Using The Power Of Business For Good
New Seasons Market CEO Wendy Collie is a woman who wears many hats. Originally from Los Angeles, she’s been in Portland for 4 years—and started with New Seasons Market in January 2013. With plans to open 1-2 stores a year, Collie says the company is thoughtful and sustainable about their growth. But whether she’s visiting stores, attending meetings or problem-solving, Wendy still manages to make it home for dinner—and if she’s lucky, maybe even catch an episode of Game of Thrones.
Who and what inspires you most?
First and foremost, my family. I feel like I’m the luckiest person ever. I have a wonderful family and 2 great kids who challenge me and make me a better person every single day, and they’re foodies, which is really fun. What inspires me is helping people to find their path, and helping people to feel like they are at their best. I love to see people realize their own potential and thrive—that brings me more joy than anything else.
What are some of your favorite places or things to do in Portland?
I’m a total foodie. I love the fact that Portland is a food town, so I found myself more and more interested in the different products and ideas that are popping up in the city. I love being out in nature, and having access to rivers and oceans as well as trails and the woods. In terms of restaurants, anything that John Gorham does these days is on my radar. I love his new Mediterranean style. I always find myself going back to Tasty n Sons and Tasty n Alder— he’s brilliant. I feel like I’ve gained such a sense of community in Portland; people have really invited me in, so I find myself dabbling in many things. I also do some speaking at places like Portland State and the University of Portland, trying to get involved in helping future leaders.
What are you most proud of since you started working for New Seasons?
Since I’ve started, I’m most proud that we’ve become a Certified B-Corporation, a certification that recognizes businesses that place as much value in taking care of their staff, the community and the environment as they do on growing and operating their business. Why is that important? Because for 15 years, New Seasons has lived within their mission and values, but we’ve now been certified by a third party to validate that what we do for people, planet and profits is significant. In 2013, we were the first grocer in the world to be certified as a B-Corporation, which is a pretty big deal! That same year we acquired New Leaf Community Market in Northern California, and they got certified as well shortly after. We were the first two grocers in the world to be certified as B-Corps, and we represent a wide variety of B-Corps on our shelves—our way of going one step further in championing the B-Corp movement. Being a B-Corp is important to me, because it means you are using the power of your business for good, that you’re looking at how you’re taking care of your community and that it’s not just about your profits, but you’ve found a balance.
New Seasons is 15 years old. We opened our first store in 2000—our Raleigh Hills store. It was opened by 3 families and 50 of their friends. What’s really neat about New Seasons is this: the whole idea is to champion a social cause, but to still be able to run a successful, smart company at the same time. So it came from this place of wanting to do really good things in the world. We’re really proud and really humbled by what we’ve accomplished in 15 years.
We as a company started with really high standards for our customers, our community and our staff. I think we’ve been able to achieve those standards and elevate them. But I think the most important part for New Seasons—what we’re based on at our core—is the love of food. We believe food is community, and we support that in everything we do. While we’re always dedicated to do the right thing, we’re also dedicated to providing people with really great quality and great tasting food.
What makes New Seasons different from other grocery stores in Portland?
Our staff. We are so lucky; we have the most diverse staff in every way. Our employees come to us because they believe in what we do, and they bring their whole self to the company. What sets us apart is this fun, easy shopping experience. We have a phrase internally, that our mission is to be the ultimate neighborhood grocery store. To be a part of the neighborhood and the community, and for customers feel welcome—to build that sense of trust together.
What do you think New Seasons brings to a place like Portland? What mark has this city and the people left on New Seasons?
Portland is this incredible food mecca. I think we are a vehicle that connects the food producers to the local eaters. We’ve been able to not only help so many local products come to market and shelf, but we’ve helped people figure out how to bring their products into customers’ hands. So the connection we have with our producers is about really long-term and deep running relationships—we’d rather have a 50-year relationship than a 5-year contract. We’re in this together, and I think it’s benefitted the regional food economy. We did local before it was really popular and cool, and we did it because we thought it would help the regional food economy. Each one of our stores is very unique to that specific neighborhood. Each store is involved with their direct community, and has served as a centerpiece for that neighborhood.
How is New Seasons involved with the community here?
We give 20 % of our after tax profits back to our employees, and 10% of our after tax profits back to our community. Over the past 15 years, we’ve donated $4.7 million to our community partners. We focus on giving to organizations that support schools, promote environmental conservation and, most importantly as grocers, to fight hunger.
There is a large percentage of people in Oregon who have food insecurity, meaning they don’t know where their next meal will come from, or that they aren’t getting access to fresh products. We help with the Oregon Food Bank and Meals on Wheels, and we give time and money to make sure people have access to fresh products. Each store pairs with gleaning partners to fight hunger in the community they serve.
Tell me about the nutrition and wellness tours New Seasons offers.
Inside our stores, we have incredible nutritionists that teach free classes, so anyone can sign up for them. We offer classes about how to cook gluten free, or for a Paleo diet. One of the largest classes we offer right now is how to cook for an anti- inflammatory diet, and how to eat for your health if you have inflammatory issues. We just launched a class called Eating Budgetarian, teaching people how to eat healthy and fresh on a budget. It allows the community to come in and learn and then walk the store so we can show them how to shop, get recipes—and walk away with a special discount for class attendees.
Being friendly is one of the core values for New Seasons. How do you encourage this with all of your employees?
We hire people that share our values first—we hire people that want to make a difference and really believe in the food movement and also health and wellness. When we bring folks into the company, there’s a staff orientation—that’s where we educate our people about New Seasons Market values, which are very important to us. More than that, though, we teach people how to bring those values to life every day in every customer conversation and interaction. We give our staff a framework, but then give them the freedom to accomplish things in their own way. We want them to show up and be themselves and to do what they think is right to benefit customers. It’s empowering our staff to feel like they own the business and the experience. To do what it takes to make people feel good.
A recent example? This happened in our Progress Ridge store. A customer called ahead, looking for an apple chutney. One of our field Merchandisers, Robert, found the chutney and had it waiting. The customer mentioned that she had four kids in her car and was trying to find a parking spot, so Robert decided to bring it to her car, telling her she can just pay the next time she’s in. I love that story—our staff felt empowered to help a customer, and she left happy.
If you had to give a piece of advice to young businesswomen, what would it be? How about anyone in general?
Be yourself and be confident. Sometimes women try to fit in, and I think sometimes they’re waiting to be asked to sit at the table. I would encourage women who aspire to be leaders to know that who you are is good enough, bring your best to the table and know that you’re welcome there. Go in with the confidence that you belong there.
In general, the best leadership characteristic is to know that it’s not about you. Coming from a leadership place, of enabling and understanding the people who are doing the work and helping them know where to go for answers—that is the most important thing leaders can do. To lead with a clear vision, but with empathy and serving the organization.
And to also schedule time for yourself on your days off.
Photos by Tim Sugden