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Do you know where to find an organic cocktail in your town? How about a sustainable chew-toy for your dog or a wedding present made out of recycled trash?
Jody Cutler and Jeff Kaufman started Conscious Corner, a green retail hub in suburban Maryland in 2000 to meet just those kinds of needs. They recently joined Green America’s Green Business Network™, and we asked Jody to tell us more about her business for the premier installment of our new Faces of the Green Pages column.
Green America: What does your business do?
Jody Cutler: Conscious Corner is made up of four different retail stores: Roots, Great Sage, Nest, and Bark.
Roots is our full-service natural and organic food market, which caters to the gourmet food enthusiast as well as those with special dietary needs. We boast the best selection of 100-percent organic produce in the region; a huge selection of vitamins and supplements; and wide variety of natural and organic groceries, dairy, and meat. Our meat and poultry are compassionately-raised, free of hormones and antibiotics, organic, free-range, and grass-fed. The grocery items are free of artificial ingredients, preservatives, hydrogenated fats and pesticides.
Veg out... Conscious Corner
Great Sage is our unique restaurant serving sophisticated organic, vegetarian cuisine inspired by the flavors of many cultures. We serve organic wine, beer, coffee (Fair Trade also), and tea, and we even have organic cocktails! We cater to vegan diets as well as gluten-free, soy-free and others, and we use as many organic ingredients as possible. No hydrogenated oils, or artificial anything. The cups we use for our take-out cold drinks are made of corn.
Nest is our socially responsible gift and clothing boutique. All of the clothing for women, men and babies is made of organic cotton, hemp, bamboo or soy, or is handmade, recycled or Fair Trade. The gifts are also handmade, Fair Trade or recycled such as goblets made from recycled wine bottles, bamboo cutting boards, pottery from a local artist, or Fair Trade jewelry. We also sell books, CDs and meditation supplies that support wellness.
Finally, our pet store, Bark, features premier natural and organic pet food, toys and supplies. We carry vegetarian and vegan food for dogs and cats as well as raw food. And we even carry dog beds stuffed with recycled fleece. We have everything you need to keep your furry friends happy and healthy!
Paper or Plastic?
You must be joking.
What is your most popular product?
Jody: Roots’ most popular items are Guayaki Yerba Mate tea, Citrus Spare Ribs (made of soy!), Kalamata olive Roots hummus, and Larry's Beans Fair Trade organic coffee. At the restaurant, Great Sage, people love the Indian Vegetable Cakes — two potato and vegetable cakes served over coconut cashew creamed spinach, served with brown basmati rice, red lentils, and a mango date chutney. At Nest, the most popular is a colorful beaded bracelet handmade by women in Nepal, and at Bark, it’s the dehydrated sweet potato treats which are much better than rawhide.
What makes your company green?
Jody: We have made a conscious choice to support small, organic farms, individual artisans, socially responsible companies and members of the local community. All of the stores use 100-percent wind power, recycled office paper, and have a recycling program for staff. All of the businesses support organics, Fair Trade, and wellness. The food stores donate compost to local farmers.
How did you get started and what’s the story behind your business names?
Jody: My business partner and I were both in the natural foods industry and were committed to healthy eating and vegetarianism. We decided to make a store (and then four stores) where we could get all of the things we wanted. And, it's true, we don't need to shop anywhere else (except for the occasional trip to the hardware store).
The names of our businesses are all related to a tree — Roots, Nest, Bark and Great Sage (that's a stretch, but is still a plant). "Conscious Corner" came later. All four of the businesses are in the same shopping center and the center forms a corner. So we decided to create an umbrella name for what we've created. Conscious Corner seemed like the perfect fit.
What have been some of the biggest challenges of maintaining high standards of social and environmental responsibility?
Jody: The biggest challenge has been deciding when to bend our own philosophies to meet the needs of the community, and when not to. We first opened Roots as a 100-percent vegetarian store. We got so many requests for organic meat that we decided to sell it. Customers were demanding it and were going elsewhere to get it. So we decided that we'd accommodate them. At Great Sage, we have not bent to the request of fish and organic chicken although serving those items would likely improve business.
What’s been your proudest moment as a green business owner?
Jody: Being at the DC Green Festival last year and talking to thousands of people was a highlight. Many of them were searching for ways to be green and were thrilled to discover us. Others showed a sense of pride as they mentioned to us that they've been customers for years. Others said they traveled from Virginia to come see us. And still others mentioned that they'd heard about us and now they would make the effort to come. Realizing the impact we were having on the community was very palpable. And realizing the appreciation that customers were feeling was very rewarding.
glass bowls at Nest.
What is the most hopeful sign you have seen recently from the green economy?
Jody: I'm amazed at how often I open up a magazine like Newsweek or Time and see an article on green living. I think Al Gore's film has raised consciousness at a very important time. People are talking about global warming — they are feeling the difference in the climate and are beginning to realize that how they live, what they purchase, how they dispose of their trash, makes a difference.
What advice would you give to other green entrepreneurs just starting out?
Jody: If you're passionate about it and willing to work really hard, go for it!
What are you most excited about for the future?
Jody: We are opening another Roots and Bark in Olney, MD. This is a highly visible shopping center about 15 minutes away from our current location. It is close enough to manage and far enough away that it serves another community. We are very excited to have another "branch."
What green product can you not live without?
Jody: I cannot live without Mrs. Meyers laundry detergent and cleaning products (we do sell these). Apart from those, I rely on Bioshield paint whenever it's time to paint a room in my house and the compost bin outside my kitchen door is a must!
People food at Roots.
Q: How long did it take you to promote Concious Corner and your four stores before it started to become popular? —Katherine
Jody: We opened Roots in 2000, Nest in 2003, Great Sage in 2004, and Bark in 2005. So we've only been marketing it as a foursome for the past couple of years. It's taken a while for people to catch on but I think they are now getting it. We have a great logo now that we are putting on our shopping bag and all of our printed material, which helps. I'd say that the businesses individually, took about 2 years each to really become known in the community. Of course, it helps that they are all connected and that we can advertise each one in the other establishments.
Q: The dog beds are sweet. What else do you have for pets? —Dana
A. We offer a full range of natural pet food, much of which is organic, and all of which is preservative free. There are even vegan options!! We sell organic cotton toys made with natural dyes, hemp leashes, recycled mats, even locally grown organic catnip in handmade organic cotton for kitties. Come visit! Or feel free to call the store at 443-535-0200.
Q: My husband and I own a plumbing and gas piping business in Asheville, NC. We are regular plumbing contractors who have gone green! It has been wonderful and exciting and so motivating. Right now we are in the process of hiring two more plumbers and were wondering what are some of the requirements you have of your employees to work for a green company? Congrats to you and your business and if we ever come that way, we will be sure to shop and dine with you. —Miranda E.
A: We work hard to try to hire people who are committed to the green lifestyle in some way. We have found, over the years, that those employees who are just working with us because it's a job have not lasted. Those for whom it's a lifestyle have stuck. Maybe they are vegetarian or are an animal rights person. Maybe they are passionate about organic gardening or are interested in alternative healing. We ask into what they are passionate about in the interview. Also, we have found that when our employees are happy working for us, they naturally tell their friends. So, someone who is "into being green" will likely know other people who are like-minded. It's taken some time and we finally have a very solid crew of whose philosophies match ours. Thank you for your question and definitely visit us when you are in town.
Q: Thank you for making the efforts to create and maintain environmentally and socially responsible businesses in Maryland. I'm finishing my master's degree in environmental communication and am wondering what stategies you have employed to spread the word about your busniess (before it made it to the Green Pages). Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get into green marketing? —John S.
A: We have not done a huge amount of marketing mostly because it's so costly. Of course we do advertise in local papers and give donations to community events. We've been working hard, lately, to focus on press releases in an effort to get papers to write stories on us. That's the best kind of advertising (and it's free!). We've started an Eco-Initiative where we will be able to educate the community around green issues through events—battery drop-off, electronic recycling, book swap, Fair Trade event, etc. These are perfect occasions for press releases. The papers really like to write about events that are free to the public and that offer a service. I'd love to see us written up in a national magazine as a unique, destination, green retail experience. I'm sure there's a niche for you in green-marketing... not sure what to suggest except that if you are passionate about what you do, the pieces will fall into place. Good luck and thanks for your question.
Q: Do you currently sell or will plan on selling compost bins for in-door home use? Thanks. —Tina C.
A: Unfortunately, we aren't selling compost bins at this time. Believe it or not, we have an issue of space at Roots and the other stores. I'll suggest it as a possibility for spring--we could sell them outside... Thanks for the idea!