Downtown Portsmouth

It’s a little embarrassing, but between Katy and I, I’m the one who loves to shop. Katy shops like my dad (who shops like an assault squad). Every errand is a military operation maximizing one ratio:

In this ratio, as in life, time is also money. If we only need a couple things, one of us stays in the car with Makayla while the other runs into the store. At Market Basket, we move from right to left with our grocery list, thanks to Katy, arranged by aisle. It’s steady and organized. Once I picked out items based on white sticker prices instead of orange, but that was a rookie mistake and I’ve learned to follow Katy’s lead.

As for me, I’m more of a downtown Portsmouth kind of shopper; I like to browse; I like to buy things not on the list (I don’t make lists); I like window shopping.

remember when all our shopping systems ground to a halt?

One of the things we never expected with Joy Lane Farm was how much shopping there would be. Before candle supplies came on pallets we had them delivered to our apartment. There was a large pile of boxes outside our door and Ian, a little boy who lived down the hall, exclaimed, “Woah, look at all the packages!!” Inwardly, I was saying the same thing.

I’ve always loved getting mail, but getting it as an adult hadn’t been what I thought it would be. I’m not sure why, as a child, I pictured my parents opening handwritten letters from dear friends. Most days our mailbox is crammed with political mailers, credit card offers, and keys that might open a treasure chest in Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank.

Once we took on Joy Lane Farm, packages were always coming and we’re still excited to open them. There’s a thrill in a pallet of American soy wax, a jug of lavender essential oil, or handmade chalkboard tags.

one of our first pallets

upcycled into a soap mold

As you would expect, Katy and I enjoy very different parts of business shopping. Katy has spreadsheets and calendars for all our regular items. She excels at maximizing shipping, maintaining inventory, and keeping dozens of companies in view where we get everything from olive oil to shipping boxes.

On my side of the company, when someone says, “I love your packaging,” they’re commenting on countless hours spent searching, sifting, designing, prototyping, redesigning, and stumbling upon the “end result” we love. Exploration, artistry, and luck. Efficient? Not exactly. As it turns out, Simple really is Beautiful, but also more complex and intricate than we thought.

All of this makes one thought resonate every day: Thank goodness for Katy.

She is my complement in every way.

Early on (God-willing, it’s still very early on), we had to decide if owning a business meant splitting tasks equally or splitting them by our strengths. There’s things neither of us are good at, of course, and those we both shoulder, but generally it’s become easy to see who’s better suited for what:

I handle sales, research and development, and long-term strategy. I discover, dream, and build relationships.

Katy handles accounting (thank goodness), manufacturing, and day-to-day planning. I guess I actually make the soap and candles, but Katy decides what and when and cuts and labels everything. She builds systems, makes things efficient, and figures out the best way to do something a thousand times after I’ve done it once.

One of my favorite leadership authors, Marcus Buckingham, says, “Strengths are not activities you’re good at, they’re activities that strengthen you. A strength is an activity that before you’re doing it you look forward to doing it; while you’re doing it, time goes by quickly and you can concentrate; after you’ve done it, it seems to fulfill a need of yours.”

In 2004, I heard his talk, “The One Thing You Need to Know.” It changed my life.

One of the biggest gifts Katy has given to me is making it possible for me to work in my strengths.

Marcus Buckingham

The hard part of owning a business is that when it’s small, we have to do everything, which means working outside our strengths is necessary. The heart-stirring part is that, as it grows, we get to operate in our strengths more and more. We get to cultivate Joy Lane Farm into an ecosystem where people’s passions and talents are valued more than the bottom line.

Katy reminds me that the bottom line matters; it pays for groceries and someday those won’t just be our groceries, but also our employees’. Thankfully, we believe that as companies pour into people’s passions, their bottom line grows as well. This in turn allows them to invest in even more people who get to experience the thrill of working in their strengths.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What are your passions? What are your strengths? What do you love to do most?

Before you go, here are a couple of my favorite things I’ve found while shopping…

a briefcase I found on craigslist from a gentleman who was retiring

all our stainless steel tables I found at a scrap metal yard

the most cherished things can’t be bought…
this is a painting by Katy’s grandfather

Until next time,

Joel

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