Blackbird's Mentors - Drawing Circles Instead Of Lines!
Their values, similar to Blackbird's S.H.E. (Social, Health and Environmental) Triple Top LineTM - community, collaboration and empowerment - seem to form the top line means to achieving solid bottom lines. Interestingly, all three of our mentors are women! And in practice, they really don't draw lines - they draw circles and call them community!
Blackbird's Business Plan - Maya Dailey
In 2006, Alexandra and Andrea paid a visit to Maya, Farm Operator at Maya's Farm at South Mountain. At the time, we were finalizing Blackbird's Business Plan to ASU's Edson Entrepreneur Initiative for a grant award competition. The original premise of Blackbird was 'healthy food fast' available in market coolers and Blackbird stores, made from organic foods, many sourced from local farms. Maya's gardens are clearly her labor of love, impacting and inspiring entire communities here in the Valley of the Sun. When we asked Maya how we could best contribute, she responded, "Do what you are doing - get Blackbird started - that is the single biggest difference that you can make!" Short and simple, delivered with her heart warming smile.
Thank you for the encouragement Maya!
Maya's Farm is a small, sustainable operation which produces high-quality specialty vegetables, herbs, flowers and eggs, for local markets, restaurants and schools including CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) Program with Maya's motto - "Dig deep and enjoy!" Maya is also a Director of Community Food Connections that operates the Phoenix Public Market where you can find her farm produce 7 days a week and our Blackbird Truffles. Check out Maya's Facebook - she is teaching all the time!
Launching Blackbird - Cindy Gentry
By 2009, Anthony, Alexandra and Andrea did some brainstorming on how to launch Blackbird without major capital. We wanted to establish our company with our first product - organic handmade Blackbird Truffles - with our commitment to 'healthy eating AND sustainable living' we felt that a natural starting place for our truffles was at the local farmers market. We approached Cindy to become a Vendor with a booth at the Saturday outdoor market, and very quickly became part of her whole family! With Cindy's involvement, we launched Blackbird for a song! There under our tent, Saturday mornings became about camraderie amongst local farmers and producers, each of us small family businesses displaying our products to market shoppers attracted as much by the local fresh goods as to the folks behind them! And that interaction was our most valuable market research - we scrutinized every facial expression that revealed to us what our truffle sample on their tongue was revealing to them. Within months, and a few minor recipe adjustments later, our following would eventually expand to markets from New York to California, yet it was here where we had the direct experience of someone enjoying our truffles.
Thank you Cindy for helping us launch Blackbird!
Cindy is the Founder and Executive Director of Community Food Connections, a statewide non-profit that Cindy incorporated, to focus on enhancing local food systems with a profound mandate as you can see from the CFC website, and many accomplishments including spearheading the work to establish the public market of downtown Phoenix, and overseeing the Market's management and operations. Cindy's motto is "Buy Fresh...Buy Local" as the foundation for creating food security and food sustainability! As the bustle and pace quickens into opening bell on any given Saturday morning, one can visibly see Cindy become the embodiment of serenity and grace, with her heart warming smile, gently nudging and nurturing the market through it's next 6 hours until produce is sold out and the last tent brought down. And in the process, she will have incubated countless small businesses as she has with Blackbird, sending us successfully beyond the edges of her nest. As the weather became too hot for an outdoor booth, Cindy stocked Blackbird Truffles in her market cooler at the Urban Grocery open 7 days a week, where you will still find us sampling every other week or so!
Establishing Brand - Barbara Henderson
To begin our expansion of Blackbird, we drew up a list of additional local market stores whose coolers we wanted to stock with Blackbird Truffles, and eventually our expanding product line. We contacted five different stores here in our local market, four of which barely acknowledged us yet had obviously derived much of their success, or at least branding, from stocking products of local small business farmers and artisanal producers.
Yet it was Barbara who instantly made herself our dream partner - from the first telephone conversation (where she answers most incoming calls herself), through inviting us to drop by directly for a tasting with her and her staff, to placing our truffles into her cooler, and many enjoyable afternoon samplings with her clientel since. As the Regional General Manager of Oakville Grocery, she is hands on all the way. And that counted for a lot given her marketing and business savvy. She gave us her thoughtful feedback - overall loving our truffles - with suggestions for improving our packaging that seemed to fall short for shipping and display. With a new container and some label design elements, our packages proudly sit on her grocery shelves! And we are now shipping across the US and to many countries around the world thanks to her personal interest in working closely with us! Small business can spend thousands of dollars on that kind of advice and still come up short.
Thanks to you Barbara for your partnership!
Oakville Grocery has long been established (since 1881) as the "little country store" in the heart of Napa Valley, attracting over 400,000 visitors a year from near and far with its special Oakville charm. With the opening of the Scottsdale store, products reflect the best of Napa Valley and Scottsdale with a casual sophistication and a true passion for food and wine. As Regional General Manager, Barbara has established the Scottsdale store and while managing operations is involved in plans for additional stores, yet always makes time for her staff and her vendors.
Barbara taught us about the kind of partnership possible between a small artisanal producer and an established retailer. And through our experience with her, we never bothered with any further follow up with the four other market stores. It sounds counterintuitive when building a business however, we recognize that partnerships are a process - how they start is as important as how they evolve. You'll find us at Oakville Grocery every other week or so with samplings - and we're always greeted by Barbara's welcoming warm smile when we arrive - we feel she is genuinely happy that we are there.
Drawing Circles With Smiles
In closing, notice that our mentors smile often, and warmly with a glimmer in their eyes. It seems those people who express their true genius doing what they love and creating something bigger than themselves seem to have happiness to share around. Our mentors have created communities - they don't draw lines, they draw circles and do so with their smiles - sweet!