How to save 86,000 barrels of oil

In my post about going green, I mentioned that we switched to dishwashing soap from Seventh Generation. It is plant based and contains no dyes or petro chemicals. Here is a statistic from their label:

    “If every household in the U.S. Replaced just one 25 oz. bottle of petroleum based dishwashing liquid with our plant-derived product, we could save 86,000 barrels of oil a year. That’s enough to heat and cool 4,900 homes for a YEAR!”

I must admit that my wife buys most of our household products and I really don’t know what a bottle of dishwashing liquid costs. But even in these times, I’m happy to purchase this product and do what I can to save a little oil. We shop at Target, so it should be available in your area.

The price of oil has fallen recently (approaching 50%), and now OPEC is talking about cutting production to get the price back up again. My purchase of one bottle of soap may not give them cause for worry, but collectively, if we all start looking for ways to reduce our oil consumption, it can have an impact. So the next time you are out shopping, pick up a bottle. If enough of us do, it will make a difference.

And at the prices they’ve been charging us for oil recently, I’m not too concerned that our neighbors overseas will be standing in line at their local homeless shelter any time soon.

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A New Perspective on Going Green

The Business of Living & Working Green

I attended a seminar on October 1 titled “The Business of Living and Working Green”. It was put on by a local group called Chix in Business and hosted at McKinney, a world-class creative agency headquartered in Durham, NC. My friend, business associate, and former coach, Susan Maravetz is in charge of special events and Anna’s Gourmet Goodies was again happy to sponsor a door prize at this event. We have always incorporated elements of ‘green’ into our company and I must admit, I walked out of this seminar with a renewed interest in making sure that Anna’s Gourmet Goodies does everything we can to conduct business in a manner that demonstrates respect for the world in which we live.

There were three presentations on the agenda; Renee Jarvis, Office Services Manager at McKinney, Jane Norton of ReSourcing Solutions, and Greg Messer, founder of Palladium Homes along with Marsha Burger from the Green Building Council.

McKinney’s office is in the restored tobacco district in Durham and is absolutely one of the coolest offices I have ever visited. Their ‘green’ initiative runs throughout the company and touches many areas of the business. From the selection of their facility, to the products they consume, McKinney has been thoughtful in looking at how they conduct their business.

I think that many times when business people initially think about the word ‘green’, they may think first of increased costs. From Renee’s presentation and the other panelists comments, it was clear that being ‘green’ does not always mean higher costs and totally changing your business. It is really more about having an awareness of what you do, how it affects our environment and a willingness to look for ways to make better use of our resources. While some products may have a higher initial cost, savings and other benefits often offset the cost and are worth the investment.

As this movement enters the next phase of going beyond a fad or buzzword, I see it opening up a new opportunity to connect with businesses and customers. Tim Sanders has a new book, “Saving the World at Work”, and is coming to the Cary, NC on October 29 to speak on the topic of how to make a difference, not just a profit. If you think about it, wouldn’t it be more enjoyable to do business with people and companies that have a increased level of respect for the world around them? Absolutely.

So the green movement is not necessarily about spending lots of money or totally overhauling your business. It is about taking small steps to look at how you operate and what can be done to lessen the impact on our supply of natural resources. There are things that each of us can do, today, that collectively will make an impact.

Here is a list of ideas to help get you started (mostly from Renee’s presentation – thank you McKinney):

    1. Start by doing research. Sit down with your favorite search engine and use the power of the Internet to educate yourself. (Google is my friend)
    2. Make a list of things can do. Prioritize the list by what is most feasible right now and the cost to implement.
    3. Talk to your suppliers. Find out what they are doing to lessen their impact on the environment. (Our vanilla supplier just switched to using 100% recycled cardboard for their shipping boxes!)
    4. Have your home or office audited by a Member of the Green Building Council. Visit their website to find someone in your area who can make suggestions on how to improve the efficiency of your building.

Here’s a list of websites to visit: (we use their plant based dish washing soap)

Here are a few simple things we do at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies:
1. Use biodegradable packing peanuts in all our boxes. Made from starch and completely biodegradable.
2. Switched to CFL lights in our production area.
3. Use gift boxes made from recycled materials.
4. Electronic billing and receipts – we don’t print packing slips or send out paper invoices.
5. Re-use paper. For all our internal notes, we use the back of paper for notepads whenever possible.
6. Our website is our catalog. We ask our vendors not to send us catalogs when we can easily find what we need on their website.

Hopefully this has given you an idea or two about things you can do to make a difference at home and at work. More ideas? Please leave your comments below!

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Holiday baskets in the warehouse?

On Saturday, Anna and I made our weekly trek down to the ‘warehouse’ store to stock up on supplies for Anna’s Gourmet Goodies. I’ve noticed displays of those ‘cookie tins’ (the ones that stay fresh for months or even years) showing up over the past few weeks, but they have now rolled out the gift packs in quantity. I guess the early season for holiday shopping has begun – I spotted a large center isle display of those shrink wrapped gift baskets with candy canes in them. Is it really time to see this in stores?

Like most companies in the gift business, we are already taking reservations for the holidays. Everything we do is baked to order, so we reserve ‘oven time’ to bake and ship our gourmet cookies for customers. We plan ahead, we just don’t bake ahead. Our family gave up foods with chemical additives and preservatives when we went on the Feingold Program and had our cookies certified. We use no ingredient that contains any petro chemicals, dyes or preservatives, and we simply don’t make anything that can be left out for weeks, let alone months. The holiday season is a crazy time for us, but we think the results are worth the effort.

The financial upheaval we are all watching unfold will most certainly have an effect on our economy and spending over the coming months and years. I expect retail businesses will start the push earlier than ever this year and it will be interesting to see how this season shakes out. I guess I’m okay with candy canes in September, but if I see a Valentine display of any kind, I’ll know we’ve gone a holiday too far.

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The Whole Foods Indicator

Anna and I spent Sunday afternoon at the 27th annual Greek Festival in Raleigh. We saw some friends, listened to upbeat Greek music and of course, sampled the goodies from this part of the world. It was a great father-daughter afternoon.

On the way home, we stopped at Whole Foods Market to pick up a few items, and I was simply amazed. We don’t shop there all that often since it is a bit of a hike to get there from our home. This place was packed! Every cashier line was filled at least 3 people deep. Is it always like this on Sunday afternoons?

If you picked up a paper or looked at the news on TV or the Internet last week, you are sure to have heard of, or read about, the massive financial debacle that we as taxpayers are now adding to our tab. It will take weeks or months (years?) for the enormity of this crisis to fully sink in with the public. The scale of this definitely falls into the category of ‘Big Scary Numbers’. And when those retirement statements hit the mailboxes over the next few months, I expect that Main Street will begin to stir even more.

I won’t begin to try and predict an economic bottom to this swing, or a six-month direction for the stock market. As some of you may know, I’ve been helping my good friend and business associate Scott Andrews from focus on a very short period of time to trade – what happens to the futures market first thing in the morning.

I do however believe that I may have stumbled upon a very interesting economic indicator – I’ll call it the ‘Whole Foods Indicator’. Even with the economy in financial disarray, consumers still flock to quality products and a superior purchase experience. Everything simply moves down the ladder a rung or two. Instead of spending more money for a night out, spend a little less at Whole Foods and get great, healthy food. Why is this important to Anna’s Gourmet Goodies? Because I sense that people and companies will do the same thing when it comes to their gift giving this holiday season.

For years we have been providing incredible gourmet cookies (yes, I have tried almost every major competitor and ours are the best IMHO) and customer service that simply cannot be surpassed. We’ve kept the business laser focused on what we do best, providing gifts for individuals and businesses and shipping them direct to the customer. From the organic, locally milled flour to our environmentally friendly packaging, our cookies and brownies simply make you feel good. And, we’ve kept our price point at a very attractive level by avoiding the overhead and leverage that so often sinks a business (ala Mrs. Fields, now filing for Chapter 11). We’re booking holiday orders now and looking forward to another record holiday season. For those people and companies used to spending $50-100 on a basket of ‘stuff’, we have a very tasty solution – gourmet cookies!

In June of this year, I responded to an article by Sue Stock in the News & Observer about this very issue. They published my response in the Talk Back section of the paper. While I believe that we are in for a bit of a shake out in our economy, I choose to focus on seeing the opportunity as opposed to lamenting over the loss. No, my glasses don’t have a rose colored tint. I’ve simply found that what you focus on most certainly shows up in life and in business. And I see our business thriving as individuals and companies look to reduce their spending, but still want a gift experience that is truly outstanding.

As with any market swing, some businesses will not survive, while others grow and thrive. There will be no shortage of opinion over the coming months as to what might and might not happen with our economy. I do read that Warren Buffett is out there with his checkbook, snapping up bargain priced companies. He certainly knows a thing or two about the economy and where we are heading. I wonder if I could interest him in a large quantity of incredibly delicious chocolate chip cookies?

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How much does stress weigh?

The true weight of stress depends on how long you hold it

The day that we set aside to honor our American workers whose labor has contributed to the strength, prosperity and well being of our economy, has come and gone. Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer vacation and is often the last big weekend for getting the family outdoors. We spent the afternoon at the pool, enjoying some warm sun and a chance to finish a little reading while the kids splashed and played in the water.

Unless you have been living in a cave for the past 6-9 months, you probably agree that we are going through a rough patch in our economy right now. Whatever part of the labor force you participate in, you may have experienced or noticed an increase in stress among your peers. I hear a lot of people talking about stress at work is and how tough business is for them right now. And although Anna’s Gourmet Goodies has enjoyed brisk growth during this time, we still face some of the same challenges other businesses face, most notably the rapid increase in material costs.

I was thinking of stress and water, because my wife handed me a copy of a story she had tucked away in a book titled, “Put the glass down”. It seems that a professor held up a glass of water and asked his class how much it weighed. Answers ranged from an ounce to a pound. He explained that it was not that absolute weight that he was interested in, “It depends on how long you hold it”. You see, if you hold up a glass of water for a minute, the weight does not matter. If you hold it up for an hour, it gets a little heavier and your arm will hurt. If you hold it up for a day, you’ll probably need an ambulance to take you to the hospital. The weight of the glass did not change, but it became heavier the longer you hold it.

It seems that burdens and the stress associated with them have the same properties. If we carry them around all the time, they eventually get too heavy to bear. It’s vital to put them down and get some rest, so that we can carry on.

On this long weekend, I hope that you had the opportunity to lay your burdens and stress down for at least a little while. This story was a reminder that I need to give myself permission to put things down from time to time. They’ll either be there waiting for me when I’m ready to pick them up again, or I might just realize that they really were not worth carrying around anyway.

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Tips for networking success

Anna’s Gourmet Goodies exhibited for the second year at The Raleigh Chamber’s annual Business Showcase, held in the RBC Center this past Tuesday. More than 200 companies were on hand to display their wares, sample their goods (like our incredible gourmet chocolate chip cookies) and practice their elevator speeches to anyone who paused long enough at the table. We had our fair share of traffic, handing out cookies and making people happy. What a great job!

Networking with others to build your business is the name of the game at these events. As a vendor behind the table, my job was to sample our products, answer questions about the company, and start to build relationships with potential customers. And while I was in ‘sales mode’ for part of the show, I still prefer to approach these types of events from a networking perspective.

So how can you enjoy a networking event and increase your odds of success in attracting people who want to do business with you? Here are some quick tips:

  • Change your perspective. If you walk into an event with a mindset that you simply must get ‘x’ number of leads, to make ‘x’ calls so you can close ‘x’ sales this month, you are set on a path to failure. Instead, imagine that your job is to meet ‘x’ number of people with whom you can share a connection that extends your network beyond simply making a sale. Long term success in business comes from building a broad base of connections from many walks of life.
  • Look for common ground. As human beings, we all like to feel as though we have some common ground with friends and business associates. Having common ground is the first step in establishing a business relationship.
  • Share information. Successful networking requires that you be willing to share information, even if it has nothing to do with your business. When you help someone solve a problem, you’ve made a connection, a deposit in your network bank account. To prevent a ‘Sub-Prime’ like crisis in your contact list, you should build up your bank account before you make too many withdrawals.

Here are some additional resources you might want to check out:

Love is the Killer App by Tim Sanders. I had read excerpts from this book years ago and finally picked up a copy last year. It’s an easy read and really helps you understand the importance of your contact list

“Networking in the South” Local Chamber people surely have met Gary Davis at some event. If you have not, well, then you just have not been to many events at the Raleigh Chamber. Gary’s book is filled with tips and ideas for networking in our part of the country.

My results from the show:

  • I met a nice gentleman who shared his source for custom printed non-woven bags. We’ve been thinking of adding them to our packaging.
  • I found a source for a moving van to help with a charity that I support called PLM – they help put homeless families back together here in Raleigh.
  • I met a young man whose brother helped me cater a dinner for children visiting from Belarus as a part of the Children of Chernobyl and ABRO programs this summer.
  • I met a wonderful woman who is helping support women and the families who are affected by breast cancer and found an opportunity to help with their fund raising efforts.
  • I sent a couple of nurses from UNC Healthcare home with a box of cookies to make their office staff very happy in the morning.

And of course, I picked up a few business cards, had the opportunity to meet some of my current customers and hopefully met some future ones as well. Was this a successful networking event for me, did I add to my contact bank account, sow some seeds for future business, have some fun and make people happy? Absolutely.

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