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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

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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  . 

Reed LaPlant Studio grows from the root up

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For a man who makes his living from wood, it’s no coincidence his business vision comes from his roots. Raised in Wisconsin with a deep love of nature and a respect for American-made products, custom furniture maker and designer Reed LaPlant routinely carries those early lessons and experiences into his business.

Even the business itself, Reed LaPlant Studio, emerged like a new shoot from LaPlant’s early work as an architect – his first foray into a business that combined both design and build. But before it was ever a plan for business, LaPlant’s values of sustainability and artistic interests served a practical purpose.

“As a very poor college kid, I rarely had the money to purchase materials for any projects for the neglected, roach-infested house I rented,” he says. “I made a bookcase from scrap lumber and some old windows I found in an abandoned movie theater in town. The windows had been brought as trash by someone not wanting to go all the way to the town dump.”

He didn’t know then that someday he’d make his living making furniture that, while decidedly more upscale, uses the concepts of sustainability of his youth. LaPlant, 46, says Reed LaPlant Studio uses only U.S.-grown and made materials and minimizes consumption and waste.

“This is not a marketing effort. It’s simply what we’ve been doing since the inception of our business,” LaPlant says. “I think my rural, blue collar, Wisconsin roots have always informed my choices. We also always used what was either found, dismantled, or cultivated on our property. My cousin and I built an A-frame fort cobbled from stashed plywood scraps, firewood, and used nails.”

LaPlant was a manufacturing “locavore” before such a term existed.

“I do feel very strongly about it, and this is my small, quiet way of trying to do something about it,” he says.

Both sides of design and build

Reed LaPlant Studio in Northeast Portland makes custom furniture in a unique way. Much like an architect’s process of designing a custom house for a client, LaPlant emphasizes his consultations with the client to develop furniture that expresses their tastes and best fills their space.image5
“Having been in architecture for so long, I really like to design for the space, and with a clear picture of the client’s aesthetic sense and lifestyle.”

LaPlant has seamlessly merged both his talents and interest in design and building throughout his diverse career.

“I made my first piece of furniture when I was about 15, under the guidance of the same industrial arts instructor that told me, ‘Kid, you need to be an architect.’ So I’ve probably always strongly associated the two.”

While starting out as an architect, LaPlant built his first pieces of furniture. Now, with a growing business largely focused on manufacturing, he still takes on the occasional architectural job, he says. The two remain intertwined just as they were when he started out.

“And, as many know, architects generally make very little money,” he says. “So I made my first piece of ‘sellable’ furniture out of construction site cast-off’s I accumulated during my design/build years.”

The evolution of a craftsman

Reed LaPlant Studio first opened in Atlanta as a spin-off from LaPlant’s first company, Blue Shoe, which he co-owned with a partner. Blue Shoe combined LaPlant’s design skills with furniture making. The furniture emerged as the strongest plank of the diverse business, he says. Eventually, he set out on his own and opened the studio.

As the Great Recession smothered the country’s economy, LaPlant had already set in motion a move to Portland, Oregon with his wife and two children. It turned out to be fortuitous timing.

“We relocated to Portland right when the economy tanked, so I had to rebuild my local identity anyway,” he says. “I can’t say I necessarily felt it, because I would have experienced it anyway. When you relocate across the country like that it is to be expected. It wasn’t too bad.”
The business grew through its normal fits and starts, with commissions widely fluctuating.

“I’d have four orders one month and 22 the next,” he says.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.43.10 PMThe ups and downs of commission-based work remains a mystery, he says, though overall the business continues to grow. Seasonal factors come into play, people don’t spend much around tax time, and dining room tables sell better in the fall. But by and large he is content to ride the ebb and flow.

His best month came just as the grip of the recession eased, bringing in “a record-crushing 52 orders” that February.

“It’s like people had been holding on to their money for so long, they just finally let go and it came on like a tidal wave,” he says.

Until recently, LaPlant operated the business himself and would hire craftsman as needed. But as the company grew, he decided to focus his energies where he is best suited: making furniture. He hired an operations manager and a marketing manager so he can be making products “about 90 percent of the time”.

A piece can be made in as few as 15 hours,  but most require between 25 and 45 hours.

“I have spent as many as 200 or more hours on a single piece, but that’s pretty rare,” he says.

Like all artists, he has his favorites, a Pullman credenza and a Boochever bench.

“Each of these designs arrived in one of those rare moments when calm collides with notion, and pencil and paper happen to be in hand”.

Customer process

LaPlant noted his first step with a customer is to “invite myself over,” just as he has long done with architectural clients to get to know their tastes, the spaces they want to fill, and how his work can be compliment their lifestyle and style.

“I try to glean a sense of the potential client’s likes and dislikes, and of their personality,” he says.

With business increasingly coming via the website from non-local customers, LaPlant continues this personal touch through electronic connections.

“That’s a bit of a bummer for me, but the rest of the process is the same.”image10

Because of his growing portfolio, customers will often pick a piece directly from the website, which will still be made by hand and personalized as needed. The process typically takes between eight and 12 weeks. He is surprised that many customers prefer to choose a piece that’s already been made rather than have something personally designed, but believes it affirms the quality of the work.

“Although I love designing new pieces,” he says, “I have come to a point where I appreciate and find great pleasure in work of diminished brain strain and stress levels — work that comes with making pieces with which I am deeply familiar.”

And the greatest satisfaction? When the furniture fills the home of a satisfied customer.

“A client in New York sent an e-mail in which she quoted her husband’s immediate response to their new table,” he says. “He took the lord’s name in vain and dropped the f-bomb in the midst of dubbing the table ‘art.’ My joy and laughter hovered for a long time with that one. I still laugh and smile when I think about it.”

The rise of craft and maker movement

LaPlant is well aware that his long, hard business evolution has brought him into the middle of a dramatic business change. With the rise of the DIY (do-it-yourself) projects and increased demand for artisan craftsmanship, both competition and attention have grown dramatically in just the past couple of years.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.12.56 PM

The Maker Movement, as it is called, has attracted any number of new budding entrepreneurial craftsmen.

“With so many people able to freely share ideas and spread inspiration across the web, makers are forming communities of their own, and more people around the world are becoming influenced to be makers,” wrote Brit Moran, founder of Brit+Co.

“I firmly believe there is this incredible creative energy that comes with this ‘maker movement,’ he says, “and there are a lot of makers interested in collaboration. And it’s great.”

The online craft selling company Etsy now has more than one million artisan sellers that generate nearly a billion dollars in annual revenue. The potential market for the maker movement and the expansive level of competition are evident.

For LaPlant, it’s emblematic of the pros and cons of any business.

“People are much more broadly aware, if not of the direct economic impact, of the presence and viability of purchasing or commissioning locally. And that’s great,” he says, “However, from the perspective of a father of two and an owner of a business in a notoriously difficult field, the new-coming competition is a little unnerving…that’s the struggle of every business.”

In the end, LaPlant knows he will stay true to his roots, his unique blend of both design and build, and a lifelong commitment to sustainability and to continued artistic work that affords him both a business and an expression of his talent. If LaPlant is anything, it’s rooted.

“I am a devout believer in the notion that everyone deserves, in every way, a crack at earning a living doing what they love,” he says. “I do it, and I wish this experience upon everyone who wants it.”

 For more information, visit Reed LaPlant Studio, follow then on twitter and instagram, or like them on facebookScreen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.44.10 PM