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Now this is super inspiring!
Scaling up without Selling your Soul
Many successful entrepreneurial start-ups morph into Wall-Streetified empires that lose their distinctives. And in the process, the business chews up and spits out its workers and founders in a mad scramble to dominate something. Does middle ground exist between the calm talking-stick consensus circle of indigenous eastern tribal cultures and the mad scramble frenzy of western capitalism? Or perhaps more to the point in light of recent Wall Street and economic developments, what values are more important than growth? Especially since cancer is growth. At this juncture of our culture’s reality, I would like us to immerse ourselves for a few minutes in an alternative innovative business philosophy.
BACKGROUND OF OUR BUSINESS
I am first and foremost a farmer, but not a very ordinary farmer. In fact, I’m known as a Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic. Our family farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley now has four generations living on it. I’m second generation, but the day-to-day operations are handled by my son. Polyface Farm is a diversified, grass-based, beyond organic, direct marketing farm.
We produce salad bar beef, pigaerator pork, pastured poultry and eggs, forage based rabbits, and forestry products. Purchased by my mom and dad in 1961, the farm has gone from a worn out, gullied weedpatch that couldn’t even pay a salary to one that employs 10 people with more than a million dollars in sales. And it’s still experiencing exponential growth. Lush pastures supported by ecstatic copulating earthworms testify to the healing.
While many business folks would consider this a tiny business—and it is—it is considered quite a large farm by USDA sales criteria, which calls any farm with sales above $400,000 annually a large farm. Polyface direct markets everything it produces to a customer base that numbers 2,000 families, 25 restaurants, and 10 retail outlets.
For context, please understand that we don’t do anything conventionally. We haven’t bought a bag of chemical fertilizer in half a century, never planted a seed, own no plow or disk or silo—we call those bankruptcy tubes. We practice mob stocking herbivorous solar conversion lignified carbon sequestration fertilization with the cattle. The Eggmobiles follow them, mimicking egrets on the rhinos’ nose. The laying hens scratch through the dung, eat out the fly larvae, scatter the nutrients into the soil, and give thousands of dollars worth of eggs as a byproduct of pasture sanitation. Pastured broilers in floorless pasture schooners move every day to a fresh paddock salad bar. Pigs aerate compost and finish on acorns in forest glens. It’s all a symbiotic, multi-speciated synergistic relationship-dense production model that yields far more per acre than industrial models. And it’s all aromatically and aesthetically romantic.
As we’ve gone from a single-salary, cute artisanal operation to a multi-family, beyond family, multi-farm business, we’ve struggled to maintain our quality of life and the distinctives that drive sales. And we haven’t always done it well. I’ve seen way too many successful small businesses gobbled up by deep pockets with shallow values. As a result of wanting to stay with the soul of our business story, we’ve developed a list of directives. These would be different for every business, but let’s look at them and at least appreciate that they represent innovative thinking in a western capitalistic business climate. I call these ethics-based contrarian business ideas.
Read more by clicking on these links:
1. NO SALES TARGETS
Setting sales or marketing targets makes a business look at its employees differently, its products differently, and its customers differently. It’s kind of like a church that sets membership goals: the message is no longer as important as getting sign-ups. … Read more
2. NO TRADEMARKS OR PATENTS
This idea comes directly from community building and transparency. I have personally invented several concepts and terms: salad bar beef, pastured poultry, eggmobiles, pigaerators. Nothing makes me happier than when people use these words and duplicate the concepts. I hope … Read more
3. CLEARLY DEFINED MARKET BOUNDARY
No difference really exists between an empire and an aspiring empire. A one salary sole proprietorship that aspires to be an empire will have the same attitude as the business that already has an empire. The bigger an outfit becomes, … Read more
4. INCENTIVISED WORK FORCE
We do everything possible to not have employees. I don’t mean we’re against help, or against teams. But I’m a fan of bonuses and commissions. I don’t even believe in child allowances—nobody should get paid for breathing. Most farms going … Read more
5. NO INITIAL PUBLIC OFFERINGS (IPOs)
While this may sound like sacrilege and we all know how growing businesses are starved for cash, consider how many have lost the edge of their good qualities after suddenly becoming flush with cash. I’ll be honest that I haven’t … Read more
6. NO ADVERTISING
Amazingly, even the largest companies in the world still receive more than 50 percent of their business by word-of-mouth recommendation. That’s quite astounding when you think about $1 million 30-second Super Bowl ads. At Polyface, we’ve built our customer base … Read more
7. STAY WITHIN THE ECOLOGICAL CARRYING CAPACITY
Numerous people have encouraged Polyface to become the Tyson of pastured poultry. But one of the distinguishing characteristics of an environmentally friendly farm compared to one that doesn’t care about the environment is how it handles the waste stream. In … Read more
8. PEOPLE ANSWER THE PHONE
This may seem nitpicky, but how many of you love talking to a robot? After being on the phone with a robot and starting over the fifth time, I can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be more efficient to … Read more
9. STAY SEASONAL
At Polyface, we only raise meat chickens in the summer because that’s when they can be out on pasture. We work in the woods in the winter because that’s when the wood is better, since the sap is down. And … Read more
10. QUALITY MUST ALWAYS GO UP
Finally, as we grow, we must never compromise quality. Plenty of great small business grow up to be ho-hum big businesses. Whatever growth occurs, it can never happen at the expense of quality. With clear conscience, I can honestly say … Read more
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