Natural Products Expo
Sue Heilbronner

Key benefits of kindness: Be a good human and grow customer loyalty

As business as a force for good becomes increasingly a priority rather than an afterthought, values like kindness and authenticity have taken center stage in a brand’s key metrics. This excerpt represents Part II of our series with Sue Heilbronner on the invaluable power of kindness in the industry.

Missed Part I on marrying purpose and passion? Find it here.

Sue Heilbronner is a captivating storyteller, adviser, investor, mentor, creative visionary and catalyst. She co-founded and serves as CEO of MergeLane, an investment fund and accelerator targeting companies with at least one woman in leadership. She will be involved in both our general conference and Natural Products Business School at Natural Products Expo West 2017, where she’ll speak on these topics, as well as offer VIP mentoring for a few hand-selected emerging brands.

We believe that kindness plays an important role in business as a force for good. How do you feel this quality influences brand loyalty? 

Sue Heilbronner: That’s such a great acknowledgment. I spend a lot of time with tech companies; I spend some time with food companies. I think it’s really nice to think about how the mindset of a tech entrepreneur could influence the mindset of a food entrepreneur and vice versa. I’ve always thought that the biggest determinant of what makes a brand successful is whether or not it’s able to make an emotional connection on the other side. That seems to be routinely missed in business. 

When I buy a product, if I can think about the team behind the product, that radically increases my loyalty. I think that comes down to kind motivations.

We believe now more than ever that it is extremely important for businesses to lead. How do you feel that brands can put their best food forward at a show like Expo West? Perhaps, in just one conversation? 

SH: I think that one of the challenges of Expo is that there can be so much operational work in just activating your booth at bare minimum. It is really hard to stay present with your story and vision. 

Most vendors do a really nice job of preparing when they have scheduled meetings that they expect and have pursued. They’ve cleared their mind space. They are ready for their story; they have their deck. They have the ability to spin out the vision that they’ve been working on for so long. 

The most important thing to note is that you never really know who the person is, reaching for the next sample. And if you aren’t present enough to be making those heart connections, you are missing the opportunity that you didn’t plan for.

Can you think of one fact that others might find surprising about you?

SH: I enjoy deeply. I savor life’s pleasures. I appreciate especially really little things in an almost childlike way. I think that’s probably the most potent aspect of my own leadership. 

I am also incredible optimistic. I was very close to my dad growing up and my dad was sick for about 20 years until he died when I was in my young 30s. He had the greatest attitude in the world. He was really happy to be alive. I think being raised in that context, having a ton of lucky breaks, a tremendous amount of privilege and the good fortune of getting to have an education has just made me really positive.


Want to join in on the positive energy? Heilbronner will speak Jan. 26 on this topic at the Naturally Boulder Beyond the Badge event in Boulder, Colo.

Headed to Expo West? Register or upgrade your badge today to sit in on Heilbronner's session on Following Your Heart in the Real World

Are you an Entrepreneur? Join the conversation in our Natural Entrepreneur Today newsletter and add Business School to your Expo West badge for an intimate workshop with Heilbronner!

See our full conference schedule for Expo West.

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