All posts in What you missed

  • Mark DeYoung

    Why graphic design works and how to harness the power of participatory design

    While most of the InterCom members and guests who attended the October lunchtime Speaker Series program had at least a rough idea of the value and communication potential of graphic design, our speaker, Mark DeYoung, was able to define and clarify some vital principles and bring us up to speed on current trends.

    He brought extensive credentials to this topic: DeYoung earned a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and MFA from Michigan State University. He has worked as a designer and educator in the U.S. and Europe, in industry and for service organizations, and is currently teaching graphic design at KVCC while also working with his own company, MJ DeYoung Design and with the experimental design collaborative he founded, Jumping Dog Design. Read more

  • How a 15-gallon soup kettle launched a revolution

    Bell’s Beer: How a 15-gallon soup kettle launched a revolution

    Before Internet 2.0, consumers were force-fed their marketing on a one-way street. Here it is, come and buy it. As we all know, that changed and now the consumer calls the shots. This was similar to the beer industry in the 1970s. After prohibition, only 300 breweries emerged to renew their brewing. More than 800 breweries died during that dreadful time. Between 1933 and 1982, about 700 breweries were reduced to close to 50. Your choice of brew was very limited. Read more

  • Local media, lively roundtables animate Breaking the News: Part Two

    InterCom’s May 19 evening program, Breaking the News: Part One, sparked a lively conversation on the challenges of getting effective local news coverage in a fast-changing media landscape. Representatives of regional media outlets, including Michigan Radio, the Battle Creek Enquirer, WMUK, Issue Media Group and Bridge Magazine explained their missions, coverage and especially funding hurdles, and began trying to answer the many questions raised by highly engaged attendees. (If you missed it, here’s Public Media Network’s video of that night.)

    Even as the May program was being planned, we started getting calls for a follow-up program answering some of the questions raised, and exploring solutions. Breaking the News: Part Two on Aug. 25 brought about 50 people together, including representatives of a dozen local news outlets, for a lively World Café-style roundtable session to tackle the challenges raised in Part One.

    The number and variety of organizations handling local news was impressive and eye-opening. They included John McNeill, News Director of Midwest Communications (radio stations WVFM, WKZO, Z96.5, The Touch, and The Fan Sports); Stephen Williams, General Manager, and Andy Robins, News Director of WMUK; Steve Ellis, Publisher of Spark and South County News; Kathy Jennings, Managing Editor of Second Wave Southwest Michigan; Marie Lee, Editor and Vice President of Encore and FYI magazines; Steve Raceme, General Manager and Robin Griffin, Editor of Vineyard Press, Inc. (The Courier-Leader); Darlene Mohr, Publisher/Editor and Michelle Morgan, Events Manager of Women’s LifeStyle Magazine; Glen Dillon, WMU Assistant Director of Student Media, YBOT, Western Herald and WIDR; Shannon Long, Company Representative, Welcome Home Magazine; Ashley Berens, Marketing and Promotions Coordinator, Public Media Network; and Jackie Merriam, Publisher, Good News Paper.

    BTN2 REDO 2

    Two media entities were assigned to each of the six round tables, which were filled out by potential advertisers, professional communicators, and people “who value an informed community, as the invitation stated. The meeting was facilitated by Kristi Droppers of Collective Know-How LLC (also an InterCom board member), and began by having each table’s media representatives introduce themselves and with the help of the table, define their mission, which was then presented to the group at large.

    Then Ms. Droppers instructed each group to engage in a BMW: a brief (timed) Bitch, Moan and Whine session. Each table listed grievances and had a chance to present them to the group. It became clear that several issues were common to every medium: funding topped the list, to nobody’s surprise.

    Then, after a short break, all attendees were encouraged to swap tables and begin to explore solutions to the problems just identified. In this session, we noted the trend to expand across media to increase coverage, and to save money through online versus print publishing. It was agreed that funding for quality journalism was the toughest nut to crack in every case, and it has been difficult to replace the traditional advertising-supported funding model. Suggestions included philanthropic giving and the development of a cooperative with membership fees. All agreed that we had only begun to scratch the surface as the session ran past its scheduled end time.

    Thank you to all who participated! We look forward to presenting a compilation (Media Landscape Map) of all the information gleaned from this stimulating community discussion: Stay tuned!

    Jan Underhill is an InterCom board member and principal of J.R. Underhill Communications, offering marketing, graphic design and branding since 1980.

     

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  • Looking back on the great 2015-2016 InterCom Season

    As we edge toward the end of summer and the beginning of InterCom’s 2016-2017 programming, we wanted to take a brief peek back at the past year.

    It’s not just what you know

    The goal of our 2nd Friday Lunchtime Speakers’ Series is to combine best practices with an introduction to the people and organizations that drive the region. Member feedback suggests last year may have been our very best series of programs ever. Of course, you may want to reserve that opinion until next year!

    Who we met and what we learned:

    Tom Vance, Marketing Communications Officer at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, shared best practices in rebranding with a case study on the 85-year-old foundation, which has been nationally recognized for its philanthropy.

    Daniel Proczko, founder of the young mobile marketing startup MyPocketMarketing, shared insights into mobile outreach using InterCom’s new website as the basis for discussion.

    Chris Praedel, Director of Alumni and Donor Experiences, Office of Development and Alumni Relations, Western Michigan University, told us how to delight stakeholders through amazing event experiences ” with ideas for every budget and team size.

    Renée Newman, Discover Kalamazoo’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications, detailed their successful Give a Craftâ„¢ Beer Trail passport program. From this, we learned strategies for working across an industry or business cluster to leverage the success of many by working together.

    Josh Cook, co-founder of Green Door Distilling, shared the start-up’s story and told us how social media, connecting their company’s brand to local history and being authentic were the secrets to their success.

    Sheri Welsh, president of Welsh & Associates‘ executive search and professional recruiting services firm and the founder of KzooConnect.com, told us how she uses storytelling to build her corporate brand and recruit top talent to the community.

    LKF Marketing president Heather Isch, who acquired LKF and stepped into its top leadership role in December 2015, sat down with InterCom members at our April meeting for a private roundtable discussion of the changing advertising and marketing industry.

    In May, we headed into uncharted territory with Breaking the News Part One, a community forum on Michigan’s shifting media landscape and its effect on local coverage. A highly engaged audience enjoyed insightful dialogue among our panelists: Michael Mac McCullough (Battle Creek Enquirer), Andy Robins (WMUK), David Zeman (Bridge Magazine), Sarah Hulett (Michigan Radio) and Paul Schutt (Issue Media Group). Anna Clark of the Columbia Journalism Review moderated the event. (We’re excited for the Aug. 25th follow-up, Breaking the News Part Two, where roundtable discussions will focus on local news coverage in Greater Kalamazoo. There’s still time to register at Eventbrite!)

    New partnerships, special events

    We also increased our focus on regional partners to cross promote and drive access to groups who share community-based goals and objectives for their members. To that end, we worked with Buy Local ” InterCom is a proud member ” StartUp Grind and Kalamazoo Social Media Week. In the coming months, we anticipate shared efforts with ONEplace, too. ONEPlace is the region’s center for nonprofit service, support and leadership development.

    If you’d like more information on any of these lunchtime events, check out What You Missed on our news feed here.

    We have another amazing lineup of speakers, topics and exclusive shared experiences planned for InterCom members in the coming year! Don’t miss a thing! Join or renew your membership today.

    Photo: “Couple in front seat of car with a baby in between looking out the back window,” Kentucky, 1972; William Gedney Photographs and Writings; Duke University David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

  • Commercials 2.0

    Most communication professionals don’t skip the commercials. And when we get a chance to binge on them in the name of work, it’s like the computer geek tasked with testing the latest online game. InterCom’s final lunchtime event of the 2015-2016 season was a lot like that.

    On June 10 we watched the world’s best commercials from the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity at Azon’s international headquarters in Kalamazoo. These mini stories told in creative ways always spark our imaginations with inspiration from great creative geniuses around the world. There were three distinct trends this year that appear to be driving the most successful ad campaigns. These are the lessons we took with us. They’re important for anyone trying to effect change through a marketing or advertising initiative ” whether you’re selling a product, trying to get elected, raising money or raising awareness.

    Multi-channel messaging

    Commercials are no longer designed for TV alone. The best at Cannes were distributed through social media, web, print and other channels. And each platform required telling the story is slightly different ways.

    Great agencies have found that broad distribution combined with engaging creative is a key to audience engagement. (A recent report by IAB, Kargo and? Refinery29 found that nearly three-quarters of marketing and media agency executives believe improving the user experience is a top goal). When the consumer controls his or her experience across multiple platforms ” as they do today in unprecedented ways ” varying placement is the only way to reach an audience. It was clear that the Cannes winners understood where and how to reach their markets in a way that drove results.

    The needle moved

    Cannes winners provided insight into their campaign goals. They shared their creative intent and talked about how their commercials achieved those ends. This was a nice reminder that even the most ingenious ideas are only as good as the results they drive. Despite the increasing complexity of media buying, ROI remains king.

    Innovation and ideation

    Most of the commercials featured social and product innovations. They solved problems and addressed needs in creative ways: Making bikes visible at night with a spray. Detecting shark threats with satellite data. Highlighting the lack of blood donors in Romania by deleting the color red from TV news broadcasts. This may be more a reflection of the culture within which the campaigns were judged than the strategy and execution of the commercials themselves. But it’s an interesting theme to note. The audiences we seek to reach are, after all, experiencing the same culture shift

    If you couldn’t join us for this year’s encore InterCom lunchtime event, we hope you’ll mark your calendar for June 9, 2017. (Our 2nd Friday events are always free to members. Join or renew your membership for 2016-2017 now!) Thanks to our host Nancy Peterson of Azon for the use of the room, and for providing a wonderful lunch.

    See you all Aug. 25 when we gather for Breaking the News Part 2, REVEALED: Best ways to get a story covered in Kalamazoo.

     

  • Local News: Picking Up The Pieces

    For an institution with serious trust issues, the news media still has plenty of supporters willing to gather and ask what the hell is happening.

    Journalism has struggled for years in the face of industry consolidation, new technologies and declining revenues that decimated newsrooms. The hometown daily has all but vanished. Electronic media remain, though their immediate nature limits the broader, thoughtful analysis, the public forum and the community record that were once the hallmarks of local journalism.mail.google.com

    For consumers, there’s a nagging sense that we’ve lost something precious, and we aren’t sure what will take its place. That’s the starting point for a conversation.

     

    Breaking The News attempted just that.

    The event drew about 60 people”journalists, communicators, marketers and other interested folks”to hear from a panel of media experts about the state of local journalism. Held May 19 at Western Michigan University’s Fetzer Center, the gathering was sponsored by InterCom, an association of communication professionals.

    The panelists were Sarah Hulett, assistant news director Michigan Radio (NPR); Michael McCullough, executive editor and content strategist, Battle Creek Enquirer; Andy Robins, news director, WMUK (NPR); Paul Schutt, co-founder, Issue Media Group; and David Zeman, senior editor, Bridge Magazine. The panel was moderated by Anna Clark, Midwest correspondent for Columbia Journalism Review.BattleCreek

    Breaking The News sparked a robust discussion. I can’t do justice to the many insights shared, but here are a few takeaways:

    Print can’t be the primary source for news anymore.

    It’s too expensive, less efficient, and it rarely has the staff and budget to do it well. Those days are gone, and they’re never coming back, said Robins. He added that his radio station is trying to fill the gap by investing in its news department. Still, Robins admitted that radio and TV can’t cover the news as deeply as a well-staffed, resource-rich newspaper could.

    Local news gets covered, but it’s harder to find.

    Where once you could pick up your hometown daily and get all the local, state, national and world news you wanted, as well as analysis and community perspective, now you must look to multiple vehicles”broadcast outlets, online tools, magazines, forums, and yes, the local newspaper. Schutt pointed out that the relationship between media and consumer has become transactional. That said, McCullough welcomes the competition. When you talk about the impact of new technology, it’s introducing competition to journalism that used to be the norm, he said.

    No money, no news.

    Like it or not, local journalism depends on a steady stream of revenue. It might be nice to click on a link and read a story for free, but newsrooms can’t run forever on an empty stomach. That reality is prompting much more interaction between the news and business sides of media. What was once a wall between them has become, by necessity, more like a four-foot fence where the neighbors can talk, said Clark. The two sides are searching for ways to monetize their work”a solution that the industry as a whole hasn’t yet fully developed.

    Competition and funding challenges can create ethical conflicts.

    Choosing what and how to cover news is dictated by more than just its perceived newsworthiness. Michigan Radio’s Hulett warned that outside funding sources bring agendas that require a careful journalistic balance. In a previous blog, I shared my own conflicted feelings about sponsored content in news media. And there’s the simple fact that few media have the resources to cover everything worth covering. The future will continue to put news outlets in an ethical and business balance that’s constantly wobbling.

    The biggest risk to local journalism is the loss of its community connection.

    That’s already happened in some places. Schutt noted the emergence of news deserts in communities across the country”a trend that’s on the rise, prompting some governments and groups to take advantage of the lack of news oversight, said Clark. Added McCullough, That connection to your community is the strongest, most important thing you have. I guard it jealously.

    The future remains a question mark.

    What didn’t get addressed at Breaking The News was where this is headed. There were hopeful signs”increased resources for some outlets, innovative approaches to connecting with community and providing thoughtful analysis. But uncertainties remain”the struggle to generate revenue, the continued contraction of newsroom staff, the focus on clicks over meaningful news. I’m hoping this will be part of the next panel discussion, slated for Aug. 25.

    Perhaps the most promising part of the event was the shared desire by so many for a strong Fourth Estate, and a heartfelt commitment to seeing that happen.

    Provided by Rick Chambers, owner and president of Rich Chambers & Associates, LLC, and a long-time member of InterCom. This article first appeared on Chambers’ company blog.


     

  • LKF Marketing and Heather Isch: Clients, Culture and Kalamazoo

    Taking over one of Kalamazoo’s oldest locally owned and run advertising agencies is no small feat. But that’s exactly what Heather Isch did back in December of 2015.

    Heather spoke to InterCom at our April lunch about her agency’s transition, their niche business, pathways for success and the future of advertising. Heather, the new president and owner of LKF Marketing, held a cozy roundtable discussion about traditional and digital advertising sans any digital support. Communication was served up old school with good old fashioned conversation.

    The agency started as Lawton, King and Fricke in 1989 with three partners: Brian Lawton, Charlie King and Carol Fricke. Nine years later, Carol Fricke took sole ownership and christened the company LKF Marketing, Inc. Heather Isch joined in 1998, served as Vice President for nine years and purchased the company in 2015. With new ownership came a new address. After spending more than 26 years at the Rose Street Market, the LKF crew made the move to the Main Street East building off of East Michigan in downtown Kalamazoo.

    As with all businesses, we have to adapt to and apply new technology. When Heather first joined LKF she asked what they were doing with the internet. Their answer was, Nothing. Do you know anything about it? This was the launch pad for the digital-based success LKF enjoys today. Through trial and error, they found their niche. They continue to be a full service ad agency but combine creative, strategy and technology under one roof.

    One of the keys to their success is sticking with B-to-B clients, but not limiting themselves to one industry. Their philosophy is good marketing and good strategy work, no matter what industry you’re in. They tend to shine in businesses that are technology-heavy, have challenging sales channels and have complex marketing issues. This includes clients in the fields of finance, economic development, environmental consulting, health care, government and non-profits.

    Key Discussion Takeaways #1: Good Programmers are tough to find and keep in Kalamazoo.

    One of LKF’s main services is building websites and driving traffic to them. With good strategy and design comes programming. Yet with a local programmer unemployment rate of 2%, good programmers are tough to find in our region. I have a job listing for a PHO programmer on our website, stated Isch. We never take it down.

    One of their latest digital challenges has been cyber security. They’ve gone from solving fun marketing challenges to all of this crazy cyber stuff. Clients want their sites to bring them customers, not thieves. Luckily, they just hired a programmer who will oversee PCI Compliance and allow the rest of their team to do what they love to do¦ which is marketing, not IT.

    Key Discussion Takeaway #2: Culture is king. Work hard, play hard.

    With a tip of the hat to former owner Carol Fricke, Heather detailed how one key to attracting and retaining good team members is building an exciting work culture. Work hard, play hard isn’t just a motto, it’s a way of life. They’ve always had an agency that did whatever it took to get the desired results for their clients, but they had fun doing it.

    It’s not unusual to come to their office and see dogs running around (It happens every other Friday). They also stop working at 4:30 on Friday, get everyone together, have a cocktail and decompress before they part for the weekend.

    On a serious note, about four years ago they started implementing E.O.S. or Entrepreneurial Operating System. Founded by author Gino Wickman, the E.O.S. model provides a visual illustration of the six key components of any business that must be managed and strengthened to be a great business. This model applies to big and small businesses alike, in any industry.

    E.O.S. gave us access to a lot of tools to run our business and help solidify our culture, Heather explained. Work Hard, Play Hard became a set of core values that helps them hire, review and, if needed, fire team members. Somebody may have all of the right skills, but they may not share the same core culture. If they don’t have those cultural values, they are not going to fit on our team very well. These standards help stop the revolving door of employees that plague some companies. Most of the LKF team has been there for more than 10 years. Longevity also runs with their clients as well. The average client tenure in the agency world is two and half years. LKF has a list of loyal clients that have been with them for 15 to 20 years.

    Key Discussion Takeaway #3: Clients are good, good clients are better.

    LKF’s passion statement is assisting the people in their family to thrive. Family is defined as the employees, the employees’ family and to no lesser degree, their clients as well. However, not just anyone can join the family.

    A key to having a great client relationship is avoiding potential cultural differences and misunderstandings down the road. LKF can be picky about the type of clients they seek. They built a profile client list. These clients should have certain desirable characteristics in order to fit into the family. One key element is seeing LKF as a partner, not just a vendor. Another is clients looking for a long-term relationship and seeing LKF as an extension of their own marketing department. It is better to shy away from a potential bad relationship at the start t than to find disaster six months down the road.

    It was clear to all who attended Heather’s talk that LKF’s third act is just beginning, and their journey is definitely headed down the right path.

    By Curtis Cunningham, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Lawrence Productions.

  • Sheri Welsh

    The KzooConnect Story

    Companies have long understood the importance of differentiating their brand for consumers and clients. But the need to win the hearts and minds of employees is a relatively new concept for many employers. This was the message from Sheri Welsh, president of Welsh & Associates executive search & professional recruiting services, who spoke at the March 11 InterCom 2nd Friday event. Welsh introduced attendees to The KzooConnect Story, a case study of corporate branding and talent recruitment through storytelling.

    KzooConnect is a magazine-style blog that highlights positive news about the Kalamazoo region. Welsh & Associates launched it in 2013 as a way to keep professionals connected to the region, especially those in the Millennial age-group, which is quickly becoming the largest age demographic in the workforce.

    With Western, Kalamazoo College and Kalamazoo Valley all here in the region, Welsh said we’re graduating talented young people with skills and expertise that local companies can benefit from. Many leave, which is what young people do.

    It’s natural for young people to want to leave the nest, move away and explore the world, Welsh said. That’s OK, but when they’re ready to think about settling down, we want them to know that the place they once called home is filled with opportunities for them.

    To keep these young folks engaged and informed, KzooConnect offers stories about the people and places that make southwest Michigan a great place to live, work and play.

    The Talent Dilemma

    Welsh said the idea for KzooConnect started to develop before the recession hit.

    Experts like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and a slew of economists predicted a looming talent shortage of major portions.

    And although unemployment skyrocketed during the recession, it remained relatively low for professionals aged 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree. (Today, unemployment for that group is at its lowest rate in years, even here, in the Kalamazoo region.)

    As a leader in human resources management, Welsh often spoke to business executives who lamented the challenges of bringing top talent to the region. If you’ve grown up here or lived here for any length of time you know it’s a great place to live, they said. How do we bring those folks back, and how do we attract people who have never been here and know nothing about the region?

    The human resource landscape held other challenges. Among the trends were:

    • The aging of America, which will lead to 60 million Boomer exiting the market in the next two decades
    • The 40 million Millennials entering the job market
    • The prediction that Millennials ” as employees ” will be unlike generations past and are expected to have 15-20 jobs over their lifetime
    • The shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent
    • The emergency of technology as a driver in the hiring process, with social media becoming the dominant method of job seeking ” which demands that companies follow suit with an online hiring presence

    A Community’s Future Depends on Top Talent

    At about the same time, something called a talent community was emerging within the human resources sector. Talent communities are company-sponsored blogs that keep employees, and prospective employees engaged with a company’s culture, subtly extolling all the great reasons why top professionals would want to work there.

    Welsh, who is always looking for broad solutions that support all her clients, wondered if a talent community could work at a larger scale ” a scale big enough to benefit the region. When she tested the idea with community leaders, she found there was strong support. Kalamazoo Public School graduates, for example ” those graduating with and using the Kalamazoo Promise to attend college ” were among the sought-after young talent that community leaders wanted to keep engaged. The idea had strong, broad support.

    KzooConnect

    Welsh turned to LKF Marketing to help design and launch KzooConnect, which has been growing in visitors, shares and reach ever since. A big part of the blog’s appeal is its story-telling aspect. It features regular articles by and about young professionals engaged in work they love. It offers insight into the entrepreneurial and artisan culture of the region. And it highlights the area’s short commutes, local music scene and close-by nature.

    For Welsh, the effort is in many ways a labor of love and a way to give back to the community. But there are benefits, too. KzooConnect has furthered the company’s growing reputation as a thought leader in talent management. And in this way, the blog has been a brand differentiator for W&A among the company’s clients.

    If you missed this presentation at InterCom, you can still catch Sheri Welsh and The KzooConnect Story. Sheri will be speaking April 13, 11:30 “ 1 p.m. at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation Winter Garden as part of Social Media Week. Register here.

     

  • Renée Newman shared the Give a Craftâ„¢ Beer Trail passport backstory

    The Give a Craftâ„¢ beer trail was launched in 2015 to attract craft beer lovers to the Kalamazoo region. The trail features destinations at each of 12 craft breweries located throughout the county. Conceived as a fun way to experience Kalamazoo’s beer scene, it’s been hugely successful. Kalamazooans often find themselves raising beer glasses alongside visitors from throughout the Midwest and across the country. And the passports ” which were originally required for trade-in in exchange for swag ” have become a treasured souvenir.

    But the trail isn’t unique to Kalamazoo or to even craft beer. In fact, the idea came from similar trails in other industries. Bourbon, to be exact.

    This was some of the intel ” and the first of several best practices ” gleaned from Renée Newman, Discover Kalamazoo’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications, who shared the Give a Craftâ„¢ Beer Trail passport backstory with InterCom members and guests at the February 2nd Friday Speakers Series event.  As a case study in successful marketing initiatives, attendees learned best practices from Newman’s experience. Following are a few of those insights.

    1. A great idea doesn’t have to be new, and it can come from anywhere

    A connoisseur of America’s fine bourbons, Newman was a traveler on the Bourbon Trail when the kernel of an idea for a similar experience in Kalamazoo began to form for her.  At the time, the Kalamazoo region’s craft beer culture was still developing. She sat on the idea for a while, informally gathering background. As the number of craft breweries in Kalamazoo began to grow, so did the possibility of a successful beer trail.

    1. Do the research and adapt it to your local market/organization’s needs

    The beer trail had the potential to be a hallmark visitor experience for our region, but Newman and the Discover Kalamazoo team wanted to make sure it was thoroughly planned and well executed. That meant research. Back to the Bourbon Trail. And on to other beer trails in Boulder, Colorado, and Bend, Oregon.  What Newman learned was that each community tailored their trail with unique features that fit local culture. Like any great promotional effort, the success of Kalamazoo’s trail required a keen understanding of the target audience.

    1. Make it easy for those on the front line to participate

    Increasing local traffic around the craft beer culture would naturally drive exposure for brewers. They should want to be a part of the process, right? The business boost was welcome, but most of the local brewers are small start-ups with an intense focus on product quality first and foremost. Participation in the trail program had to be easy and without cost to the brewers.

    1. Continuously innovate and adjust based on feedback

    Like any good marketer, Newman and her team have baked continuous feedback into the Give a Craftâ„¢ beer trail. That previously mentioned swag, for example, can only be had when you’ve turned in a quick, light-hearted survey ” and only after you’ve completed the trail. In its original design, participants were asked to hand over their passports. But it was soon discovered that the passport itself was a much-desired keepsake.

    Maybe one of the most important lessons was: When you tap your creativity around the right project, a rising tide can lift everyone’s boat. And stein.

     

  • Distillery founders link local history, ingredients in spirited startup

    One of the first things you’ll notice about Green Door Distilling, at 429 E. North St. in Kalamazoo, is that there’s no green door. The front door is cherry. It’s handcrafted. And it comes with a story that founder Josh Cook shares readily. (Originally intended for a residential home, the door made its way to the start-up distillery through Heritage Architectural Salvage & Supply; Green Door purchased it for a fraction of its original selling price.)

    Story is an important part of the Green Door Distilling brand, which is still evolving. It’s as if this unfinished tale invites casual observers to join in the telling. Join the adventure is a company tagline. Cook brought attendees of InterCom’s January 2nd Friday Speaker Series up to date on his story ” and the story of Green Door ” so far.

    Born and raised in Kalamazoo, Cook grew up like most youngsters, with a dream of making his way somewhere else ” anywhere else ” but Kalamazoo. He’s a third-generation entrepreneur: His father owns Cook Construction and his grandfather founded Sanford Insurance Group. When Cook decided on a career in engineering ” as the first college graduate in his family ” he opted for Western Michigan University. It’s been among the top engineering schools in the country for several years, Cook says. Why leave to go to a lesser school?”

    WMU is where Cook met fellow engineering student Jon Good. They graduated together in 2012 and both found jobs in the region. But they were anxious to carve their own career paths. Good more so. He got Cook’s attention when he said he was leaving his job to start his own distilling company. Kalamazoo’s thriving craft brewing and growing coffee industries had proven that the region would support artisan drink markets. Their engineering backgrounds gave them an edge in the complexities of distilling. They even designed their own distillation equipment. And the national market for niche distilling was growing. The pair began planning. Learning about the distilling industry. And tapping the expertise of anyone in their extended circle of friends and acquaintances who could teach them something or lend a hand.

    By this time Cook had put down his own roots. He knew Kalamazoo was where he wanted to make his mark. He’d opted for an apartment in Kalamazoo’s growing Rivers Edge district, just north of downtown. And he’d joined the Kalamazoo City Planning Commission. He and Good began the search for a place to build their business. But as a start-up business in a highly regulated industry, their options were limited.

    We’d ruled out every available property to us downtown, Cook says.  It was a bit of serendipity that a facility on a relatively large piece of land opened up a short walk from his apartment when Artwear Apparel and Graphics relocated to Gull Road. More good luck when NoMi Developers, LLC announced new projects in the area, including a $5 million mixed use project across from the distillery on Walbridge street. When complete, it will include apartments for some 50 residents and a restaurant, targeted for completion in 2017.

    Following an initial round of crowdfunding from friends and family, Cook and Good have done nearly all of the renovations themselves ” including hanging that front door and installing windows in what will ultimately become the production room. They found the windows on Craigslist and drove them back from southern Illinois in the hatch of a U-Haul sprinter van. “Not one of them sustained even a crack,” Cook says. It’s another chapter in the story.

    When Cook isn’t working to build Green Door ” the structure and the business ” he’s cycling, traveling, or doing market research. Both Cook and Good are outdoorsmen and they’ve woven that love into Green Door’s brand, too. The pictures on their whiskey bottles capture places they’ve traveled in Michigan. Michigan is central to the spirits’ story as well. Cook and Good have committed to using all Michigan-grown ingredients. The bottles are the only thing ” so far ” we haven’t been able to source in Michigan, Cook says. But they’ll continue to look for local options.

    Green Door’s date for sales to begin remains weeks, perhaps months away. Though most of their regulatory hurdles are behind them, a few restrictions ” like labeling approval, which can’t occur until production begins ” remain. Cook says the distilling industry remains highly regulated. Many restrictions are holdovers from Prohibition, which is also the source for Green Door’s rather cryptic name. “During prohibition, a green door or green mark on the door was the sign of a speakeasy, Cook explains.

    Though little known, Kalamazoo has its own rich history in distilling, with brands like Ol’ Luke’s Best and Whitcomb Brothers Blend once popular local favorites. Cook and Good will incorporate that local lore in their products. Among their plans is to learn and share the stories of those long-ago sprits and the makers behind them. And, of course, to create history themselves.

    By Gretchen Johnson, President of InterCom and owner of WordPlay Marketing Communications

    View Josh Cook’s presentation here.