Entrepreneurs have many decisions to make when starting a business. It's hard to call making a difference a business decision. To some it just seems to come naturally.
The owners of two Detroit businesses, Avalon International Breads
founded by Jackie Victor and Ann Perrault, and City Living Detroit
founded by Austin Black, have integrated "making a difference" into their businesses practice.
Avalon and CLD were in the spotlight for this month’s speaker series presented by Model D Media held at Willys Overland Lofts in Midtown.
The two businesses are on different ends of the retail spectrum; one is dedicated to provided fresh baked goods, and the other finds homes for those wanting to live in Detroit. Despite their differences, they land side by side in Liberty Mutual’s Responsibility Project
as two socially responsible businesses.
"We’ve selected four businesses, two from Detroit and two from Austin," said Julie, a Liberty Mutual representative and first-time visitor to Detroit. "Each of these films deal with responsibility; how entrepreneurs have a responsibility to their community, employees, partners and sustainability."
Avalon’s film is currently live on the website and the film about City Living Detroit will appear on the site this fall. Both films debuted at this event.
"The thing about Avalon is that what we’re really trying to put forward is a vision of how to be, how to create a lifestyle, how to look at the world in terms of things that we feel we need," said Perrault during the question and answer session. "We need a place to live, which is the earth, we need our communities and we need our people. The question is 'How do you do that and run a business?' That’s what we are about."
Since its start fifteen years ago, Avalon has held to its "triple bottom line" -- being right with the earth, the community, and its employees. In remaining right with the earth, Avalon uses 100 percent organic flour in everything they make daily.
"There was a time when flour got up really high and a consultant said, 'Maybe you should have two lines, an organic line and a non-organic line,'" said Victor. “But, we had this promise that guided us, it was like our North Star."
These two women entrepreneurs saw the potential of the city when they decided to go into business in 1997.
"We wanted to serve the diverse community here," Victor said.
"Since we (Detroit) don’t have a mass transit system, Avalon is one of the places that brings many different people together and allows them to interact on many different levels," Perrault said.
During the discussion, Perrault announced that Avalon will expand its retail in Midtown Detroit and will move its bakehouse to another Detroit neighborhood near Mt. Elliott and Forest.
"It’s our responsibility to be leaders. It’s easy to go where the money is and go where the trends are," Victor said. "We want to do the right thing and not just the easy thing."
Austin Black, a native Detroiter echoed the comments of Avalon’s founders, believing that Detroit was the prime location for his real estate business.
"I could have gone elsewhere and made a lot more money," said Black, who left Detroit to attend Cornell University. "But it wouldn’t have been fulfilling. I didn’t want to be part of a place to consume a city, I wanted to give back to the city."
Black’s real estate business is located in Willys Overland Lofts, one of his favorite loft developments in Detroit. He gets much joy from seeing people move back to the city because they genuinely care about the future of Detroit. About 95 percent of his clients come from outside of the city and even out of the state looking to move into Detroit.
Black is an active member of the National Association of Realtors, Michigan Association of Realtors and the Greater Metropolitan Association of Realtors. In addition, he serves on many civic boards and committees.
"While some people may think I’m doing a lot, I actually enjoy all of this," Black said.
For the aspiring entrepreneurs in the audience, Victor and Black left them words of encouragement.
"A good business plan is key," Victor said. "It will help you see if you want to start your business for real."
Black said that having tunnel vision was imperative for him when starting his business.
"When I wanted to start my business in 2008, I stayed focused. Although real estate was hit hard by the recession, I continued to stay focused and I didn’t listen to what others were saying," said Black. "And for the young generation, things are different now. We have to create our own destiny."
Leah Johnson is Model D's Development News writer.
Photos by Marvin Shaouni