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How one company grew to $60 Million in Annual Revenue by creating a Community of Businesses in their Hometown

I have been working with companies to combine purpose and profits for over 15 years.

Throughout that time, there has been one thing that I have consistently seen lead to the most innovation, creativity and growth.

But we’ll come back to that in a minute.


For now let’s go back to 1992, when Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig sat on a bench outside their already successful Deli.

They knew that they wanted to expand beyond their $5 million a year in revenue and single building.

But they weren’t sure how.

They had to address what felt like a hard question:

Where did they want their business to go from here?

It seemed like they faced a binary choice.

Either they could stay with their singular successful location or replicate their model through franchising or additional stores.

The problem was neither option to growth seemed right for them and their business.

Here’s the story of where they went from there.

Part 1: Saw a Problem with the Options in front of them

Lots of businesses follow the two options Paul and Ari had been considering.

In fact, there has been heavy growth of the franchise model starting in the 80’s and continuing on an upward trajectory.

But the model has downsides.

In particular, it can be hard to control your brand and even harder, as a purpose-driven Entrepreneur, to ensure that the values you’ve baked into your business will follow into the franchises.

This is not only true for small and mid-sized businesses.

Here’s what Howard Shultz had to say to Harvard Business Review about what it was like when he returned to the CEO role at Starbucks,

“The marketplace was saying, “Starbucks needs to undo all these company-owned stores and franchise the system.”

That would have given us a war chest of cash and significantly increased return on capital.

It’s a good argument economically.
It’s a good argument for shareholder value.

But it would have fractured the culture of the company.

You can’t get out of this by trying to navigate with a different road map, one that isn’t true to yourself.

You have to be authentic, you have to be true, and you have to believe in your heart that this is going to work.”

Howard Shultz


Just like for Mr. Shultz, opening more locations didn’t  seem like a better option for Zingerman’s Deli.

While opening more locations would have allowed them to grow in alignment with their culture it would have:

  • Not given them substantial diversification in their offerings (or risks!)
  • Required geographic expansion to enter new markets
  • No opportunity to let employees grow their own business


Faced with these options, they started to consider if there was another way to grow their business.

Could they grow it without experiencing the downsides of either traditional expansion or franchising?

Part 2: Refused to accept the normal answers, Asked “what if”? And came up with a novel solution

Remember how I spoke at the beginning about the one thing that really moves the needle in creating growth businesses with purpose at their core?

The next step in this story starts to show what that is because what makes their story exceptional is that they found another way.  

A new way.

They didn’t accept that the paths that most businesses took were the only paths available to them.

Instead, Paul and Ari started thinking along the lines of “What if we built a community of businesses?”

Over two years they began to envision this united but unique “Community of Businesses”.

The businesses would be united not just by the Zingerman’s name but also by:

  • shared guiding principles
  • triple bottom line approach
  • sustainability practices
  • transparency practices
  • location
  • food
  • and a sense of togetherness!

This was uncharted territory.

The first step was to get really clear on the vision.

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.49.11 PM

In 1994 they did just that. They laid out a vision for where they wanted to go by 2009.

We envision a Community in which each member business shares with Zingerman’s a common vision, a common road map toward the year 2009, a common set of guiding principles.

Each is committed to the success of the other, committed to working in the best interests of the entire organization, linked financially, and emotionally.

Each is committed to the success of its staff, and beyond all else, the satisfaction of our customers.

But significantly, each of these businesses will be owned and managed by a someone who has chosen to be our partner in that particular venture.

A partner with a passion for a particular food or service.

A passion for creating an exceptional business that has a personality of its own, yet is grounded in the principles that have been such an important part of making Zingerman’s what it is

Zingerman’s 2009

Zingerman’s 2009: A Food Odyssey


That document became the North Star that would guide them forward as they created the new community.

Part 2: Pilot the Idea

In that same year – 1994 – that they finalized their vision for 2009, they also launched the first new business.

They encouraged employees to share business ideas.

They also lay the groundwork for making this ideas relevant to their approach by using their “secret sauce”: sharing.


If an employee had a business idea, there was already an understanding – starting from day 1 – of how Zingermans business worked.

That gives Employees a leg up in starting new ventures.

The Community of Business approach provided other kinds of support too.

An employee typically only puts up 10-15% of the capital needed for the enterprise.

Plus they get the benefit of the Zingerman’s brand power, industry and community knowledge.

With this powerful infrastructure in place, the model took off.

Part 3: Expanded the Model and Built the Community of Businesses

Today, there are ten businesses in the Zingerman’s Community.

Collectively they are doing more than $60 million in annual revenue.

All are located within the Ann Arbor area.

Map of Zing Biz

Each one is an independent business that none the less benefits from the Zingerman’s brand and expertise.

Each has a logical connection to their industry expertise.

For example there’s a bakery, a creamery and a catering service.


Each of the businesses are also lead by a managing partner who has often worked their way up through one of the businesses in the Community and now has an ownership stake in the new enterprise.

This structure has allowed Zingerman’s to attract and retain talent even as people move into positions of business ownership.

The Community has a common thread of culture that is about much more than food – it’s about a shared experience.



Equally important, they haven’t stopped visioning. They’ve now published a Vision 2020 that they began in 2006.

They built it in collaboration with all of the Managing Partners, and input from hundreds of staff.  The vision articulates a next level of commitment to their values:

We have a strategy for growth that is about the long-term economic health of our Community of Businesses and our local economy.

When we talk about “great service” we refer not only to our customers, our community and each other, but also to our planet; we push ourselves to go beyond basic compliance on environmental issues.

We must be profitable in order to survive but our primary purpose is to contribute to a better life for everyone we touch.

We do this by providing meaningful work, dignified employment, beneficial goods and services, and relationships of trust and caring that are the foundations of a healthy community.

Through this work we have helped to create true prosperity, economic security and democracy in our larger community.

It also articulates that they will aim to create up to 18 businesses, each unique and continuing to stay in the Ann Arbor area and offering “radically better food” and becoming an educational destination.

The thing that is truly amazing about Zingerman’s Community of Businesses is that they have managed to achieve as much, or possibly even more growth than they would have if they taken either of the traditional paths that they had been considering.

Back in 1992, they were getting requests to franchise. They were in a single cramped building and unclear on how they could grow without compromising their values.

They found not only a new path, and a path that aligned with their values, but also recognized that in order to achieve their mission they needed to continue to profitable and grow.

And that’s what I’ve seen, over and over again – Values Based Vision – that’s the one thing that will drive purposeful businesses to growth

The path they created could offer more jobs, have a bigger impact on the community. I think when you read their vision 2020, you see that reflected.

The purpose is so deeply baked in. The uniqueness is part of what they want to support and what they are celebrating in the Community of Businesses.

They may not have envisioned back in the early 90’s exactly how it would work.

Yet, they saw clearly that there was a pathway that could really meet their true intention and fulfill that intention in the world.

And this way of doing it  had so much more benefit for the community that they were a part of, for the employees they wanted to have different opportunities for and for their own businesses and growth.

I hope if you ever go to Ann Arbor you’ll go and visit them and have the experience for yourself!

Even more importantly, I hope you’ll find inspiration in their model of non-traditional business growth as you seek to expand your own business in line with your purpose.

Part 4: Find Your Own Path to Growth in Line with Your Values

Lots of people think that the traditional path to business growth is the only one.

In fact there are lots of ways to define growth on your own terms and leave a legacy you’ll feel great about.

I’ve seen it time and time again – values based vision is the critical ingredient to another path to success. Mix that with a healthy dose of fact-based decision making and you are on the road!

I’ve shared lots of tips about finding that path in the past, and here are a few of my favorite articles on the topic to help you out:

I’d love to hear about what non-traditional approaches to your own business growth you are considering or putting into practice!


CYNTHIA JAGGI, CEO of Gatherwell

In the mid-2000’s I made Partner at the Inc 5000 Management Consulting firm Fitzgerald Analytics, where results included helping a division of a Fortune 500 company achieve profit growth of 59%, and 100% of our clients gave us repeat business. I advised both for and non-profits, including members of the Fortune 500 and New Profit portfolio social innovators.

Now I only work 4 days a week, take a minimum of six weeks off a year, and only work with business leaders I enjoy being friends with, balancing my work transforming the economy with time with my daughter and family.

I’m on a mission to push humanity forward through regenerative approaches to business, working with business owners that want to do good and feel good about their legacy, and who want their social impact to work with their bottom line.



The New Model of Growth

Seven generations from now I can imagine two distinct realities.

In one, if people are still here on earth we are in a constant state of terror, plagued by inequality. The richest few have great luxuries like clean water and healthy food. Everyone else is in a desperate grab for arable land, drinking water and survival. Flash flooding, fires and living in waste are a norm. Despair is a norm.

But there is another vision.

In this vision we have harnessed the power of technology to create regenerative systems. These are systems with built in renewal, growth and restoration. People have their needs met while replenishing natural resources. People thrive within an economy that is no longer the “sustainable economy” or the “green economy” but the only economy. The conditions of ordinary life allow for a focus on lifelong education and growth. We remember the shortness of our time here on earth. Each person focuses on contributing the most to creating an ever more harmonious balance.

In one world you would walk out your door to meet neighbors you know and do work you love. You would see vertical gardens and hydroponically grown vegetables. In another it’s likely you would not have a door.

Where would you rather live?

Seven generations ago was the industrial revolution. How might we see ahead and plan with the clarity we wish those revolutionaries had? Now the stakes are higher. Now we might not exist as a species if we do not install the innovations we have created. But we live in a conflict between these limits to growth and the possibility of abundance that has come with technology. A conflict that, if unresolved, leads us down the darker path.

Limits to Growth

1972 saw the publication of the seminal work Limits to Growth. With it the idea began to penetrate society that perhaps these resources we had taken as endless, these massive woods and waters, glorious mountains and fields, were limited.

Cover from the First Edition Source: Wikipedia

Limits to Growth began a long line of research and discovery of the impact our way of life was and is having. The few saying we faced limits met with huge resistance, almost ridicule. Over time though most people began to realize this truth. People began to see that the way we were extracting resources could not go on without end.

We started to make changes. We recycle. Eat less meat. Ride bikes more often.

Yet we still hear that we are doomed. Not just that we as individuals face death, but that our line of decedents face it too. And not just at some distant time. It is measurable doom. We can calculate it as 350 parts per million of an atmospheric compound that we neither see nor can touch. Is it surprising that this creates feelings of disempowerment? In the face of such an outcome, one so dramatic, on such a large scale and in a way abstract, it is hard to shift our actions. It is hard to be clear on what shifts really matter.

The Promise of Abundance

With the rise of technology there is another reality we have collectively experienced. We have collectively experienced the possibility of rapid change of our outward situation. Millionaires made, it seems, in minutes. The possibility of abundance without many of the traditional trappings like college degrees or decades of toil. The “in the garage” start-up.

The acceleration of technology has been exponential. Each new technology outpacing the last in its rate of adoption and scaling.

In 1991 Paul Zane Pilzer published Unlimited Wealth: The Theory and Practice of Economic Alchemy. In it he argues that because of this rapid advancement and acceleration of technology, we actually live in a world of unlimited physical resources. With the possibilities of technology, the pie will expand endlessly. We will constantly invent ourselves out of any limits. Many of our modern technological heros agree.


So we live with two narratives. One describes a fundamentally scarce reality. The other promises endless abundance. Living with both creates cognitive dissonance.

What if we reframe the situation as a single whole? From this view the outcome for our planet and for our decedents, the possibilities of technology and the realities of our current challenges, are all parts of a single body with a shared fate.

From this perspective we might ask:

What would it take to leverage the possibility of abundance as swiftly as possible against the alternative impending doom?

Here, everyone can contribute — because we need to shift the entire economy to a regenerative model.

An economy where every product manufactured is from cradle to cradle. One where every need we have — for infrastructure, energy, roads, homes, medical care — is rethought. We redesign each so that it returns to the earth and to us a greater capacity for growth then was there before.

This means transforming traditional businesses to a regenerative model. It means creating and growing businesses in the regenerative model. Both of these need a shift in the flow of capital. But businesses are only organized groups of people. To succeed, it means empowering every individual to thrive. It means there is a role for all to play and an action to take right now.

Whatever your field, whatever your interest, ask yourself — what is your source material? What kinds of resources are used and from where do they come? What kind of things does it create and where do they go?

What would each step look like if it was creating a new capacity for the growth of people and ecosystems? Turn that image into action.

Now you are on the path to the vision we all would choose for our great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren.

The Key to a Bigger Impact is Micro-Action

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn – Alvin Toffler, Futurist

I had a dog named Bella who came home one night covered in porcupine quills. When we brought Bella to the Vet he was able to get all the quills out and we learned that she was lucky.

The Vet started to tell us about all the other dogs who get quilled. All kinds of terrible things happen – they can have trouble eating, or lose vision as the most common place for a dog to get quilled is in the face or mouth.

But here is the fact that really stuck (pun intended!).

The Vet said there are some dogs that just get quilled once. That’s it. Then they learn to stay away from that particularly poky creature.

Other dogs, though, go back again and again. And again.

No matter how many times the quills dig into these dogs, they just can’t stop themselves from chasing the porcupine.

It seems crazy.

But then I started to think about it more.

People repeat behaviors that cause them pain and suffering all the time.

While I can let dogs off the hook on the principle that it’s instinct or they haven’t been trained well, it’s harder with people.

Why do we repeatedly choose to encounter a painful experience over and over after?

Why don’t we learn?

On the face of it, it doesn’t make sense.

But actually there is a lawful logic to this cycle.

If we understand the principles at work, we can work with the brain to help us change.

Optimizing the Brain

How our brain helps us, and how it hurts us

The brain has developed over millennia to automate what it can.

The more it automates, the more space that leaves to respond to new situations.

In many situations this works to our advantage.

For example, if every day we had to relearn to drive, there wouldn’t be a lot of time left for other pursuits.

Here’s how the cognitive Psychologist Dr. Art Markman of the University of Texas, Austin explains it:

Your brain is optimized to continue doing what you did last time without having to think about it. So, when you decide you want to change a behavior, you are fighting against millions of years of evolution that have created mechanisms that want you to maintain your behaviors. The hardest part about these behaviors is that they are habits, and so they are done mindlessly.

In short, it takes less effort to repeat what you’ve already done many times then it does to learn and do something new.

Your brain has evolved in response to ever changing circumstances over MILLIONS of years of evolution, often somewhat haphazardly.

Usually, when you want to change a habit, you fail to recognize that this is the scale that you are dealing with.

At most, you might think back to your early conditioning and education. Certainly these are at play, but it is the very nature of our brain as it has evolved that is most relevant.

When you only take into account the smaller frame of our own lives, or even recent events, it’s easy to tend toward believing that it is a lack of willpower or personal failure that keeps us in a bad habit loop.

Some habits – even ones you consider negative – don’t have a fundamental impact on your life or work. Taken together though your habits have a huge effect on your results, personally and professionally.

“We are what we repeatedly do.”

Our habits determine our success, or failure

Aristotle famously said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Our habits, bundled together become our personal system, and that system produces our results, scattered and ineffective or streamlined and full of impact. Your path to impact then, lies in understanding how your habits form your systems and tweaking the individual habits until you get the results you want.

Individual Habits

Take this scenario:

You are sitting at your desk. On your computer screen multiple windows are open – one with dozens of e-mails that need to be written or responded to, another has a half-finished presentation. 

The phone is ringing. 

Someone pops in your door for “a quick question” that ends up taking 27 minutes (you were looking at the clock so you know). 

On top of that, you got only 5 hours of sleep due to a restless little one last night and have had two cups of coffee.

Each detail in this scenario – from where you are sitting, to what is open on your computer, how you respond to your colleague and of course your sleep and coffee – is likely driven by habit.

Together they are forming your “system”, which in this case is producing varied and mostly unpleasant results for your emotional state (you’re likely feeling frustrated) and for what your results.

To rework this system, you’d break it down to it’s component habits and transform them one at a time to create a new system with higher impact.

The Anti-Epiphany

Why epiphany isn’t the way to go

A common reaction when people start to understand the Path to Impact is that they want to overhaul their whole way of doing things.

Immediately. And entirely.

Unfortunately, there is a huge problem with that approach: most of the time, it doesn’t work.

Instead, you’ll be back where you began only more frustrated by the lack of improvement.

It is true that occasionally people have epiphanies.

The lightbulb goes on. They have a moment of deep realization that a habit or even entire system is not working as they wish and are able to make a sudden and lasting change.

However, this is very rare.

Even when life and death is on the line people have tremendous trouble changing behaviors they know could make a difference.

Here’s Dr. Edward Miller, the Dean of the Medical School and CEO of the hospital at Johns Hopkins University quoted in Fast Company:

If you look at people after coronary-artery bypass grafting two years later, 90% of them have not changed their lifestyle. And that’s been studied over and over and over again. And so we’re missing some link in there. Even though they know they have a very bad disease and they know they should change their lifestyle, for whatever reason, they can’t.

These are people who recently had a major surgery. The lifestyle changes they need to make are generally very well known (more on that shortly). Yet they can’t make simple changes that would take little or no time or money.

Epiphanies are not your best option. There is hope in another direction. We’ll get to that soon.

First, let’s understand why most advice out there just won’t help you create better habits.

“I want to reduce stress”

Why most advice won’t help you

Short of an Epiphany, your next step might logically be to explore specific positive behaviors you could adopt.

Let’s take reducing stress as a common example.

If you google “I want to reduce stress” you will get, literally, hundreds of thousands of hits with titles like “101 Ways to Reduce Stress” “10 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress That You Can Start Today” and “20 Easy Stress Reduction Techniques”

The stay-at-home humorist Ann Imig pokes fun of these tactical lists (and actually offers some more useful advice) in her piece “How I combat burn-out in 10,000 easy steps! Staying semi-sane during intense busy times.

Do some of these sites contain tactics that could be helpful to you at a certain moment? Of course. And likely all are well intentioned.

There’s just one problem, and it’s a big one.

They are almost guaranteed not to help you.

Why? They are not:

  • well matched to the specific context that you are currently experiencing
  • customized for the stage of change you are in
  • communicated for multiple learning styles
  • focused enough to help you identify and take a first micro-step

This is why advice like “Turn on some music” or “Be faithful to your workout routines” while well-intentioned, often don’t get that far.

By and large, people already know what kinds of behaviors are most likely to produce positive results.

Take one recent study including men who adopted five straightforward health habits – moderate drinking, no smoking, and healthy diet, exercise and weight maintenance. Probably you are familiar with all of these behaviors and know that they are positive.

The men in the study who adopted them all were 86% less likely to have heart attacks.

So, how many of the 20,700 men in the study do you think kept these habits up for the 11 years of research?

Only 212, or just 1%.

You often know what we’d like to do or could do to increase positive outcomes and decrease negative ones.

You just don’t do it.

All is not lost

The Change Process

Luckily, though, there is a way to change a problematic habit.

In order to change, you don’t have to understand the larger process you go through. If you want you can skip straight to what to do to change a habit.

If you do value a bigger picture view of  the specific process people go through when considering a habit change, here it is, on the seminal work of the researchers Prochaska & DiClemente introduced in the early 80s, and has been built on ever since:

  1. Pre-contemplation: You have not consciously acknowledged any problem with your behavior (even if you sense it unconsciously), nor are your consciously considering alternatives.
  2. Contemplation:  You are asking yourself “should I stay with these habits and attitudes or should I try changing?”
  3. Preparation: You are convinced that you want to change. You know you want to take action, and are getting ready to do so soon.
  4. Action: You take action in line with your desired change.
  5. Retrain: You keep taking action in your new, desired way, retraining yourself.
  6. Relapse (likely but not inevitable): You go back to your previous (less desirable) behavior probably because of a familiar trigger or trying to take too big a step at once. If this happens you will likely need go back to step 3 and repeat.

Of course, this leaves aside the question of what motivates us to move through these stages, or causes relapses. However, it is a strong overview of how we function and the stages a person generally goes through to create change.

If you’re already motivated and clear on the very specific habit you want to try to change (that is, if you are in the preparation stage), here’s exactly what you can do to take action for lasting change.


What to do to change a habit

Get started with a Micro-action

In Stanford Professor BJ Fogg‘s summary Lasting Change, based on decades of research on the subject, he postulates that there are two, and only two, effective ways to create long term change:

-Environmental changes
-Baby Steps (which I call Micro-Actions )

There are two types of micro-actions. You can either:

  • use a scaled down version of the new habit. For example, if you want to write everyday, rather then committing to 3 hours of writing a day, commit to writing at least a 3 sentences a day


  • take a starter step that is on the right path. Staying with the writing example, you might go to a meet-up of a local writer’s group
  • for a bonus, pair this with environmental changes, like putting only a pen and paper out on your desk every evening.

That’s it.

The hard part is being ready and motivated to change, clear on what habit you want to adopt and why, and identifying your Micro-action.

Today, my wish for you is that you will identify one positive micro-action and take it, as soon as possible to create a more productive and meaningful life.

What is the micro-action you took? 



Key References:

Low-Risk Diet and Lifestyle Habits in the Primary Prevention of Myocardial Infarction in Men: A Population-Based Prospective Cohort Study Agneta Åkesson, PhD, Susanna C. Larsson, PhD, Andrea Discacciati, MSc and Alicja Wolk, DMSc
J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;64(13):1299-1306. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2014.06.1190.

Prochaska JO and DiClemente CC ( 1984 ) The Transtheoretical Approach: Towards a Systematic Eclectic Framework . Dow Jones Irwin , Homewood, IL, USA

Fogg, BJ “Lasting Change” Online. Available: Accessed: September 22, 2014.