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The Rise of Local: ‘Hopeful Monsters’ Win!

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Famed evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin taught us that with every new generation, nature creates variations of each species. For example, if we look at a nest of young birds, we’ll often see one chick whose beak is slightly longer, or whose wings are different. Why? Because depending on the changing demands of the environment, the slightly different bird may better able to survive and reproduce. Scientists call these variations hopeful monsters—monsters because they look different, hopeful because it’s never clear what the environment will demand.

The importance of a local supply chain

Anie Rouleau of Montreal is a “hopeful monster.” Her business, The Unscented Company, which sells unscented home and body care products—is thriving in the suddenly new, merciless COVID environment.

How? First, she flew past one of the first casualties of the economic shutdown: Global supply chains. Recall that these permit us to prioritize the efficiency of just-in-time delivery at the expense of resilience gained by holding reserve stock. So that`s what most people do. So when the supply chains froze, many businesses suffered immediately because their warehouses quickly emptied. Not Anie’s. For her company, she had carefully built a network of regional suppliers, all of whom are within dashing distance of her central Montreal office. Her supply is secure and dependable.

Where is your team?

Second, Anie also had a strong nest, i.e., a local, loyal team. Why? Because outsourcing isn’t for her. Indeed, local livelihoods that help make Montreal a better place to live are a design feature of her company. With the COVID-19 shutdown, many Canadian companies suffered because the pandemic struck their outsourced workers in their home countries. Others suffered because their overseas workers’ production got stuck in suddenly frozen supply chains or blocked at national borders by defensive trade tariffs. Not Anie’s. Her loyal, hardworking team—who all live within dashing distance—jumped to the challenge.

The importance of investing in your website

Finally, she had the right wings for the wind. Another immediate consequence of the economic shutdown was a heightened public awareness of the importance of local businesses and a terrific boom in demand from local consumers. This carried Anie even higher. Her dependable team and suppliers were able to meet the orders that came through her sophisticated website which, unlike many, she’d shrewdly invested in. Result: At a time when many businesses are starving, Anie’s overall revenues have grown more than 50%.

Was Anie also a bit lucky? You bet. She sells soap at a time when everyone is being told to wash their hands obsessively. But she’s succeeding because she’s resourceful and resilient, uses B Corp—the world’s gold standard business planning tool for locally strong companies—and because her company has an effective online presence.

B Corps more likely to survive market upheaval

Hopeful monsters can sometimes become the dominant form of a species. It’s hard to say if the Anie’s will rule the future but it’s quite plausible that some features of our COVID-19 era—fragile international supply chains, a reticence to offshoring, a powerful buy local sentiment and even more digitization—will endure.

At last count there were Anies in 70 countries. They’ve also shown themselves to be capable of collaborative adaptation as well as tough: Forbes Magazine, citing recent stats, reports that B Corps were 63% more likely to survive the last great market upheaval—the 2008-09 recession. In sum, they’re everywhere, working together and tenacious.

To me, “Hopeful Monster” Anie looks like the future.

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