[New Rules] The Vibe in My (Dolores Park) Neighborhood

In Pareto’s world , big things count a lot, but small things count as well. The trick as it were to is make sure you nail the big things very well, and make sure to do the smalls things well too.

It sounds easy to do but my experience is that it’s hard to execute. Many companies – and their functional departments –  try to do it all at once – sort of the spaghetti testing method en masse– throwing it against the wall hoping that most of it sticks. Since throwing it up together almost ensures that most will seldom stick, you’re never quite sure if you’re eating stuff that stuck, or stuff that was picked up off the floor.

A better, more durable approach is to figure out what you have, where you want to go, and an approach (or two) that you can build upon over time on the early foundations you’ve established. Call it the pyramid method: build a strong base, and work up succeeding levels layer by layer. It has a way of working – and is significantly more durable. It just takes some forethought and wisdom.

In my Dolores Park neighborhood Bi-Rite Market , a food store, sets an enviable example of both the pyramid and Pareto models. Rejuvenated by owner Sam Mogannam in 1998, the market has been serving San Francisco’s Mission District since 1940.

So what makes it exemplary?

Sam restarted the market by making sure the basics were covered and done well: produce, meats, dairy, etc. were fresh, properly displayed, and well maintained.

Early on he showed a knack for hiring good staff who was helpful, knowledgeable, and mostly stayed on in the turnover prone world of the twenty-something world. Oh – and like my son’s kindergarten class – the staff looks like the United Nations, which in a place like San Francisco counts as a positive as well.

He later added a full-service meat and a take out foods section. To get greater utilization out of the existing kitchen, prepared food sections were added along with full service catering. Still building on early foundation, Bi-Rite added partnerships with local farmers and those food producers were highlighted, coupled with in store presentations of their wares.

Snaring space down the block, Bi-Rite Creamery opened, adding a dessert leg to the budding business.

Each step in expansion has been built on the foundation laid before it and each step seems to have been taken when the prior steps were sealed and solid.

Sam, by the way, is not alone in this block of the neighborhood that doubles as a little foodie ghetto: Annie and Craig Stoll of Delfina (and now Delfina Pizzeria note) have been doing the same thing for a almost a decade as well.

[Updated related thought from out of my neighborhood: Wendy Yanowitch, who is fellow preschool board trustee with me at The Little School, did some great work around the school’s 25th anniversary that brought to mind a similar approach. Wendy and her task team took some simple ideas to mark the event, and by some forethought and hard work figured out a way to carry them through a year’s worth of calendar. Things don’t have to be complicated or showy to work well: just thoughtful, consistent and relevant.]

So what’s important for you about this lesson?

  1. Figure out directions you might go.
  2. Start with elements that build on each other, much like building blocks.
  3. Retain reusable components that you can repurpose, extend and reuse (Bi-Rite ice cream became the basis for the Bi-Rite Creamery.)
  4. Keep doing the old things well while you expand to new offerings.

Sam’s mom got in the act this past week as the store featured blueberries grown in her garden. How good can this vibe get?

New Rules is an occasional set of writings focused on changes in norms, culture, or ways of navigating work, organization and careers. More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the "About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc." sidebar or the "Hire Me" tab above.