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The Uncommon Life

What is Best for NYC?

September 8, 2015

The New York City Economic Development Corporation and B Lab, the non-profit organization behind the B Corporation network, are calling out New York City businesses to become Best for NYC!  The Best for NYC Challenge is a free impact assessment to help business leaders identify where their businesses excel and where their business could improve to strengthen the bottom line and New York City. Through this campaign, B Lab will provide tools for small businesses to measure, benchmark, and improve their economic and social impact like the leading B Corporations.

At the end of 2015, NYCEDC and B Lab will celebrate businesses that have taken the Best for NYC Challenge and are working to build a better business and improve quality of life for all New Yorkers.

UncommonGoods is proud to be a model for the Best for NYC qualification challenge. Check out the video below of UncommonGoods CEO David Bolotsky to learn more about UncommonGoods’ journey to socially responsible business. You can join the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #BestforNYC.

The Uncommon Life

How is UncommonGoods Improving Sustainability?

December 19, 2014

During the chaos, magic, excitement, and deliciousness of the holidays, it can be difficult to take the time to pause and reflect on the past year. The end of the year always seems to sneak up like a Secret Santa gift, something that you almost forget about until it pops up on your desk unannounced. Now that the end of 2014 is less than two weeks away, there’s no better time to think back about what we’ve accomplished over the past 12 months and how we want to move forward in 2015, especially when it comes to our sustainability efforts. Each year teaches us that positive change is the result of decisions that factor our  “triple bottom line,” our impact on people, planet, and profit.  We’re proud of the milestones we’ve achieved in 2014, as well as the initiatives that continue to support our company mission. Here’s this year’s impact in review!

 

B Corp Recertification

Improving Sustainability | UncommonGoods

In 2007 we took an important step when we became a founding B Corporation, a certification that has since expanded to a network of companies that use the power of business to help solve environmental and social problems. Earlier this year, we made another stride toward becoming a better business by earning our B Corp recertification, coming out with our best score yet! We earned 111.4 points this time around, which equated to a 13 percent increase over our 2012 score of 99 points. While some of the extra points were thanks to improvements to our work environment and green initiatives, we saw the greatest improvement in our “Community” score. Check out the full story!

 

Better to Give: Thanks a Million!

Better to Give | UncommonGoods

We launched the Better to Give program in 2001, which allows customers to select from one of our non-profit partners to receive a $1 donation from us at checkout. Over the week of Thanksgiving, we raised that donation to $5 for those visiting our site through a special email campaign. We saw the donation rate skyrocket during this time, taking us past the $1 million mark on Black Friday! Check out the announcement to learn how we’ve now donated over $1 million to our Better to Give partners.

 

#RaisetheWage

Improving Sustainability | UncommonGoods

 

At UncommonGoods, we pay all our workers, including our seasonal team, above the minimum hourly wage. Back in September, our Founder and CEO Dave Bolotsky participated in the #RaisetheWage campaign with Business for a Fair Minimum Wage. To show your support, spread the message by sharing this video with the hashtag #RaisetheWage and help “give America a raise!”

 

Composting

Improving Sustainability | UncommonGoods
Photo by Vokashi

 

Earlier this year, we teamed up with Vokashi Kitchen Waste Solutions to start implementing an in-house compost collection. Collection buckets are strategically placed around our headquarters to collect employee food scraps, which are used to compost at various community gardens and public green spaces. We’re excited to continue improving our waste management during 2015!

 

 The B Corp “Ripple” Effect

Improving Sustainability | UncommonGoods

Sustainability committee member Christopher McRae and CEO and founder Dave Bolotsky traveled to Vermont to attend this year’s B Corp Champions Retreat. Check out Chris’ experience from three inspiring days of learning from other B Corps, celebrating the movement, and discussing future goals.

 

Product and Operations

Improving Sustainability | UncommonGoods

From operations to product development, our team works hard to implement sustainable solutions whenever possible. We try our best to minimize our impact by shifting more business online, limiting how many catalogs we mail, and printing our catalogs on either recycled paper (virtually all of which is from 30% post-consumer waste) or paper sourced from FSC certified forests (which are harvested in a sustainable manner). Around 20 percent of our products are made from upcycled or recycled materials, and about 50 percent are handmade, none of which contain leather, feathers or fur. Additionally, we continue to save resources by using packing materials that can be inflated in our warehouse, and bale recyclable cardboard to return to our vendor, making for a closed-loop system. Throughout 2015, we plan to continue working on energy efficiency, sustainable sourcing, and sustainable product development.

We welcome you to send any questions, comments, concerns, or ideas to sustainability@uncommongoods.com. As always, thank you for supporting our mission. From all of us at UncommonGoods, we wish you and your loved ones a happy holiday season and a happy new year!

The Uncommon Life

3 Takeaways from 3 Days with B Corp Champions

December 18, 2014

Every year, B Lab hosts the Champions Retreat, where B Corps from around the globe come together to celebrate the success of the businesses and growth of the movement. This year I had the honor of attending the retreat in Vermont, where a multitude of events were lined up to teach, inspire, and challenge the individuals gathered to bring the dream of a sustainable corporate America into fruition.

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods
Photo by Emily McManamy

 

Day 1 Takeaway– Sustainable sourcing is not black and white.

For the first event of the retreat, we toured the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream factory. Believe it or not, I was looking forward to a treat even better than free samples of their chocolate cookie dough ice cream.

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods

Cheryl Pinto, Values Led Sourcing Manager, gave us the “inside scoop” on the amount of work and resolve needed to maintain sustainable sourcing standards within a company, a feat especially difficult since Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever in 2000. Joining us as guest speakers were some of Ben & Jerry’s suppliers: Ted Castle, Owner & President of Rhino Foods, who supplies the cookie dough, and Michael Brady, the President and CEO of Greyston Bakery, who supplies the brownies. They spoke on their own experiences in building sustainable businesses, their reasons for doing it, the obstacles they overcame, and the importance in doing business with other individuals who value people, planet, and profit. With this, they opened the floor for discussion amongst our peers for ways in which we can source more sustainably for our respective businesses. The conversation was interesting. Although the brainstorming session ended before any universally correct conclusion was drawn, it opened the floodgates to the central focus of the rest of the retreat.

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods

Day 2 Takeaway– Ripples of inspiration and collaboration create waves of innovation.

The second day’s main event was entitled “Deeper Roots, Stronger Branches.” There was a series of speakers who touched upon the importance of spreading the message, the impact of being a B Corp, the development of the B Corp concept, and the furtherance of the initiatives created to raise awareness and encourage others to become involved.

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods
Photo by Emily McManamy

 

Ripple” is the term used when referring to B Corp leaders spreading awareness to other business leaders, thereby helping others to pay attention to the environmental and social impact of business.  Whether or not they are ready for certification, it is helpful for companies to complete the B Lab impact assessment in order for them to understand their current impact and make goals for future improvements.

 

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods
Photo by Emily McManamy

 

The speakers also discussed the social perception of B Corps on Millennials. Some speakers spoke about the increased demand for B Corps to come speak at schools and universities. By encouraging the next generation to pay attention to the values of their future employers, they argued that we can increase the demand for good business practices. In this way, we can collaborate with the next generation to turn ripples of inspiration and collaboration into waves of innovation.

 

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods
Photo by Emily McManamy

 

Day 3 Takeaway– Turning ideas and challenges into solutions is no small feat.  “B inspired” to keep moving forward.

On Day 3, B Lab assembled an assortment of speakers to challenge those of us who already have an invested interest to take it a step further.

For example, Ben Cohen, the Co-Founder of Ben & Jerry’s, talked about the imbalance of corporate influence in politics. He described that corporations, on average, contribute 1,000 times more than the rest of the population to political campaigns, thereby using this tremendous influence to further their own agendas. Sick and tired of money informing politics, he founded StampStampede, a campaign to encourage Americans to “legally stamp messages on our Nation’s currency to #GetMoneyOut of Politics” and amend the Constitution.
B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods

Another inspiring example is Juan Pablo Larenas, who our founder Dave and myself had the pleasure of sharing a cab with. He spoke about the annual International Festival of Social Innovation (called fiiS in Chile), which he organizes to help spread awareness, boost the economy, and offer entertainment to the locals of the poverty-stricken ghettos of Chile.

More than anything, this retreat drove home the indisputable fact that upheaving the current paradigm of a successful business to a model that puts others before its own needs is no small feat. But rather than discouraging companies from attempting change, the retreat emphasized setting realistic goals. Even if goals that you think are practical end up being a bit of over-ambitious, at least you will “fail forward” and create ripples for others to build momentum for a better future.

 

B Corp Champions Retreat | UncommonGoods
Photo by Emily McManamy

 

Maker Resources

How to Take the Leap from Maker to Entrepreneur

October 15, 2014

Emilie Shapiro | UncommonGoods

Where do I sell my work? Is retail or wholesale better? How do I make work that will sell?

These are the questions I hear all of the time as a jewelry instructor. My students at Liloveve Jewelry School, 92Y, and Brooklyn Museum range from making their first piece to running successful businesses, but all have one thing in common–the need to create something tangible that didn’t exist before.

During my time as the production manager at Pamela Love Jewelry and Allforthemountain, I learned how the jewelry industry works inside and out from handmade one-of-a-kind pieces, small scale in-house production and outsourcing work with United States based factories. Through the years of designing my own collection which is sold at over 50 boutiques Worldwide, I’ve found what works for me.

Emerald Mosaic Ring | UncommonGoods

Where will I Sell My Work?

  • Directly from your studio. The Holidays are a great time of year to have a sample sale in person and/or online to get rid of some inventory to make room for new work.
  • Have a jewelry (or other item) party! Ask a friend or family member to host you and your work at their home or office. Bring snacks and wine and gift your host a piece for having the party.
  • Online – Etsy, bigcartel, your own Squarespace, site and so many more! There are tons of ways to make an inexpensive online presence or website that someone can shop from.
  • Retail Shows – Retailing is selling your goods directly to the public from a fixed location or online. Check out local craft shows in your area. The Holidays are great because people are looking for gifts. Be sure to ask the what the median price point is and what other vendors will be there to make sure you’re a good fit. Also, make sure to have a sign and a cohesive display for your work. Good lighting is a must, especially for jewelry, so make sure to ask about electricity. Don’t forget your business cards or postcards and packaging. (Some of these Trade Show Tips go for retail shows as well.)
  • Wholesale – Wholesaling is selling your goods in large quantities to be resold by other retailers. Set a minimum price or piece order to make it worth your time and so a retailer has a good selection of your work represented. Check out local stores you think your work would fit in with. Who else do they sell and for what prices? Would your work look good next to them? Walk in wearing your work (or pictures of your objects), be very friendly and ask who is the buyer and get in touch. Don’t waste your time or buyers time if it’s not a good fit or price point.

Production

How Can I Streamline My Production?

  • Focus on efficiency of creativity while you’re producing. Perfect your first piece (your model) on design and craftsmanship and then break down each step. Work in an assembly line fashion instead of making one piece start to finish, even if you’re by yourself. You work faster while your body gets in the rhythm.
  • Buy in bulk when possible. Stock up on supplies and materials like chains and findings. Go in with other artists to get the best prices possible.

Materials

  • Develop a clear track for your orders from the second you receive it from when it ships out your door. I use a production schedule which I find really helpful. This helps me keep track of the items I have to make for stores and clients, what I have in stock, and what I have to make.

Production Schedule

  • Think about what you’re great at, and what someone else can do for you. As an artist you want to follow your heart on how you make something, but as a business owner you need to use your brain on the most cost effective way. Try to find the balance and make your work efficiently without lowering your quality.

Jewelry Assembly

What are the Best Tips for Success?

  • Make your own decisions; you’re the boss! Whether you’re hiring an employee, deciding whether a new store is a good (or bad) fit, telling the owner of a store they can’t change your designs (this happens to me once a week – you are the designer), there are tons of big and day-to-day decisions with running a craft business.
  • Find a middle ground. As an artist, you will have the tendency to make decisions based on feelings and intuition. As a successful businessperson, you will need to make decisions based on rational calculation. I like to find a happy medium between the two.
  • When you need help, ask for it. Use the resources of friends, family, and local businesses around you. No one can do everything! Know when to delegate.
  • Be thoroughly professional.
  • Accept nothing less than the highest standards of your work. Never cut corners to make a deadline; your work will suffer and people will notice. Customers buy handmade for good quality products. The goodwill of your customers if your most valuable possession! Don’t jeopardize it by delivering late or shipping work that’s not high quality.
  • Never stop learning!
Maker Resources

5 Tips On How To Conquer Trade Shows

September 19, 2014

Whether you’re planning to go to your first trade show soon or you’re a trade show pro – check out the five detailed tips below on how to take advantage of these events to help your business prosper!

5 Trade Show Tips | UncommonGoods

1. Make connections with other vendors: Networking at a trade show is no big secret. Essentially, that’s the whole point of trade shows! But be sure to not only get the attention from prospective companies you’d like to see your products represented by, but also that of other vendors. It’s important to make connections with like-minded small businesses, and yes, even your competitors. Many vendors are happy to tip others off about interesting events, great contacts, or must-see websites to check out — and it’s always beneficial to see how other businesses work and to take a peek at their products in person.  You might even be inspired to collaborate in some way or join forces together!

5 Trade Show Tips | UncommonGoods

During downtime, make an effort to introduce yourself to the booths and tables next to you – and if you can – venture to other category areas to spark different ideas. If you do make a great connection with another vendor, show appreciation by letting them know about the great tips that you have hidden up your sleeve! #SharingIsCaring

2. Join social events before and/or after the trade show: Being present at the big trade show is, of course, crucial. But sometimes you can make stronger and more natural connections with others in a more intimate setting. (Mix and mingle parties, lunch or dinner dates, or networking events/conferences.) People tend to open up more when there’s food and drinks involved and when a more carefree vibe has settled in. You can find interesting events by asking other contacts, actually reading the newsletters you’re subscribed to, checking out meetup.com, or using the power of Google.

5 Trade Show Tips | UncommonGoods

5 Tradeshow Tips | UncommonGoods

Extra tip: If you think you have a pretty promising contact list – maybe you can even throw a small gathering yourself! This would illustrate authority on your part and will strengthen the important relationships you already have. Don’t be scared to mix your vendor contacts with your merchant contacts, this will only encourage your invited guests to join.

5 Tradeshow Tips | UncommonGoods

3. Be sure you and anyone helping you knows your collection:   Nothing is worse than asking questions at a booth and having someone who can’t talk about their own line! One thing I’ve learned here at UncommonGoods is that buyers tend to stray away from unorganized or flighty vendors, no matter how great the product is. Know the product name, pricing, materials, and any other important information that someone might ask you right on the spot. If you have any friends or family helping you at your booth, prep them with information about your designs and provide them a cheat sheet if you can. Even if the potential merchant knows that the person helping you isn’t the direct designer, they are still a reflection of your business.

5 Trade Show Tips | UncommonGoods

Extra tip: Be sure to give out information beyond pricing to beef up anyone’s interest.  What makes your product special? Is it where it was made, how it was made, or who made it? Does it give a cut of its proceeds to a certain charity? Are there multiple uses of your designs? Think outside the box, because this is how a buyer will pitch any of their potential items to their team. The more powerful and interesting the story is, the better. Sure, the buyer can dig through your website to find this information you’ve probably already beautifully explained in detail. But I still suggest to hook them on the spot when you can, because there’s no guarantee they’ll visit your website once they float off to the next booth. (Even if you give them a business card!)

5 Trade Show Tips | UncommonGoods

4. Show appreciation and send follow-ups on social media platforms: The reality of trade shows is that merchants, buyers, and companies are looking at hundreds of booths for hours, days, and for some – the entire week! Your goal? Have them remember yours! Even if your product is amazing, it’s hard to stand out against hundreds of other innovative products. Besides following this display advice, you have to do more than just depend on your great products and hope that you’ll receive an email in the next few days. Take charge of the contacts you’ve made not only with a follow-up email, but also with giving them a shout out on social media a few days later, something short and sweet with a bit of personality will do.

Example: @prospectivebuyer – It was great meeting you and I’m so happy you enjoyed our new line. Let me know if you’d like me to send a sample! 

When you and the potential contact are saying your goodbyes at your booth, ask if they are on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn and write down their personal handle name so you know the message will go directly to them. If you’re feeling bold, ask to snap a photo with them (or them wearing/holding your designs) and share that photo when you send your tweet or post. Not only will this jog their memory of who you are, but that prospective buyer will feel extra special.

5 Tradeshow Tips | UncommonGoods

Extra tip: Be sure that your feed has some type of recent activity before contacting anyone. Post a few photos, retweet/post a couple of articles, and write out personable comments. A “dead” social media platform won’t exactly work in your favor.

5 Trade Show Tips | UncommonGoods

5. Project energy and be positive: We all know trade show days are long! A constant smile on your face and an upbeat personality at all times might not be super realistic, but keep in mind that carrying positive energy is vital. It’ll make your day a lot more bearable and you’ll be more on your toes and alert. Think of it like you’re hosting a party – invite the buyers and your contacts, welcome them into your space, and keep them engaged! Also, remember to be supportive of your fellow artists and designers. Buyers love it when designers suggest other booths to check out, it shows a collaborative spirit and buyers have told me that it makes them love you even more. (And it’s good Karma!)

5 Trade Show Tips | UncommonGoods

Maker Resources

The Four Most Important Steps for Starting Your Jewelry Business

May 2, 2014

Do you ever wonder why some designers are a huge success and able to seamlessly grow while others struggle to scale their business? Or maybe you’ve worked really hard to get a big sale, but have no plan for production? Creating a road map for business success can sometimes be a challenge for creative people. That’s why it’s even more important to set up and build your jewelry business (or any creative business) the right way from the get go.

Building a strong business platform, especially for a jewelry or product based business, is essential in helping you multiply your profits and scale up. There is a big difference between the companies that easily scale and grow and those that implode when they get their first big order. Those that succeed have used these 4 steps below to build their business.

Jewelry Business Advice | UncommonGoods

Step #1: Step into the Role of CEO
Successful designers who know how to grow their business discover early on that it is important to run their business like a CEO and ditch the “maker” mindset. You may have started your business as a designer or a maker. That’s all fine and dandy. However, if you are serious about growing your brand, you need to work on your business rather than in your business.

BKMW

Step #2: Create Systems for Freedom
The second step successful designers do is create systems for freedom in their business. Every aspect of your business should be systematized including the sales process, production process, HR process, marketing process and everything in between. Effectively systematizing your business allows for more freedom because you can bring just about anyone in to take on any position in your business. When you have well documented systems, you can be flexible with scalability and your staffing needs. This holds true even it you are a one-person show currently. Take the time to document!

image6

Step #3: Set Up Production that Can Scale
Having production that can scale is directly related to Step # 2. You must systematize your production so that anyone can step in and make your product. For jewelry designers who are making everything themselves, it is important to eventually be stepping out of the maker role. The only way you can do that effectively is to either hire a team to do this for you, find a factory or hire piece workers or contractors who work outside of your office. When you are just starting out, it’s ideal to have local production outsourcing capabilities so if you do get a large order you can produce it on time. Using contractors and piece workers also allows for the flexibility of hiring production help on an “as needed basis.”

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Step #4: Understand How Cash is Flowing
Cash flow is the one aspect of a business that is key to keeping it afloat. Having a strong grasp on how your cash is flowing is essential to growing your business and staying healthy financially. Managing your cash flow cycle will help you keep your business going so you can snap out of the feast or famine cycle that many designers experience in business. Paying attention to where the cash is coming into your business also allows for further clarity on business modeling and direction. You can cut offerings that are dead weight and expand on those that are bringing home the bacon. Abundant cash flow or lack thereof will make or break your jewelry business.

Flourish & Thrive

Acting like a CEO, creating solid systems, setting up your production for scale and managing your cash flow are key to success in biz. By starting with these 4 Steps, you’ll build a business with a strong foundation to multiply your profits. We want to hear from you! In the comments below, answer the following:

 1. How are you building a strong business platform and stepping into the role of CEO?

2. What do you struggle with the most on the “business” end of things?

If you haven’t checked it out yet, make sure you enroll on our free training series called The FREEDOM Method. Learn how to create more cash, clarity and FREEDOM in your business.

Maker Resources

7 Tips for Setting Up at the NYNow Trade Show

August 23, 2013

Advice from our artists at the NYNow trade show | UncommonGoodsThis week New York City welcomed hundreds of designers and brands to the Javits Center for NYNow, nee NYIGF. This trade show is big time for designers as well as buyers since retailers are getting ready to stock their holiday assortments and are looking for products that are new and interesting.

With trade shows being so expensive for an exhibitor, there is a lot of pressure to make an impact on retailers walking the show. I walked through, visiting our UncommonGoods artists – some seasoned NY gift show veterans- asking them for their best advice for other exhibitors. Some of the tips they told me are truly golden!

Cat Studio's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods1. Be flexible with your display.
CatStudio, designers of beautifully illustrated geographical home wares, comes with a loose plan for the display of their booth and room and time for improvisation. When they get to NY from California, founder Terrell heads to a flea market in Chelsea for vintage props. The team heads in with an open mind and the result is a display that is personal and exciting.

Jeff Davis's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods2. Leave your booth in NYC.
Designer Jeff Davis knows he is coming to NYC twice a year to exhibit at the gift show, so instead of bringing his walls and props with him to and from Philadelphia, he leaves it all in a storage facility in Manhattan. Some storage facilities will even drop off your stuff at the Javits Center. This way you can focus more on packing your merchandise and marketing materials.

Jenny Krauss's booth at NY Now | UncommonGoods3. Design a booth that doubles as storage.
Setting up a booth for Jenny Krauss is as simple as opening a trunk. She designed two large cases that open up into a display and hired a local contractor to build it. It wheels into the convention center full of props and merchandise and allows for an easy clean-up!

Jim Loewer's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods4. Lighting is everything!
Bad lighting could make or break your product display, and since your booth doesn’t come with lights of it’s own, lighting is all on you! Glassblower Jim Loewer understands the importance of light in his display so he constructed a light box to show off his sun catchers. Experiment in your home or studio by shining a flashlight over your product, if it looks better in the light, it should have a spotlight on it.

Melanie McKenney's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods5. Build some private space.
Things can get cramped in a small booth, so husband and wife team Justin and Melanie McKenney build a small room into the back of their booth where they store supplies, papers, and a chair for resting. I won’t show it to you, but the couple says it keeps them sane (and still married!) while exhibiting Melanie’s designs throughout the week.

great idea to get buyers to remember you at the next trade show | UncommonGoods6. Bring bottled water!
Melanie and Justin know from exhibiting more than once that water at the Javits Center is expensive and hard to come by. So they come prepared with cases of water they buy in bulk at home. It’s a nice gesture to hand a bottle of water to someone who is clearly parched and not interested in shelling out $3 for a bottle of water, but they make sure that retailers remember how special the gesture is by replacing the labels with custom labels with their brand name and booth number. I glanced at their logo so many times throughout the rest of the day and was even reminded of them when I got home and emptied my bag!

getting my caricature done at NYNow | UncommonGoods7. Offer an experience they can’t get anywhere else.
Back at the CatStudio booth they took advantage of their talented illustrators to offer caricatures to people visiting their booth. It got me to sit there for a bit and chat with founders Terrell and Carmel to learn more about their company. I also walked away with a great souvenir to have after the show. If you have the space and resources, try planning something creative that highlights what makes your brand unique and will leave a lasting impression.

Advice from designers at NYNow | UncommonGoodsAnd my advice for walking the NYNow? Wear comfortable shoes!

The Uncommon Life

Mr Bolotsky Goes to Washington

November 29, 2012

I had the opportunity to visit the White House this week to meet with President Obama, Vice President Biden and their economic team. As the founder & CEO of UncommonGoods, I was one of 15 small business leaders asked to participate in a discussion on the Administration’s approach to the economy and the fiscal cliff.

It was a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, despite the formal setting. When Vice President Biden entered the Roosevelt Room, everyone rose and stood at attention. Laughing, he told us all to sit down – he wasn’t the President. Later, when the President entered, everyone rose again and the President introduced himself to each of us. I had an opportunity to let him know that my wife worked with his late mother and I showed him the UncommonGoods catalog. The President browsed it, admiring many of our products. I let him know that 50% of what we sell is US-made, including a handmade Sea Serpent sculpture that I suggested would look great on the White House lawn. He told me it was a non-starter – “Bo would be too scared of it.”

When we got down to business, the President reassured us that he was committed to working out a reasonable compromise with the Congressional leadership and that we should not expect a repeat of the 2011 budget battle. He also emphasized his commitment to extending the middle class tax cuts, while allowing tax rates for those earning above $250,000 annually to expire. Our group then had an opportunity to give the President suggestions and ask him questions.

When my turn came, I encouraged the President to use his bully pulpit and Federal procurement policy to encourage businesses to take a “triple bottom line” approach – where people and planet are emphasized, along with profit. When the discussion turned to income inequality, I suggested that we raise the minimum wage and peg it to inflation, so that it does not remain a political football. I also volunteered that our country would be well served to have fewer folks in the finance and legal professions and more in the general business sector. Finally, I asked that the Federal government assert leadership in the battle over sales taxes for internet shopping. I suggested that consumers be required to pay sales tax for internet transactions, an issue that is being hotly contested on a state-by-state basis.

Out of courtesy for my peers in the meeting, I told him that I would be happy to share my 9 other ideas with his team after the meeting, which I did. At the end of the discussion, Vice President Biden asked me for my business card, and told me he’d be in touch. I’m curious to see where that goes. I spoke to another Administration official who assured me that not only would a continuation of the middle class tax cuts be part of the initial budget deal, but that there would also be some reductions in government spending in order to help us get closer to a balanced budget.

While we face tough challenges ahead, I was encouraged to see our government officials engaging in open dialogue with a diverse audience from across the country. For now, I am back at my desk, dreaming of alternative decorations for the White House lawn this coming spring.

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