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A hive of creative ideas: The Portland Bee Balm and Cascadia Candles story

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The origins of Portland Bee Balm and Cascadia Candles came out of necessity – Brad Swift’s wife Anika ran out of lip balm.

That simple need started him down an entrepreneurial journey that has led to the creation of a successful consumer brand that has traction in retail outlets throughout the United States and Japan. But as with many founders, there is a constant pull to keep evolving and pushing to do something new and unique.

The building of a consumer product brand

As hobbyist beekeepers, the Swifts had accumulated plenty of beeswax. Brad started to make lip balm for Anika and their friends. While the simplicity of plain beeswax offered many of the benefits people want from a lip balm, Brad experimented with a plethora of different recipes until he finally hit on what would become the Portland Bee Balm product line.

Using the resources and skills he had on hand, Brad set out to get his product to market. but as anyone who has launched a new consumer product can attest – gaining initial market traction is a slog.

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The bee balm displays

But rather than be too daunted to move, they took the creative approach to get the bee balm on the shelves, all while Brad was still working full time at an elementary school.

“An artist friend and I spent an evening drawing up a label that included the city skyline, Mt. Hood and a giant honey bee. We had this shrunk down and printed on kraft brown stickers. Once the brand was designed, I got creative with display case building. Using a bundle of cedar shingles and hours of work in the basement of the shared house we lived in, I would build many different designs and offer them to stores for free. I would also offer to take measurements and custom build a display for any space in their store. People were very generous with their time and knowledge. They were the experts in this area and I would say, “You know your store best and I am good woodworker. I’ll build you anything you want to fit any location in your store for free; do you have any ideas?”

This personal outreach and engagement provided the initial market traction for Portland Bee Balm, but the true value was discovered through the conversations he had with store owners and buyers, as the display experiments and conversations with them would prove invaluable as Brad learned how the world of retail operated.

“My market research was mostly conversations with store owners and body care buyers. I tried not to do too much talking, I asked a ton of questions about how the industry works, how their department worked, what sold well, why did they think it sold well, what was the most valuable real estate in the store, and on and on. I would listen for as long as they were willing to talk – eventually they would have to get back to work. A little honesty went a long way – I told them I was new at this and had no idea what I was doing. Any advice they could give me would be greatly appreciated.”

But even with such an outward approach, there was the lack of confidence and knowledge so often felt by first time founders.

“I was rightly afraid that I was coming across as someone who had no idea what they were doing. I felt like people were doing me a huge favor every time they bought my product. It took me a long time to gain the confidence that I was providing something of significant value and they needed me as much as I needed them.”

In addition to the sense of fear of the unknown, there were production issues that created their own challenges and opportunities for knowledge gathering.

“We also had many production issues; a label that didn’t stay on the tubes and displays that did not function correctly.  Luckily I was able to encounter and solve these problems while Portland Bee Balm was still very small because when you are forced to recall all your product because your labels are coming off, it’s nice to only be in three stores. “

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Raw beeswax – each one of these weighs hundreds of pounds.

Brad started to hone in on an initial sales strategy as these early issues were ironed out. He’d would get on Google Maps and walk the street view guy down Alberta, Hawthorne, Mississippi, NW 21st avenue, and NW 23rd avenue. From the look of the storefront, he’d decide who might consider selling Portland Bee Balm and then drop them a cold call with the very soft ask of “Can I stop by and give them some free samples of the lip balm I make?”. As with anything new, it was pretty intimidating the first few times, but like anything it got easier and he got better.

As the number of stores started to grow, the product sourcing started to become a focus of the business. Brad started out using the beeswax from his own hives, but quickly surpassed what he could harvest from those sources. But as a beekeeper himself and the fact that the word ‘Bee’ was right on the label, it was important to have an authentic connection.

“To start with, most balms don’t want to use much beeswax because it’s such an expensive ingredient. But I wanted the recipe to have as much beeswax as possible and to this day, every tube of balm is over one third beeswax.”

In addition to the amount of beeswax in each tube of balm, there also was the fact that their tag line when they started was ‘supporting local bees and their keepers.’ By placing bees first in the tag line, it was a clever way to put the focus on them. A focus that Brad knew had to be more than just keeping his own hives and buying wax from other local beekeepers, because if that was the extent of that belief, it would feel more like marketing as opposed to the truth.

But the truth won out, and started a program they hope to grow as the company does.

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Brad beekeeping

“We started giving away hives each spring. We partnered with Bee Thinking to buy the hives, then we get beekeeping equipment and a package of honeybees with a queen. We give these hives away to people in the community that want to be beekeepers, but can’t afford the significant startup cost. We gave away 4 hives this last spring, our most ever. We don’t do a great job of publicizing and getting press about the giveaways, but it makes us feel good and we know we are not BS’ing anyone when we tell them we support local bees and their keepers. “

Scaling up production and retailers

As the number of retailers grew, there was a conscious effort to not jump up too many rungs on the ladder too soon.

The independent gift shops prepared Brad for the Co-Ops, and the Co-Ops prepared him for New Seasons. He realized there was so much to learn; from lingo, jargon and acronyms to expectations regarding terms, legal, insurance and labeling requirements.

“If you jump too far, it will show and they will probably not want to work with you as it will be clear to them that you are out of your depth and holding your hand through everything will be a huge time sink. The co-ops and New Seasons were great, they helped me through a lot of things, but it had to be clear that I had a base level of knowledge and experience before they brought me onto their shelves.”

But more than just getting on the shelves, Portland Bee Balm became one of the top sellers in  the health and beauty category within the stores it was featured. Safe to say Brad and Anika were very surprised.

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Custom retail display

“I just had my head down and was focused on getting a little bit better with each iteration of displays or labels or production processes. When I looked up we had something that was working pretty well and people were responding to.”

The heads down approach to building a product proved to be the right model for growth, but in terms of personal growth, reaching out to the Portland area entrepreneur and maker world for feedback, support, and advice was critical, and that community was helpful in a myriad of ways.

The community provided a consistent push to keep evolving, evaluating, iterating, exploring and taking risks, which has helped keep Brad moving forward onto the next challenge – challenges that include more than just product refinement and scaling.

“The emotional support has been helpful as well. I’m a solo founder so there is no one at Portland Bee Balm with whom I can share large scale hopes and fears. A group of other founders can fill that role, as there are so many similarities across companies and industries.

The community’s most valuable contribution has been the expansion of perceived possibility. Everything looks impossible until you see someone else do it – like breaking the 4 minute mile. I did not come from a world where people started, owned, bought and sold companies. Successful company founders were generous with their time and advice. I was able to see that there was almost infinite room for growth and increased positive impact. Bringing these large aspirational goals into the realm of possibility has been the greatest gift from this community.”

The development of Cascadia Candles

As Portland bee Balm continued to grow, there was the constant noise around expanding the product line, and the never ending product ideas from outside voices. But much of Brad’s success with Portland bee Balm can be attributed to the ability to resist taking on too much advice, and concentrating on trying to continually improve on what they do best.

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Cascadia Candles packaging

Creative energies, however, do need an outlet. With the need to tweak the design and product slowing down, Brad got restless, and the restless mind led to the latest product line.

“Candles are an obvious choice; we are surrounded by towers of beeswax in this office, as it’s a main ingredient in our balms. However I could never find myself inspired to make beeswax pillars, tapers, votives or tealights – there are already many great companies doing this very well.“

The restless creative energy continued to burn within Brad and at some point he began to think that maybe the shape of the candle could convey the identity of the brand. He thought about releasing a Portland Bee Balm candle, which led to ideas like a raindrop, a tall boy beer can and Big Pink. And while those ideas would have no doubt created some noise and traction on shelves, his mind eventually settled on a more iconic representation of the brand and the Pacific NW.

“Eventually I thought about Mount Tabor and it’s reservoirs. I thought the reservoirs could be in blue wax and it would look striking. As I started thinking about creating a 3D model of Mount Tabor, it became clear that Mount Hood would be a much more recognizable choice. Once I started going down that route I was overwhelmed with the possibilities of modeling and printing 3D geographic features. I felt this new company would be limited if it was under Portland Bee Balm and it needed to be its own entity – Cascadia Candles.”

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Mt. Hood candle

Once the direction was set, Brad set out to do what he does best: do simple things really well.

He dived into learning about every aspect of candle making, including elements most people take for granted when lighting candles and navigating the intricacies of 3D modeling and printing. What seemed like a simple idea quickly became something that consumed his creative energy and led him to not just simply create a candle, but actually learn how to make a unique product.

“You have no idea how many different wick materials exist out there; each with their own burn properties, and how many different sizes they all come in. We tested wicks for days and days. For the candles themselves there are a lot of steps and each one is an opportunity to make mistakes. The topographical data gets transformed into a surface – that surfaces get transformed into a 3D digital model – that 3D model gets edited and sent to the 3D printer. Once the model in printed and exists in the real world, it has be carefully prepared and then cast in silicone. You have no idea how many different types of silicone exist out there! The silicone mold is then removed, and prepared to receive the beeswax. Don’t forget to adjust for the pour temperature and shrinkage of the beeswax as it cools. How do you get the wick in there? These were all great problems and I was able to come up with creative solutions that I am proud of. There will be way more problems to tackle going forward; they never end, but this is what makes the work interesting.”

With the candle design dialed in and production ready to begin, Brad is turning to Kickstarter for support of the project, instead of reaching out to the network of retailers he has built up through Portland Bee Balm.

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Mt. St. Helens candle

Kickstarter offered the best platform to not only share this new product with a large and diverse audience, but it also allows him to gauge if there is truly enough interest in the concept to take the next steps.

Backers generously agree to wait months for their rewards. This will allow us to build out our production capacity to be roughly in line with demand. These candles also feel much more at home on the internet than lip balm. People are online looking for a new, unique gift or object that speaks to them.”

And if the candles do speak to a large customer base, Brad knows that will come with new challenges and opportunities for both brands.

“I think the biggest challenges will involve people. Making sure everyone is communicating, on the same page and feeling supported is happening right now in our 4 person Portland Bee Balm team. If things grow very quickly and we need to add more than a few people I think the biggest challenge will be to maintain the culture we have created. It’s a flat hierarchy with open books and no secrets. Everyone knows everything that is going on with the company and we are all in it together.”

Being transparent and open are the core values that Brad has built Portland Bee Balm on, and will continue to do so as Cascadia Candles comes into the brand fold.

And what would he say if he could go back and give his former self some advice?

“Quit your job sooner, it’s going to work out. Try to relax. Don’t compare yourself to other people that founded a better, faster, cooler, sexier, bigger company. Your instincts are good, Brad’s Bomb Balm would have been a dumb name.”

For more information, visit the Cascadia Candles Kickstarter page and visit Portland Bee Balm at www.portlandbeebalm.com and follow them on facebook,  instagram and twitter

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Stein Distillery takes the journey from fields to bottle

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There has been a large increase in the number of craft distilleries over the past few years, and new ones can be seen from Ashland to Portland.

But there aren’t many whose roots run three generations deep in Northeast Oregon, and are linked directly to the raw materials that go into making exceptional spirits.

The Stein family settled in Joseph, OR in the late 1890’s and relied on the land and wildlife for survival. They became wheat farmers, and for many decades, the focus was on traditional crop growing and selling.

But the agriculture business is never easy.

Grain prices started to fall and the family was looking for ways to produce crops for alternate means, and with the ability to grow really good wheat, rye, and barley, the idea for a distillery was hatched, and enter Austin and Heather Stein.Combine with Austin

Austin and Heather are 4th generation Steins, both of whom wanted to carry on the hard-working tradition of their families and small town communities whose residents share some core values, and with many of them running family owned businesses.

They both achieved engineering degrees in college, and eventually wanted to use them for the greater good, and as Heather points out, they saw that opportunity present itself in 2005.

“We noticed 2 lots on Joseph’s main street for sale, and decided it was now or never. We had the know-how in the family to distill, to build, to manufacture and to manage. All the pieces were there to run a business. “

As with many small town families, the Steins also had a construction business, which gave them the wherewithal to know how to develop these lots into something that could bring new jobs and resources to the community.

So the plan was launched with the ability to develop the property, and the engineering backgrounds to assist in the distillery setup.

But Heather and Austin were focused on creating craft spirits that were both representative of their family’s farming heritage, and world class in taste from the start. This led them down the knowledge and education path.

“ We went to a distilling class in April 2006, offered by Bavarian Holstein, and learned how to distill using manufactured equipment. We decided to order the equipment after 3-years of obtaining licensing from both state and federal governments. After receiving the equipment in March 2009, it took 4 months to perfect the grain to starch conversion process. Once perfected, we distilled vodka right off the bat and then cordials, and then started distilling and barreling whiskey for aging.”

The ability to distill high quality vodka and cordials from the outset allowed them build the brand. The team did tastings, worked on distribution, and started to create the story around Stein Distillery. A story centered around making high quality spirits from their own grain – truly farm to bottle distilling.

The vodka and cordial sales also brought in much needed revenue to this young craft distillery. But, as Austin states, there was always a goal on producing another product line.

“ The vision has always been aged whiskey. We needed to get unique vodka and cordials to the market first to start making a name for ourselves and bring in revenue. But the ultimate goal was always aged Oregon whiskey made from true-Oregon grain. “23-Bottles Front of Still

In addition, the Steins had the intention to set themselves apart from other micro-distilleries in Oregon, as well as bring back some famous cocktails of yesteryear. To do this, they decided to grow their own rye for use in the vodka, and whiskey as an addition to their family grown wheat.

But the focus on uniqueness didn’t end there. The Steins knew they could distinguish their whiskeys even more by adding another unique grain, and so they started growing barley as well. Even with the ability and knowhow to grow wheat, rye, and barley, they were still in need of one other ingredient, an ingredient they would need to source – corn.

“We knew we couldn’t and shouldn’t compete with Hermiston corn so we decided to source corn from a cousin already growing it in Hermiston. Knowing exactly where the raw material is from and how it is grown, and knowing careful and meticulous Stein hands have been in the process from start to finish, ensures a consistent high quality product to our consumer.”

And getting the product to the consumer started in Joseph and Wallowa County – not necessarily the center of the craft spirits movement. To the Stein’s knowledge, the closest distilleries to theirs would be in the Tri-City area, Spokane or Boise – over 3 hours away. But being the sole distillery in a large area did create opportunities for not only the business, but also the community.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 9.49.42 PM“ We would say that having the distillery in Joseph has created talk/interest for alternate uses for grain/agriculture in general, as there are still many family farms on the Eastern side of the state. Our distillery has brought additional tourism to Joseph which is a major industry for Wallowa County, and we hope to continue to attract people to this beautiful area.”

With the tasting room thriving, raw materials growing and a mix of products that includes vodka, rye whiskey, whiskey, bourbon, cordials and “steinshine” (based on a family bourbon recipe), one might think that the Stein Distillery would be content.

Not so much. It’s time for expansion.

The distillery is currently in the early stages of designing a barrel aging warehouse to their distillery in Joseph. This will not only allow more space for the barrel products to age, but will also free up manufacturing space to increase production.

In addition to the expansion in Joseph, they recently opened a tasting room in the Progress Ridge are of Beaverton. A move they know helps to build the brand equity in new areas.

“ Having a tasting room allows the consumer to be able to sample the spirit before making the decision to buy. It gives us the opportunity to educate the consumer on how spirits are made, what they should be tasting and why they should care about it. We find consumers are also interested in our story and our supportive of our small family business.”

And this growth has led to some new challenges and opportunities in the business.

“ Being of engineering and manufacturing brains, we are not naturally the first ones to market/advertise/sell but obviously these activities are critical to any business, and so we will be looking to add expertise and opportunity in these areas. These actions will help us continue to move nationally and internationally with our products. Meanwhile, we do foresee the current demand picking up in 2016, therefore expanding our production capability will also be critical.”

With a hard working legacy of 4 generations of Oregonians supporting their efforts, the Stein family is well prepared to weather the entrepreneurial storm, but offer this simple bit of advice for others making the leap.

“Be prepared for a long journey.”

For more information, visit www.steindistillery.com, like them on facebook, and follow them on twitter and instagramRye

A weekend at Startup Camp: fostering the next generation of entrepreneurs

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This story is by Akhil Kambhammettu. Akhil is a high school student who interned with Built Oregon last summer and is currently writing stories about youth entrepreneurship for us. He wrote a story on the Portland fashion scene last fall.


With numerous resources at one’s disposal, Portland is the place to be for entrepreneurs and creatives. Entrepreneurs are exposed to a network of many others just like them, and are surrounded by successful incubators such as the Portland Incubator Experiment and Forge Portland.

Our Student Reporter Akhil Kambhammettu

Our Student Reporter Akhil Kambhammettu

Businesses that are just starting out can also receive support and investment from companies like Portland Seed Fund and Craft3, and with the growing popularity of startups and the independent lifestyle that comes with it, entrepreneurship has been attracting kids who are looking for ways to put their unique and independent ideas into viable businesses, as well as to make their passion their job.

Entrepreneurship programs have been successfully been implemented into youth programs and schools such as IUrban Teen and Portland State University. Clearly, entrepreneurship has gained a big youth following. One educational program that stands among the others is the Catlin Gabel Startup Camp. In fact, it’s not even an “educational” program.

Startup Camp is a weekend long camp where high school students gather and work together at Catlin Gabel in a “dungeon” mode, building a company from scratch to finish, ending in a pitch to judges in competition for the top prize. Yes, these kids build a company from scratch to finish in the course of one weekend.DSC_0480

I attended their third annual startup camp from October 16-18, 2015 and was able to observe my fellow young entrepreneurs. They gathered in small makeshift workspaces set up in classrooms across the school, with snacks and drinks strewn across the tables. But most importantly, the students were running around hurriedly with a razor focus on the task at hand. I had never seen such a chaotic yet beautiful scene. As busy as they were, I was able to snag a couple minutes from some of the students to talk to about their experiences here and outside with entrepreneurship.

First I met with Miles Cowen, a freshman at Catlin Gabel, who was attending startup camp for the first time. Miles was exposed to the entrepreneurial world through his internship over the summer at Aerial Technology International ,where he helped build drones. Miles explains that he came into camp very excited, and although he was sometimes overwhelmed by the chaos he was never discouraged,  and found the environment to be quite energizing. Miles joined a company called Moneta, pitched by Emma Hayward, a junior at Catlin Gabel.

Miles noted “Moneta is like the opposite of Ebay. The idea is to have someone say I want to buy this for his amount of money”. From there, customers can bid for the buyer’s business. When asked what Miles enjoyed most about his first year at camp, he explains, “It was fun to have no teacher or supervision of any sort. You really got to do what you wanted to do.”

Next I talked to a team representative from the company Mind Matters, A company that helps connect students with lecturers who were coming to their area. As I walk into their makeshift office (one of the classrooms), I see multiple students grouped together either in intense discussion, writing on the whiteboard under their mentor’s watchful eye, or scrambling around for some supplies. I manage to get ahold of one of their team members and sit him down for a couple questions.

When asked about his personal experience at Startup Camp, he pauses for a moment to gather his thoughts, and a slight smile appears across his face when he explains, “It feels very real, it’s not like school where people tell you to do things and you do them. You choose your own path… and do what you think is best for yourself and the team.” But his experience was not without struggle. “With it being a new experience and a new way to work, there is no right answer. We have to stay organized and come to agreement on a lot of things. We had to make a lot of compromises”.DSC_0491

I also met with Anirud Venigalla, a junior from Sunset High School on team Clear Park. Anirud explains that Clear Park was actually a combination of two ideas. One aspect was an application that showed open parking spaces near your destination and allowed you to reserve them if it is possible. The other allowed users to rent out their own home parking spaces for other people to use. This idea stood out among the others because it allowed normal people to provide a service to others for profit.

The idea was also scalable and applicable almost anywhere people had parking spaces. Clear Park pulls in revenue by simply taking a cut of the fee paid by the renter of the parking space. But like every other company at Startup Camp, Clear Park faced its own struggles. Anirud said, “Leadership was a huge challenge in our team. We struggled to establish a team dynamic at first, but figured it out as we continued to work on the company. I think it takes some time for all teams to settle down, but at a certain point you either know the team is going to work out, or you guys aren’t meant for each other.”DSC_0530

I continued to walk down through the classrooms, meeting members from each team. For the most part, the CEO’s were very busy because they were the only ones who would be presenting for the competition later in the evening. There were two companies that stood out to me as unique and innovative: Macca Milk and Music Match. Both these companies had a goal of targeting youth, making their products relatable and appealing. Both of the company CEO’s leveraged their ability to think from the mind of a teenager, making them all the more lovable and hip.

Macca Milk is a company that made milk out of Macadamia nuts. When talking to the team, it was clear that they had done extensive research before starting the company: “Macadamia nuts use much less water to grow than almonds for almond milk, and more and more people are drinking milk substitutes. Our target demographic is the younger generation of kids who are looking for something unique to drink while also staying healthy. We wanted to make being healthy cool and hip.”  Clearly, Macca Milk is not aiming to create just a product, but a lifestyle and culture around healthy living.

On the other side of the school I met with Marissa Natrajan, the co-founder of Music Match, who created the company along with her brother Neil. As she oversees her friends creating the website, Marisa explains the idea behind music match: “The idea was to create an app that allows users to link up with people with the same music taste.” Their inspiration came from the growing popularity of music streaming apps such as Pandora, Spotify, and Soundcloud. But Marisa saw a gap in the current solutions: There was no way for a listener to meet people with similar music tastes. She wanted to find a way to combine the experience of getting music recommendations from these people, and music streaming.

For the competition, Music Match was able to create a mockup of the app online. Marisa shows Music Match’s mass appeal when she asks the audience, “Who here has ever asked a friend for a music recommendation”, and everyone raises their hand. Although they have a long ways to go, Music Match definitely has potential to continue past Startup Camp.

I got a few minutes to sit down and chat with Meredith Goddard, one of the organizers of Startup Camp and also a teacher at Catlin Gabel. “Our mission is to teach entrepreneurship not in a classroom, but in a experiential setting, giving kids the opportunity to put their learnings immediately into action.” Startup Camp is an annual event and this is the third one to date. “The inspiration really comes from the parents, volunteers, mentors, and most of all, the students.”

When asked about future plans for Startup Camp, Meredith explains, “We want to expand to 200 kids, and also limit it to 15 spots per school so that students get equal opportunities for coming to startup camp. We also want to host clinics for coding and engineering a month in advance, so kids can learn some of the skills they may need during the actual weekend.” I thank Meredith for her time and go to take my seat before the presentations start.DSC_0507

For their presentations, each company got five minutes to pitch their company to the judges, and at the end, all the companies gathered together for a 15 minute group question time. The judges included Michael Gray of Globesherpa, Lynn Le, founder of Society Nine, and Lisa Herlinger, founder of Ruby Jewel Ice Cream.

Fast forward two hours and Clear Park is crowned the winner of Startup Camp 3.0! Not only does the team get bragging rights, but also gets to take an all-expenses paid day trip to San Francisco to meet with the heads of Rothenberg Ventures, a venture capital firm. I meet up with the CEO of Clear Park while he hugs his team members and he says, “I am just glad all our hard work paid off. But more than anything I am proud of my team and all that we accomplished this weekend.” According to Anvesh Venigalla of Moneta, the experience of camp was the biggest award he could have gotten: “More than the awards and recognition, I’m glad I got the opportunity to work my hardest with my team and prove that if you really set your mind to something, you can create anything.”

Although it was just a weekend, Startup Camp made more of an impact on these high schoolers than any time in the classroom could have. They were able to put their ideas and brainchild into real practice, and gain valuable mentorship from professionals. Most of all, Startup Camp fostered the next generation of entrepreneurs, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store next year.

Increasing access to fresh & healthy food

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Amelia Pape did not  have dreams of being an entrepreneur. But that spirit came alive within Portland State University’s Impact Entrepreneurs program, and it led to the creation of My Street Grocery.

The concept was simple; create a way to get fresh and health food to underserved communities.

But the journey from an idea to actually creating a business, and just as importantly an impact, wended its way through the startup gauntlet. We asked Amelia to share a bit about that experience for our Built Oregon readers, and also the future of My Street Grocery.

What was the genesis for My Street Grocery?

I began working on the concept during graduate school, where I could do in-depth research, write a detailed business plan, and build industry contacts. It began as an exploratory project about food access, and when I realized that it was a convergence of passions—food, innovation, community, and connection—and that there was a very real need in Portland, I decided to pursue it as a business.

Once the concept was hatched, how did you get it launched?

I’ve always been inspired by food and its incredible power to create connection. After joining Impact Entrepreneurs, a program through Portland State University’s School of Business Administration, I was deeply moved to pursue a career in social enterprise. To me, My Street Grocery represented an entry into the field social impact through a unique and personally meaningful platform. I founded the business in 2011 and funded the start-up with business competition prize money and a Kickstarter campaign.

What were some of the early challenges in launching My Street Grocery?

As an entrepreneur, there are moments of reckoning. Moments when you are required to act without enough information to make what feels like a sound decision. One of those moments, for me, was when I parted ways with my business partners at the beginning of 2013 and had to decide whether to run the business alone, or to close. I knew deeply that my work wasn’t yet done, but I also knew that I couldn’t serve my business, my customers, and my mission effectively without a big change.

How did the collaboration with Whole Foods Market come about?

I knew that I didn’t want an investor—I wanted a network of resources and support. I was 29 and running the business alone at the beginning of the summer of 2013, when I told myself that by my 30th birthday—September—I would have made a clear decision about the future of my company. A member of Whole Foods Market’s leadership was on My Street Grocery’s Advisory Board and had served as a mentor to me throughout my start-up process. Through that relationship, I knew the values of WFM were aligned with my own. I discussed with him my desire to partner with an organization that would both protect and extend the mission of My Street Grocery. With his guidance, I created a proposal that would eventually lead to My Street Grocery becoming Whole Foods Market’s first mobile grocery program, and myself becoming the company’s first Food Access Coordinator. It was an emotionally consuming process for me, and a decision that I would continue to make over and over again.

How has the engagement been with the current communities you engage?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Customers tell us all the time how much the market means to them. Still, adoption is a slow, long-term process, and we know that building relationships and partnering with others to create access to a comprehensive set of resources takes time. Our most successful markets are those that include organizational partnerships that allow us to offer support programs. A great example of this is our longest running market at a local clinic. Our partnership with the clinic showcases the effectiveness of cross-sector collaboration; customers not only have direct access to fresh foods at the market, but they also have a support network present in the form of their doctor, nurse, dietician, or social worker, as well as financial support through our Food Prescription Program. Our Food Prescription Program will be in its 4th year there this spring, and has since more than tripled in funding, and served as a model for similar programs we’ve started with 9 other clinics. Many of our customers there have been coming to the market every week for the last 3 years, and an internal study conducted last year showed strong positive physical and mental health outcomes in the majority of program participants.

How do you see My Street grocery evolving?

Our goal is to expand our partnerships at clinics and schools and to eventually offer support programs at every market. Though we operate year-round, our schedule is truncated during the dark winter months, and re-expands in the spring. As a rule, the decision to expand into a new location is a collaborative one based on relationship building. This is not a process that can or should be rushed, so our growth will be organic and reflect the rhythm of those partnerships. We’re excited about some new partnerships and market locations to be announced in 2016.

For more information, visit www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mystreetgrocery and follow them on twitter.

Jumpstarting Crowdfund Friday

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Black Friday.

Cyber Monday.

Giving Tuesday.

We’ve been thinking that there needs to be a day when the light shines upon the makers and doers who have looked to garner support for their passions via crowdfunding.

So to that end, we are starting #crowdfundfriday. It’s a day to peruse local and regional projects that are listed on the various crowdfunding platforms, and to jump start the backing. We have compiled a list of some Oregon-based projects that are currently looking for support. This is by no means a comprehensive list of Oregon projects, so we encourage everyone to peruse on their own. You can also hit us up via the contact form if you’d like to have one added to the list.

Kickstarter

Red, Black and White is a passion project, and the brainchild of Bertony Faustin, proprietor of Abbey Creek Vineyard in North Plains, Oregon. It’s a documentary that looks to help identify and tell the stories of other minority winemakers.

Cabin Duffle – is an elegantly adaptable bag designed around the weekend adventurer, well-seasoned traveler and never-too-organized commuter.

Zilla and Zoe  – A thoughtful, witty indie comedy about family, gender roles, and the importance of accepting each other for who we really are.

Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales: Asia Edition – An anthology of comics inspired by Asian folktales, drawn by an amazing mix of indie comic artists.

Ratio Thermal Carafe – Combining high-design with the best materials available on the market, the Ratio Thermal Carafe is designed to enhance those moments of settling in to enjoy coffee or tea.

International: Travel Tripod – The International is a full-size, 5 ½ foot (170cm) filmmaker’s tripod that compacts down to just 20 inches (51cm) – small enough to carry on a plane and lightweight enough to carry anywhere.

Settlers of Catan Forever Ocean Tiles – These 3D printed tiles will stand up to your serious Catan playing get togethers.

Forever Football – Move your fantasy football offline and into actual conversations with your friends with this game design in Eugene.

The Roadnoise Vest – This vest will allow you to listen to your music without competing with your safety on your runs, walks, and rides.

Treehouse Secret Book Club – An online Storytelling Game that uses story, life skills and DIY projects to bring your best stories to real life

Olympia Oyster Bar – This local restaurant is looking to become the pinnacle oyster bar of the Pacific Coast and are committed to supporting the farmers they work directly with and supporting the most sustainable seafood in the ocean.

Crowd Supply

Felton & Mary’s Artisan BBQ Sauces – Help this super tasty BBQ sauce company reach their stretch goals.

Triple Weight Chess Set – Avoid the digital world for a while and keep your mind in tune over the holidays playing this quality chess set.

The Fang Wallet – Handmade leather wallets crafted by a student in the Product Design BFA Program at the University of Oregon.

Community Public Offerings

A law passed in in 2015, allows all Oregonians to invest in local businesses via a Community Public Offering. It’s a new and awesome way to support local businesses in a meaningful way, and the folks at Chroma.fund and Hatch Oregon have some of the current offerings listed on their sites – we really encourage you to take a look at the following opportunities.

Chroma.fund

Baams Away – A virtual reality sheep defense game…yes, players enter the colorful world of Grasslandia and are challenged  to survive against wave after wave of merciless sheep attacks.

Fuse Comics – The new imprint for the Pander Brothers creator-owned comics available on ComiXology – the number one digital comics resource.

Fellow Traveler Series – This company seeks to discover daring new talent and find an audience for material that doesn’t fit the mass market appeal of a big box book retailer.

The Tannery Bar – You can help support the expansion of this bar’s operation to the adjacent property, in order to create more attractive outdoor seating for guests and increase storage capacity.

Hatch Oregon

Agrarian Ales – A farmhouse brewery and family gathering venue located just outside Eugene in rural Willamette Valley, Oregon. Bonus: they were a part of our kickstarter video.

Rogue Rovers – Their mission is to build the friendliest, smartest and most sustainable all-terrain, electric utility vehicles for specialty farming and commercial applications.

TonTon’s Artisan Affections – A Talent, OR producer of three flourishing food lines: amazingly fresh, homemade hummus; the market’s only grain-free cookies; and roasted chickpea snackers.

Crescendo Organic Spirits – A licensed distillery and tasting room located in Eugene, Oregon where they make traditional Italian liqueurs referred to as “Cellos” in a variety of flavors: traditional lemon along with orange and unique lime flavors.

WebLively – A unique online platform that allows you to own and manage all of your health information from all of your providers in one place.

Of Hops & Men – This unique concept is a combined craft beverage taproom and barbershop opening in late-2015 in Portland, OR.

Gro-volution – This Klamath Falls company has developed a proprietary Portable Environment for Agriculture that is able to grow food local to the consumer, enabling produce to be harvested at the peak of freshness.

MacDougall & Sons Bat Co. – This Bend based company manufactures and sells the toughest and best performing real wood baseball bat in the world.

Grun Community Energy – This company is working to develop and operate community scale renewable energy farms.

Minnie + George: Crafting a quality lifestyle brand one handmade product at a time

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Minnie + George, a hand-crafted leather goods company in Portland, might not exist if not for a terrible economy and a job with limited creative possibilities. That was the position Lori Caldwell, owner of Minnie + George, found herself in several years ago following her return to the United States after six years of travel throughout Mexico, Europe and South America.

“At the age of 33, I gave up my apartment and the majority of my possessions and began a life of travel—me and my backpack. While living in Argentina, after years of being abroad with just short trips back to the U.S., I started to feel a little homesick. I felt the desire to make some roots again.”

Lori returned to the states and stayed with her parents in California while she figured out where she wanted to live and what she wanted to do next.

“I started looking into the Pacific Northwest and quickly zeroed in on Portland. It was instantly attractive because it seemed to be a place that would understand, nurture, and support an independent and creative spirit.”

Although Lori was grateful to find a job in a tough economy, it didn’t provide the creative outlet she needed from her work. That prompted her to take a step back and figure out what she did want for herself.P1030640

Pinterest inspired

“I began creating vision boards of what I wanted my life to look like both personally and professionally. Through that process, I realized three things: 1) I wanted to be my own boss 2) I wanted to do something creative that involved design and 3) I wanted it to be craft based.”

As she continued honing her vision, Lori was struck by inspiration on Pinterest, “I had been pinning some DIY craft projects and came across one for a leather clutch bag. That pin got me excited and interested in both handbag production and working with leather.” She loved the idea of leather because it lasts over several lifetimes. Plus, leather doesn’t add to the current landfill culture of short-use goods with a long-waste life which was also an important consideration.

IMG_2358-2That was the creative moment that Minnie + George got its start. Even though Lori had zero experience in sewing (beyond stitching a button in place) or leather working, she didn’t let that stop her. She forged ahead unfazed by figuring out how turn her vision into reality.

“To be honest, that was never a big concern. A skill can be learned. Just because you don’t know how to do something, doesn’t mean you aren’t able to do it. You simply lack the information and experience. Both those things can be attained if you have the right incentive, motivation and commitment.”

Lori took private sewing classes at Modern Domestic on NE Alberta, and developed a relationship with the incredibly knowledgeable staff at Oregon Leather Co. to learn the requisite skills. She moved away from machine sewing to traditional hand-stitched leather working, watched a lot of instructional YouTube videos and read a few manuals.

“Creatively, I felt like I knew from the beginning what I wanted to achieve in both design and aesthetic. I’m most attracted to classic, minimal design. I knew I wanted my pieces to have simple, clean lines, and be fashionable without losing a high level of functionality. For example, one of my first designs was my 3 in 1 Drawstring Bucket Bag. It’s a classic design and most every handbag company makes some version of it. I love it’s style, but wanted to increase its function, so I designed it to be able to convert from a shoulder bag, to a cross body bag, or to a backpack depending on how one wants/needs to use it.”P1030634

Retailers and crafters make it happen

When Lori originally decided to move to Portland she knew that it had a thriving craft-based community, and that weighed into her decision to move here. She credits that community plus local retailers for making businesses like Minnie + George possible.

“You endure a lot of rejection, but gain a stronger business backbone, and eventually, if you’re persistent, someone will take the time to talk with you, and you’ll get a foot in the door.”

IMG_2471-26Lori believes there really are no mistakes if you have the right attitude about them. Every “mistake,” roadblock, or hardship (and there have been many) she’s faced has led to incredible breakthroughs both personally and professionally. Lori has learned that a difficult situation often requires a creative and innovative solution. The process of finding that solution has helped her build confidence and a mountain of experience.

“It’s also important to note that Portland has a very high number of small, independent retailers who support local makers, enabling us to make a living. This isn’t something you find in a lot of cities. Small boutiques in major cities still tend to buy from major wholesalers, which doesn’t allow for a lot of economic opportunities for crafters in those places. That combination of a large creative community supported by local business makes Portland a pretty powerful draw.”Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 11.29.57 AM

Be happy

The Minnie + George website launched on June 10, 2014 with a small capsule collection. That also happened to be the same day as her parents’ (Minnie and George) 48th wedding anniversary. Yes, Lori named the business after her parents.

“I don’t think I would have been able to believe that I could do the things that I’ve done had I not had the unconditional love and support of my parents. They’ve never expressed reservation. When I talked about doing something that sounded crazy, even to me, their response was always, make a plan, be happy, and let us know that you’re okay. They’re the inspiration for everything I do, so it seemed only fitting that I’d name the business after them.”

They continue to offer support to their daughter with advice that all entrepreneurs can take to heart.

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 11.41.19 AM“The hardest thing for me has been to accept help,” says Lori. “I’m used to being fiercely independent and there have been a number of times in this process where I’ve had to lean on the shoulders of other people, especially my parents. I remember one particularly bad financial crisis when I had to ask my parents for help. I was crying and feeling so guilty. My mom told me that it was a blessing for them to be able to help me and that she knew when I was able to, I’d use my own success to pay it forward in the same way. So, that’s my goal, to be able to accept help when I need it and then pay it back by paying it forward.”

With a slew of opportunities on the horizon it’s very likely that Lori will have ample time to pay forward everything she’s learning and the support she’s received. Between partnerships with other businesses for exclusive leather goods, and her own Minnie + George expansion plans, she’s gaining a lot of experience on managing rapid growth.

“I’d really like Minnie to become a full lifestyle brand. I already have a small home collection designed, and have some sketches of a few apparel pieces. All of it will be based in leather, as I’m committed to keeping traditional leather working techniques alive. I feel like it’s a bit of a dying craft, especially the hand work. I think there’s really value in learning how to make something with your hands. I love that I’m not dependent on a machine and that it’s a skill that can be passed down to others that want to take up the craft.”

Lori and her team discuss brand strategy in the studio

Lori and her team discuss brand strategy in the studio

For more information, visit www.minniegeorge.com, like them on facebook and follow them on Pinterest, twitter and instagram

Shifting the focus of economic development

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It all started with a letter from an innkeeper to a newspaperman in 1987.

Jim Beaver, the innkeeper of the Chanticleer Inn in Ashland, Oregon, had experienced adventure cycling and came away with a sense that the activity could spur economic activity in the small towns around Oregon.

Jonathan Nicholas, a reporter for the Oregonian, was focused on telling stories about the shifting economic landscape in rural Oregon that was occurring in the 1980’s.

Jim encouraged Jonathan to invite people to go for a ride to small towns, and in the process they’d get hungry and thirsty, leading them to buy pizza and beer in each place. Jonathan agreed to write the story, and with the support of area chamber of commerces and the generous backing of Travel Oregon who oversaw the event coordination, the first event was scheduled to take place in September of 1988 – covering 320 miles from Salem to Brookings.

Jonathan wrote the story and they both thought that somewhere between a handful and a hundred people would arrive.

Over one thousand people from 20 different states participated, generating $360,000 in economic activity for the participating regions. Cycle Oregon was officially born.6148518948_2e10abfb0e_o

Defining the experience and routes

As the growth of Cycle Oregon has extended out from its roots, the one thing that has not changed is the focus on a quality experience for the riders who participate, something Alison Graves, the Executive Director of Cycle Oregon, knows is critical.

“Cycle Oregon is renowned for its amenities and support. Our saying is, ‘all you have to do is pedal and we do the rest’,” she said.

But things weren’t always that way.

“The first year there were no porta-potties and after the first few days, realizing something needed to be done, Jonathan hired a local roto-rooter who also had porta-potties – they have been with Cycle Oregon ever since. Similarly, food used to be provided by communities. But after the fourth day of burgers and dogs, Cycle Oregon turned to a mobile catering company, OK’s Cascades, who also provides incident response catering.”

However, no matter the level of support and amenities, the core essence of the ride is still the route the ride takes throughout Oregon. In recent years Oregon, and primarily areas like Portland, Bend and the Coast, have become hot tourist destinations – and for good reasons.

But Oregon is a big and diverse state.

From the Painted Hills to the Rogue Wilderness and back up to Astoria and out to the Wallowas, the options for the rides are almost endless.

“We tend to make a rotation around the more remote parts of the state. Great bicycling means low traffic roads, so that tends to mean areas that are more out of the way. Plus, with economic development part of our mission, we work harder to ride through smaller towns. That doesn’t take too much work in Oregon with so many idyllic communities,” says Alison.

11224351_10153398895163283_4232298022079492787_oThe work, however, doesn’t end with the route selection. Engaging the communities around the state before the ride, as the event passes through each community, and after they have left are all important aspects of how Cycle Oregon works to promote economic development.

“We work closely with partners, like Travel Oregon and State Parks, to make it easy for riders to return. We promote Travel Oregon’s Bicycle Friendly Business program to the communities we ride in and also incorporate Scenic Bikeways into our routes wherever possible,” Alison adds. “Cycle Oregon actually started the Scenic Bikeways program as a way for anyone to create their own Cycle Oregon anytime. Plus, we are an ambassador for RidewithGPS, where we post our favorite routes and connect to Travel Oregon’s data that includes bicycle friendly businesses, campgrounds and other amenities to make return visits as easy as possible for past participants and those folks looking to head out on their own.”

With typically a 50/50 split in Oregonians and non-Oregonians participating in the ride, Cycle Oregon is reaching out to a broad mix of riders. Close to 75% on average are from OR, WA, and CA, while another 25% are from around the country and world.

And maintaining the uniqueness year after year through route selection has resulted in a high number of returning riders, as Alison points out.

“We have a high number of people who do the ride more than once. We have a handful of people who have done every single Cycle Oregon. This year we have 75 people who have done more than 15 rides and 175 people who have done 8-14.”

But as the ride has grown, the organization knows that there is a limit. The logistics in taking bike riders around Oregon, and the impact the ride has on these communities, is something Alison and her team always take into consideration.7998387698_418053684f_k

“We have found that the right number is around 2,000. With that number we need 13-14 acres and that can be hard to find in small communities.”

Also, as  Cycle Oregon has grown from its roots to what it is today, the team instilled a core focus on sustainability to ensure that as the ride grew, some of the potential negative effects would be negated.

“The focus on sustainability was a practicality issue and we are a ‘leave no trace’ event. We bring all of our own food and water that is consumed while riding, and we take away our garbage,”  Alison said. “We started by recycling the usual stuff and over the years it has evolved to include using compostable utensils and plates. We compost and recycle a lot so that we minimize what goes into the landfill.”

Becoming a voice, giving back, and continuing to grow

With an ever-increasing number of riders participating in Cycle Oregon, the economic impact continues to grow. But the staff and board of Cycle Oregon wanted to identify a way to create a more lasting and sustainable impact.

“The grant program started in 1996 (the organization started in 1988). The board wanted to set up a sustainable way of giving back and an endowment was a great vehicle. To date we have made 190 grants totaling $1.6M, and we have about $2M in the fund today,” Alison adds. “We focus our giving in three categories: Bicycle Tourism & Safety, Environmental Conservation & Historic Preservation, and Community Projects. We tend to have higher giving in the communities we have just visited but we accept proposals on a year round basis and from every part of the state.”

3948845230_2fd1c74e91_zIn addition to giving back, Cycle Oregon has evolved into an important voice for change too. The Policymaker Ride was born through a conversation between Jonathan Nicholas and longtime environmental advocate, Mike Houck, both of whom were frustrated with the slow pace of change in improving facilities.

They organized the first event to highlight the Scenic Bikeways project and invited policymakers to join in so they could experience the good, bad, and ugly in order to motivate them to make change more quickly.

And it worked.

To date the Policymaker Ride has helped launch the Scenic Bikeway program, shined a spotlight on regional projects like connections in Washington and Clark counties plus the Columbia River Gorge, and cultivated relationships among the participants.

Even with the continued growth of Cycle Oregon and the evolving positive impact it’s having in the state, there are challenges. An aging population, more traffic on the roads and less funding for bicycle safety are challenges that the team at Cycle Oregon know all too well.

But they also see a multitude of opportunities, including events that cater to new populations, creating awareness around bicycle programs and safety campaigns, and more strategic investment approaches.

And Alison knows that Oregon is a special place to do an event like Cycle Oregon, “There is a strong sense of history and community. The story of Oregon — the Oregon Trail, Lewis & Clark, native peoples — is the American story. And it’s still very much alive. So, while the roads and scenery are truly breathtaking, it’s the communities that welcome us with open arms and share their experiences with us, which makes Cycle Oregon such a unique and priceless experience.”

And by embracing the open roads and the sense of community around the state, Cycle Oregon has had an estimated direct annual economic impact of $660,000, and a total of $14,000,000 since its inception.

Which is truly putting pedal power to work.6164530450_13669fc16a_o

 

For more information, visit www.cycleoregon.com, like them on facebook and follow them on twitter.

FCC gets lean to compete on global stage

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Though a prominent player in the fast-food industry, FCC Commercial Furniture in Roseburg, Oregon, is anything but quick and disposable. The company enjoy decades-long relationships turning blank spaces into restaurants for industry leaders like Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Burger King. Before a burger or taco is served, FCC has transformed the space into its signature and efficient look.

“We provide the entire design package, from concept to idea, all the way through manufacturing and install,” said Preston O’Hara, FCC general manager. “It’s a turnkey operation.”

For nearly fifty years, FCC has provided the ever-changing look of notable operations, like southern California-based In-N-Out Burgers. O’Hara estimates the company does close to twenty percent of all new Burger Kings and 15 percent of all new McDonald’s.

“We take that building shell and we fill it with products, a lot of which is custom designed,” O’Hara said. “We manufacture everything here.”

FCC began in Oxnard, California. Founded by Robert Crowe, FCC continues to be a family-owned business with sons Scott, Mick and Gary Crowe. The Crowes moved FCC to rural Roseburg in 1993, largely for the quality of life. The business continued to thrive.

Gary Crowe is currently the CEO and Scott is head of research and development.

DSC_0499-a1On site the company has an upholstery shop, a fiberglass shop, a metal shop, and others all under one roof covering 150,000 square feet of operations.

“We have a lot of cool machinery,” O’Hara said.

When O’Hara mentions “turnkey” he means it, stressing every detail is made right there in Roseburg.

“Right down to the garbage can with the ‘thank you’ door and the trey catch… it’s all built here,” he said.

Despite the similarity of say a McDonald’s in Hartford and a McDonald’s in Honolulu, each store has its unique needs and design. FCC caters to franchise owners with urgent needs of budgets, timelines and stresses.

“It’s an interesting business to be in with a constant state of change in design,” O’Hara said.

Diversification and competition

Despite a bucolic lifestyle in southern Oregon, global economic pressures and manufacturing competition demand vigilance, O’Hara says.

“Being in this industry there’s a lot of pressure to buy things in China and outside of the U.S. We fight to stay competitive despite the price pressures we have seen.”

The company currently has 115 employees that includes a large design department of college educated professionals, recruited from around the nation.

“Expectations are also high. It’s not a company where you can go through the motions,” he says.1795520_10152360075928515_2487356907202713326_n

Despite its longstanding relationships with global corporations, FCC had to weather and evolve during The Great Recession. It was not immune to cataclysmic changes in the economy.

After “record years” in 2007 and 2008, “everything changed,” O’Hara said. “We saw a huge decline over 2009 and 2010. Access to investment dollars for our customers went away despite their excellent credit. That was certainly something we didn’t expect to see, because this is an industry that is fairly resilient to downturns in the economy. That wasn’t the case this time around.”

Though the business has rebounded in recent years, it remains highly volatile. After another record year in 2012, O’Hara said the company has seen revenue slide over the past three.

“But we’re looking towards a recovery in the year ahead and next year,” he says.

The volatility of the market has helped the second-generation family-owned business retain its competitive edge.

fcc6“Diversity makes you stronger and gives you perspective,” says O’Hara, who was promoted to general manager after rising through FCC’s human resources department. “If you survived through ‘The Recession’ you gained perspective that you need to plan a whole lot better and strive that you stay away from that spot again. For us, we’ve been resilient, we’ve been around for a while, but we’re even more resolved toward diversifying.”

Diversification includes expanding into retail markets outside of the fast-food industry. The company is close to finalizing a large contract with a major retail vendor that will significantly help 2015’s revenue. O’Hara said the company has begun to court and provides retail fixtures and displays for the likes of Nike, North Face and Columbia.

And a silver lining of the recession has been the slow shift of manufacturing back to the United States.

“I wouldn’t say that the price pressure ever goes away,” O’Hara says, “but people are frustrated by Chinese-made products. There are reasons for that. We won’t deviate from producing quality products and providing outstanding quality service. That’s what we are founded on. At the same time we have to drive down our prices.”

Concentrating on culture

Price pressure, diversification, competition. All common phrases in the business economy, but another go-to-point of emphasis sets FCC apart in O’Hara’s mind: culture.

“The thing you will hear us talk about more often than not has to do with our culture and our people. It’s something we hold near and dear. It’s special. It’s amazing how much you can get from people when you promote excellence. We don’t tolerate negativity. We believe in having fun at work. It’s one of our core values.”pics (11)

If you can have fun during a recession while facing stiff competition from Chinese manufactures, that’s saying something, but O’Hara says despite the challenges, the company’s optimism and workplace environment has remained the gold standard of how it operates.

“Most companies have to have the basic benefits, wages, retirement, but what separates you from others is your culture. We have flexible work schedules, free gym memberships, we have a lot of company parties and barbecues. We stock free ice cream and soda all year long.”

Owners are hands-on and approachable. The management team works together and set a tone of allowing employees to be creative. An entrepreneurial culture is encouraged.

“So even though it’s a manufacturing facility we don’t micromanage,” O’Hara says. “Be unique and do it different. That’s what we’ve tried to do. Create things that separate you from others. It’s a relationship. If you know you are valued and appreciated as a person, you generally give a hell of a lot more.”

Getting lean

Change is inevitable, O’Hara says, despite the company approaching its 50th anniversary in business. Change is disruptive, which can be both positive and negative. O’Hara understands that, but insists that FCC will remain on the cutting edge.

pics (29)To that end, FCC has invested heavily in shifting its processes to Lean Manufacturing, a new trend that changes the ‘batch and queue” mass production process that has dominated for decades, in favor of product-aligned “one-piece flow” pull production, according to the Environmental Protection Agency website.

“This shift requires highly controlled processes operated in a well maintained, ordered, and clean environment that incorporates principles of employee-involved, system-wide, continual improvement,” the EPA writes.

O’Hara says the shift is a significant investment in both machinery and employee training, but one that will help the company be more efficient, greener, and more cost-effective.

“Any time you implement change it is not easy,” he says, “and it comes at a little bit of a disruption at first. But at the same time it will be productive at the end. Any time you empower your workforce to make things better it’s positive.”

The bottom line for both FCC and for its customers is that they will benefit, he insists, by the company’s relentless pursuit of reducing cost.

“That’s how you deal with the price pressure, because it’s always going to be there,” he says. “You meet it head on through efficiency, engineering, and creativity.”

In short, you never stop changing. FCC will continue to evolve in order to compete, O’Hara says, while reaching outside of its core business model to diversify revenue.

“This place needs to look different. It better look a heck of a lot different in ten years,” he says. “If you aren’t changing and growing you’re probably not going to be around.”

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For more information, please visit www.fccfurn.com, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter

 

Localvesting in ice cream and craft beer

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The Silicon Valley has nothing on its little sister to the north when it comes to innovative laws for connecting small businesses with the investment they need to make a big step. Deep within Oregon’s Silicon Forest, laws passed earlier this year have opened the flow of investors to varied businesses throughout the state.

Hatch Oregon, a nonprofit incubator founded by Amy Pearl, worked with state lawmakers to develop Community Public Offering (CPO) rules that promote innovative, online investing engagement, similar to crowdsource funding that has become all the rage. Hatch Oregon’s CPO is similar in that the far reach of numerous small investors can mean significant investment dollars for Oregon businesses looking to grow. However it’s unique in that investors aren’t donors; they are given a return on investment either through loan repayment or equity in the company.

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 9.53.31 AM“It’s just a more balanced approach to economic activity,” Pearl said during a gathering of the first wave of businesses seeking funding through the new program. “The CPO creates a real stakeholder economy.”

Under the law, Oregon businesses can raise as much as $250,000 through crowdfunding on the Hatch Oregon site. Each individual investor can donate a maximum of $2,500. Like the company itself, the investor has to be based in Oregon. It’s Oregonians investing in Oregon business at the purest level.

Taking the leap

Two Eugene-area businesses that represent the state’s ethos of local sustainability—Red Wagon Creamery and Agrarian Ales—are among the first round of companies seeking funds through Hatch Oregon.

Red Wagon Creamery Co-founder and Director of Sales and Marketing Stuart Phillips said the investment program beats the traditional lending model of “going hat in hand to the bank and taking its terms.”

“The difference between this and traditional lending,” Phillips said, “is you get to decide if you want to do debt or equity or combo thereof. The entrepreneur is the one driving the train. Also, the entrepreneur is the one to set the terms of the deal.”

10382071_666903713378547_1731539791957626672_oThe owners of Red Wagon Creamery, an exploding ice cream company that started with a cart and is now developing expansion plans into southern California, wanted to limit debt during the large expansion of its operation. Taking on small investors allowed that, while also boosting local interest in the company’s success.

“We will end up getting more than a hundred Oregonians becoming brand ambassadors of our ice cream,” he said of those who have bought CPO shares. To date the company has raised more than $70,000 toward the $120,000 sought.

“They have invested in us and own a little piece of the company. They have a vested interested in our success. We like that. It ties into our local food ethos,” Phillips said.

Agrarian Ales has also gotten off to a strong start in its CPO. To date the company has raised about 36 percent of the $165,000 offering that the unique farm-based brewery will use to build the region’s first micro-processing facility specific to the brewing industry.Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 7.56.47 AM

“We are ready to put down even more roots in Oregon by setting the stage to revitalize on-farm, micro-processing to make our endeavor absolutely local,” the company states in its offering document.

A strong start

Since launching at the end of January, Hatch Oregon has topped more than $200,000 in total investment. Though not the first, Oregon’s CPO has quickly become the model to follow compared to other states that have yielded more lackluster interest and investment.

“Oregon may not be the first state to pass such a law—it followed at least thirteen other states that have allowed investment crowdfunding within their borders. But it’s easily the fastest out of the gate,” wrote Bruce Melzer in an article on Locavesting.com

The secret sauce may well be the spirit of the businesses more than anything else. Those seeking funds are steeped in the cultural ethos of best practices, local investment, local vendors and healthy products.

Riding the wave of its initial success, Hatch Oregon will host a nationwide conference in September in Portland to help spur other states based on what’s working in Oregon.

Made in Oregon

Ever since the migration of Californians fleeing urban commutes and exorbitant real estate prices a generation ago, pride of place in Oregon has been a staple. Oregonians still discuss with a small measure of pride the famous quote in the 1970s from then Gov. Tom McCall who encouraged Californians to visit but, “for heaven’s sake, don’t move here to live.”

The often mythologized statement spawned a bumper-sticker and T-shirt craze stating, “Welcome to Oregon. Now go home.”

Most of the businesses to use Hatch Oregon’s funding platform are similarly old school – they are product, not tech, driven—but cutting edge with the type of products they offer. They want to scale, but do so with a focus on sustainability.

“We are not only buying our ingredients locally and supporting local farmers,” Phillips said of Red Wagon Creamery, “but now our profits are going to Oregon investors.”

Red Wagon started when the owners recognized the value of the growing interest in food carts and trucks, which Phillips says “was just becoming a thing.” It dovetailed nicely with the model of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream—in its early, privately owned years, Phillips stresses—who started selling artisan ice cream in Vermont.

“They took their traveling road show around to get Vermonters to invest. We really liked that. We liked that part of that story,” Phillips said.

The company’s ice cream cart has grown to a retail store in Eugene, two carts, a tricycle that sells popsicles and Oregon’s smallest certified dairy plant, which is just 200 square feet.

Revenues grew from just under $100,000 in 2011 to more than four times that in 2014. But the former lawyer turned ice-cream vendor says the true value of the business remains the joy of the product itself.

“There aren’t a lot of jobs you can have where you give someone the product and they immediately look happy,” said Phillips.

Rather than expand its distribution network to ever increasing distances from the Eugene operation, Red Wagon has decided to re-create the entire operation in other locales so as to both invest in the local business climate and community — and to reflect the local flavors. Since Eugene covers Oregon and Washington, the company will next expand into southern California.

“We did a lot of brainstorming on how we can take what we’re doing and essentially scale local food and have it still be local,” Phillips says. “An ice cream company back East makes local ice cream then ships it all over the country. By the time it gets out here you’ve kind of lost that local connection.”

He calls the added expense a “necessary sacrifice of profit to make the company what it needs to be, which is really a showcase of what’s local.”

In Palm Springs, California, the company has already identified its local farmers, the farmers markets it will sell from, and the products that will offer distinctive local flavors not offered in its Oregon location, like avocados and citrus.

The five-year plan is perhaps five locations along the West Coast.

“Beyond that, we just gotta see,” he says.

Central to that plan has been the public offering through Hatch Oregon. He encourages other businesses to pursue it, but to understand the work that’s involved, which includes crystallizing your company’s vision and promoting that at all times. Phillips says he talks up Hatch Oregon while scooping ice cream.

“It’s a great program as long as you come into it with your eyes open,” he says. “It’s a rare business indeed where people are lined up willing to give you money.”

Red Wagon now has 25 employees and a goal to create hundreds of jobs moving forward.“It’s daunting for us as we think back to two of us in a kitchen,” Phillips adds, which wasn’t all that long ago.

Farm-to-Pint brewing

It’s hard to get more “old school” than an Oregon farm and it’s hard to get more Oregon than craft beer making. But it’s truly trendsetting when you take those two elements and combine them on the same location, creating what may be the first completely local farm-to-pint brewing operation.

11393640_889764841102421_2562466777791118830_o“Agrarian Ales has solidified our position as one of Oregon’s most unique breweries, growing 100% of the hops, herbs, fruits and vegetables used in our beers and sodas,” states the company’s public offering. “In time, Willamette Valley farm-grown crops will comprise 100% of the raw ingredients processed at the facility…Oregon’s first, true estate brewpub (and potentially the first in the entire country).”

In addition to a working farm, Nate and Ben Tilley spent the past eight years renovating the old barn on the property that dates back to World War II into a vibrant microbrewery. The operation now includes a “table-at-the-farm” restaurant, as they refer to it, which is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and touts a menu “comprised of 98% Oregon-grown ingredients, most of that within five miles of the brewery.”Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 8.03.01 AM

“When I met the Tilley boys and came out to this farm for this first time it was kind of a dream come true,” says brewer Tobias Schock. “The driving philosophy behind the creation of this business is to keep a family farm alive and well and thriving into the next generation.”

Nate Tilley started brewing in his garage and said the growth from sales of the beer took off through word of mouth praise.

“It seemed very simple to take that to the next level,” Nate Tilley said. “My dad proposed the idea of using the barn. We hadn’t had the thought of putting a brewery out here in this rural setting.”

It’s an innovative idea that works as the farm has turned into a similar destination experience not unlike people who venture into rural areas to visit a winery. In short, it’s very Oregon, which is the point of the CPO from the outset and perhaps the most telling reason why the CPO has, at least so far, become the envy of states all across the country, including the Silicon Valley itself.

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For more information on Red Wagon Creamery, visit www.redwagoncreamery.com, like them on facebook, and follow them on twitter

For more information on Agrarian Ales, visit www.agales.com, like them on facebook, and follow them on twitter and instagram

For more information on Hatch, visit www.hatchthefuture.com, like them on facebook, and follow them on twitter

Adding a little more sunshine to The Dalles

Sunshine Millsmall

When The Dalles natives James and Molli Martin heard the city planned on destroying the Sunshine Mill if no one stepped up to buy it, they knew then and there they were the ones to save it from ruins. And save it they have.

After sitting vacant since 1978, the Sunshine Mill is sporting a beautiful new paint job and has been operation central of the Quenett and Copa Di Vino wineries since 2009. Quenett, according to the Lewis and Clark journals, is the Native American word for Steelhead.

With the help of an urban renewal loan, the Martins were able to make upgrades to the building with $500,000 and then put the other $100,000 into the painting of the building, turning the once industrial looking mill into a work of art.

Back in its heyday—when it was owned and operated by the Sunshine Biscuit Company—the mill ground wheat into the flour that went into the ever popular Cheez-It®. The mill was also the very first building to have electricity in The Dalles, powered by a Thomas Edison motor that can still be seen in the mill. What’s more, it is the only designated skyscraper in the Columbia River Gorge.374063_437166026320045_1424276845_n

With artifacts found throughout the mill, the Martins have created a unique winery with an industrial feel. Tables are made from fan guard covers and pulley wheels that are covered with the original straps of leather still wait for the command to grind flour once again.

“I think what truly makes my heart skip and what I feel when I see and work in the Sunshine Mill is the true American Dream,” said Molli. “An idea that became real. A building that sat vacant for over 30 years in our hometown that many described as an eyesore is now the most visibly stunning and thriving building in downtown Dalles. Our incredible staff has come on board as our growth continues because they believe in us and the dream. The support of our small community, seeing the expressions of the all tourists when they walk through the door recognizing and appreciating the vision and sacrifice it took to do this, truly radiates warmth and sunshine at the Mill and our Company. It’s sappy but so true. This is a project that is close to our hearts. It has been great to bring it back to life.”

Molli’s excitement about the winery, the wine, and Copa Di Vino was infectious and there is no doubt the old mill is in great hands.

It all sounds pretty cut and dried. A couple grows up in a town in Oregon, they buy the old mill that has been a part of their life forever, restore it, and turn it into a winery with a really cool painting on the outside. And they lived happily ever after.

But there really is so much more to the story.

Bullet trains to sharks

On a 20th anniversary trip to Provence, France, James and Molli sat on a bullet train sipping wine from a unique single serving container. It was their first experience with Copa Di Vino, which means “wine by the glass.”

“When James bought his first single serve glass of wine on the bullet train it triggered an epiphany,” said Molli. “I, on the other hand, thought it was just a cute glass of wine. I did not see the opportunity, he did. Our family soon made the decision together to go for it and take on a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I only would do this once in a lifetime!”

The Martins brought the idea back to the United States and immediately began the rehabilitation of the Sunshine Mill.

“Copa Di Vino is a ready to drink product for on the go people,” said Molli.

970190_10152059250487286_8583032550866330445_nCopa Di Vino was almost an overnight hit. And like most viral sensations, that came with issues. The Martins were having trouble keeping up with production. They knew they needed another bottling line, and they needed it quickly. So James made his pitch to the producers of the popular television show, Shark Tank. He was invited to be a part of the show and in 2011 he made his first appearance. James was seeking a $600,000 investment into his company and in exchange would give the investors 20% of his company. The Sharks made their offers as they realized the potential Copa Di Vino could have on the wine industry.

James knew what the Sharks were offering would change the tapestry of his business forever. He knew they were not grasping just what it was that he had, so he explained to them that the opportunity was far greater than what they were picturing. In the end he told the investors that he would not be making a deal with them and he would not be taking an investment from them.

Shark Kevin O’Leary told him, “This was your moment,” as if James had just made the most horrible business decision in the history of business decisions.

”Before James went on we discussed to staying true to ourselves,” said Molli. “He drank some Copa before the taping and had the courage to say no! True story!”

Before James was a guest on Shark Tank, sales were around $500,000 and the product was sold in five states. The company now generates $13 million in annual revenue and is sold in 48 states and 18 countries. A pretty good turn of events for a couple of small town Oregonians that had to sell the family’s cherry orchard in order to have enough money to invest in a winery that they just knew in their hearts would be a great life-changing endeavor.

Ah, success! What better way to show the Sharks that the decision to not take their investment offer was not a mistakeScreen Shot 2015-06-30 at 10.55.47 AM

James was invited back to the Shark Tank in 2014. During the trip, he made a phone call to Samuel Adam’s creator Jim Cook who told him, “Passion will take you a long way.” Once again, when James realized the Sharks did not share or understand his vision, he told them he would not be taking their offer. This gained him the reputation of being the most hated entrepreneur in Shark Tank’s history.

“The only people who created that label are the Sharks themselves because of the success we are having,” said Molli. “The majority of the people who love Copa and have seen the show support us turning them down. Kevin O’Leary himself told James it had worldwide potential so why should he have given up so much and why did he offer so little? And by saying “No” the ratings for Shark Tank shot up. James was the first to turn down an offer and so they asked him to come back a second time and that show was even more successful. Shark Tank should thank James for its success maybe?”

Eventually, a private investor became involved which gave the Martins the means to go from one bottling line to two.11050655_791479204222057_4031453421029395469_n

The Sunshine Mill Winery now produces 7 million glasses of Copa Di Vino and 2,200 cases of Quenett wine yearly. Copa Di Vino is sold at Walmart and is in venues such as Madison Square Gardens, Radio City Music Hall and many NFL locations. The Martins have created 105 jobs and the mill has been the production site and tasting room for both Quenett and Copa Di Vino since 2009.

Plans for the future for the Sunshine Mill include a 49 room boutique hotel inside the huge concrete silos.

James and Molli’s story is inspirational. To turn down a $600,000 investment simply because you think your business has even more potential is a pretty daring thing to do. And it would seem that the Martins have absolutely no regrets on the business decisions they have made since acquiring the old run down mill on the edge of their hometown, turning it into a place where weddings, reunions and parties are a normal occurrence and friendships are made over a Copa Di Vino.

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For more information, visit www.sunshinemill.com, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter  .