For nearly 20 years, I’ve observed and chronicled the art of entrepreneurship. As a business reporter, I interviewed men and women who had a great idea and started their own business as a result. I interviewed Dorothy Zimdar, the founder of Frames Unlimited, to find out what made her business tick. For her, it was about outstanding customer service, product quality and selection, value, and integrity.
For Hendrik Meijer, who founded the chain of mega stores that have made Meijer Inc. one of the largest private companies in the U.S., founded his first store on the idea that “customers don’t need us, we need them.” A brilliant philosophy, ins’t it? One that led to brilliant success for the Meijer family, and innumerable benefits to the West Michigan community that embraced the company and its stores in their earliest years.
I remember strolling through the garage and pole barn of a west sider’s home. He was starting his own tool and die business with machinery bought from larger companies that had upgraded. I don’t know if his business survived the past few decades of manufacturing turmoil in Michigan, but his excitement to begin on his entrepreneurial journey was very real.
For a special section on entrepreneurialism for the Grand Rapids Business Journal, I was assigned to interview Rich DeVos. I called Amway’s public relations department to set up the interview and they said they’d see what they could do. I hadn’t even properly prepared my questions when I received a call, not from the PR contact, but from Rich himself. I began asking questions about a topic I’m sure Rich had discussed countless times. He probably answered many questions I didn’t even ask.
Within months, I was working for that same Amway PR department. It had nothing to do with the Rich interview, or the other stories I’d written about Amway as the reporter assigned to the manufacturing beat. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, I guess. In any case, over the next 18 years I learned hundreds of ways to share the Amway story. Hundreds of products. Millions of distributors or, as they’ve been referred to in recent years, Independent Business Owners. The story of the partnership between Rich and Jay Van Andel. The story of the partnership between Amway and its IBOs. The power of the business plan Amway created. The all-natural Nutrilite products, the organic cleaners. There were SO many stories to tell, and so great a need to tell them. The business model is often misunderstood and, because there are so many people involved, there are bound to be disagreements and abuses. It was a great place to practice public relations in all its forms — from product publicity and media relations to crisis communications and community relations.
Now I move on and become the entrepreneur, taking what I know best — public relations, communications, social media — and turning it into a product I offer to clients. Like Dorothy, I hope to offer outstanding customer service, value and integrity. Like the young man with his tool and die shop, I am excited to get on with this business (but there are no guarantees!). Like Hendrik, I need customers! The lessons from Amway I’ve already learned and now I hope to apply that expertise to help clients of Luymes PR. The first few have already signed on … who will be next?!