By Juergen Kneifel
Tristan Klesick, owner of the Klesick Family Farm in Stanwood, didn’t just stumble on a great idea for a business.
Everything he learned in his life, including jobs seemingly unrelated to his current small business, became a building block for his success.
Klesick recently was a panelist for the Effectual Entrepreneurship workshop at Everett Community College. He shared his discovery that the lessons in life should never be taken for granted. His experiences were highlighted as an element researchers identify as “bird-in-hand.”
Bird-in hand identifies all of the resources that are at the entrepreneur’s disposal. Who you are and whom you know become ingredients for a brainstorm. The entrepreneur considers stakeholders who may want to opt-in — not necessarily with a financial commitment.
Klesick had a series of jobs after graduating from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore. As he reflected on his journey as a business professional and as a husband and father, he found that his rear-view-mirror perspective demonstrated a clear pattern of growth, maturation and purpose.
“I didn’t always want to be a farmer,” Klesick said. “I had a strong work ethic and sense of purpose and responsibility. The farming is a culmination of life experience and applying personal values to a clear need in the community; people want organic produce!”
After he graduated in 1988, he took a job with Maryatt Industries in Everett, a laundry services business, where he started in route sales.
“What I learned from working there was a crash-course in business management and customer service. And I discovered that the customers value the convenience of having a service delivered to their door,” Klesick said.
Time on the job helped establish a skill set and qualities that would serve him well in future endeavors. His work at Maryatt Industries involved several site transfers, and the company then merged with Cintas, but by then Klesick had already been eyeing a move into the grocery business.
Living in Vancouver, Wash., Klesick landed a job working for Kroger’s Specialty Produce in Portland. It was there that he came in contact with many organic growers and learned to appreciate the fruits of their labors. There was a spark of interest and desire that just started to take hold and would soon move him into a new enterprise.
Klesick moved his young family to south Snohomish County, where he would open an organic produce stand inside a local shop that featured healthful grains, breads and foods for those with allergies — Manna Mills in Mountlake Terrace. The idea was to establish a presence in a place where customers who seek specialty foods would find a great selection of fresh organic produce.
And Klesick was able to mitigate the startup risk by simply leasing a small section of an existing business with an established customer base.
This piggy-back concept launched the enterprise, and Klesick was off and running. The first patch of farmland the family landed was a humble one-acre spread in Machias, just east of Lake Stevens. By now the delivery service was up and running, as customers preferred the organic produce and — much as in the laundry business — they wanted the produce delivered.
Lessons learned, friendships made, contacts gathered and mature business savvy contributed to the Klesick dream: an entrepreneurial venture that brings the family together and passes on lessons and values to the next generation.
The growth of the Klesick Family Farm continued, and in 2003 the family moved to a 37-acre farm that currently supports crops, livestock and the robust home-delivery operation.
The farm has 20 employees, working year-round, and purchases from local growers for a variety of organic produce that is in season. The business also buys through suppliers items that are not growable in our region.
At Klesick’s disposal are all of these “bird-in-hand” resources: supplier relationships, industry experience, mentors and business partners, family and friends, neighbors and a community that embraces the values that are part and parcel to this booming enterprise. It’s a business that in 2005 was making 100 weekly home deliveries and now has grown to 1,200 weekly deliveries.
Klesick is quick to point out how much this work truly tests your faith. “It’s a business that will keep you on your knees,” he said. “You can do everything right and still have catastrophic events that are beyond your control that may cause total collapse of your enterprise.”
He is quick to credit God for the daily bounty; he’s also quick to help others in need as this, too, is the family’s purpose-centered business philosophy.
You can learn more about this family-run business at www.klesickfamilyfarm.com.
Juergen Kneifel is a senior associate faculty member at the Everett Community College business program. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.