a social activist involved in local and national causes. Product quality is an obsession. And she is unwavering in her efforts to provide a healthy and caring workplace for her employees.

But maintaining a balance between those values and continuing to grow the company gets tougher every year.

While Traditional Medicinals is profitable, with sales exceeding $15 million annually, competition is fierce, and the company cannot afford any slips that might erode its market position. By all measures, the company is successful; but success in the major leagues of the international food industry—even for this laid-back herb outfit—requires unrelenting attention and a commitment to growth.

"It's gotten harder for us. The business is in a very delicate zone," Sadler says, "and we're working to develop a strategy to move to the next level."

Creating product awareness requires constant effort and plenty of cash.

"Our product is very education oriented—there's a lot we have to explain to consumers, and that is very expensive," Sadler says.

Setting corporate strategy would probably be much easier if Sadler's bottom line for the company was, well, the bottom line.

"We're not just in it to make money. The most important things for us are maintaining the integrity of the product and providing a high-quality work environment for our employees."

Several companies have made generous buy-out offers, but they couldn't guarantee that those values could be maintained.

"We want to grow. We want to continue to create wealth," Sadler says, "But we won't sell out our ideals."

For Sadler, holding fast to those values provides the guiding force of her life; and at 55 years old, she has no intention of changing.

Born to an Italian family in New York, Sadler grew up in the intoxicating atmosphere of big-family dinners. She learned how food brought people together, and that influenced her to study nutrition at Cornell University.

"It wasn't really one of the hip majors. But I always really loved to cook. So I went on a mission to convince people to eat well. I wanted to change the world."

After graduating, she moved to Stockbridge, Mass., a gathering place in the late 1960s for people who embraced the natural lifestyle. Sadler even operated the bakery at the renowned Alice's Restaurant.

Living in that atmosphere with like-minded people, Sadler became convinced that she could, indeed, change the world—so long as she could do the cooking.

"We all started to realize that the food chain had to be flipped around. 'You are what you eat.' That was the mantra that got me going."

She moved to Boston in the early 1970s to study macrobiotics at the East-West Foundation, an organization devoted to natural health sciences. There she began writing about food, healing and the natural lifestyle.

"The whole organization was focused on macrobiotics. That was a huge influence on my life."

In 1980, she moved west and with friends bought a health foods store in Hollywood. One of the products the store sold was herbal tea made in northern California. Sadler was so impressed by the teas and the owners' commitment to organic herbs that she joined them.

At the time, the company made claims on its packages that the teas provided medicinal remedies for colds, flu and other maladies. As the teas gained popularity, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered that the health claims be removed.

"That was scary. But we knew these products worked, and we didn't want to just be a tea company. So we decided to get our teas approved as over-the-counter drugs."

Sadler began researching herbs and old medical and pharmacy books from sources throughout the world. Two years later, in 1983, the FDA allowed 12 of the company's teas to be classified as over-the-counter drugs.

"That opened up so many avenues. We'd always been in health stores, but with the approval we were able to get into grocery stores. It was phenomenal. We were part of the herbal renaissance to bring back these natural remedies."

Now the company's 45 teas are sold in more than 8,000 stores throughout North America and Europe. That fact is not lost on large companies that want to buy Traditional Medicinals; and Sadler admits that the offers are tempting. But she's also witnessed what's happened to other natural products companies that have been bought out—and she hasn't always liked what she's seen.

Sadler is convinced her company can remain independent and profitable, yet maintain its values.

"I believe that our business has done some things to change the system, and we've managed to do that from within the system," Sadler says. "It's not easy. But what all of this has taught me is this: When you have ideals, you have to crash them into the real world and see if you can hold onto them."

Prem Glidden: "It's about the joy of the journey every day."
She's maintained a disciplined practice for more than 20 years: yoga, meditation and exercise daily; a vegetarian diet; and a pledge to engage each day as a joyful adventure.

For Prem Glidden, that practice has created a path that's led to spiritual awakening; marriage to a soul mate; and a successful career based, not on some dutiful work ethic, but on a passionate belief in organic and natural products.

Glidden's company, Choice Marketing, is one of the largest independent natural products brokers in the United States. Since 1990, the business has connected manufacturers of natural products—food, body care, nutritional and household products—to retailers, distributors and consumers. Working with more than 100 manufacturers, the company had a hand in the sale of more than $50 million worth of natural products in the United States in 2001.

Now Glidden, 49, looks back with satisfaction, knowing that her work played a role in bringing natural products to Main Street—just what she and her husband Reed set out to do when they founded the company.

"Our goal was to educate people about their food choices, not only for their health, but also for the health of the planet."

But long before Glidden found her mission, she engaged a 20-year adventure that took her from her Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Baltimore to a high-country commune in the Sierra Nevada mountains, to a Sikh ashram in Alaska and to plenty of places in between.

Disillusioned and uninspired, she dropped out of college in 1971 when she was 20. Heeding the call of freedom, she hit the road with a friend, hitchhiking west. Not long afterward, Glidden unknowingly took the first step toward what was to become her lifelong passion.

"In Texas, I met a man who explained that by eating meat I was hurting other living creatures," Glidden says. "I'd never really thought about that, but it made sense. I haven't eaten meat since that day."

For three years, she traveled and lived with others steadfast in their belief in the natural lifestyle. "What I'd been doing in my life up until then wasn't working. I mean, I had never eaten a vegetable that hadn't come out of a can or wasn't frozen. No wonder I hated broccoli!" Glidden says, laughing. "Suddenly I was introduced to a new way of life."

Glidden decided to develop skills that would allow her to spread the word to the mainstream and to earn money. So she returned to Baltimore to attend nursing school. Soon she met an old friend who invited her to visit the local Sikh ashram where he was living.

Glidden was intrigued by the Sikh community, which incorporates spiritual principles and requires a strict regime: yoga and meditation at 4 a.m., study and community service, and a vegetarian diet. She soon joined.

"I was looking for a vehicle to achieve my personal and spiritual goals. I hadn't been brought up with a lot of discipline. In the ashram I started to do the work."

While she thrived in the ashram, it drove her parents nuts.

"They hated seeing me dressed in a white robe and a turban. There was a period when they didn't speak to me."

But Glidden's commitment never wavered. The change she experienced wasn't only spiritual; there was ample physical evidence that living in the Sikh community greatly improved her health. She weighed 200 pounds when she entered the ashram; two years later Glidden weighed 130.

She moved to an ashram in Tucson, Ariz., met her future husband and after six years moved with him to lead an ashram in Fairbanks, Alaska. After 10 years, the couple moved to Chicago to work in a Sikh-owned business that distributes natural products. Two years later, Glidden and her husband decided it was time to leave the Sikhs and start their own natural products company.

The move was risky, but their missionary belief in natural products allowed them to transcend conventional worries.

"We are passionate about sustainable agriculture, organic products, environmental awareness. We wanted to do something that reflected our values. And we never sacrificed our values or ethics to make money and run a business."

The natural products category was gaining momentum in the early 1990s, and the business grew quickly. The company eventually worked throughout the Midwest, California, the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Southeast. Two of the territories—Midwest and Southeast—were recently sold. In 1999, the company merged with Transaction Natural of Greenfield, Mass., and in 2001 established a sales territory in the Pacific Northwest. The work is demanding, and Glidden admits that she and her husband, at times, are weary. But through it all, they never considered quitting.

"On so many days we look at each other and say, 'Can you believe we're getting paid to do this?' One of the greatest lessons I've learned is that the joy is in the journey. It's not about the destination. It's about the joy of the journey every day."

And that's the message she wants everyone to hear.

"If your journey is not joyful, it's time to stop and ask some questions. For some people there's a belief that 'if I suffer long enough, I'll get there.' But that defies universal law. We're here to have a joyful journey, to be passionate and love what we do."

Joseph P. Lewandowski is a freelance writer based in Fort Collins, Colo. He can be reached at [email protected]

Ann Yates: "One of the major aspects to success is to see business as a spiritual path."
We can all learn from Ann Yates' well-directed energy. This woman doesn't spin wheels in loose mud. She hurls deliberate action toward conscientiously chosen aspirations. And this method has served her well.

The owner of Nature's Pantry and Well By Nature, both in Knoxville, Tenn., began hot pursuit of her goals by opening her own store 25 years ago after borrowing money from her mother. (Women need someone to believe in them, she says. For her, it's a bank, but before that, it was her mother.) The single mom raised her son and daughter at the store, blending day care with commerce.

"Every employee had the right to put the kids in time out," she says. "I felt blessed to have had a store," which provided the family income and a place for the kids to come after school. But Yates lacked business know-how.

So she read, voraciously, and has been an informal business student for the past 25 years. She pays attention to every transaction in the store. "And I incorporate everyone in that process," she says. "I post sales [figures] weekly in each department. Everyone has a budget," she says. She trains each employee on business matters. She offers an IRA that is a percentage of salary based on bottom-line profits. "The information equates," she says. "When people know what you're going for, they know how to do it."

Yates' zeal to learn the most productive business practices took her to higher-order goals: "Ultimately, one of the major aspects to success is to see business as a spiritual path," she says. "We are all born with seeds of greatness that need to be nurtured."

Five years ago, that path led Yates to the notion of "right livelihood," melding business with personal ethics. With her children raised, she traveled the world alone for three months, asking herself what she wanted to do with the second half of her life. The first had seen the success of Nature's Pantry—she won't reveal figures but says she's had "excellent sales." The challenges of managing the natural products store were fewer, and Yates decided combining her own healthy lifestyle with business—in the form of a wellness center in Knoxville—would be her next endeavor.

Well By Nature opened in November. It took Yates two years to design the space that features irregular-shaped rooms, eye-catching fountains and stairwells, and brilliant colors. An artist, Tony Barone from Venice, Calif., who worked with her on the architectural and interior designs says the resulting space is "phenomenal. It's totally humane. Light comes in it in interesting and natural ways. The aisles shift, and so you waltz through instead of walk," says Barone.

The 9,000-square-foot building houses 25 offices for massage therapists, acupuncturists, personal trainers, chiropractors and other natural health practitioners. It also offers a pool, two classrooms and a kitchen for cooking classes. Ten professionals had moved into the space within two weeks of the building's opening, and exercise and yoga classes have begun.

Yates is thrilled with the center, and though she has trademarked it for possible duplicates, she has no idea where it will go. "I've got to see if this is fun," she says. It's easy for ambitious people to get out of balance, and she says she intends to stay centered.

Staying balanced is especially difficult for businesswomen who tend to nurture others instead of themselves, she says. But the real challenge for women, she says, is to "get out of their own way, to shed their limited visions and thinking." If you want to make a lot of money or own a lot of stores or create your dream business, then do it, she says. Educate yourself and invest the level of commitment it takes.

The feminine nature is also a bonus in business, she says, because building relationships is key, and doing so comes easily for women. Also, men are willing to listen to women and teach them what they know, she says. "And I live in the South, run by the good old boys," she says. "But men enjoy working with women who know their business."

Amy Bernard Satterfieldis a journalism instructor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., a writing coach and freelance writer.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 2/p. 12, 18, 20-21

An Ann Yates Success Primer

Yates has her own ideas for what makes business successful:

  • Good customer service: "Build relationships with your customers and staff... Have high standards and an immaculate store."
  • Being "in alignment with your spirit": "Adhere to what you have committed to living... in my case it's about love and kindness and acceptance of my own humanity."
  • Delegation: "Give people opportunities to take on responsibility in all areas."
  • A happy working atmosphere: "The energy needs to be good. Invest in employees' education... Point out people's successes. Have an attitude of gratitude."
  • A staff you have taught how to communicate: "Clear up ill feelings. Take responsibility for feelings. ... All this takes mindfulness. You have to pay attention."

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 2/p. 21

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