Making granola isn't glamorous. It's not rocket science. It doesn't change the world. It doesn't right societal wrongs. It isn't sophisticated or impressive. No one's parents say, "I hope my kid grows up to be a yuppified hippie who peddles granola at Farmer's Markets and listens to Bob Marley at work".
Making granola is pretty "un-special". It also apparently makes former journalists use non-words like "un-special". Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Three Little Birds Granola is not special - just the opposite! Three Little Birds Granola is the highest quality, best tasting, most nutritious granola you're going to find ANYWHERE. What I am saying, is that the process of being a granola-making entrepreneur does not rank up there with winning the Nobel Peace Prize or an Emmy or becoming an astronaut.
Some of you, close friends and supporters, know how Three Little Birds came into being. For those of you who don't, Three Little Birds started as a hobby while I was languishing in professional purgatory. I had a job that I loved, I found satisfaction in my work. I had an awesome boss, who I considered a friend, BUT, the corporate culture was toxic with absolutely NO hope for improvement where matters relating to HR were concerned.
Treading water and battling daily for any glimmer of normalcy enjoyed by my colleagues who were employed at companies where people acted like people,rather than animals (caged, starved and overly bred animals - was that mean?....), I was becoming increasingly aware that my time with this company was rapidly drawing to a close. But what....what was I going to do?
While I weighed my options and took a personal inventory, I decided I needed to do SOMETHING to inject a little excitement and creativity into my life. After some encouragement from a friend who left the company I was working for, and started his own business (Matt's Mix - check them out), paired with an impromptu wedding favor gig, I decided to start making granola and focus on something that brought some happiness to me while I waited for the right time to leave my job.
I've said it a million times, and I'll say it again- I loved my job, and I loved my boss. What I hated was working with people who didn't care about their work, who didn't take pride in what they did, and who felt an acute sense of resentment when someone suggested that making an effort isn't an inconvenience - making an effort is kind of your JOB. That's why it's called "work".
I couldn't take the apathy aimed at work ethic, coupled with the naked spirit of hostility which was aimed at people who went the extra mile. I couldn't take the unwillingness of management (my colleagues) to overlook poor performance and dropped balls. I could no longer put on my game face and tell my employees that if they just worked hard and concentrated on our goals, we'd get somewhere. I couldn't allow them to be abused by their coworkers from other departments and upper management (my boss excluded from, of course). I was their leader and they needed me to tell them that everything was going to be ok.
One day, after someone in management (again, NOT my boss) hired stripper to come in during work hours to celebrate an employee's birthday, I knew that the corporate culture, no matter how wonderful my boss, was, for lack of better words, "f*cked".
Get ready - this next part took the cake (pun intended, literally) - no workplace birthday celebration would be complete without an anatomically correct birthday cake, adorned, horrifyingly, with chocolate icing (no racial issues here). Classy. Really classy. Being the MENSA candidates they were, photographs were taken to preserve the celebration for purposes of posterity.
On this day, it became abundantly clear that I could no longer look my employees in the eye and act as if the insanity really wasn't insane, and that dangerously bad judgement wasn't daily on parade. You might be reading this, wondering why or how I could have spent nearly five years of my life, enduring this type of ridiculous, dangerously foolish and thoughtless obstacle course of doom. I would be lying if I didn't admit that I was wondering the same thing.
What kept me there was my belief in the arm of the business I was running, and loyalty to my boss, whom I respected tremendously.
The day came when I couldn't put it off any longer. I gave my notice and cried as I outlined why I was giving up. I wasn't quitting. To me, quitting implies an absence of maturity or persistence. I wasn't quitting, I was giving up. I've said that breaking up with my boss and my job was the hardest break-up of any relationship I've ever had - even the one that stretched over 10 years. More than a break-up, It felt like a divorce. After years of trying to make it work, exhausting every possibility, we were separating because of irreconcilable differences. It was pathetic.
I've been on my own now for several months, and since January, there has only been one day that I've been so frustrated that I wanted to cry. I realized just before I burst into tears that nothing that happened that day was as horrible, painful, scary, or intolerable than what I had felt every day since the day I took the job I had just given away. What a feeling! The tears dried up and a sense of thankfulness swept over me.
I was afraid to give my job back to the person who had given me a remarkable opportunity. I was afraid of what was next (I had no plan). I was afraid of how my "crying 'uncle'" would effect him and his business. I was afraid in every conceivable way, but I was more afraid of who and what I would become if I allowed myself to stay where I was.
Everyone says that life is short. I say, you're going to be dead a lot longer than you'll be alive. Life is difficult and the world is, in some ways, a very screwed up place, riddled with some very, very screwed up people.. In life, you're going to get hurt - it's a given. Some people will hurt you intentionally, and some will hurt you in innocent ways. The worst thing you can do to yourself is pile on.
So, like I said, granola isn't impressive or courageous or important, but, it's important to me because it represents my values. The awesome thing about America is that our country is built on the dreams and values of people who risked failure to improve their lives and the lives of other people, these people were and still remain my inspiration. Small businesses are the foundation of our economy and in some ways, the foundation of personal freedom.
Carving out a little freedom for yourself isn't rocket science either, but it's stupid to stay in a prison when the lock is on your side of the door.
Back in 2005, I was a student in the acclaimed Dale Carnegie course. I enrolled myself in the class with high expectations and very little idea about what the class actually entailed. Our class at that time, was held at the UAW hall in Canton, off of Ford road. There were 18 people in our class (very small by our standards today - my last graduating class had 35 students), and most of them worked together at the GM Powertrain plant in Ypsi.
Out of 18 students, all but about 4 or 5 of us were coworkers. One gentleman in particular won my respect quickly, his name was Mike Compton. Mike was about 50, and his talks were always heartfelt, captivating and insightful.
After about 6 weeks of listening to his words of wisdom and observing his thoughtful consideration, I loudly proclaimed to him that if he were 25 years younger, I would ask him out on a date. He turned about 30 different shades of red, and once he recovered, our friendship was born.
Mike had a Cadillac. It was a beautiful car, black with black leather interior with deep brown wood grain trim. He was telling me that owning a Cadillac was something he had always wanted, and was surprised when he encountered some unexpected trouble when he tried to park it in a UAW lot.
Several members of the UAW insisted that though the car was made by GM, it was not an "American made" vehicle, because several of the parts were actually made in Mexico. Some members argued that he should be able to park it in the lot, because Cadillac is an American company. After much ado and debate, it was decided that Mike would be able to park his car in the lot, but not everyone was very happy about it.
6 years later, I started Three Little Birds, and quickly started trying to source my supplies from other Michigan companies. I began looking for promotional items to showcase the logo drawn by Don at KnowAd in Royal Oak, and thought it would be nice to buy tote bags which were made in the US. As I set out to do my research, it was very soon apparent that American made tote bags are more difficult to find than you might imagine.
Not only are totes made in the USA more difficult to obtain, they are twice to three times more expensive than the totes made "overseas" (a sneaky way for customer service reps to say, "China"). For instance, a tote made in China, and printed with my 4 color logo might cost me $4.30 if I decided to buy 500. The same size tote, made in Texas or California is $9.
It was easy to see firsthand how difficult it is for a small business to compete because our margins are so slim. It was even more easy to understand why so many people end up buying products made in China, even if they don't want to. I was discouraged, but determined to find some type of compromise.
Over the years, I've purchased several tote bags from retailers and other companies I support. I decided to look inside each bag to see where they were made. Bag after bag was manufactured in China. The realities of operation were validated when I saw that even inside of my cheery little Whole Foods Market totes was the ubiquitous "made in China" tag.
It isn't a secret that there are several companies who print t-shirts, tote bags, etc. in our own backyard, and those promotional products may have been imported from other countries. These companies employ Michigan residents to screen print, embroider and otherwise fashion these products every day.
I drove out to Sterling Heights to visit a company called 'All American Screenprinting & Embroidery' because when I spoke with them on the phone, I was impressed with their friendly and efficient service. I was also impressed by their eagerness to hunt for anything I was looking for.
When I arrived at the warehouse, I met Sarah, who had been so enthusiastically helping me over the phone. I then met Christine, who took me on a tour of the facility and allowed me to take a short video. As she talked with me about her business, I knew I had made the right choice. It was obvious to see that she and her employees cared very deeply about their customers.
Not only do they care about promoting Michigan businesses, they also put their energies and goodwill behind the troops who are serving overseas by sending care packages to them. It is their way of reminding them that the people back home appreciate their service and that they're not alone or forgotten, even though they're so far away.
In her video, Christine echoed my sentiments that buying items that are made in the USA is sometimes cost-prohibitive, and that she has to offer imported products as well in order to be competitive. If Christine only offered totes and t-shirts that were made here, her prices would be much higher. If her prices were higher, she would lose customers, if she lost customers, her employees would be laid off.
I started thinking about how complex this issue is from an economic and political standpoint. Americans are addicted to cheap goods, cheap food, cheap resources (and this includes me). I'm not interested in being on a soapbox, I'm more interested in what's productive. I don't necessarily think that now is the time to "only buy American", but I do think that it is reasonable to buy local and American when you can. The issue is too large to be narrowed down to oversimplified platitudes and talking points.
For myself and Three Little Birds, I've made the decision to operate my business as responsibly as I can, which for me means supporting people like Christine and her employees instead of ordering from a similar company out of state. To me, it would be overwhelming and professionally irresponsible to try to solve the entire problem by never shopping at Target, or buying electronics unless they were made in the USA.
I like what Mother Teresa said, "If you cannot feed a hundred people; then feed just one."
To learn more about 'All American' visit their website at http://aatshirts.com you can also view the video on our facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Three-Little-Birds-Fine-Foods/164351416948712?ref=ts
Stacy Sloan; Chef & Founder of Three Little Birds