Saturday, November 8, 2008

Scaling up without selling your soul - Part 3


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, the less innovative it is, partly because it’s harder to turn an aircraft carrier than a speedboat.

I confess to being leery of empires because I haven’t seen one yet that seemed fair and honest. Empires tend to bully and abuse in my opinion. When does a business morph from integrity to scandalous? In my opinion, the day it decides to become an empire. If size never registers on your company radar screen, you can become pretty big without selling your soul. But the day you aspire to be the biggest player is the day you begin disrespecting the other players. How about aspiring to be the player that practices hardest? That gives other aspiring players the best hand up to join you in the winners’ circle?

Because local food is foundational to Polyface farm, we defined our market area as within four hours. That’s as far as someone can come, personally check us out, and return home in a comfortable day. Those of you familiar with Michael Pollan’s runaway New York Times bestseller Omnivore’s Dilemma will recall that our farm is the hero. Lots of free advertising. Probably even the honor of speaking here. But it all came because I would not mail him a T-bone steak. That conviction so piqued his interest that he came, saw, and wrote.

Never underestimate the good things that can happen when you establish a business conviction and then stick with it. Believe it or not, people still appreciate outfits that believe in things. What do you believe in?

The emotional freedom that this parameter affords is palpable. Now when someone calls from Indianapolis or Boston, I’m not even tempted to service them. I have a standard answer: “Find your local land healing farmers and patronize them.” I wrote a book, Holy Cows and Hog Heaven, to help people find those good farmers. All my experiences with empires have been negative. And people who run them seem fairly unhappy. Why would anyone aspire to have an empire? In my opinion, if you aspire to have one, you’ve already forfeited a benevolent spirit. Be content to serve well a clearly defined patron group and the rest will take care of itself.

To be continued...

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