At the Intersection of Root Beer and Christmas Trees

Sometimes all a business owner needs to do is stop and listen to what their customers are saying - to try the unusual or recognize they may not have all the answers.

In 2009 my buddy Josh started contacting me with a request to open up a hardware store in his beloved neighborhood of Adams Morgan. Relentlessly.

In an early email he wrote:

"It's your friendly neighborhood nudge here. We need Adams Morgan Hardware! We want it in the old Ontario Theatre! Don't make us wait any longer! Spare no effort to make it work! "

Eventually I tried to be as funny as he is in my responses-

"Oh it’s in my best interest to “put up with you”. When we launch, I am going to make you one of those sandwich board “coats” and make you parade through the neighborhood!! "


Fortunately for all of us, we finally got our act together and by the time we actually opened our Adams Morgan location on Columbia Road I had earned the right to call him the biggest pest I know - which I do to this day. To his face.


Josh’s doggedness didn’t stop at geographical proximity either. Because we sell his all-time favorite root beer, he made sure we had it in stock any time he wanted it.


Then we started selling Christmas trees – but in his opinion, not enough of the right size: in truth the store is tiny and we could only cram so much coniferous deliciousness into one small urban space. If he didn’t get there fast enough, he was out of luck.


Now, before you get the wrong impression about how I feel about Josh, I should clarify that in addition to being a wonderful friend, he is also a small business owner's dream. On an on-going basis he does several incredible things for us:


1. He lets us know what products he wants and actually buys them regularly (well, just one tree a year);


2. He tells his neighbors, friends, social media, and anyone who listens how much he likes shopping locally at a variety of places that include his beloved hardware store. He moved to Adams Morgan in 1998 and makes it a point to improve, recognize and patronize his community amenities;


3. ...and he brings his cool daughter to the store, whom he has infused his love of local from a very early age

I don’t have all the answers. My team doesn’t have all the answers. But sometimes, when business owners take the time to actually listen and react to what our customers are saying, we can improve how we operate and ultimately our bottom line. For me, growing jobs has always been a goal; the more root beer and trees I sell, the more jobs we create. And the stats as of now are pretty compelling: since we opened in Adams Morgan in 2016 we have sold 12,929 bottles of root beer, over 15,000 Christmas trees, and employed nearly 500 teammates there and at the three subsequent locations.


What else grew after listening to my favorite customer? Our store count, bringing us to a total of 13 locations and over 250 teammates and co-owners. Thanks, Josh!


Gina Schaefer: Developing urban markets, supporting small businesses and helping women to succeed

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