01 February 2010

Trying To Build A Better Spices Business

Trying To Build A Better Spices Business

When Sophie and I set up Steenbergs, we were very clear in our own minds about what Steenbergs as a business wanted to offer as products - the widest and most exotic range of great spices, herbs, seasonings and teas from around the world that are grown under organic agriculture and ethically sourced.  But we also wanted Steenbergs to be run as a different sort of place to those that I had been asked to expect since I entered the corporate world.

We didn't want a one dimensional pursuit of money to the exclusion of everything else  - I remember being interviewed for a job at Lazards in the City when I was maybe 25 years old and being told in that interview by an American gentleman when asked "why do you want to work in corporate finance?" that my waffly answer about "interesting, intellectual work" was wrong and that he wanted people that wanted money, were turned on by money and were motivated by greed, so luckily I did not get a job there.

Steenbergs also needs to be a fun, happy place to work where no-one blames people for mistakes and that when things go wrong we all muck in and clear up the mess, sort it out and get on with life.  Firstly, we all make mistakes and secondly, you need to make mistakes to learn.

We hope that we have created a decent place culturally to work rather than one driven by profit and fear.

Finally, we are following a middle path, one that is decent, fair and reasonable to all people within and outside the business that come into contact with Steenbergs as an entity, and that we need to carefully consider Steenbergs impact on the world, on Gaia - our planet, and try to ensure that we make as small an impact as possible on the world.

It's a middle path that accepts we must make compromises and so will not please everyone, but we will try and improve what we do, while also striving to make a small profit.  Without being profitable, it would be impossible to earn any income and to generate cash to re-invest in our business - we do not have the private wealth or big income to have the luxury of running Steenbergs as a loss-making entity without the need to consider how to grow sales, where to scrimp and save to keep costs down nor where to make pragmatic choices that may not always be the best choice for the environment (especially in packaging).

Recently, I have come across the the concept of the triple bottom line concept (“TBL” or “3BL” or “the three pillars”) which means that a business should think about “people, planet, profit” in its business dealings, rather than just to be in it for a quick buck for ourselves.  I like it as an idea as it encapsulates more rigorously what we have been trying to do in our own haphazard style.

We see the triple bottom line model as a better way to run a business, being a virtuous circle of slow but constant improvement in our business operations and the impact we have as a business on the world environment and people within Steenbergs and those who become involved with us, such as suppliers, buyers or just interested people.

So I thought it worthwhile to be very open about some of our thoughts and start explaining ways we think about and address certain key social and ethical questions within our business.  These can now be found at the following links on the web site:

Over the next few months, I hope to address packaging as an issue area and embedded carbon costs, so I will keep you informed of when I get somewhere there, but the information available to small businesses on these things is limited and the advice on how to look into it almost no existent.