Grocery chain Mom's Organic Market grew slowly at first, but now slow and steady is paying off.
It took Scott Nash three years to get his organic grocery business from its launch phase in his mother's garage to the opening of an actual store. Thirteen years later, he was up to a whopping three locations.
But that slow-growth approach belies a deliberate strategy that Nash credits for the success of Mom's Organic Market. Even as he took things not so much one day at a time as one year at a time, Nash studied a select group of A-list companies, including Trader Joe's, Costco, and Apple, analyzing what they did well.
The biggest lesson he learned: These companies excel at playing the long game. "Strategic growth includes an element of scarcity," he says. "The key for us has been setting the speed at which we're able to grow structurally while also protecting our scarcity -- the mysteriousness of the Mom's brand."
Mom's has no formal advertising or marketing programs. Its stores open at 9 a.m. (to allow it time to stock that morning's deliveries). It provides free electric-car charging stations. And, even as investors come knocking, it vows to remain independent.
Nash doesn't mind that he had to endure a decade-long learning curve before he was confident that he finally knew how to replicate success. In fact, he says his approach is an intentional reaction against the prevailing business ethos. "Wall Street has everyone managing by the quarter," he says. "As a result, corporate America is afraid to change or to look very far into the future."
Having absorbed some important lessons along the way, Nash is now adjusting the speed at which he builds the company. Mom's has 10 locations in Maryland and Virginia and plans to open eight stores in the Northeast corridor by 2016. Revenue grew 33 percent from 2012 to 2013.
Even as he ramps Mom's up, Nash emphasizes that its prolonged gestation period not only helped him learn how to build the business; it gave the company time to fully integrate its mission -- to protect and restore the environment--to its corporate culture.
That culture is all about making sure that Mom's walks the walk when it comes to healthful eating and to all things environmental. Having launched an initiative in 2005 called Environmental Restoration, which addressed issues including carbon offsets, recycling, and composting, Mom's now holds regular employee-education sessions that inspire workers to suggest additional go-green projects.
That's why customers won't find plastic bottles in the beverage aisle. Inspired by a documentary chronicling the damage wrought by such bottles, employees pushed to have them banned from Mom's stores and had video monitors installed that play that documentary for customers, impressing upon them the importance of purchasing beverages packaged in bottles made from corn and tapioca root.
"We get the most out of our people by giving them the freedom and autonomy to do things their way," Nash says. "It's been proven over and over again that money is not the chief motivator: People need to feel good about where they work and about the good things they are contributing to the world.
Mom's Organic Market
Headquarters: Rockville, Md.
2013 Revenue: $100 million