"Customers want transparency," Walter Robb, the co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, declared at a recent talk.
Buyers do not want any surprises. And, most importantly, they want producers to have integrity in the products they are producing.
He and his partner, John Mackey, came up with this notion quite a long time ago, long before "buying organic" was, well, a thing. For those of us who grew up primarily in the '80s and '90s, we remember a time when our local supermarkets coated our produce with pesticides and when sugary snacks, made entirely of corn syrup and artificial ingredients, were all the rage.
Gushers, Fruit by the Foot anyone? Our childhood memories were made of the stuff.
Yet, the team behind Whole Foods knew decades ago something new was on the horizon.They knew that customers were craving a healthy and, ultimately, ethical alternative to fast-and-mass production.They wanted a single destination for shopping a curated selection of healthy products that taste delicious. With 30 new locations opening up around the world this year and record profits, it seems they are onto something.
As the founders of ethical-fashion startup Zady, we also believe in sustainability and are aiming to be the "Whole Foods of fashion." Our notion of what customers deserve when it comes to apparel is in line with what Robb says customers deserve in food: transparency.
Related: For Zady, It's Quality Over Quantity
As a society, we're moving towards norms revolved around transparency and sustainability. For companies to not only survive in this environment but also thrive, we have a few tips:
Tell an authentic story. There are billions of things to buy out there and there are very efficient ways of getting those things. To elevate the "just things" into covetable objects, they need to have an authentic story. As a brand leader, it is your job to tell that story beautifully.
At Zady, we interview all of our designers and provide a history of related products. For example, when featuring a striped shirt, we explain why traditional striped shirts have 21 stripes. (It was for Napoleon's victories). Or the fact that Coco Chanel later made the striped shirt synonymous with style when she introduced it in her collection in 1917. It's those kind of details that build an emotional connection with a product and with your brand.
Get off the soap box. Have you ever read an interview with a CEO or entrepreneur whom you respect, only to hear them spew venom at their competition or, worse, preach about their morals and guiding light? It's not fun. Stay clean, stay positive and keep the focus on your mission, your team and what makes your business best.
Live your mission. Believe in something. Have a point of view and have your mission drive every decision of your company. A mission statement is not something you just slap on your site, it is your company's raison d'etre. It not only helps you pave your startup path but also with hiring and customer acquisition.
According to The New York Times, the millennial generation would rather work for a company that stands up for what it believes in - and believes in something - over being happy. Likewise, this generation would rather purchase products from a company that stands for something than with a company that pushes a logo.
Be in the business for the right reason. In 2010, The New Yorker described Whole Foods as a "paragon of virtue." Mackey told the magazine then that his business is mission-based, with core values including commitments to the fulfillment of equitable treatment of stakeholders, as well as the health of the public, while also having a commitment to making money. Mackey believes, as do we, that organizations must sincerely help the world become better while also focusing on and pursuing profits.