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How can we make a community with people we’ve never met?

This is a question that the sales team asks themselves every day at Island Creek. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s back up so you know why we ask the question, and why it matters.

At ICO we start with great product. Perhaps you’ve heard us talk about that a few times? Our oysters are our foundation, the bottom line that everything else rests upon. It’s the water, the choices that the community makes in keeping the water clean. It’s the farmers hard work and decisions in caring for the animal. It’s our shop guys insanity in keeping the product perfectly stored, handled and monitored. These are all crucial elements to our work.

Taking these elements into account, however, the fact is that there are lots of other people selling shellfish. And a handful of those people sell great shellfish, from the Acadian Peninsula to Assateague Island. Beautiful, clean, happy places with salty, stubborn, charming oystermen and women. How can we make Island Creek shine among this esteemed company?

And beyond that, how can we give our work here meaning beyond the dollar? It’s a well documented fact that money is important. Period. But also that the intangibles of our work life are just as important, if not more. Relationships with co-workers and customers, the quality of daily interactions, adequate time off and a huge heaping pile of humor. These are the puzzle pieces of a healthy working life. Creating community within Island Creek and our extended family of shellfish lovers has proven itself to be one of our most satisfying and successful pursuits.

So that’s where the sales question comes back into play. The oysters aren’t going to sell themselves, and there are other folks out there that have nice product. And if relationships and community are a pillar of a meaningful workplace, and it’s the sales team’s job to work with chefs, how can we create a chef community? And if we haven’t met 50% of them face to face,

How can we make a community with people we’ve never met?

What I enjoy about this question is that it is so timely. More people have relationships based on computer interactions than ever. I just read an article talking about an on-line community of 35 million users each month. Thirty Five Million users, or people, as they are commonly known. It’s an inconceivable number.

My co-worker Jess and I come up with all sorts of schemes to bring together a group of people who are loosely affiliated by their love of oysters, deep desire for quality and love of small scale farming. These schemes include weekly emails with farm related events and weekly if not daily phone calls checking in with chefs. We throw parties for chefs. We talk about chefs to other chefs, we relate stories and share issues that we hear about. “Things are slow? I’m hearing that from everyone right now.” Jess and I visit restaurants and keep detailed records of chefs likes and dislikes. We begin to understand their general temperament and what they have in common, and we talk about it. To them. We pick on them, tell them they are a crazy group of people. Remind them that they are artists. And at the level we work at, brilliant artists. Essentially, we let them know that there is a community. We create it, we reinforce it and slowly it becomes something real.

The fulcrum is the sales team itself. Here is what I love: that one of the most potent and least tangible ways that we develop community between these disparate people is that we are ourselves. And that means that we are honest, caring and smart. And we love a good joke. We are genuine, so that every interaction we have is real and is consistent. And every time we talk to one chef vs another, or we get the pleasure of speaking with them at the same time, they get the same people. The people, us, that are grounded solidly in the character of their work culture, of their one of one relationships with the other folks at ICO and the people of Duxbury. These elements are consistent themselves, and they provide the perfect platform. The community is already there, we are just expanding the circle. It’s effortless and the only way this kind of energy is created. And all one needs to do is look at our 200 plus chef network to see what it is capable of.

Sales, yes. But all we ‘do’ is be the kind, trustworthy and sardonic people that grow naturally here in New England, in Duxbury, and at Island Creek. How easy is that?!

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