Absinthe at the end of a long week

Oh yes, that’s how we wrapped up our week on Friday afternoon.

Hopefully my partners aren’t reading this because two of them are sober and the third would likely not condone getting buzzed on absinthe at work.  I say buzzed because we put a nice one on … but it didn’t get out of control.  I have few nicknames and alteregos, one of which is “Captain Absinthe” that was coined after a rollicking New Years Eve ’09.  Captain Absinthe did not come out to play on Friday.  But, we certainly had a good time.

Absinthe is legal, fun and some seriously strong shit.  Here’s how I pour mine:

1. Pour absinthe over a sugar cube.

2. Light the cube and let it burn for 10 seconds or until your inner pyro is satisfied.

3. Slowly drizzle ice water over the cube.  Use about 3x as much water as absinthe.

4. Imbibe.

A customer made one of us cry.

I don’t think she meant to.  She is probably a nice person.  But, she probably just figured that she had to act tough in order for us to remedy a problem she had with one of our products.

The story is pretty straight-forward.  We ship a lot of food and sometimes the product gets damaged in transit.  If you think about it … you’d expect that, right?  If you ship a box of fruit via FedEx, there’s the chance (however slim) that the fruit will get bruised.

So, the customer bought some feijoa which got bruised in transit.  They called and bawled out someone on my team top to bottom.  She teared up.   Cried her eyes out, in fact.  That sucks.

The customer could’ve just called us and told us about the problem.  And, we either reship, refund or figure out another remedy that both the customer and we think is fair.

Two thoughts on this:

First, I lament the fact that the customer service paradigm on the web is such that people don’t expect to be able to talk to a human and when they do get someone on the phone, they expect to have to scream their way up the chain of command in order to get a fair remedy.  They don’t expect to be taken care of respectfully and fairly.  They expect a hassle.  And, a fight.  That’s shitty.

Second, even though it sucked for my employee, it actually was a great learning experience.  It is sometimes hard to see the benefit in things like this, but speaking well on the phone is a skill that, once developed, you take to every aspect of your life.  It takes a lot of practice to get good at it and there’s nothing like an awkward customer service conversation to take your phone skills to the next level.

“Have we bloggers helped your business or are you just being nice?”

Deana from Lost Past Remembered asked me that question yesterday. And, since I am trying to be as transparent as possible with this blog and others may be wondering the same thing, I figure that I’d answer here.

The answer to both aspects of that question is yes, no and maybe. That that answer is completely meaningless reflects one simple admission: I have no clue and I don’t expect to in the near future…though my analysis below, does push my answer in one particular direction.

To really understand the answer to the question, you have to first understand my perspective. The dominant factors behind my vision are: 1) an overwhelming belief that in the long-run, the more win-win situations that I can create, the more good stuff will come to me and my community; and 2) short-term thinking is suicidal and I am lucky that I can think about things with a long-term orientation. And, you also need to understand that this webstore is only a few years old. So, while all the trends are positive and I think what we are doing is working … the jury is still out on whether we will ultimately be a success.

Am I just being nice? No, I am not just being nice. Being nice and building relationships is central to who we are as a business…it is how we treat customers, vendors, employees, bloggers, so long as that person hasn’t given us a reason to act otherwise. That makes being nice part of our business model, which makes it an inherently self-serving thing, doesn’t it? I know people in the business who are complete assholes … and I know I don’t want to be that. Nice is better. Lucky for me, I get to be nice a lot of the time. I could achieve similar goals if I wasn’t as generous as I am with customers and bloggers. I like to surprise people and I want to make friends with whoever is willing to be my friend back. So, yes, I am intentionally being nice. My mom would tell you that I am nice person 😉 She is too.

Have bloggers helped my business? I guess the answer here is definitely “yes” … but it is a question of degrees. In the couple years that I have been engaging with the blogosphere, I have spent a lot of my work and personal time creating contests and communicating with bloggers. A LOT of time and money. That has been tremendously helpful in that it has made my job so much more fun and fulfilling. It

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has also improved our search rankings, generated exposure for our business, endeared us to influencers and it has led to a little bit of business. But, if I were a short-term thinker, I might feel at this point that I have just wasted a lot of time and money, because the immediate sales from all of my effort in the blogosphere is very small. Very small. So… it depends on how you measure these things.

I am measuring things over the long-term. Sure, I care about our profits this year, but I care a lot more about what our profits will be in three years. I trust that my effort will benefit me in the long-run … and they are all win-wins: While I give bloggers ingredients that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to experiment with and thereby I am helping them take their game to the next level, bloggers are creating a voluminous recipe collection around my products. While I am sending goodies to bloggers and making their lives more delicious, they are sending me their friends and readers and giving me an opportunity to build a relationship with them which will bear fruit over the long-run. I am betting on relationships.

Part of my strategy in terms of the long-game is that I have faith that one of these days, one of my blogger friends (hopefully many of them) is going to break through with a cookbook or TV deal … I appreciate the opportunity to help them now … and I just hope they remember me when they hit the big time. I am all about creating mutual growth and if I can help them grow as a food personality, I know they will help me grow as a business. My theory is that one of these days, the mainstream media will pick us up because a blogger turned the journalist on to us. Basically, I am hoping that if I put my energy toward creating and spreading joy … that others will send joy back to me now or in the future.

At the end of the day, my staff and I are just a bunch of kids that are trying to create something new in this world. I am old enough (33) to have studied extensively and to have developed a core body of business theory. The thing is … it is just theory for I am not old enough yet to have had any major business successes. So, the chapter of my book that answers your question is still being written.

But, if I had to give you a definitive answer right now, I would have to answer: Yes and Yes. And, that means that I am achieving my goal of creating a win-win. I am sending out “nice” and bloggers are sending “nice” back to me, even if all of the “nice” doesn’t come to me for awhile. It is not a quid pro quo, but you reap what you sow.

Editors note: I am feeling a bit insecure as I hit the “publish” button because this is new territory for me and businesses usually aren’t candid like this about their strategies and relationships. Dear blogger friends, I really want to know your uber-candid feedback on this and how it makes you feel? What do you think about my little adventure in candor?

Meat a Marx

This is Garrett, my “little” brother.  Take away the tats and the buff job on that skull, and make him smaller … you’d pretty much think he was me.  That is, so long as you didn’t see what he was eating.  Here he’s cooking up some new zealand grass fed burgers for the NJ office to try.

Garrett Marx

Garrett is a hard core carnivore.  Me, not so much.  I was supposed to be.  All three of us were raised to be.

My pops put me to work in the family slaughterhouse during summers starting when I was 11 and before that … well, you can probably trace the male Marx lineage back to the beginning of the butcher profession.

I used to hate vegetarians.  And then I married one.

I think Tara saw me as her life’s greatest project (and I have made it my life’s greatest project to make sure that her project never ends).  Noone believes me, but I really did choose to stop eating meat on my own.  Seriously.  Anyway, these days we are both eating meat, she more than me.

I tend to consume meat as a flavoring … in quantities kind of like the pepperoni on the pizza.  Garrett would probably love someone to invent a pizza crust made of pepperoni with nice little bread disks on top.  Put our diets together and you would probably have something closer to what the USDA says you should eat.

You’ll meet our middle bro Keith later … you might see him climbing a coconut tree like a monkey … I hear that he has some good videos from the amazing trip-of-a-lifetime honeymoon in Bora Bora that he just got back from.   The three of us couldn’t be more different or more similar at the same time.  One thing’s for sure … we share a common mission: make sure that the 5th generation of the family business creates something prosperous for the 6th!

And, since you have read this far … Garrett told me that he has a half-dozen grass-fed black angus new zealand beef burgers for the first blogger who emails me to tell me that she wants to take them for a test drive and share her thoughts on her blog.  My email is justin at marxfoods dot com.  It is a brand new product … and Garrett would love some feedback.

Oh wait, Garrett does eat things that aren’t meat.  I bet others in the office can’t wait to use those palm plates now, G.

Stocking Stuffers & Win-Wins

Me packing up sample boxes for our mushroom recipe challenge. I don’t have kids yet, so this is the closest I get to stuffing stockings. Ho ho ho, Recipe Challengers!

“Creating win-wins” is one of my mantras, but that phrase has unfortunately also become a platitude. If only I was linguistically creative enough to come up with a better phrase.

I deeply believe that the sweet spot in life is in the creation of win-wins. If life is a game, I don’t think it is a zero sum one. It is in that spirit that we jumped head first into the blogosphere with our first blog. I have since spent many looooooooong days in the office having fun, editing, and scrambling to manage recipe contests on deadline. If we didn’t have blogs, my job would be a lot less fun but I would probably also have fairly normal work hours.

I guess part of the purpose of this blog is transparency, but in business that also means making things transparent to your competitors. Competitors: follow me if you want … I don’t mind … because if you do, then you’ll always be a step behind. He he.

The point is that I love win-wins … and sending samples to bloggers is a great example of a win-win. Next week, a bunch of bloggers will get five varieties of dried mushrooms that they would otherwise have to spend a bunch of money on, if they could even find them in their local store. The bloggers go to town and create some awesome recipes and challenge themselves to take their culinary skills to the next level. Meanwhile they fill the web with recipes for our products. And, some of them even send their readers over to our little store for some shopping. Win-win? I think so.

Getting the job done…

I think I know what this blog is going to be about. Not that anybody is reading it yet, but if somebody is, anybody … this post is more of a managerial thought post because I do think I have some good management philosophy stuff to share.

Often I use a restaurant analogy when describing how a small business owner needs to be a jack-of-all-trades in order to succeed. The small restaurant owner needs to be good at SO many things … think about it … here are just a few things the restaurant owner needs to be able to do: take care of guests … cook when necessary … understand all the aspects of business from purchasing to marketing to HR to finance … when something breaks, he heeds to be able to fix it … etc etc etc. Right?

It’s basically the same in any small business. I deal with it every week. And, it has always struck me as a pragmatic necessity only. You gotta take care of business.

And, this week I realized there is another huge reason why the small business owner needs to be engaged and willing to step in to get the job done. I have a decent-sized team now, which means that I am somewhat removed from many of the day-to-day tasks. Once upon a time, I did them all. But, there are some functions now that I haven’t done in years.

My staff has been slammed with work since we are in the final stages of readying MarxFoods.com 5.0 (to launch in a couple weeks). So, I had to pitch in and take a rather big, but entry-level, project off my team’s hands. It was no fun, but I did it. And, in the process I re-learned the function which will make me very able to train the next person that has to do it. I will be a better manager as a result.

And, more than that I realize … As the leader, I set the example. If I have no ego issues with doing entry-level work, my team will see that. And, then it isn’t a matter of my team knowing that ego is unacceptable on our team. But they will simply be more than willing to do what it takes to get the job done. At the end of the day, my team is awesome … they had that attitude to begin with!

A fun first post: The Company Picnic

I am a tough act to follow when it comes to our company parties and unfortunately for me, I keep having to follow myself.  Our parties tend to be rather delish.

The summer party is a lot of work since I do all the cooking and hosting.  But, I don’t mind … company parties are extremely important to me.  They are an opportunity to relax with my team, get to know their partners, and recognize their good work.  The parties bring the team together and often feel like chapter openers/closers.  Most importantly, they are straight-up fun for everybody.

This past weekend’s company picnic was no exception.  The weather was epic all day.  We ate.  We swam.  We laughed.  We played a ladderball tourney for the 2nd Annual Zucchini Cup.  Did some cruisin on the boat and learned that Bryden is destined to either be a boat captain or to follow his male lineage … and love cars.  The daytime part was hot, fun and intoxicating.  Now that I think of it, so was the nighttime part.

Dinner was abundant but pretty simple summer fare: Grilled Corn with Tarragon Butter; Grilled Whole Salmon; BBQ’d chicken; beet salad (from katy’s garden); slaw; green salad; and pasta salad.  Cupcakes and balsamic marinated strawberries over vanilla coconut bliss were consumed robustly.  So much so that little room remained for smores around the firepit.

To my staff :  Many, many thanks for all that you do.  As you know, we are heading into the busy fourth quarter.  But, fear not … our holiday party will be right on its heels.  If anyone has an idea of how I could top a well fortified degustazione menu at Spinasse paired with copious alcohol, I am all ears (and tastebuds).