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Little Boxes celebrates the vibrant Portland small business community with its black friday/small biz saturday promotion

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Editor’s Note: We profiled Little Boxes last year, and once again this annual Portland small business promotional event and prize raffle, featuring over 200 local and independent merchants, will take place on November 25th & 26th , 2016. You can find out more and download their app on their website, and you can also follow them on Twitter and on Facebook. Built Oregon is happy to be one of the sponsors of this event, and we’re reprising our 2015 profile below. 

It was early November 2011. Portland jewelry makers Betsy Cross and Will Cervarich were only 3 months removed from opening their first Betsy & Iya brick and mortar retail location in the northwest part of the city, on 24th and Thurman.

It had been a hectic and exhausting 3 months for this couple, who before opening the store had built a thriving wholesale business in Portland making and distributing their handcrafted jewelry to more than 100 locations around the country, and not surprisingly, Cross ended up getting ill and got her first day off at home in a long, long time.

She decided to camp out on her couch and watch TV. That was a decision that changed Cross & Cervarich’s lives.

As Cross explains, “There were already commercials happening for promoting Thanksgiving and Black Friday. And instead of just spacing out like you normally do with commercials that you don’t care about, I got mad. I thought, ‘What is it with Black Friday that every year, it gets worse and worse?’ It’s like, ‘Completely kill yourself to buy the best presents ever at the cheapest prices by staying up all night or waking up at four in the morning…’ ”

The anger generated a big question.

10805674_732905163466667_3671726183326341710_n“I felt a real sense of empowerment to focus on the shops that had given us so much support and business throughout the years”, Cross added. “I’d been in Portland for a long time. How come there’s nothing existing already for these kinds of shops? Why isn’t there a focus? We’re not going to be able to put our shops 50% off, or 40% off. But we don’t have to. Why? Because we have great shops, with a different experience.”

That night, Cervarich came home to hear a new idea for a group retail event on Black Friday.

Cross recalled, “Will came home and I said, ‘What do you think?’ And sometimes in our business relationship, one of us will have an idea and the other one will say, ‘Oh, that’s not a good idea. No way we can pull that off.’ ”

This time, he says ‘That’s genius’, and gets on the computer and immediately comes up with the raffle part of it.”

They also immediately emailed a few of their friends in their retail network to test the idea. “People wrote us back that night” Cross noted, “and said, ‘That’s a great idea and I’m in. So tell us what we need to do’ “

The event also needed a name. Cross recalls, “We were obviously thinking about ‘big box’ stores. And what is different (with the smaller stores)? What is special about gift giving? Little, special boxes wrapped in a particular way. That’s something that smaller shops are really good at.”

So it would be called “Little Boxes”, and something transformative was born.

Betsy Cross & Will Cervarich and their Betsy & Iya Retail Store in PDX

A different way to shop Black Friday

Just a few weeks later, the pair pulled off the first Little Boxes, pulling together the retail network, promoting the event all over town and in the press, and distributing paper booklets that recorded raffle entries for cool prizes to all who visited the 100 stores on that Black Friday and Small Business Saturday.

It was a huge success. Cross added “We had shops telling us that they previously had horrible days on Black Friday, because people didn’t think to shop there. They put their energy into the bigger stores.”

And it had the added benefit of being a community experience, something actually enjoyable on a typically hyperactive shopping day. Cervarich notes, “Our whole idea is that shopping, especially on these two days where you’ve just spent time with family being thankful, and celebrating a year with family, shouldn’t about rushing to the store and getting coffeed up, and killing yourself to shop.”

In 2012 they did Little Boxes again, with an even larger network of stores, nearly 200. They also added the ability to gain extra raffle entries by buying merchandise at the stores – the more the person shopped at Little Boxes stores, the more chances they had to win.

The raffle is the big draw. Notes Cross, “It creates a light, fun-filled, game aspect. And I think our main thing was always not just the importance of supporting local, which is an important movement and an important part of our economy, but that our main messaging would be that our shops are just something special, and something different than the alternative shopping experience on Black Friday, especially.”

LB_Budd-+-Finn03By 2013 they topped 200 stores and added an iPhone app to make it easier for customers to find the stores and tally their raffle entries. Last year they tweaked the app with more features, and had even a few more stories participating, and now, in 2015, they are introducing an Android version of the app.

Through the years, Cervarich and Cross have made sure the messaging and tone of the event has was not about being negative about the big box experience on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. It’s meant to be an additive experience. Says Cervarich, “It’s always been important to us to stay positive. Our messaging never is negative on the big box stores.”

An act of leadership in an environment of trust

And, the couple has always made it clear that big profits were never, and still are not, the aim of Little Boxes. Cervarich notes, “It wasn’t about making money off of this idea. It was about doing something that we felt was going to be good for our shop, of course, but also going to be good for Portland shops. Especially shops that we had worked with (and continue to work with) for a number of years”

These two entrepreneurs were uniquely positioned to create this event because there are few other makers in Portland that have the kind of reach of the Betsy & Iya retail distribution network. And by being inspired, almost by divine providence, by a bad Black Friday TV commercial, they answered the call to pull that network (and many other retailers) together under a common banner, to generate a big local economic benefit that otherwise wouldn’t have existed without it.

It was an act of leadership, supported by a communal sense of trust. Says Cervarich, “There is an innate sense of trust (in the Little Boxes network), so when we came to a shop-owner, they weren’t being solicited by somebody who was only doing ads, or only doing something where it was taking money. We had worked with them, so we had a personal relationship, and we also were on their side.

1475786_732905446799972_2431213108730702047_n“And so I think that really helped our credibility. And people felt like, ‘Okay, well, these guys get it. It’s a promotion where it’s coming from the inside out.’ ”

The unique sense of collaboration and cooperation that distinguishes both Portland entrepreneurs and consumers also plays a huge role. Cervarich notes, “I give a lot of credit to Portland. If not in Portland, where else (could it have been successful)?

“Portland shoppers, they get it already. And so we just needed to give them a little push of a reason to go out on Black Friday. And that sense of community has been a huge reason why Little Boxes has become successful.”

And yes, Cross isn’t angry any longer. “It’s brought a ton of joy to our lives in the shop, and just the sheer excitement that we see on shoppers’ faces”, says Cross. “We’ve had a few people say, ‘I never even knew your shop existed and now I’m coming every year. I’m going to participate in Little Boxes every year’ “

You can find out more and download their app on their website,

FoodWorx: Re-thinking how (and why) you eat

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When people travel, usually uppermost in their minds is what they plan to see — landmark buildings, famous attractions, perhaps well-known works of art. Food is, for many, a secondary consideration of travel. They may want to eat well, but it is not always the main focus of a trip.

That is, unless they fall into a rapidly growing category called food travel. Food travel is the concept that says no matter where you go, you need to eat and drink. So why not enjoy a unique, local food experience and make a memory of it?

That philosophy is why Erik Wolf founded the World Food Travel Association, a Portland-based organization that he leads as Executive Director.

“There are people who travel to go to museums, there are people who travel for shopping, and there are people who travel to New York and London for theater,” Wolf says. “Well, I’m one of those people that travels for food. I end up in grocery stores. I end up in restaurants. I end up on food tours. I end up in food factories.”

The Post-it Note® brainstorm that blended two passions

Erik Wolf

Erik Wolf

Wolf already knew himself to be a “foodie.” Once, after a 15-hour flight to Singapore, rather than immediately collapse on his hotel bed, he noticed a large grocery store across the street and made a beeline for it.

“Jet lag didn’t matter. I was like a kid in a new amusement park. I was going around and seeing the different brands for sale, the different fruits on offer, all the unusual beverages. It was fascinating.”

At that point, however, it wasn’t necessarily a way to make a living. Wolf was working in the tech world in San Francisco. Then in 2001, he “smelled a layoff” and decided to uproot his life and start anew. He moved to Portland, Oregon, found an apartment, and put giant Post-It Notes on the walls to write down his passions and brainstorm a new career.

“What do I like doing? Where do I have connections? What am I good at? And it always came back to food and travel.”

Wolf decided to create a non-profit organization that blended his two passions.

“I wrote a white paper about Culinary Tourism to prove the value to our emerging industry and its potential economic impact. It was a popular paper that was sent around the world more times than I can remember.”

Within two years, he had formed a non-profit association: the International Culinary Tourism Association, which was re-branded as the World Food Travel Association (WFTA) in 2012. Since its inception as an education and trade resource, WFTA has grown to become the world’s leading authority on culinary tourism. It has published culinary travel guides, research on food and beverage tourism, produced dozens of events and conducted seminars to help food-related businesses get the word out to travelers.

A different form of sightseeing

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So what exactly is food travel? It is about helping travelers learn about and explore a local area’s food and beverage culture. That does not necessarily mean meals costing hundreds of dollars per person in a fancy restaurant. According to the WFTA, that kind of customer represents less than ten percent of the overall dining market. And since roughly 25 percent of any travel budget is spent on food, Wolf saw promoting local food and drink as a way to boost local economies and enhance the travelers’ experience.

It was an area of tourism promotion that was still ripe for development. The traditional focus of most tourism offices was on lodging and attractions. At best, there might be a small brochure naming a few restaurants, with no way of telling if those places had paid for the privilege of being listed. Chain restaurants were plentiful.

“When we talk to tourism offices now, often we have to reeducate them. Because they think: ‘Oh, we want the gourmet traveler’ or ‘We should be promoting our 150 cuisines!’ ”

Instead, Wolf says the best thing tourism offices can do is ‘plant the seed’ for good local dining, whether it’s the food cart/street vendor scene, or an area’s famous Key Lime pie. At first, it was an uphill battle. Then the recession of 2007 hit. Tourist offices closed, or their budgets were severely slashed. To cope, they began to look for different things to promote. The WFTA was already poised to help them discover how to package and promote local food cultures to travelers.

Not that all travelers are willing to go outside their comfort zone.

“You will not convince all people to try local food. Some people do all-inclusive packages and that’s fine for them. But then, there’s a level of consumer that does care about where things come from—how food is made and where it’s sourced.”

FoodWorx and the impact of food

Those people are the target markets for the food and beverage tourism industry. The numbers are growing each year. The WFTA expanded its services with lectures and a one-day conference called FoodWorx that explores all issues food-related.

ew photo 13“There are all these food and drink events. Most are great but there’s more to discuss than just sitting there and eating fancy foods and drinking expensive wines. We want to know, what did it take to get that to you? Who was involved in the production of that food? How much fuel was spent to get it to you? And help consumers realize how food impacts their everyday lives.”

FoodWorx 2016 is the fourth annual conference and is expected to attract about 450 people to hear nine speakers and two panels discuss a variety of food issues.

“We take food and combine it with another industry. Whether it’s food and industry, food and tourism, food and technology, food and music, food and health. And then we find an expert to talk about that. Local food and drink samples pepper the day’s talks.”

Who attends?

“It runs the gamut. You get concerned citizens, teachers, retirees, students, journalists and everyday people. You get foodies, restaurant owners, winery people. Plus, a lot of food and drink manufacturers, who come to learn about new industry trends. People travel from all over the world to attend.”

This year’s FoodWorx will be held Saturday, February 20 2016 at the Smith Memorial Union at Portland State University. Live streaming will be available for delegates who cannot attend in person. The forum has become so popular that other cities including Barcelona and Bilbao in Spain want to host their own local FoodWorx, as does Jakarta, Indonesia.

More impact, more innovation

When Wolf founded WTFA, the local food movement was truly in its infancy. Oddly enough, the tragedy of 9-11 had a big impact on people’s interest in food.

“It made people go back in and think about what’s comfortable—family and food. And the local food movement just mushroomed tremendously after 9-11. While he acknowledges that the WFTA can’t take the credit for the local food movement, he does believe that the WFTA was the early trendsetter in promoting food as attraction.”

EW photo 1Wolf says many people talk about the profound impact that the WFTA has had on the world’s tourism industry. “It’s fulfilling to know that we were there at the table, ushering in professionals, helping them to see the potential of promoting food and drink as attractions. And now, as our organization is 14 years old, we have to continue to reinvent ourselves, not rest on our laurels, (and) make sure we’re continuing to innovate, make sure that we’re bringing new and relevant products to market.”

Where does Wolf want this all to lead?

“World domination!”

But in all seriousness, Wolf sees almost unlimited potential for Food Travel. The WFTA has a new annual publication coming out in 2016, titled: Food Trekking in Cascadia. It focuses on the food and drink culture of our Cascadian region. While he may have started out thinking of the overseas traveler’s food experience, Wolf is adamant you don’t have to be a world traveler to be a food tourist. For some, it may mean just heading across town to a new neighborhood to try a new café or pub or wine bar.

Wolf is a firm believer that good food is everywhere—if you know where to look. His life’s mission is to show you where.

Many thanks to KC Cowan for her help and support on this piece

For more information on FoodWorx 2016, visit http://www.FoodWorxConference.com, or find them on Twitter or Facebook .  Built Oregon is one of the marketing sponsors of this event. 

Where is the fashion? A look into Portland’s apparel scene and where it’s headed

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This story was written by our high school intern, Akhil Kambhammettu. Akhil is a junior at Jesuit High School and beyond this story, will be acting as our student Built Oregon reporter over the next year. 

Streetwear is hard to define.

Everyone has their own interpretation of what it means, but the one thing we do know is the streetwear industry is booming. With brands like Obey and Stussy growing into multi-million dollar companies within a few years, the door is open for smaller brands to be successful.

Portland is known for its alternative and dynamic culture, but what about its fashion scene? As a teenager, clothing and style is an indispensable part of my identity. From jogger chinos to the trending elongated tees, I’m always looking for new designs and styles to stand out. That is why I created Blue Market. Blue Market is not only an online marketplace for designers to upload their clothing lines for the public, but we also help designers who don’t have the resources and knowledge to create sophisticated designs and establish themselves as independent designers. There is a lot of hidden talent in the Portland area that just needs a little push to share their art with the public.

11406924_1115754201773204_729951032786562650_nI got the chance to meet with a couple clothing designers and local retailers to get a sense of where the Portland fashion scene is headed.

Jae Fields’ One Man Show

First, I met with Wookie Fields, founder of Jae Fields, a local Portland streetwear brand. Working out of a small studio on NW 5th and Couch, Wookie is a one man show and handles everything, including sales, branding, marketing, patterning, and designing. “The idea behind Jae Fields is to bring quality and premium apparel with the right fabric for the right occasions”. His collection includes a wide variety of elongated tees, quality denim and joggers; all of which I have a weak spot for. But what sets him apart is the durable and stretchy fabric he uses in his t-shirts that contribute to his standard of “versatility and functionality”. Creating high quality yet wearable apparel at a reasonable price point allows Jae Fields to stand out in the streetwear industry.

1610974_1137211819627442_505780576469448928_nWhen asked about the current Portland streetwear scene, Wookie says, “There isn’t one, and that’s what makes us so unique”. I asked Wookie what he likes about being in Portland, and he explains “everyone supports each other”. Connections are very important in the fashion industry, and in Portland there is a lot of support from both the public and fellow designers; however, there is no organized support structure for designers. This is apparent at Portland Fashion Week, one of the most popular fashion weeks in the U.S, where the connections and community are still going through some growing pains.

“It is really hard to get to know [the designers]. They make, present, and they’re done”. If Portland Fashion Week were to leverage their connections and popularity, a lot of local designers like Wookie would benefit. When asked about the future of the streetwear industry, Wookie simply says “Staying alive”. To elaborate, the streetwear industry is becoming saturated with more and more brands, some with potential, and some going nowhere. “It’s so easy to start a brand, but not many people have the knowledge to keep the company going (where the “staying alive” part comes in). It’s going to be more about the story you tell and who wears it. Not what you sell but how you sell it.” By the looks of it, Wookie has both under his belt.

Bridge & Burn keeps it simple

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 3.27.30 PMNext I met with Erik Prowell, founder of Bridge & Burn, a Portland based outerwear apparel brand with a focus on simplicity. Erik was born and raised in Bend, Oregon, so the northwest style can definitely be seen in his clothing. Erik started his clothing venture while creating graphic T-shirts, where he met a local manufacturer that opened the opportunity for him to start his brand, Bridge & Burn.

The inspiration behind Bridge & Burn was to create simple, clean, and timeless outerwear. From their wide collection of plaid shirts to their khaki windbreakers, Bridge & Burn combines a comfortable feel with an Oregon aesthetic. When asked about starting a brand in Portland, Erik explains, “[Portland] is the most supportive community. I mean everyone is willing to help each other.” Just as Wookie had mentioned, there is a lot of support from the design community and local boutiques.

With retail connections and support from brands he met during trade shows, Erik was easily able to get into many retailers, and transition smoothly into the market. Although there are many talented and supportive designers in Portland, Erik sees a lack of proper infrastructure for these designers to create and produce streetwear products, as he still struggles to find a reliable local manufacturer. The future of Portland apparel is really to create a solid foundation and support system for aspiring designers, so the Portland fashion scene can grow.

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 3.25.43 PMSo what are the next steps for Bridge & Burn? “I’m just trying to build a really solid team… and slowly grow the company.” Bridge & Burn started out small with only five jackets for men and five for women, but has slowly expanded their line to include T-shirts and pants. With warmer weather becoming more common as well, Bridge & Burn has been expanding out of just raincoats and windbreakers.

Erik offers a little advice for young designers like myself: “At the end of the day you just really have to believe in yourself, and it’s not easy at all. You have to believe in your vision and hustle.”

After all this digging and research, one theme stays common throughout: The Portland fashion scene is growing. There are a lot of small shops and boutiques out there, but there is also a lot of hidden talent to be explored. The only way that talent can be unlocked is if they have enough support and resources. Established brands in the area need to engage up and coming designers, and the rest of us need to show our support for small brands by following them on social media, sharing with friends, and maybe even buying their clothing. As teens, fashion and style are part of who we are, but we also have the power and responsibility to create trends and support new ideas and clothing. If we stay on this path, Portland will be the future of the fashion industry and the place to be for creatives and designers from around the country.

For more information on Jae Fields. visit www.jaefields.com, like them on facebook and follow them on twitter and instagram.

For more information on Bridge & Burn visit www.bridgeandburn.com or follow them on instagram, Pinterest, and twitter.

To stay updated with my company, Blue Market,  follow us on instagram and twitter.

 

 

 

Embracing the business of vacations

Inn at Haystack Rock

Some people thrive in the corporate world. Antoine Simmons was one of those people.

Working as a middle manager at Intel in mergers and acquisitions, life was good. Antoine had also started to dabble in real estate—buying fixer-uppers here and there on the side, and then turning them for a profit. He and his wife Rocio had also started their family, and by the year 2000 they had two children, Chantal and Rachel, with one more, Elias, on the way, but change was in the air.

As his workload shifted, it became more and more evident that Intel was in the middle of some changes as the company started offering severance packages to employees who wanted to leave. It was then that Antoine recognized an opportunity to strip off his identity of a corporate man living in a corporate world, and venture into an industry he knew little about.

“The writing was on the wall. It came to a point that I had to make a decision, so I finally took off the golden handcuffs of Intel.”

His next life would be as a hotelier.

An organized upbringing

Antoine’s parents were both teachers and owned 10 acres at the edge of Knotts Berry Farm in Cypress, California. The family raised chickens, pigs, turkeys and rabbits, as well as nurtured a small orchard. There, they taught their five boys and three girls the value of a dollar, that hard work was something to be proud of, that horsing around was something you did in the ‘horsing-around room,’ and that—if you put your mind to it—you could become all you wanted to become and more.

“My dad pushed hard. My mom set goals. They were strict and they were organized,” said Antoine. “In high school you are trying to figure out who you are. Trying to find happiness, but it’s kind of artificial. Soon you realize that home is what is real, it’s unconditional.

“My mom was the hardest working person I’ve ever known. She had a monthly planner and she knew who would be doing the dishes and who would be making potatoes a month in advance. She built us a horsing-around room outside of the house for my brothers and me to wrestle in.”

Growing up Antoine worked side by side with his dad and siblings. During the summer, he and his brothers helped his dad build apartments on their property.

“We learned how to work. It was amazing if you look at all the experience we got growing up. When I grew up I knew I wanted to be just like my dad.” Antoine said, as he held back the tears that welled up in his eyes. “I think I am, I think I’m growing up to be like him.”

“My dad is 85, and my mom is in her late 70’s and they still garden and have an orchard.”

After Antoine graduated from high school his parents moved to Hillsboro. He headed off to Utah, where he quickly became a ski bum. He also spent a couple of years in Florida on a mission with the Church of Latter Day Saints, before coming back to Oregon. He has his Master’s in Business at George Fox University in Newberg.

Once he graduated he settled down in Hillsboro where he began working at Intel, the company where he would eventually meet his wife, Rocio.

Antoine didn’t know it at the time. But retiring with a gold watch and a pat on the back was not to be in the cards.

Leaving the corporate nest

On a trip to Cannon Beach Antoine and Rocio stumbled across a house that was in dire need of someone to pull it back from the brink of disrepair. After some research they learned the owner of the home also owned the Blue Gull Inn across the street. They were “absentee owners,” and they wanted to sell both the house and the inn.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 11.56.40 AMBy May of 2000 Antoine and Rocio became the proud new owners of that home as well as the Blue Gull Inn, and then took over the management of it in July of the same year.

They were now hoteliers.

As anyone who has left the corporate world to strike out on their own knows, this is not a decision to take lightly. It is a decision that has to be made more by inspiration than reality. One that stands to result in utter disappointment as easily as complete satisfaction. A decision such as this is completely life-changing, and once made, the corporate world becomes an ever fading part of one’s past. Something that helped them along the way, but in no way defining who they have the potential of becoming.

“This is where the work began,” said Antoine.

“When we took over, all the reservations were done by hand. There was a big book with all the dates and all the rooms, it was crazy. We cleaned all of the rooms and brought the inn to the modern age with online booking.”

“The first time someone booked online was amazing.”

A flare for function

The husband and wife team soon began managing other properties in addition to their own, and in 2004 they created a new name, Haystack Lodgings, to encompass their entire business. They managed six motels in Cannon beach, including Ocean Spray Inn, Sand Trap, Sand Castle, and Sunset Inn, as well as 15 vacation homes.

Antoine and Rocio bought the Inn at Haystack Rock, and in 2011, they signed the papers to purchase the Inn at the Prom in Seaside.

Inn at the Prom“I was so nervous that day,” said Antoine.

Finally, in early 2014, they purchased the crown jewel, the historic Gilbert Inn in Seaside. The Queen Anne style home was built by Alexandre Gilbert in 1892.

With the Haystack Lodgings’ care and attention, The Gilbert Inn is now an 11 room couple’s retreat just steps away from Seaside Promenade, an 8,000 foot long concrete boardwalk between Seaside and the beach.

Time for more focus

Eventually Antoine and Rocio decided to stop managing other properties so they could just concentrate on their own.

“I am constantly striving to learn more about this industry,” he said, his excitement level more like someone new in the business instead of someone who now has 14 years of experience.

“Some of our guests have been with us for so long. You have to change in this business, people want to escape. Our goal is to surprise, to do something a little different, to keep them coming back time and again.”

Antoine said he strives to provide his guests with an ‘un-motel experience’. The proof is in the properties that he continually upgrades and improves. The tile work and carpentry are a shining example of how much he wants his guests to be able to escape their normal day to day life while staying at Haystack Properties. The oceanfront view from immaculate rooms are just a portion of what some of his properties have to offer.

“The Blue Gull Inn has a hacienda design and all of the furniture was built and hand-carved by our carpenter, Victor Campuzano, and our tile work was created by Domingo Victoria. We have been really blessed in our lives. Most people have been with us for more than 10 years,” he said, referring to his employees. “It is like a family, we take care of each other, and everybody feels like a part of us.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 11.57.02 AMAntoine has no regrets about trading in his comfortable corporate career for his life as a hotelier. This life choice suits him. He truly loves getting to know his customers and inviting them back to see what new changes have taken place since their last visit. He gets to teach them about the surrounding area, and all of the beauty that is out there for them to enjoy.

“Being able to take something and get this idea of what it could be, and see it come to life. Taking something old and making it new and seeing it come together, there is no better feeling,” said Antoine as he reflected on his chosen career path.

He also knows he would not be where he is today without Rocio, who he credits his success to.

“I get to work with my family. I get to work my wife,” he said with a smile. “She is such an intricate part of this business. We are partners and co-leaders. We have been able to learn how to run a business together; we’ve done a lot of housekeeping together. Having two strong people that are partners, with the same goals, it helps you trust in yourself, have faith and knowing the harder you work the easier it is going to get. It takes a lot of work to survive in this industry; you have to constantly be thinking on how to improve. I have learned we are the sum of all of our experiences. I try to be the best person I can be, but you can ask my kids, they will tell you I am a major work in progress.”

All three of his children are now teenagers. Chantal is 19, an artist and is attending college; Rachel is 15 and plays soccer; Elias is on the swim team and is now 14. They all spend their summers as part of the housekeeping staff as Antoine instills some of the same ‘hard-work’ ethics into his own children that his father instilled in him. He also teaches them to appreciate the land they call home.

“There is so much natural beauty in Oregon. We have the ocean, the mountains, the high desert; it is the variety that we enjoy so much. I tell my kids ‘look at what is in your own back yard. Our back yard is beautiful. We have national parks, running on the beach, hiking trails… I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

For more information, visit http://www.haystacklodgings.com/.

New cut on an old school profession

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Chris Diaz really had about as much of a chance of avoiding the family business as Michael Corleone. When your brother, brother-in-law, mother, father, grandfather and his brother are all barbers, the odds are you’ll join ‘em, sooner or later.

“I tell people that for me it was easy to get into it,” Chris says, while cutting a stylish fade for the Southern Oregon University student sitting in the barber chair in front of him. “I grew up in barbershops my whole life, sweeping in my grandfather’s shop, sweeping in my parent’s shop. It’s always been that way.”

Chris is a barber at The Flap Top in Ashland, a shop his parents Mike and Terri opened more than 20 years ago. By taking the best of the salon experience – customer service, modern décor, a complimentary alcoholic beverage, for example – and combining it with old school classic hairstyles that are suddenly back in fashion, The Flat Tap survived the downturn in barbershops long enough to enjoy the current wave of popularity.

“Every year you learn and adapt. We’re special because of our kids. They teach us too,” says co-owner Terri, who learned the trade from her father and her uncle.

Another generation of Diaz barbers have expanded beyond Ashland into downtown Medford. Mike and Terri’s oldest son Brandon Diaz, 29, and their daughter Amanda’s husband, Pablo Villa, 32, have teamed up to open The Fellas Barber Shop, which pushes to be current and competitive by tailoring to a new wave of clients.

Flattop1“Cutting hair is the best job I’ve ever had,” Brandon said, noting he’s been working many jobs since he was 16. He points to his dad as his guiding influence.

“If my dad had become a doctor, I would’ve become a doctor and followed in his footsteps.”
The Don Corleone of this family of barbers – Brandon and Chris’ grandfather – long ago insisted his daughter learn to use clippers or starve. Terri learned the trade back in the 1980s cutting mullets and other dramatic long-haired styles. Like many women, she focused first on being a stylist so she could ride the trend toward high-end salons. But soon enough she was back to the basics of barbering.

“He was right all along,” she says of her father.

Barbering is a trade, she says, that has helped her entire family weather all the changes in the industry and the economy.

Innovation in an old profession

After years of falling out of favor, barbershops are back in a big way.

Nationwide, the cosmetology and barbering industry grew 29 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to Inc. magazine. Charles Kirkpatrick, the executive officer of the National Association of Barber Boards of America, recently told the New York Times the number of licensed barbers had grown roughly 10 percent from 2010 to 2012, which amounts to about 20,000 new barbers.

According to Forbes Magazine, “North American sales of shaving products is a $3 billion a year business.” A 2013 Salon business study and forecast “showed that like women, men are currently seeking barber shops that are close to their home, offer a wide variety of services and are competitive in pricing.” Major players are moving into the American market, opening high-end franchises across the country.

The trends can be seen throughout the state of Oregon as well. The Barbers franchise has 15 Portland-area locations. It offers shoulder massages and hot lather neck-shaves for an up-scale barbering experience. Another chain, The Bishops Barbershop, has a dozen Oregon shops, all seeking to attract the next generation of customers with its edgy marketing and appeal.

Staying in style

Without even trying to be a trendsetter, Mike said creating a unique experience for men has driven the latest innovations and changes at his shop.

Customers can enjoy a free 10-oz. cup of locally brewed Caldera beer while they wait, a decidedly modern twist. Or like Mike says, they can have a Tootsie Pop as well, a nod to classic Americana.

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“The beer is just like the girls going to the beauty shop getting a glass of champagne,” Mike says. “It’s just a little something extra. Men in particular don’t pamper themselves. We wanted them to feel like it’s a guy’s place. It feels comfortable.”

Mike credits Terri for that classic, modern combination.

“You know what it is?”, Mike says about his barbershop and its success. “My wife said something to me that really stuck. She said, ‘Why does the barber shop have to get old with the barber?’ It’s true. So many shops you see the yellow paint that started off white, the upholstery is old. ‘You have to make people feel welcome,’ she told me.”

Terri says the same thing the next day when Mike isn’t around.

“I’ve always learned that in barbershops, especially in barbershops, the shops grow old with barber,” she says.

She would not let that happen with The Flat Top.

A mix of old and new

Whereas The Flat Top itself—the hair cut, not the shop—remains the coin of the realm for a white man of a certain age, the styles of the ‘50s and ‘60s have returned, bringing a whole new generation of customers out of expensive salons and back into the barber’s chairs.

Styles always circle back around, Terri says, even with new names.

“A fade is a taper,” she says. “That’s what it’s been called. But now they call it a fade. The styles stay the same.”

But The Flat Top—the shop, not the style—continues to evolve right along with it, carving out a niche business in a declining economy. As Mike points out, barber schools across the country, including Oregon’s, have closed.

“They are not producing barbers anymore,” Mike says. “My sons are third-generation barbers. They’re rare because they get the training from us.”

But that too is the secret to business success. By weathering the downturn in popularity and steadily adapting to the trends, the Diaz Family, just like the famous fictional Godfather, has a corner on the market in this corner of the state.

“You’re never gonna get wealthy,” Mike says. “But you’re indoors and out of the elements. It’s not like construction where it’s boom or bust. It’s a comfortable living.”

A sign on the wall may as well be the business motto.

“There’s no school like old school,” it reads.

For more information, visit the Flat Top Barbershop on Yelp.

An overnight success, 20 years in the making

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It’s rare to use the words “hot tub” and “great idea” in the same sentence. But those two seemingly incongruous terms came together on a pivotal day in August 2010. Lem James relaxed in the hot tub with his son discussing business and life, which wasn’t unusual for the pair.

Lem had spent the last several years seeking the perfect startup idea—a niche idea to be exact, so the conversation focused on startup ideas to opportunities. He had watched and compared businesses inside very competitive markets and niche markets. But nothing had quite fit the mold.

All it was needed was a spark.

“Hey Dad, why don’t you build those concrete ping pong tables you saw in Germany?”

And that was all it took.

Lem recognized a viable product and innovative idea.  Permanent, outdoor table tennis tables took something familiar and turned it on its head. Lem liked the purposeful creativity of combining ping pong and concrete—two things that didn’t seem to mesh—to create a new outdoor experience in public places.

But this would be more than a niche market; it would be wide open without any competitors and an immediate customer focus; Parks & Recreation.

From a fleeting idea, a permanent table

Normally, “outdoor” ping pong tables need to be set up every day and put away at night. This, combined with play, causes them to wear out every few years. Left outside, table tennis tables deteriorate rapidly.

A concrete table, however, can stay outside through harsh weather and doesn’t need to be set up and taken down at all. This was the key.

Concrete tables could save money for parks, military bases, community centers, and even home owners. Using concrete completely redefines where table tennis works. Instead of backyards and garages, tables can be installed in parks and outdoor school yards.

Forming a business as sturdy as its product

Within a week, Lem had AutoCAD sketches and plans to build forms. As he shared his idea, however, others raised concerns. Who would buy these concrete tables? Wouldn’t shipping costs eat up any profit? Who would even think to search for a product like this? America just wasn’t familiar with the idea. It was a luxury item and, in 2010, we were in a recession.

P1020652With his work experience, Lem knew parks across the country and beyond would be interested, and he knew the channels to reach them. As for shipping, that’s a normal cost of doing business. Even when others shared their concerns, the passion grew.

“Every once in a while, we had to do a gut check because they were putting out a few quotes but nothing was selling yet,” said Lem. “We had to hone in on our product and our marketing to put our products out there to our target markets without traditional advertising. We began selling a table here and there. Then, once we could put enough story and photographs together to show tables in parks, schools and nice backyards, sales started rolling.

“It’s frustrating to watch potentially good businesses start and poke around, and then evaporate before they even get the traction to move forward. I’ve watched several businesses fail to launch in this manner. Many times so much time gets spent on making a perfect product that marketing and sales get ignored.

“A lot of these businesses get launched by very smart successful people, but people who don’t need the business to succeed. They have other successes that are easy to fall back on. Early on, a friend asked what my back up plan was. I said plan A was to succeed wildly, and plan B was to succeed mildly. There was no backup plan to fail. If we ran into failure, we would plan around it and continue. Don’t quit.”

During the first year, the company focused on developing and improving the tables, adding steel nets, integral concrete dye to offer color options, and making other refinements. Concrete chess tables were a natural addition to the product line, and these weren’t as foreign to the American market. The playing squares are marble inlaid tiles in a background of polished, exposed aggregate concrete in an array of color options, including recycled glass.

Why Oregon?

The entrepreneurial community in Oregon supported Bravado from an early stage, including the Roseburg Small Business Development Center and Young Entrepreneur Society (YES), a Roseburg group that supports new innovation.

These groups provided the cross pollination of ideas, which has been central to Bravado’s product development and marketing. In addition, they provided crucial support to a founder with a unique concept. Lem was able to pitch ideas and get feedback from a unique cross section of business thinkers and fellow entrepreneurs.

Oregon is also home to an array of groups, like Portland based City Repair, who are great supporters of the placemaking movement. City Repair builds community projects—like turning an intersection into a public park. They describes placemaking as “a multi-layered process within which citizens foster active, engaged relationships to the spaces which they inhabit, the landscapes of their lives, and shape those spaces in a way which creates a sense of communal stewardship and lived connection.”Permanent outdoor games—especially table tennis—fit in perfectly with placemaking by providing the community a gathering point where everyone can play.

Best of both worlds

As Lem perfected the engineering and production of the ping pong tables, his mind began to turn to other product opportunities based on the company motto, “Everybody plays!”

Cornhole, a simple, but not very well known game immediately came to mind. The bean bag game was easy to adapt to concrete and place as a permanent feature in parks, while also creating a more entry level product line. Foosball was added to the product line after a table tennis fan sent a picture of a similar table in Paris. While the actual forming and production took some fine tuning, the actual game itself is to pick up and learn.

Foosball and cornhole allow almost anyone to begin playing and then develop mastery over time—just like the sport that inspired the original product.

Work that inspires activity

Lem shares a contagious enthusiasm for his products and the games they facilitate. it’s not just about selling something and making money. These tables are on the cutting edge in concrete work, the placemaking movement, and the sport of table tennis.

Bravado Outdoor’s table tops are recognized in the concrete industry for design and finish work and have been featured by different suppliers. The tables are another example of combining two different disciplines: concrete engineering and concrete countertop finish work.

These publicly available tables support the developing of ping pong in America, and integrate into the urban placemaking design movement; where sidewalks, corners or small urban spaces are turned into an oasis where people can gather. Where an old empty lot can become a miniature neighborhood gathering spot with ping pong and chess as the focal points.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 3.25.47 PMThe sport of table tennis, in particular, has been a second tier sport in North America, usually played in garages and basements. But Bravado is taking table tennis into the outdoors and public places, putting the sport front and center and giving more people across America and the chance to hone their skills. The Bravado team strongly believes that by making table tennis more accessible, the level of play will be raised—ultimately helping the US become more competitive on the international scene.

Lofty goal? Sure. But the accessibility of basketball courts in parks and urban areas has definitely played a central role in the development of many top players, and while there is a big difference between basketball and table tennis in regards to the idea of being a competitive sport, accessibility and awareness are still critical development steps.

And once in place, these tables will be around for years to come. No nets to replace or backboards to repair. No play structures to fix. No swing chains to replace. Just hours of enjoyment by kids and adults alike.

And much like the products they have developed, Bravado has created a solid company, firmly grounded in the community that supported them from the beginning.

For more information, visit http://www.concretetabletennis.com, follow Bravado on Twitter, or like Bravado on Facebook.

Nau and again, time and again

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For a sneak peak of Nau’s Fall ‘15 line, your best bet is the main conference room adjacent to the outdoor apparel company’s small lobby. That wall to your right? It’s actually a sliding door, heavy and rough with squeaking overhead wheels that harken back to the Northeast Portland building’s warehouse history—and, fair warning, might give you away.

But the old wooden door also unveils a glimpse of the future: Rolling racks filled with jackets, shells, sweaters and pants, peppered with selections from next fall’s collection that face toward the middle of the room and a long slab of an empty conference table.

Jamie Bainbridge grabs her favorite piece from among the designs that won’t hit stores until next year. Nau’s product design and materials development lead reaches toward a cluster of jackets and fans a black, cape-style coat with an insulated—but not-too-puffy—fill over her arm. “In women’s, we’ve been really bold,” she says. “But it’s the same notion we’ve used since Day 1.”

Recycled polyester? Check. Durable water repellant? Yep. Fashionably cut and logo-free? You bet.

That much hasn’t changed for Nau. Along with their corporate giving—2% of every sale to charity partners like Ecotrust and Mercy Corps—Nau’s seamless blend of outdoor performance, urban fashion and sustainable everything has been the thread that’s run through ups, downs, way downs and every season in between. From grand ambition to giant setbacks to gradual growth. From big-time backing to bankruptcy to being born again (and again). From wanting to change the face of business to just trying to stay afloat.

And today? General manager Mark Galbraith says Nau is that much closer to where they started.

Back to basics

“The original iteration of Nau, at its core, was very much from [Nau founder and Marmot co-founder] Eric Reynolds,” says Galbraith, who along with Bainbridge was an original Nau employee. “He wanted to use business to have a discussion about how to make the planet a better place to be.”

Early stages of Nau designMore than just talk, Nau walked that walk—right from birth—on philanthropy, product quality, supply chain, and global citizenship. The company’s original name, “UTW” for “Unfuck The World” was a not-so-subtle hint at the Nau’s aspirations. They hoped to not only redesign the outdoor apparel business, but change all business. They used phrases like “shifting paradigms” and turned the typical retail experience on its head by allowing customers to reduce the carbon footprint (and price) of their purchase by having their shirt, skirt or scarf shipped to their door instead of the store. They helped pioneer materials and kept a critical eye on toxicity levels—not just for the people who’d wear their products, but the people who’d made them. They designed clothes to be worn (and last) for multiple seasons, leaning on more timeless styles and durable materials that shunned specialty and begged for multi-use. Nau seemingly had every angle covered, and weren’t afraid to point that out—an attitude Galbraith says came from the right place but didn’t always strike the right tone.

“Underlying it was, yeah, the world and business is somewhat fucked up and we can fix it,” Galbraith says. “It felt a little preachy and a little finger-waggy to some people. And I don’t blame them.”

But that’s changed. Or, rather, evolved a bit.

Finding a balance

Nau is no longer “the punk, know-it-all college kid who just graduated and thinks, ‘God, business is stupid and my dad’s dumb, and this what I need to do to fix everything,’” Galbraith says with his best exaggerated-angst eye-roll.

A Nau jacket and bagWhile admitting such an attitude is an important ingredient many new ventures must share, after seven years and tens of millions in funding, Galbraith says a more mature approach has brought Nau closer than ever to reaching its lofty goals. In the same way they strive to balance sustainability and performance with aesthetic, Nau is tempering the youthful zeal behind the business-can-change-the-world bit with earnest work inside the apparel industry that put everyone’s environmental practices front and center.

“One of the most interesting aspects of sustainability is the odd collaborations between bedfellows you wouldn’t think would be interested,” Bainbridge says. And she should know: Part of her official capacity at Nau is working with the Outdoor Industry Association, a 25-year-old trade group that represents 4,000 members and $686 billion in sales. Inspired to help preserve the playground where their products are best enjoyed, Bainbridge worked with OIA to create an open-source tool that provides a relative metric for how sustainable apparel or footwear products are.

Creating a nontoxic environment

The 15-year Nike vet (material research and advanced product design) who’d previously worked at Patagonia (a time in which she met other Nau originals, including Galbraith, who worked at Polartec at the time) said the six-year effort included weekly input from 75 companies and a hearty dose of checking competitive urges at the door. And now that the tool is up and running as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index, Bainbridge, and the OIA sustainability working group she chairs are taking on challenges previously left on the cutting room floor.

“We’ve never been able to figure out how to address chemicals and toxicities,” she says. “Three years trying to wrangle with chemists and figure out how we help companies that aren’t filled with chemists understand where their impacts are and how to address those.

“The other big effort is transparency; so if you say that’s recycled polyester, can you prove it from inception to final product?”

Attention to detail has become the defining factor of Nau's productsNau can. In part, because the most tangible representation of their brand is and always will be the clothes themselves, Galbraith says. You can line up your messaging, create a persona and talk all you want, but much like a first date, when customer meets product for the first time and the words or experience suddenly ring hollow, someone feels duped. In a culture where new versions of smartphones are introduced (and sold to a gleeful market) before the previous version’s battery stops holding a charge, apparel is (unsurprisingly) driven by trendy, seasonal wear, and consumers don’t carry an expectation for lasting quality and long-term use.

“For us, the actual product, the craft, the materials it’s made out of, how it fits, how it wears, what it’s like—it’s probably as tactile and real as anything you do,” Galbraith says. “There are three things in your life: A relationship with somebody else, the food that you actually taste and smell and put in your body every day, and clothing you put on right next to your skin and actually live in—there’s probably very few things that are that intimate, and that tactile, that real to what you experience every day.

“And when you’re making clothing it either works or it doesn’t. Having that integrity and focus is what’s always been the at the core of what we do.”

Finding like-minded business people

Which is certainly an approach that appealed to Black Yak, a South Korean outdoor powerhouse that sought out and purchased Nau in October 2013. The 40-year-old mountaineering supplier with a Himalayan-conquering heritage injected new life—and capital—into a company that had been plodding along on the back of Horny Toad, a Santa Barbara, California-based active wear company that resurrected Nau with Galbraith, Bainbridge and three other original employees in 2008 amid economic turmoil, and whose Lizard Lounge helped keep Nau in front of consumers since.

Galbraith calls Black Yak “the Patagonia of Korea” and lauds the degree of both support and autonomy they give Nau as a wholly owned subsidiary. The folks in Seoul mostly stay out of design and brand discussions. Instead, they provide the stout financial and strategic infrastructure necessary to outfit Nau for a climb toward its original ambitions.

“They’re in it for the long haul. And operationally, they’re extremely tight,” says Bainbridge. “They run 300 retail stores in Korea of only their own product, and they can probably tell you, hourly, what sales they’re doing and how they’ve shifted product on the floor. It’s tight—and that’s been really welcome: The cowboy days of the original company, where we had this insane burn rate [are gone].”

Black Yak’s diligent approach was foreshadowed by its acquisition of Nau, a process Galbraith said stretched over nine months and included countless discussions, a surprise trade show visit, sitting in on sales meetings, a peek at the new lines, and time in the office with core management team asking—and receiving—a lot of good, hard questions. After so much promise led to turmoil then to slow, deliberate building, the Nau team wanted to ensure the sale would set them up for a leap forward Horny Toad couldn’t provide, just as the Black Yak team wanted to ensure Nau was serious about its approach to business.

“When we asked Jun [Suk Kang, the president of Nau] the biggest part of why it went down, and what he was interested in,” Galbraith remembers, “’he said, ‘I want this to be the most sustainable company in the world, in the broadest sense.’

“[Black Yak’s] own business practices are much more centered on the responsibility of what a culture has to each other. They’ve very much taken a humanitarian, cultural approach to really saying we’re a family and this is how we really look at business and our relationships. There’s a high degree of integrity, honor and a concern for people and geographies.”

Not to mention great gear. When studying business in the States, Kang—the son of Black Yak founder and CEO Tae Sun Kang—visited the original Nau store in Chicago and brought several jackets back home with him to Korea. Fast-forward five years, and Jun Suk Kang is now splitting his time with Nau while helping the mother ship Black Yak take a crack at the European market—a global reach that means he lives in South Korea, but travels to Portland for about a week per month, “and probably a week a month somewhere else,” Galbraith says in a tone that suggests experience with the joys international travel. “That’s the way it works.”

Nau women's jacketAnd it all appears to be working. It’s a week before a new web site is launched, and 20 new sales reps covering previously unchartered territory descend on Nau headquarters for presentations on the Fall ’15 line. Everyone on the floor is busy. They’ll be beta testing the site over the next seven days, trying out every click and drag a customer might possibly do to veer off-course. Bainbridge says the all-hands-on-deck approach is necessary, daunting, and exciting. But not new: To necessitate the kind of growth they hoped for with the resources they had, Nau re-thought verticals and reconsidered who should cover what at every step.

Nau’s women’s designer, for instance, is also its color czar. Anything to do with color is on her, so she works with textile mills to color fabrics, lays out artwork for stripes, patterns and prints, speaks to China one day and Japan the next, then goes back fitting to garments or building the catalogue after.

“Nobody can be above doing something,” Bainbridge says. “I do stuff I did 25 years ago. That’s just the way you gotta do it. Until you’re big enough that doesn’t happen, but then it starts to get boring.

“When I worked for Nike, I had a guy in the Hong Kong office and I’d tell him to go over to the mill. I had a guy in China and India, someone on the ground to do the work for me. There’s nobody here to do the work but yourself.”

Both the risks and level of work are obvious. But for Nau, the rewards are, too. Bainbridge says at a larger company, the amount of effort and repetition it takes to get countless people rallied around an idea and moving forward is immense. A tagline or a campaign doesn’t just happen overnight. Nau can move more quickly.

“The strange thing about working here,” she says with a wry smile, “is you make forward progress every day.”

Proof in the progress

The year since the Black Yak acquisition has proven it. Nau has added a creative director, a real wholesale sales department, e-commerce director, and a Web team. They’ve built a new trade show booth to solidify their wholesale presence, overhauled their enterprise inventory software and launched a new web site to better reach an audience whose expectations of what an online experience should be are ever-evolving.

“Most of those things you do once or twice in a business, and it’s a big pain in the neck,” Galbraith says. “It’s been a year of foundation building.”

And it’s happening in Oregon, where Galbraith says Nau draws from a pool of talent, but also a way of thinking that—like Portland’s winter rain—permeates the people. The Rose City may not compete for title of worldwide fashion capital with the likes of Paris, Milan, New York, or Tokyo, but its point of view on sustainability and collaborative creative community willing to offer resources and ideas, are second to none. You can characterize it all the way down to cable TV comedy, but the ethos of Portland—Oregon’s intersection of tech, design, and progressive thinking—makes it a place where curiosity and conceptual thinking are equally acclaimed.

“It’s a place where people are looking for stuff that has meaning and substance and is a little bit different than what’s anywhere else,” Galbraith says. “I love that.”

For more information, visit http://www.nau.com, follow Nau on Twitter, like Nau on Facebook, or follow Nau on Instagram.

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