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Bill Crawford's Blog

Walnut Street Vs. Wall Street

My first encounter was up in St. Paul, Minnesota, where Patrick Rae (Publisher and Editorial Director of Nutrition Business Journal) and I were speaking to a convention of the National Coop Grocers Association (NCGA). (

The folks at the meeting, a bit over a hundred of them, were their wellness directors, those who handle supplements and body care at their stores.For the most part, the NCGA is made up of single stores that are owned “cooperatively” by people in the community where they serve. They have a great business model and serve many communities across the country.

The NCGA staff and members could not have given us a warmer welcome.As both Patrick and I shared from our perspectives on the current State of the Industry, I don’t know that we could have had a more attentive audience.From the questions and comments that I heard, these are not people who are down or discouraged. They are willing to work hard to serve their members and overcome our current challenges, but are expecting that their efforts will lead to success and growth for their stores.

One of the great elements that one finds with a group like the NCGA is their passion. I am not talking about a passion for numbers – profit and margin and the like. They are savvy business-people that know that they have to hit their numbers to keep going.What I found that really “turns them on” is their passion for their customers. They are helping people find ways to live better, healthier. That is their hot button!

They see their size in the market as a huge advantage in whom they hire, in what they stock, and in how they sell so that they can help their customers while making money at the same time.(Yes, I did use the word “advantage” – without a leading “dis” – on purpose.)

This past Saturday, I took my Principles of Marketing class on a field trip.I know that they are in college – but they really needed this one! They had endured three Friday night class sessions in a row – each one lasting five hours – and then they had three Saturday class sessions in a row – each one lasting eight hours. It is a great way to get a course knocked out in the summer time, but it is an endurance test!

Saturday, we ended our time in the classroom at 1 PM and headed out to Joe Momma’s pizza. ( Joe Momma’s is owned and operated by a young man named Blake Ewing, whom I had in a class a couple of years ago. We have stayed in touch since – mostly because I was so impressed with what he was doing with his business (and not so much that he thought I was a fountain of wisdom and knowledge!)

Blake took time out of his day to share some of how he, as a small business man, competes with local, regional and national chains. After listening to him talk and field questions from the class, it occurred to me that this is not a glass half empty guy. He is also not a glass half full guy. He is a “glass filled to the brim and running over” guy!

He talked so much about how his size gives him advantages in the market that all of the conventional wisdom about growth seemed flawed! When you hear what a local guy can do with Twitter, Facebook, My Space, e-newsletters, partnerships with non-profit groups, local event sponsorships, and the like you start to see that his optimism isn’t just a personality trait; it is a real way to look at the world!

I know that he knows the realities of competition and the struggle that a small business faces – but he focused on the opportunities instead.

Blake’s attitude about his employees was striking. He knows that for many of his staff, work with him is only transitional – but he is working to make it transformational. He encourages staff about goal-setting, skill building, making and working towards life plans – including those that are outside of working for him.

What stood out to me, as well, was that without any pretense, he never referred to “customers,” only to “guests." I realized that his stated vision of who enters his place is what has guided the attitudes that I’ve felt from all of his staff when I’ve been there.

From my time with the NCGA and my time at Joe Momma’s pizza, I saw so much in common. Their marketplaces, products, customers, etc. could not have been much farther apart. Their passion, their optimism, and their drive to help those around them, however, were identical!

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