Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Bit of Backstory: TOMS

In my most recent post, I mentioned that as part of the “Where I Went Today” feature, I will include a photo of me with my TOMS at each small business I visit as a consumer. Since TOMS is not a small business, and this is a small business blog, I want to talk a bit more on that subject today. 

A study done earlier this year revealed that Millennials spend their money differently than previous generations. Given the option, Millennials want to give their money to companies that are doing more with their dollar than taking it to the bank. Millennials care about where businesses are making an impact—whether it’s with sustainable practices, donations to charity, direct assistance to someone in need, or generating awareness. 

As a Millennial, I understand this mindset. We’re a generation that is aware of things like carcinogens, population growth, environmental science (think how much of our waste ends up in landfills), bullying, organic-versus-nonorganic practices, and infinitely more. We don’t want to contribute to the problems—we want to be part of the solutions. Since we have to buy things like food and clothing, anyway, it takes a bit of the load off to know that where we choose to make those purchases can be part of that positive change.

TOMS is an amazing example of the sort of business that’s doing something far beyond the scope of selling. In less than ten years, it has gone from an idea in one twenty-something’s head to offer shoes on a one-for-one basis (buy a pair of shoes, and a pair of shoes also goes to a child without) to a global movement that has not only provided well over 35 million pairs of shoes to children in need, but also extended the program to offer eye care, clean water, safe births, and bullying-prevention. TOMS shoes have become iconic because of their distinct appearance and because of what they stand for: making a difference.

Many of the businesses I hope to visit and many of the products I plan to cover on YCIYWT have that multi-layer effect. At first glance, they are one thing—a coffee roaster, perhaps, or a company offering skincare solutions—but upon closer inspection, they actually offer much more; and they do so in a quality way, a way that would make you want to buy, anyway, but with the underlying values also harness your yearning to be part of the change.

Because TOMS shoes to me are a symbol of how great a change we can make if we truly want to, I see them as a very natural vessel to encourage others to pursue their dreams, be the change they wish to see in the world, and explore new possibilities. Also, since they are shoes, after all, they’re a natural part of the travels I will be taking, and recording them as part of the journey is a fun way to keep track. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Where I Went Today: Calef's Country Store

When I was coming up with feature ideas for YCIYWT, plenty of plan-ahead features sprang to mind—book reviews, interviews, product endorsements. Far fewer ideas were ones I could produce over and over in real time—a dilemma, since blog-readers tend to expect real-time information, and real-time writing is probably the ultimate perk of being a blogger. You see something, inspiration strikes—and you can use it immediately! 

I’m not sure when the idea for “Where I Went Today” showed up on the map, but when it did, I knew I loved it. I planned to visit small businesses, anyway, scouting out candidates for my monthly exposés. What better way to share the process than to detail my experiences through a feature?

Calef’s Country Store was not necessarily planned to be the first stop. But when I think on it, nothing could be more fitting. It might be the first small business I ever talked up, made a point to support, and eagerly looked forward to visiting throughout my childhood and teen years. 

Calef’s Country Store plays a starring role in the cast of shops on what’s known as Calef’s Corner, in Barrington, NH where Route 9 and 125 come together. Other businesses owned by the family that has presided there for five generations are across the street on both sides, but the country store is by far the best. It’s the closest thing you’ll ever find to an authentic general store. Just as when the shop opened in the 1860’s, for sale are aged cheese, pickles in barrels, and penny candy. For those things alone, I would trek an hour out of my way.

But also on their shelves are local breads, whoopee pies, teas, jams, maple syrup, dozens of hot sauces, soup kits, dog biscuits, locally-crafted soaps and pottery and cutting boards, fudge, homemade candies, and local honey. You could loop the shop four times and not see all there is to see. My favorite time of year to visit is Christmas, because I can find unique stocking-stuffers and gift-basket items that I know won’t be duplicated by someone else.

For today’s trip I was able to recruit my creative partner, Cole, to come along for the ride. He’s the jolly good fellow in the photos.

We hopped in his new Kia Sportage and enjoyed a whole morning with the top down. I had a couple of coupons for free whoopee pies, which made the trip that much sweeter. I also picked up a mug as a souvenir. 

While we were out we brainstormed some other small businesses to visit. We plan to document these trips through photos of us in our Toms. (Toms Shoes isn't a small business, but it's a great cause that we both believe in. We'd love to see where your Toms take you, too.) You can follow along using #whereiwenttoday on Instagram. If you know a place we should visit, let us know here

That kicks off this feature! Looking forward to sharing another small business with you soon. Until then, shop local!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Working for Myself: Rian Bedard and Mr. Fox Composting

Rian Bedard of Mr. Fox Composting might be the most accommodating interviewee I’ve ever called up for a cup of coffee. For every question I ask, he has a story. He takes what I propose will be a “quick, ten-minute” Q & A on the compost-hauling service he started in 2009 and turns it into a journey that will take both of us 3,000 miles from Maine to California and back again. At the end of it all, he’ll even let me come visit his compost facility to get an inside scoop on the process—which will change the way I think about composting forever.

Rian Bedard’s bearded mug is welcomed warmly in dozens upon dozens of restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes, and schools for being synonymous with Mr. Fox Composting, possibly the biggest green initiative to hit the Maine and New Hampshire seacoast yet.
Where a decade ago finding a business with a fully-functioning recycling program was a trial (and compost separation was nonexistent), thanks to Bedard and Mr. Fox Composting, residents and businesses of prominent towns such as Kittery, Portsmouth, Dover, Rye, and Durham have come together in the last six years to save millions of pounds of compostable waste from getting lost in landfills, and instead have converted it into fertilizer that has been redistributed to local farms and turned into food.

Thinking Green

These days it’s difficult to find an establishment within twenty miles of Mr. Fox HQ that isn’t separating its food waste (impressive, considering mandatory separation has been instituted almost exclusively in larger U.S. cities, such as San Francisco and Seattle, and is not prevalent anywhere in New England). The turnaround has been so rapid that many people question how the change didn’t happened sooner.
The secret came disguised in a necessary measure of small, incremental steps.
“We just started with simple stuff,” says Bedard, speaking of the pre-Mr. Fox era when after a series of curious events he came to work as a manager in a New Hampshire café. “Amped,” as he describes it, from just having spent a year in San Francisco, where he soaked up on all sides a lifestyle of living healthy and green, he carried a deep need to implement change now that he was back home—but the avenues were limited.
“I realized that big purchases, like starting a compost program when the service wasn’t available and I had to do a lot of research—[the café owner] probably wasn’t going to be into that,” he remembers.

Undeterred, he started small. Where his predecessor had tossed food surplus at the end of each week, Bedard started to set pars that would not allow him to over-order, cutting back on waste. He switched from ordering sugar in packets to sugar in bulk, cutting down on excess paper waste. A huge change came when he took all the plastic cutlery away from the customer condiment station and kept it behind the counter. Customers were forced to think about what they really needed before they walked off with one of everything available.
“It was crazy; we started to really save money by doing those things. And it was lots of money—hundreds of dollars every month,” says Bedard. “It started to really change the conversation, which was great.”
Once Bedard proved that green thinking offered not only environmental benefits, but practical business perks, as well, he made the big move.
“I dealt a pitch to the owner: ‘Hey, can we get a compost program started?’ And we ended up finding someone to do it,” he states. “So we were the first business in Portsmouth to do a compost program. We also went from three bins of trash picked up two times a week down to one bin picked up every two weeks, because of recycling and composting.”

Mr. Fox
Bedard spent two years effecting change at the café before his unprecedented success set him up to be one of the early recruits for the Green Alliance. Founded in 2008, the Alliance was a new organization dedicated to drawing attention to small businesses in Maine and New Hampshire that were making strides to lessen their carbon footprint. For Bedard, this would be the gateway to the foundation of Mr. Fox Composting.
“I was recruited by Sarah over at the Green Alliance,” he says (speaking of Sarah Brown, the director at GA), “for my expertise from working in restaurants, but also my café knowledge, transitioning that café over to being less wasteful.”
Part of his job was to interview owners and managers of restaurants that had gotten on board with the Alliance.
“There was a question on that survey, ‘Do you compost?’ I interviewed four or five big restaurants in the area that were part of the Green Alliance, and they said, ‘No, but we’d love to!’ Ding, ding, ding—idea went off.
“I had a buddy of mine who was a landscaper. I said, ‘Would you be interested in helping me? You’ve got equipment. We’ll both give it a shot and see what happens.’ We started out with four, five early-adopters that first summer. We went around with a pick-up truck and a trailer, picked up every bag individually, threw it in the trailer by hand. There were days when bags broke. We were always covered in stuff by the end of the day. But after that first five, by the end of the first summer, we had thirty restaurants on board.”
The company has only grown since. Beyond the eighty-plus business partners listed on their website, Mr. Fox works with residents stretched across ten seacoast towns with their residential hauling service, and the staff at the company has grown from two to six.
With a full-fledged business, Bedard was able to open his own compost facility in November 2013. (Prior to this, he paid other facilities to break down the food waste—costly not only in itself, but in miles and travel, as well.) He hopes that by spring 2015, he will be able to sell bags of compost, and further grow the business.
Part of the Community
When approaching restaurants and businesses about partnering with Mr. Fox, Bedard’s pitch is hardly political. It genuinely is about business:
“We’re trying to get people to think of it this way,” explains Bedard; “You go out. You eat, and you’re done. You’ve got stuff left on your plate. You scrape your plate into a bin. Then we come, pick it up, and we compost it. It goes back to local farms. And a lot of restaurants now are purchasing from local farms, or purchasing from farmers’ markets. You have that full circle.”

This practical take on his ultimate goal—helping the planet in a way that is sustainable in itself—has been another key to his success. What Mr. Fox Composting contributes is much more than preventing reusable waste from adding to landfills. The company feeds local business and promotes healthy living, as well.
Bedard uses this to his advantage. If there are to be more businesses like his, the issue he confronts cannot be which restaurants are doing what is right for the environment and which restaurants are not; it must be about working together toward common goals like these. This is an important message for his audience that he doesn’t take lightly.

“We want to show younger people that want to be entrepreneurs that you can have a triple bottom line and still be profitable,” he says.
All that said, Bedard takes enormous pleasure in his work. Whether he’s giving a talk at a school or overseeing a shipment at his facility, Bedard seems to continue to keep his eyes on the prize.
“I believe that if you find a path doing something you really enjoy, then it’s not really work,” he says.
Perhaps that is the final secret to the enormous progress Bedard has made where others have not. Understanding that change happens just a bit at a time, he continues to chip away, doing his part cheerfully and inviting others to do the same. His passion is contagious. The community has risen up around him for the better of all. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Launch Day

In twenty-eight years, I’ve written enough fiction and non-fiction to know how to concoct a good hook. Take this, for example:

“I lost my favorite flannel shirt a week ago when I got broadsided on my bike by a buck.”

Not bad, right? You want to know more. 

Yet for some reason, in the many versions I’ve drafted of this first post I haven’t quite captured the enormity of what it is I want to do with You Could if You Wanted to.

A blog is forever. Or, rather, a topical blog isn’t driven by an end goal. This isn’t going to be a blog about reading a book a day for an entire year or losing thirty pounds in ninety days. It will go on as long as there is a drive and an interest. So when I try to get down to the nuts and bolts of things, well. It’s difficult to foresee which ones we’re both going to need.

That considered, this blog isn’t coming out of the clear blue. There are a few things of which I am certain, characteristics of my concept that manifested themselves as I spent three months researching, planning, designing, seeking counsel, and writing for the day I’d go live. Maybe if I focus on those things today, as you follow my progress, they will make the project a little crisper, a little more vivid, and a little closer to your own heart.

Let’s see.

Thing Number One: Me

My name is Lindsey, and I work hard. I write like crazy, I read like crazy, and I drink a lot of coffee. It is with rare exception that when people meet me they assume I’m uptight and insufferably serious. In fact, though, I have a hearty sense of humor and, unfortunately, a tendency towards biting sarcasm. I’m working on that.

I plan to start my own business in the next couple years. I have a tentative location (that is, town) picked out for my business, and a strategy to set myself apart from the crowd. I’m more than qualified to make it happen. What I need is an audience. And funds.

As I prepare for the day that my dream becomes a reality, I’m talking to anyone who has opened a business and kept it running successfully for more than two years and is willing to lend an hour to tell me about it. That’s sort-of where this blog is coming from. That, and other things.

Thing Number Two: The Blog

You Could if You Wanted to is actually the name of a disbanded musical project spear-headed by my creative collaborator, Cole Phillips. He was generous to share it with me when he agreed to embark on this new endeavor with me. Thank you, Cole.

In a nutshell, You Could if You Wanted to (YCIYWT) is a small business blog. And yes, that is a new genre. Food blogs, travel blogs, lifestyle blogs, photo blogs—they’re everywhere, and thanks to hubs like Pinterest, more robust than ever. I don’t have any desire to compete with them; I’m not interested in creating an original vegetarian recipe every week or influencing others to bargain-shop the way I do.

What I am interested in is small business—how it sustains families and small-town America, the creative minds that come up with incredible products, and all the factors that go into getting an idea off the ground. I’ve been gathering intel for years as I envisioned starting my own place. And now that I’m taking steps to make that happen, the lessons I’ve learned are becoming integral to my own success.

This blog is a log of all those lessons. I’m writing for me, I’m writing for others like me who want to start their own businesses, and I’m writing for existing small businesses that I think deserve to have a light shined on them a little more brightly so that they can keep doing what they’re doing and do it well.

Thing Number Three: Where I Go from Here

After today, posting will be much easier for me. I have a solid list of features (series) I want to do, and I have a number of folks who are interested in contributing from time to time. Some of the features are simple, like the “Beautiful Storefronts” photo feature, but they will not crop up often because they will be limited by supply and opportunity. Other features, like “Read Like Crazy,” will be more in-depth and appear regularly, because I do read like crazy, and in the interest of getting my business off to the right start, much of what I’m reading now relates to that topic. 

Once a month or so I want to offer an exposé on a small business owner. Although I have a number of folks and businesses in mind to get me started, I’m open to suggestions. (Visit the contact page if you would care to submit an idea.) These articles won’t focus excessively on the structure of the businesses so much as their missions and the products or services they offer that are noteworthy. 

Lastly, I hope to use this blog to generate revenue for my coming enterprise. For all the merits to blogs out there—and they are legion—one thing that drives me crazy is how often I visit a blog because of an intriguing image or endorsement, only to find when I arrive that clearly the blog was only generated as a means of passive income; I can tell because the second the blog loads, banner ads start flashing, pop-ups open one after another, and ticker ads start trolling across the screen. I do actually value the content I’m putting out, so I definitely don’t want to do that.

What I hope to do instead is use a carefully-prepared sponsorship program (see it here) to cover the costs of producing this blog and also plan for my storefront. Because of the topics I will cover on YCIYWT, it was easy for me to create a program that will benefit sponsors and the blog alike without sacrificing the experience for you, the reader. But I’m not going to go chasing down businesses for their money; instead, I hope to grow this program organically over time as relationships prove mutually beneficial.


Scads of famous authors have noted that the information they have about their characters is ten times greater than the information that appears in the final product of a book or series. They spend a lot of time getting to know those characters over the course of many drafts, and in the end, only what is vital to the story goes into the book.

I feel that way now as I wrap up this first post. I have spent the greater part of every day for several months developing my brand for this blog, drafting content, taking photos, talking with experts, and, of course, reading. What I’ve written here seems so sparse and dry when contrasted with the piles of information I have on what’s to come. But I know that I must roll it out slowly. I hope that what I’ve presented here has piqued your interest and that you come back repeatedly to see how the blog grows up and out.

What I personally am most excited about is the opportunity presented by blogging to involve as many people as possible in the adventure I’ve started in planning my own business. If you read something on YCIYWT that excites you, please share it—spread the word. I am accepting contributors, ideas, and leads, so if you have something to offer, please share it with me. Small business is about community, and that’s what I’m hoping to create here—a community that wants to see success for all the people out there who are making a go of it on their own, and that includes me.

Here we go.