Local First Sustainable Business Conference: Keynote Address, American Spoon Foods

Justin Rashid was the keynote speaker at this years’ Local First Sustainable Business Conference. Rashid is president and CEO of American Spoon Foods, a Petoskey based company that produces jams, preserves, and other food products from Michigan fruits.

Rashid began his business as a whole foods store in Petoskey and it was busy for nine weeks in the summer when tourists were abundant. The venture evolved when he made a connection with a restaurant owner in New York City who was looking for new foods for his restaurant. Rashid was able to provide him with morel mushrooms and then many other wild Michigan fruits and mushrooms like berries, leeks and other types of mushrooms. Eventually he began making fruit preserves and opened a Petoskey store to sell the products.

The jams made from Michigan fruits were expensive and when a customer asked why they should pay so much, Rashid let them taste the product. When people tasted the products they sold. This became the market approach for the business. The business went from $100  a day profit, to peak days of $10,000.

The business began receiving praise from newspapers and magazines around the country.  “Critical praise from respected third parties is much better than any kind of paid advertisement,” Rashid said.

At his customers’ request, Rashid created a catalog that made it possible to sustain business with customers in winter months when they were not vacationing in Northern Michigan. The product line spread to non-breakfast foods like salsa and barbeque sauce and then to Gelato and Sorbeto. American Spoon now has locations in Petoskey, Charlevoix, Traverse City, Harbor Springs, Williamsburg, and a new store in Saugatuck.

Rashid’s philosophy of running a business is that a business can be like a work of art, becoming a meaningful piece of life of customers and employees.

“A business must be a part of a community. No business can make it when it only offers more of the same stuff. Instead a business needs to offer real taste, touch, and conversation. If a business shares with customers and listens to them, the customers will stay longer, return more often, and spend more while they are there.”

It needs to change the way people feel. Pleasing people is the proper preoccupation of a business.

Rashid doesn’t rely on customers who are only looking for the lowest price because he knows they will not be loyal. Instead he focus on customers who are interested in a relationship. He also realizes it is important to have a succession plan that puts the business in the hands of the next generation of leaders. Rashid’s advice for running a sustainable business is to run it as if it will always be there.

“Low-tech solutions and common sense solutions usually work the best. Short-term thinking is lose-lose and creates a disloyal relationship with customers.”

So how do we attempt to find the next generation of business leaders that exemplify these characteristics?

“We don’t need to look for them. Entrepreneurs will find us.”

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