Hiring good people, sticking to company values and staying true to itself has enabled GrandyOats to find national success while being based in rural Maine. The granola company – which, with a staff of around 30, is the largest employer in Hiram, Maine – leans on the values it created when it was founded to stand out from national competitors.
"When I tell people I've been doing this for 19 years and still love my job, they're shocked," said Aaron Anker, the chief granola officer at GrandyOats. "Most companies now, and really for the last decade or two, are defined by startups. You're finding less and less of these long-term brands that were built up over decades in America."
While the business was founded by Sarah Carpenter and Penny Hood, Nat Peirce took over the company in March of 1997 and brought his college friend Anker into the mix three years later. The two of them have helped build the company, and they expect to produce nearly 3 million pounds of granola trail mix in 2019. The business distributes its granola across the country to natural food stores, conventional grocery stores and more than 80 colleges, in addition to its online sales. [Want to know what YouEarnedIt CEO says about creating a successful company culture? Check out our sister site, Business.com.]
Deciding to work in Maine and remain in the state for years is something Anker cherishes. With scenic views from the company's location in Hiram, as well as the office for the sales and marketing staff located near Portland, Anker says employees have no issue working out of Maine.
"I found it far more beneficial to be here in Maine growing a business than I found it to be difficult," he said. "It's really been more of a positive than anything. I think people need to like where they go to work to love their job. Nat and I decided to grow our business rurally. But boy, it feels really good when you're the largest employer in a small town, and people like to go to work there and they don't have to drive into a city. And that's been really a big part of our culture."
The state's values align with those of GrandyOats, which built its brand on being genuine. The staff believes in keeping granola healthy, rather than adding extra sugars and making the product more like a dessert. From Anker's perspective, this is exactly the type of natural product that represents Maine.
"Maine carries a lot of cachet in terms of just being a very authentic and clean and hardworking state," he said. "I was talking to someone about this just last week, and they said, 'It's not like you got stuck in Maine on a layover, [and] it's not like you've got six hours of traffic in Maine. If you've been to Maine, you came here because you went on vacation or you came to summer camp, or you've got a grandmother or an aunt who had a house here, or you bought blueberries or lobster or fantastic granola.' There's really mostly positive things that you're going to say."
With an organic and natural product created in a genuine state, GrandyOats adds quality employees to the mix to create its ideal business brand. Hiring becomes a big part of the company's success, and Anker takes a somewhat different approach to hiring than many companies: "We find good people and we find a good spot for them, as opposed to hiring for a role."
It's easy for job applicants to become disenchanted with a potential position after reading excruciatingly detailed job descriptions. GrandyOats attracts employees by selling the idea of working for their business, rather than the idea of trying to earn a certain position. Once Anker finds people he believes fit the company culture, he develops a position around their strengths and the business's needs.
He told the story of a job interview that stood out within the last year. Trying to get a feel for the candidate's personality and mindset, Anker asked which position she'd play on a baseball team. She responded that she wasn't worried about the position – she just wanted to make the team. Anker loved her response and hired her.
Anker strengthens his small business by hiring candidates who genuinely care about being on the team, who aren't just looking for another job. Hiring team members who come to work for more than just a paycheck is a great way to build a successful company.
He also stressed the importance of giving employees the opportunity to move up and develop within the company. He allows employees to switch roles and duties from time to time, which is a smart managerial technique for boosting job satisfaction among employees.
GrandyOats doesn't have a remarkably large staff, but because of the team's motivation levels and commitment to the company, a group of 30 can reach lofty goals.
"I love the people that I work with," Anker said. "I really just have an amazing team and enjoy the people that I work with."
Small businesses can learn quite a bit from GrandyOats' success. Generating decades of customer loyalty and employee happiness isn't just luck. The company values its people, customers and product.
Being a successful business isn't always about growing rapidly or adding dozens of employees. As GrandyOats shows, you can have steady growth and find financial and emotional success with a small team in a rural town.