When we first mentioned the idea of opening a business in upstate NY, the very question asked by a local was:

 

 “Are you sure you want to do that?”

‘Why?” we asked.

“The Mohawk Valley formula,” he said.

“What is that?”

“Open a business here and you will see.”

 

How could we not take such an ominous proclamation seriously?

Of course, we went immediately home and Googled it.

In the early part of the 1900s, the Mohawk Valley was still predominantly an agrarian economy, but times were changing.  By the late 1930’s a handful of manufacturing companies had moved into the area, the largest of which was Remington Rand.  This typewriter manufacturer introduced many of these workers and their families to the industrial age.

In 1936, Remington Rand employed thousands of workers along the Mohawk River Valley.  The AFL had been trying to infiltrate the factories for the previous two years, and with little progress being made called for an employee strike.

Remington Rand responded to the strike threat by devising what would become known as The Mohawk Valley Formula—a battle plan for industrial war.  Using propaganda, psychological manipulation and deceit, Remington sought to undermine the democratic process.

Some of the more egregious tactics included encouraging banks to call on debts and foreclose on family properties, paying landlords to increase rents on striking union members,  and buying the services of local politicians and policemen to intimidate workers and their families.

Remington even went as far as to hire men and women to pose as religious missionaries so that they could enter the family homes and convince family members that it was an ungodly act for the family breadwinner to shirk his obligations to provide for the family.

It wasn’t until 1940 that the AFL finally claimed victory, but during these 4 years, the small rural populations from which their employees were drawn may have been permanently changed.   The willingness to “help thy neighbor” that is so typical of rural agricultural communities had been replaced by a level of distrust in anyone who suggested that such a thing as “the common good” existed.

As the local who piqued our curiosity alluded, the potential ramifications of the Mohawk Valley Formula, perhaps amplified as it passed down through generations , still exists in these parts and is the explanation for why town and villages  in upstate NY have been on a downward slide since the mid-20th century.

Of course, this is all the stuff of lore.

We started Beekman 1802 in Sharon Springs because the recession really left us no choice lest we decided to walk away from the farm altogether.

But the tacit warning became a very fundamental part of our business.  In order to succeed—for any new business to succeed and grow—requires the contributions of many.

It is important, as much as possible, to understand the history of the people that you bring into the fold.  The baggage, the agendas, the aspirations, the dreams, the things that we each carry with us from where we’ve been determine where we will go.

 Have you started a small business?  Please share your secret to success in the comments section below

 

 

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  • By: Jane

    I have a question. Where was the first mercantile, the one that Mr. Beekman owned? Do you know any history that is associated with his store? I may be a little off your subject but since you opened your store, I have wondered about the original one. I enjoy history! I am curious about and looking forward to learning what you know about the store,s history.

    • By: Dr. Brent

      Hi, Jane

      The first Mercantile was in the village of Sharon Springs, not far from where we have the Mercantile now. It burned down and Beekman rebuilt a larger Mercantile across the street from the farm

  • By: Ida Nystrom

    I guess this post has been up for a while, but this is the first time I’ve seen it. I grew up in Mohawk — the village next to Ilion. My family — father, aunt, uncle. grandfather, great-grandfather, etc. — all worked for Remington Rand. This is the first time I’ve heard of the Mohawk Valley Formula, but, I must admit it all rings true. I love everything you guys do, I use the cookbook every day, but I most admire you for the way you have turned things around in one small upstate community. I wish I could see that same influence elsewhere. I love the Valley — it’s beautiful and it’s my home, but I am 65 and there’s been a depression there as long as I can remember. The sense of neighborliness that you two share, and the optimism you bring to your town, of everyone being in this together, is what makes the difference.

  • By: Barb

    Hi,

    we are still in our formative years, legally #4. We are raising goats, beef cows and pigs. I work full time and cannot contribute to the farm like I want to but my paycheck carries the lot so far. I am curious as to whether or not your extention on that first year is over. I realize that you both made quite the commitment and a lot of sacrifices to get to where you are. Is there any light to the end of the tunnel? I love the videos and the website. Keep up the excellant work.

  • By: Shawn OHara

    My partner and I owned and operated Crystal Mountain Cafe, a Coffeehouse and Gift Shop in Utica, NY from 1998-2001. We experienced much of the distrust, the lack of willingness to help one another, and not believing in the community as a whole. Those three years were occasionally punctuated with an outsider or open minded local folk who also believed things could be different. Thank you! thank you! your post explains a lot and puts things into perspective.

    -Shawn OHara

  • By: Leilani

    Have you ever read The Answer? WOW! What an amazing book about, not only business, but the power of life-changing thoughts. I am finding that the more I know myself and clarify my vision, the more solid my business becomes.

    Check out The Answer at http://www.readtheaswer.com. :)

  • By: Andy Kremer

    I started my own business, and it folded within six months. I'm sure part of it was that I was trying to do it with minimal capital invested and while keeping my day job. I know you only get out what you put in – but still sad it didn't turn out better.

    Now I'm just sticking with my travel blog while, and if it goes well enough to quit my day job hopefully I'll be starting another one soon.

    Keep up the good work, and this was a great post. Thanks!

    Andy

    • By: Dr. Brent

      Hi, Andy. Good luck! We look forward to your HUGE success this time!

  • By: Copeland Casati

    I am an entrepreneur of energy efficient prefab homes. I think the key to longterm success starts with a great product, then hoping your voice can be heard in the wild…

    But one thing a lot of people don't talk about is that it is so much easier for entrepreneurs to be successful if they can just hang through the short term, and be in it for the long haul *thanks* to one family member having "The Day Job"- a.k.a. a steady paycheck you can rely on, benefits… the salaried partner helps make sure the family is stable; the entrepreneur can fight through lean start-up times to then return with greater riches they would have accrued as a salaried worker for someone else.

    It's also how you look at what the "whole" is you desire- for example, I run four businesses. Yet I also am a stay at home mom who can 1. be there for our children while 2.reducing expenses we would have to pay if I had to go into an office to work for someone else while 3. loving my job(s) and excelling professionally even though some years I don't earn what my husband does (times are tough for the building industry these days! : ) ). Yet even in those years I contribute so much more than I could as a salaried mom, because I can fresh veggies, make our food each day, so my family can live organic, affordably, saving money I would not be able to do if I had to commute to a job.

    Also as an entrepreneur you can have the freedom to volunteer many more hours for your community, something that has been very fulfilling for me.

    P.s. Thank you for inventing Blaak Onion Jam. It is heaven on our farming friends' goat cheese with my husband's fresh baked bread!

  • By: victoria

    Love everyone's wise comments and feelings on this subject.

    I feel in order to be successful ( whatever that means ) you have to set your own standards for what success means to you… not other people or society's view point.

    Honesty… integrity… creativity and passion… and listening to your own voice… to me… are a foundation for success… as well as putting care and loving intent into each product I handcraft… and offering good customer service.

    Victoria/FeminineChicBoutique.com

  • By: Frank N. Tucker, III

    I work for a woman who owns a small retail wine & liquor store. Our prices are a bit higher than the big giants in the area, but we keep attracting new customers. The key is personal service and making the people feel at home. We find better quality products than the big name brands ( & they are priced lower ) and the customers trust us, and come back for more.

  • By: LLColeman

    No war stories of my own. I just want to comment that I am even more impressed that you two have been able to create such change in your community, with the Valley history and previous attitudes.

    That, and the saying comes to mind that we are doomed to repeat past mistakes if we do not learn from them the first time. Your mention of what the banks and corporates did in the 30's,the twisting of religious principles and rash of foreclosures is so striking considering the economy today… we never learn, do we ?

  • By: bon

    I find this very interesting. I live in the village next to Remington and it was culture shock to move here. Its tough to be a small business person in the Valley. Everyone is skeptical of what you are doing, how you are charging them, if you are ripping them off. The sense of community that you have rallied in Sharon Springs is not yet possible in our part of the Valley. The rivalry's between the villages are something that as an outsider I can't comprehend. I only wish for our little villages that we could see the successes that working together has done for your community and make that happen here. We've got a big paradigm shift to make before that can happen though. Congrats to all you've done for your part of upstate and may your enthusiasm spill over our way!

  • By: Lulu

    I'm enjoying all of the above comments. I am a very small business owner of an Organic bakery that I operate out of a shared kitchen. Finding customers was/is my greatest feat thus far. It's slow going but I'm building a repeat customer base. I'm in it for the long haul! Plus I can always cry to Brent when I'm having a bad day and they always tweet the most encouraging words! Thank you Brent!!

  • By: Linda Schnell-Leonar

    I owned my own business for many years, and then I took on a partner. That was that. Surround yourself with people who have your best interests at heart. When I closed, it was because my partner had taken what was mine, and then ours and made it only hers. I learned a true lesson.

  • By: brook wilson, pawpaw

    Be patient;anything worthwhile will certainly test your patience and is earned, not given. Like you guys, things were going ok for us until we bought our land. Then that proverbial rug just spontaneously combusted: unemployment, EVERYTHING broke, 3 years of record-breaking floods, and we all fell ill. Being a dr., you might appreciate the idiopathic autoimmune hemolytic anemia that dang near took me out. Of all the ways to go, I never expected that one! In spite of everything and starting with nothing, we've managed to steadily improve our little business to the point where I can retire to it full time in a few short years. More importantly, my wife and I have found our niche in the lifestyle.

  • By: Delia

    My wonderful brother-in-law was a successful entrepreneur. His one piece of business advice to me was, "Do what you love, the money will follow." I don't know if Ray made that up, or if he was quoting someone else. For him, it was absolutely true. We all miss him every day.

  • By: Karen Seiger

    Stay true to yourself, your vision, and your passion. They are your compass, and they will keep you on track. They are also the things that will draw clients to you and keep them coming back. Do what you want to do, and it's contagious.

    Also, listen to all sorts of opinions, even the constructive ones. But learn quickly who is genuinely trying to help you and who is just raining on your parade.

    And then add a dash of llama, and you can't lose!

  • By: becky

    You are your own boss – don't let anyone make or talk you into doing something you don't want to do. It's your business you know what you where you want it to go! And know your target market. Without them, who's going to buy your product or service? Don't be afraid to ask them for their opinions.

  • By: Mescha

    Be nice to everyone! You never know who you may meet in the future. You never find out who you are messing with till its too late.

  • By: Alyssa

    For those with a retail/customer-facing business — I've learned to treat your customers like gold. They're a source of not only income, but also referrals, opportunities, social networking, and constructive criticism. Positive feedback is like a great performance review. I've learned to approach my (online) shop as if I was a customer — does my layout / pricing /marketing / etc. make sense in a customer's eyes? Sometimes we get so wrapped in the higher-level stuff, we forget how it ends up appearing to our customers.

  • By: Pam in Tampa

    Make sure you have a savings that will carry you through for three years and don't even expect to make ends meet for at least five years – and be very frugal trying not to ever dip into that savings! Expect that the transmission will die in the car, the air conditioning in the house will blow up and you will get a major roof leak – Murphy's law is when you have the least money you have the most expensive repairs required! Don't blow your first or any check because you will live to regret it. Like beans, making your own business cards and live, sleep and eat your business! Network every chance you get!

  • By: Michael Hart

    Actually, I am maintaining clients from a business which had to close due to the economy. Happily I maintain 40+ regular clients in my home. I am a Barber and a Licensed Massage Practitioner.

    My shared comment: Clients are wanting to feel important, heard and unrushed. Make it their stage while in your place.

    All of my clients have been coming to me for a minimal three to as long as eight years.

    I could make a great butler, as I also clean, landscape, indoor planting, and all with a smile on my face. Except, I don't cook.

  • By: Melissa Branchau

    Don't go into business unless you absolutely love what you do! I have lost track of the countless hours and late nights that I have put in to make my business successful without being paid. I am not in this business to be rich, I enjoy helping others fulfill their dreams while living my own dream of owning my own business.

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