Values Sell: Transforming Purpose Into Profit Through Creative Sales and Distribution Strategies

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Nadine Thompson, president and CEO of Warm Spirit, authors Values Sell, a ready-to-use guide for creative sales and distribution strategies. Her booming network marketing company currently employs 20,000 consultants nationwide and her business model has received national media attention from: The Wall Street Journal, O, Ebony, Essence, and others.

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1: Establishing a clear and profitable vision

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Seventh Generation, maker of nontoxic and environmentally safe household products, was faced with a dilemma regarding its values versus its sales when a large grocery chain that carried the company’s products experienced a labor strike. As a company that strives to be a positive force in society, Seventh Generation had to decide whether to sell to the grocer since the strike involved health benefits. The company chose to continue to do business with the grocery chain during the strike but to donate all profits from those sales to the workers’ strike fund. This action helped Seventh Generation maintain a good relationship with the grocer’s employees, its customers, and the grocer itself, all of which contributed to future sales.

Vision. It’s a simple word with huge connotations in the business world. Surely for anyone who has awakened in the middle of the night with a new business idea glowing like a 100-watt bulb in her head, the vision is sparkling clear, illuminating every fiber in her body. Most of us have had such “visionary” moments in our lives. Maybe it wasn’t a new business idea but a new way to 2solve a problem or enhance your life or someone else’s: an abrupt awareness of that nagging reason you couldn’t balance the checkbook, a sudden insight into why your teenager has been giving you nasty glares for three days, the perfect way to celebrate your parents’ wedding anniversary.

 

2: Defining your market

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Birkenstock USA began as a seller of innovative, comfortable footwear—perhaps too innovative at the time. When founder Margot Fraser began trying to wholesale the funny-looking German-made sandals in the United States, no one wanted to give her the time of day. But she was wearing the sandals and knew how therapeutic and comfortable they were. She was convinced Americans with tired, aching feet who would appreciate them were out there —if only people had the chance to put them on. This notion propelled Margot to her first event (a health food store convention), where people could try the sandals for themselves. Store owners liked how the sandals felt and told their customers about them, and the Birkenstock brand soon began to show up on feet throughout the country.

In this chapter we’ll take a look at several kinds of businesses and see how they ended up with their customer base and their sales strategies for reaching those customers. You may start a business with a clear idea of who the target customer is. For example, if you’re making biodegradable diapers, you know right off the bat that your customers are people with young children 22and that you would be wasting huge amounts of money if you advertised your product to people who don’t have children. However, if your product has a wider appeal or fits into multiple niche markets (e.g., environmental, skiing, general outdoor), you may have difficulty figuring out the best way to reach the ideal customer to make the most of your efforts and therefore increase sales. And you may find out that as your business grows, your customer base will also expand, which may present new issues or force you to consider taking different approaches to capturing this burgeoning market.

 

3: Building strong distribution channels

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For twenty-one years, French Meadow Bakery’s Lynn Gordon has “lived” in grocery stores. Why? Because that’s how she’s learned what the trends are and who shops in each store. Once she’s done that, she can determine which of her products will sell in those stores. Lynn’s family is used to her making the grocery store rounds on vacations since the bakery founder is always trying to figure out how to get her products into more customers’ hands. She writes notes to store managers who are not carrying French Meadow products to let them know that as a customer—not as the company owner—she wishes they’d carry the brand. Lynn estimates she’s written close to 2,000 notes over the years. She’s never flinched about this guerilla approach to encouraging stores to stock French Meadow because she believes wholeheartedly in the quality and taste of her products and knows they’ll sell and customers will love them. And she does it because “if a customer asks, the buyer at the store listens.”1

Once you’ve determined who your target customer is, you need to figure out how to get your product to this ideal customer. If you’re wholesaling to retailers, your first concern is developing effective distribution channels so your product is placed in stores where your end customer will see it. If you’re selling directly to customers, you need to have a system in place so your product can be shipped in a timely fashion to your own store or to your customers.

 

4: Empowering your way to success

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Employees are an integral part of your operation. How you treat them can make a difference in how they sell, show up for work, package and handle your product, and even treat customers. Dal LaMagna, founder of Tweezerman, made a decision from day one that he would not exploit his employees—”ever.” In fact, Dal maintained a commitment to finding ways to empower his employees so they would be key beneficiaries of the company. One way he did this was to distribute stock to his employees in the form of an employee stock option plan. He felt that giving his employees ownership empowered them to be more responsible and engaged to help ensure the company’s success, as well as their long-term benefits. When Dal sold the company in 2004, longtime Tweezerman employees who had received stock benefited handsomely—some gaining close to a million dollars.1

When it comes to selling a product or service, a sense of empowerment can be priceless. Empowered individuals radiate confidence, passion, and pride. If you are able to instill this attitude in those connected to your business, from employees to suppliers and distributors and even your customers, you will have a powerful advantage in not only increasing your sales but developing long-term and highly loyal relationships.

 

5: Educating your partners

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Earth Creations is an Alabama company with strong ties to the earth. That’s because its organic cotton and hemp clothing is dyed with clay. Everything husband and wife owners Martin Ledvina and Joy Maples do is focused on their tagline: “The environmental answer for apparel.” And educating those in their distribution channel is a big part of this effort. Joy wanted to attract retailers to Earth Creations’ booth at trade shows, so she created little campaigns. About three or four months prior to the show date, she sends marketing materials to those attending the show. For one campaign, she used the theme “You reap what you sow” and put a packet of organic seeds in the marketing package. Joy used this device to illustrate the idea of sowing seeds in your store and growing your business by educating your customers. The campaign was successful, catching the attention of retailers and giving Joy appointments with 80 percent of her target customers.1

For most businesses, the driving force behind their success is their product. Make an inferior product, a product that is not in step with current trends, or one that people don’t want to buy again, and you have a recipe for disaster. And if you have 86a high-quality product that is in demand, you must make sure the product meets your standards—and your customers’ standards— each and every time it is sold. The same philosophy holds true for the way you convey your message (your mission, your commitment to your customers, your brand positioning) and the way your sales force presents the product benefits and your company.

 

6: Creating valuable strategic alliances

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As Myra and Drew Goodman’s Earthbound Farm grew and began acquiring customers all over the country, the couple found themselves facing a challenge: how to grow all the food their burgeoning enterprise was demanding. Not only did they need more acreage, they needed to know how to farm on a large scale. The solution came in the form of partnerships they created with local large farms. Their first alliance was with Stan Pura of Mission Ranches, who was intrigued with the Goodmans’ organic baby lettuce. The conventional farmer and the organic farmers struck a deal: Stan would provide additional acreage and teach the Goodmans how to farm using sophisticated farming techniques, and the Goodmans would teach Stan how to grow crops organically.1

Creating sales growth involves expansion. That may mean developing new products, creating new sales promotions, adding sales staff, or finding new ways to spread the word about your company and your products. One way to expand your business is by creating strategic alliances, or partnerships, with others— 102teaming up with other people, companies, and organizations in unique, often ingenious ways. When done well, such alliances create win-win situations for all the entities involved.

 

7: Celebrating achievements

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Sometimes it’s the little things that contribute to how well your employees help your business grow. Hot Lips Pizza’s David Yudkin has discovered that small perks make a big difference in creating a positive environment in his stores. Hot Lips’ employees are given $30 for their birthdays, and they know their jobs will be held for them if they’re employees in good standing and need to take some time off for personal reasons. Respecting other cultures is also important to David, so he’s made the management systems bilingual and considers his Latino employees’ interests in day-to-day operations. For example, on Cinco de Mayo, he asked his Latino employees how they would like to express their culture. The answer: a modified pizza they were proud to offer Hot Lips’ customers. According to David, such employee appreciation has attracted higher-caliber “thinking people” to the business and reduces employee turnover. This means lower personnel costs and more margin for profit as Hot Lips Pizza’s sales grow.1

 

8: Do values really sell?

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Throughout this book we have cited companies and individuals that have found ways to build sales or create effective distribution strategies while maintaining their core values and socially responsible missions. Some of these companies have proven financial track records and years of experience or have sold for many millions of dollars. Others are newer to the world of business and are striving each year to reach their financial goals.

We believe that creating a business built on a foundation of values can not only increase sales in the short term but also build long-term benefits. This is a premise that many people, especially those reading a book like this, would heartily embrace. However, certainly some in the business world might argue that such an idea is purely idealistic.

As we started working on this book, Angela discussed the subject of social responsibility (and what was involved in creating the contents for this project) with her twenty-three-year-old son, Ryan. Savvy and a true philosopher at heart, he asked her a simple question: Why should a business be socially responsible? Good question, she reasoned, especially since socially responsible 134actions can include developing a more expensive product, limiting your distribution channel, paying higher salaries or commissions, and donating a portion of your profits to a worthwhile cause—actions that could bite into your bottom line from a purely revenue point of view. Some people might contend that it makes more sense to be as profitable as possible as quickly as possible and then do good for society with the money you’ve earned. Many companies have done that over the years, much to society’s benefit.

 

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