The Bee’s Knees of Pollinator Enterprises: Zingerman’s

Originally posted in the Monadnock Shopper News

Zingerman's DelicatessenOne of my favorite Pollinator Enterprises (as of today!) is Zingerman’s Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  They are the “bee’s knees” of Pollinator Enterprises — a whole community of innovative, self-financing businesses that support other businesses.   Even Inc. Magazine called it “The coolest small company in America.”

Zingerman’s started as a delicatessen in 1982.  When their success began to plateau, owners Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig chose a unique path to growth — one they felt would generate a greater positive impact on their employees and their neighborhood.  Instead of franchising their business, they became a “family of independently owned but coordinated enterprises collectively named the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses.”  Zingerman’s grew deep, instead of wide.

In the early 90s, their first effort to “grow deep” began with opening a bakery — to provide a local source of the bread the deli used for sandwiches.  Then in 2001, they created a creamery business to provide cheese and other dairy products to the deli, next a coffee roaster, then a candy manufacturer – and, to this day, they continue to add businesses up and down their supply chain.  One of their most recent additions is the Zingerman’s Cornman Farms, a working farm and event venue.  Zingerman’s Community of Businesses now includes 10 independent enterprises, selling $60 million of goods and services annually and employing close to 600 individuals.

Zingerman's Community of Businesses

Any Zingerman’s employee who wishes to start a new enterprise goes through an extensive two-year in-house leadership development program.  If the business idea is viable, the revenue from other businesses provides startup funding for the new enterprise — or, in more lean times, Paul and Ari take out (or provide) a loan that the employee pays back as a salary reduction.

Zingtrain OBMAnother way Zingerman’s helps strengthen other businesses is through their consulting business, called ZingTrain.  ZingTrain provides training on customer service, leadership development, open book management and business visioning.   The positive effects of these trainings extend to our region: Many staff members at the Monadnock Food Co-op received training from ZingTrain.  I was lucky enough to take a 2-day workshop on open book management with ZingTrain last year. ZingTrain’s website features free essays and webinars for all to peruse.

Other things that make Zingerman’s cool: They use zero waste practices (reusing materials that are destined for the landfill at other businesses), each business has a garden, and they capture their greywater or rainwater for reuse.  To underscore their coolness factor even more, read Zingerman’s vision for 2020.

We invite you to learn more about Pollinator Enterprises like Zingerman’s at Michael Shuman’s free public talk called “The Local Economy Solution” on April 7th at 7 p.m. at the Keene State College Alumni Center. This event is part of the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce’s Regional Issues Series.  The first 50 event registrants will receive a free “Local Economy Buzz” Swag Bag with goodies from Monadnock Buy Local members.  This event is free, but please register today:

Michael will also lead a more in-depth daylong workshop on April 8th at the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship in Keene.  He will provide inspiration for developing, launching and amplifying the work of new and existing Pollinator Enterprises here in the Monadnock Region and beyond. This event is also free, but donations are encouraged:

We hope to see you at one or, better yet, both events.  Thanks for being the “bee’s knees” of local economy supporters!


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