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The Uncommon Life

4 Ways to Build a Better Business

October 8, 2013

UncommonGoods is proud to be B Corp certified as it allows us to be a part of their amazing movement and community. B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Grasping the Ghandi quote of “Be the change you’d like to see in the world,” B Lab began the campaign B the Change, a customer-facing global movement of B Corps who are redefining success in business.

Two weeks ago, I attended the B Corp Champions Retreat in Boulder, Colorado along with team members from hundreds of fellow B Corps from around the world to celebrate our community and strengthen our global initiatives. Among the many things I took away with me from the retreat, there were four initiatives in particular that stuck in mind.

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Boulder, CO

1. Build a better community. 

Building community is ingrained in what it means to truly be a B Corp. This was evident on the first day when B Lab decided to host volunteering events in order to help the Boulder community after unprecedented flooding destroyed hundreds homes and schools in the area. Understanding that it is our duty as businesses to do our part to help the community is something that B Labs expects from each and every one of their B Corps. As a business, be sure to reach out and give a hand to your local neighborhoods, schools, and venues in some shape or form whether it is through mentor programs, employee volunteering, donations, or partnerships. A well rounded business understands the importance of connecting with not only their customers, but with the outside community.

1175388_10151643037027546_643598889_nB Corp helping to clear debris for the Boulder Valley School District.

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2. Become a leader in sustainability. 

I was greatly inspired by the recent work done by many of the fellow B Corps that I was able to meet on the retreat. On the first day, we were lucky enough to take a tour at the New Belgium Brewing Company. In addition to being able to taste their amazing selection of beers, we learned about many of their sustainability initiatives including their investments in renewable energy, waste diversion, and their annual state-wide Tour de Fat bike ride that advocates for the biking lifestyle. I met plenty of other B Corps leaders who were passionate about being leaders in sustainability by constantly finding innovative ways to improve their businesses’ social and environmental impact. Learn more about their work at B Corp Best for the World.

New Belgium Brewery 1

New Belgium Brewery2

 

3. Seek mindful collaboration.

Throughout the three days of the retreat, we broke into groups and discussed several ideas and initiatives that revolved around strengthening the credibility and exposure of the B the Change Campaign. Throughout those discussions, I met an incredible group of leaders and change makers who offered inspiration and ideas that I can take forward as we look to improve our social and environmental impact at UncommonGoods. Among the many projects that I have planned for our sustainability initiatives, I am most eager to help build community and look forward to this challenge as we continue to grow with the B the Change movement.

We’ve all heard of the saying, two heads are better than one. And this is very much true in the business world. As you build your community and speak to the locals, make sure to reach out to like-minded businesses (big or small) that would be interested to collaborate.

NY B Corps Left to right: Anne Sherman |Sustainability Manager of STAACH, Liz Brenna |CEO of Socially Good Business, Ariel Hauptman |Business Development Manager of Greyston Bakery, and me!

Making commitments to B the Change

 

4. Be consistent and have patience. 

When making changes in your business, it’s natural to want to see immediate results. Yet sometimes, those results don’t happen overnight. It’s easy throw in the towel after a month of hard work of community outreach or trying to implement a sustainable business. Keeping your sense of motivation is just as important as seeing the end result, so remember, patience is a virtue!

Consistency and patience is something the B Corps community practices, and now there are over 830 B Corps in 27 countries from 60 industries around the world. There was quite a lot to celebrate as our community has grown significantly in just this past year. As of late July, laws have been passed in 20 U.S. states for Benefit Corporation. This is exciting for us; however, we also understand that there is still a long way to go. This is apparent in the idea that B Lab grasps of climbing mountains. This analogy was comprehensive, taking on the idea of building momentum at base camp, choosing paths, and climbing the mountain together. We understand that as the B Corp community continues to gain recognition and credibility, we must constantly learn and grow as individual businesses within the B the Change movement.

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Click here to learn more about the B Corp Community and how you can be a part of it. Also, watch some of their inspiring YouTube videos, including the one below.

Maker Resources

7 Tips for Setting Up at the NYNow Trade Show

August 23, 2013

Advice from our artists at the NYNow trade show | UncommonGoodsThis week New York City welcomed hundreds of designers and brands to the Javits Center for NYNow, nee NYIGF. This trade show is big time for designers as well as buyers since retailers are getting ready to stock their holiday assortments and are looking for products that are new and interesting.

With trade shows being so expensive for an exhibitor, there is a lot of pressure to make an impact on retailers walking the show. I walked through, visiting our UncommonGoods artists – some seasoned NY gift show veterans- asking them for their best advice for other exhibitors. Some of the tips they told me are truly golden!

Cat Studio's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods1. Be flexible with your display.
CatStudio, designers of beautifully illustrated geographical home wares, comes with a loose plan for the display of their booth and room and time for improvisation. When they get to NY from California, founder Terrell heads to a flea market in Chelsea for vintage props. The team heads in with an open mind and the result is a display that is personal and exciting.

Jeff Davis's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods2. Leave your booth in NYC.
Designer Jeff Davis knows he is coming to NYC twice a year to exhibit at the gift show, so instead of bringing his walls and props with him to and from Philadelphia, he leaves it all in a storage facility in Manhattan. Some storage facilities will even drop off your stuff at the Javits Center. This way you can focus more on packing your merchandise and marketing materials.

Jenny Krauss's booth at NY Now | UncommonGoods3. Design a booth that doubles as storage.
Setting up a booth for Jenny Krauss is as simple as opening a trunk. She designed two large cases that open up into a display and hired a local contractor to build it. It wheels into the convention center full of props and merchandise and allows for an easy clean-up!

Jim Loewer's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods4. Lighting is everything!
Bad lighting could make or break your product display, and since your booth doesn’t come with lights of it’s own, lighting is all on you! Glassblower Jim Loewer understands the importance of light in his display so he constructed a light box to show off his sun catchers. Experiment in your home or studio by shining a flashlight over your product, if it looks better in the light, it should have a spotlight on it.

Melanie McKenney's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods5. Build some private space.
Things can get cramped in a small booth, so husband and wife team Justin and Melanie McKenney build a small room into the back of their booth where they store supplies, papers, and a chair for resting. I won’t show it to you, but the couple says it keeps them sane (and still married!) while exhibiting Melanie’s designs throughout the week.

great idea to get buyers to remember you at the next trade show | UncommonGoods6. Bring bottled water!
Melanie and Justin know from exhibiting more than once that water at the Javits Center is expensive and hard to come by. So they come prepared with cases of water they buy in bulk at home. It’s a nice gesture to hand a bottle of water to someone who is clearly parched and not interested in shelling out $3 for a bottle of water, but they make sure that retailers remember how special the gesture is by replacing the labels with custom labels with their brand name and booth number. I glanced at their logo so many times throughout the rest of the day and was even reminded of them when I got home and emptied my bag!

getting my caricature done at NYNow | UncommonGoods7. Offer an experience they can’t get anywhere else.
Back at the CatStudio booth they took advantage of their talented illustrators to offer caricatures to people visiting their booth. It got me to sit there for a bit and chat with founders Terrell and Carmel to learn more about their company. I also walked away with a great souvenir to have after the show. If you have the space and resources, try planning something creative that highlights what makes your brand unique and will leave a lasting impression.

Advice from designers at NYNow | UncommonGoodsAnd my advice for walking the NYNow? Wear comfortable shoes!

The Uncommon Life

Mr Bolotsky Goes to Washington

November 29, 2012

I had the opportunity to visit the White House this week to meet with President Obama, Vice President Biden and their economic team. As the founder & CEO of UncommonGoods, I was one of 15 small business leaders asked to participate in a discussion on the Administration’s approach to the economy and the fiscal cliff.

It was a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, despite the formal setting. When Vice President Biden entered the Roosevelt Room, everyone rose and stood at attention. Laughing, he told us all to sit down – he wasn’t the President. Later, when the President entered, everyone rose again and the President introduced himself to each of us. I had an opportunity to let him know that my wife worked with his late mother and I showed him the UncommonGoods catalog. The President browsed it, admiring many of our products. I let him know that 50% of what we sell is US-made, including a handmade Sea Serpent sculpture that I suggested would look great on the White House lawn. He told me it was a non-starter – “Bo would be too scared of it.”

When we got down to business, the President reassured us that he was committed to working out a reasonable compromise with the Congressional leadership and that we should not expect a repeat of the 2011 budget battle. He also emphasized his commitment to extending the middle class tax cuts, while allowing tax rates for those earning above $250,000 annually to expire. Our group then had an opportunity to give the President suggestions and ask him questions.

When my turn came, I encouraged the President to use his bully pulpit and Federal procurement policy to encourage businesses to take a “triple bottom line” approach – where people and planet are emphasized, along with profit. When the discussion turned to income inequality, I suggested that we raise the minimum wage and peg it to inflation, so that it does not remain a political football. I also volunteered that our country would be well served to have fewer folks in the finance and legal professions and more in the general business sector. Finally, I asked that the Federal government assert leadership in the battle over sales taxes for internet shopping. I suggested that consumers be required to pay sales tax for internet transactions, an issue that is being hotly contested on a state-by-state basis.

Out of courtesy for my peers in the meeting, I told him that I would be happy to share my 9 other ideas with his team after the meeting, which I did. At the end of the discussion, Vice President Biden asked me for my business card, and told me he’d be in touch. I’m curious to see where that goes. I spoke to another Administration official who assured me that not only would a continuation of the middle class tax cuts be part of the initial budget deal, but that there would also be some reductions in government spending in order to help us get closer to a balanced budget.

While we face tough challenges ahead, I was encouraged to see our government officials engaging in open dialogue with a diverse audience from across the country. For now, I am back at my desk, dreaming of alternative decorations for the White House lawn this coming spring.

Design

Meet the Design Panel – Jenny Krauss

August 22, 2012

Is it time for you to take your business to the next level? Get tips, advice, and your questions answered at UncommonGoods’ third design panel and happy hour – How To Make It: Scaling Up Your Creative Business – taking place in Brooklyn, NY on August 28th. The panelists have experience advising businesses and personal experience with scaling up, like panelist, Jenny Krauss.

Jenny’s business started in 2008 with a love of Peruvian traditional embroidery. Today, her business employs 1600 artisans, who make anything from pillows to belts, while earning a steady income and preserving their local culture.
Without further ado… meet Jenny!

What is an uncommon fact about yourself?

In college and grad school, I never took a business, accounting, or economics class and I knew nothing about starting a company. I did a lot of research, picked people’s brains and realized it’s mostly common sense. Now I enjoy advising start-ups as best I can.

What products are you responsible for?

Belts, bags, pillows, shoes, luggage tags and whatever else I decide to produce; all hand woven and hand embroidered in wool or cotton.

What advice would you give to designers who think they are ready to take their business to the next level?

Take it one step at a time and don’t get deep into debt. I’ve read in business books that a common mistake for new companies is to overestimate sales. Having to manufacture more is better than getting stuck with too much inventory. Depending on your product, research your market and consider possibilities in addition to manufacturing, such as selling or licensing your designs.

What tools do you use to manage your time and stay productive?

I keep a to-do list that is with me at all times. Everything, important or trivial, is written down so it won’t be forgotten. Don’t spend work time on non-work activities like tweeting with friends, surfing the web, etc.

What advice would you give yourself when you were first starting out?

I funded my business with my own savings so if I failed I wouldn’t owe anyone money. If this is an option, I suggest using it. Or, go to family, friends, and funding sites such as Kickstarter before going to a bank. And be prepared to work long hours.

What does a typical workday look like?

I start out thinking I know what’s ahead for the day and then, almost always, something comes up, either from a customer or a supplier, and I have to stop everything and deal with it. Today is a perfect example; e-mails to one of my producer’s in rural Peru keep bouncing back. I did some research online and it turns out her domain name has expired. I’m sure she has no idea about how to fix this so I’m trying to track her down and not having much luck. There is no typical day!

What does scaling up mean for you?

My business only scaled up when there was revenue to do so. Meaning, strong sales propelled it forward, and earned money provided the funds. I added more products to the line but didn’t have to add more employees here in the US. The group of artisans in Peru swelled from 300 to 1600 which puts pressure on me to keep sales up.

The Uncommon Life

B Corp Status Renewed: The Mission to be a Responsible and Sustainable Business

August 8, 2012


When you think UncommonGoods you probably think unique, creatively designed and, well, uncommon products. Perhaps UncommonGoods is even your go-to place for gifts for those hard-to-buy-for family and friends and maybe even the place to gift yourself (don’t we all do that occasionally).

What you may not know is that UncommonGoods is voluntarily meeting higher standards of social and environmental performance through the B Corporation certification. The B Impact Assessment, conducted by the non-profit organization B Lab, aims to look beyond the marketing efforts of a company to assess the true impact of a business on their workers, community, and the environment.

Earlier this year, I led the effort to recertify UncommonGoods as a B Corporation, working with cross-departmental team members to assess how we’re doing. A founding member of B Corp, we’ve now reached our third term and our score of 91.3 shows that we are committed to upholding a higher standard when it comes to our stakeholders, including the environment, our employees, and the community.

(source, B Corp)

Our founder David Bolotsky has been making a continuous and strong effort in running a sustainable business ever since the company was founded in 1999. We are passionate about changing the way business is conducted by making sustainability a part of every decision we make. An important focus is to have a positive impact, not only in our own work place but in the world at large. For example, some benefits available to employees are that 80% of health insurance premiums are paid by UG (50% for families), whenever feasible alternate work schedules like part-time, flex-time or telecommuting are an option, there is a health and wellness program in place, including offering fresh organic fruit in the break rooms and incentives are given to encourage low-impact commutes to and from work.

Dave speaking to fellow NY B Corps.

A positive impact also means offering our customers creative and exciting merchandise that is built to last and made without harm to humans and animals; giving talented artists and designers a platform to sell their unique and often handmade product on a larger scale; making truthful and substantiated claims around all our products and avoiding the pitfalls of green-washing; and making smart packaging decisions when we ship the goods out to our customers and their friends and families.

(source, B Corp)

While not always an option in every product category, we prefer to work with local, sustainable, and fair trade suppliers. As a matter of fact, 14% of sales last year was generated with local and independent suppliers alone, ‘local’ meaning suppliers within a 200 mile radius. About half of our sales came from items made in the US, a little over a third from handmade products and about a fifth from products made of recycled content.

Being an internet and catalog retailer, we understand that producing a catalog uses the earth’s resources. Our goal is to minimize that impact by shifting more business online, limiting how many catalogs we mail, and continuing to print our catalogs on either recycled paper or paper sourced from FSC certified forests.

We love to give back to the environment and the community whenever we can. In 2011, we helped plant hundreds of trees (1,400 to be exact!) in Marine Bay Park as part of the MillionTreesNYC initiative. After over a year of tenacious persuasion tactics we also convinced city officials to make the landscape more appealing by planting street trees around Brooklyn Army Terminal (our offices) and we are volunteering our time and resources to help keep them in good health. I’m happy to report that so far they look quite happy!

Planting with MillionTreesNYC

Beautifying tree beds in and around Brooklyn Army Terminal.

Through the Better To Give program, UncommonGoods supports the mission of local and national non-profits. The Better To Give program gives our customers the opportunity to have UncommonGoods contribute to a non-profit organization each time they shop with us. Also, a portion of the sales of our Plates with Purpose, the Be The Change Paperweight and the Pelican and Sandpiper Nightlights is donated to non-profit partners – each item listing tells our customers exactly how much is donated and which organization it’s donated to. Last year we donated about $120K through our Better To Give program as well as $75K in product donations!

Our products that are making a difference.

On an ongoing basis, employees from all areas of our company are given the opportunity to discuss how we can make UncommonGoods more environmentally friendly, socially responsible and an ever-more rewarding place to work. Our four company goals serve as our guiding principles to be a responsible company; these goals are to be a great place to work, to be our customer’s favorite place to shop, to have a positive impact on the outside world, and to produce strong financial results.

Some members of the Certified B Corp community in front of Independence Hall in Philly. (source, B Corp)

The great thing about the B Corp seal is that it certifies the company as a whole, not just an individual aspect. It gives a customer insight on how a company is doing overall, from providing a living wage, to employee wellness, to lessening the environmental impact, to giving back to the community.

Fellow B Corp BBMG conducted a study on why B Corps matter and found that 73% of consumers care about the company, not just the product, when making a purchasing decision. Another interesting finding is that less than 1% of consumers actually trust company advertisements or statements when assessing a product or company. The more consumers know about the concept behind the B Corp certification/Benefit Corporation, the more consumer-spending will be influenced by this knowledge.

Check out this infographic to learn more about B Corps.(source, GOOD)

The bi-annual assessment and re-certification process is an excellent way to share our achievements with our customers and team members. More important, it helps us to set benchmarks for the social and environmental impacts of UncommonGoods and identify opportunities for future improvement.

We strive to be a driver of positive change and are convinced that collaborating with fellow B Corps and other industry leaders will have a positive impact. The certified B Corp community is made up of over 550 companies from 60 different industries and represents about $3.1 billion in revenues. It’s a large community of value-driven companies wanting to make a positive impact that are open to sharing advice and insights.

The holy grail of 100% sustainability is no small task to achieve – after all, the most sustainable product is the one that was never made – but we are very dedicated to making responsible, thought-through and well-informed decisions in everyday operations and to leading our business with integrity.

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