What we are doing is not magic. It might seem like it sometimes, but it is only in relation to the lack of faith and commitment that many people have in everyday life. It has been 6 months since we opened the doors here at Boxcar. A lot has happened over the last half year. We have grown our product selection, we have gotten involved in community events, we have become a hub for community dialogue as well as a rising voice in a national dialogue involving action steps to get more nutritious food into the stomachs of those who need it.
I mention magic because people look and ask questions of us as though we have done something grandiose that mere mortals could not possibly achieve. This is not true. Sure, we have certain strengths that have exponentially increased our ability to make this type of venture happen, but for those of you who want to know the magic formula for how to get a Boxcar in your neighborhood it really boils down to believing that it can happen and putting in the work to make it happen.
We get lots of emails every day. Many people are excited about what we are doing and are thanking us for showing a different way to do business in urban communities. The way my brother and I channeled our creativity into a solution for food access is a good story, sure, but with the right team it can be replicated. Will it be through a franchise model? Perhaps. Will it be through a more simplified brand licensing model? Perhaps. Will it simply be through inspiration by providing a case study for those who need proof of opportunity? Perhaps.
If all the money spent on research, studies and forums talking about food deserts were actually pooled into a fund that provided money for store operators to simply open up stores and train staff, there could be at least a dozen Boxcar-type stores across the US at this point.
That’s what’s frustrating to us. We’ve put our money on the line to provide a case study of a straight-forward solution. Do we really need so many people putting more money on the line to define the problem? We went on a one-hour tour with members of the Sylvan Hills and Capitol View communities here in Atlanta and within that time period it was pretty frikken clear what the problem is: a Food Mart nearly every other corner with remarkably little actual food, twenty different types of 40s, more space for gaming machines than healthy food, and ownership that does not take pride in the community in which it operates.
Can we get a concentrated effort by people who want to help solve this problem to talk to (and help us work with) people like Alex Bogusky who successfully made Burger King a leading brand to create a national advertising effort that focuses instead on pushing a healthy lifestyle? And I don’t mean ads that show statistics. Yawn. Boring.
I mean ads that show how great life can be if you’re healthy. Wieden + Kennedy type ads that made Nike the global brand it is today. Ads that make people, young urban people, want to pull up to a carrot the way they pull up to a drive through because the lifestyle associated with that carrot looks too damn good to pass up. Crispin, Porter + Bogusky kinda ads. Chiat Day type juice! Can we get successful producers like Jill Andresevic who helped make Cadillac and Hummer look cool to come on board because they are given the best creative talent to work with to create a campaign that is a consolidated effort to change the way people can live?
We don’t have the resources for marketing like this. No corner store does. (When was the last time you saw an ad for a Food Mart?) The type of marketing and advertising that is necessary to combat food injustice needs to be on a grand, cool scale. BWe know who the key people are who could make a national campaign like this work. But it would take a concentrated effort of creative groups working together to match anywhere near the efforts of the food and beverage companies that spend millions on advertising the stuff that is killing our people.
We know food deserts exist. We know lack of access to nutritious food options leads to an overabundance of obesity. We know that lack of nutritious options leads to underdevelopment of brain cells through malnutrition leading to educational underperformance. We even know that it is possible to be obese and die of malnutrition.
Now that we know all this it is important to not gorge ourselves on information and spend ridiculous money on research, but rather to throw money at creating the solutions and seeing what flies at ground level.
Yes, we are developing a manual/book that will provide the path we followed to getting where we are today. But we are not the only ones in this fight for lives. We are building on the work that many wonderful people and organizations having been working on for years. We are inspired by people like Michelle Obama, Will Allen, Malik Yakini, Brahm Ahmadi, Rashid Nuri, who know food access is part of a modern day civil rights struggle. We are supported in our efforts by the Blank Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who help get our work in front of more eyes and ears every day. We are inspired by Apple, Zappos, Tesla, and all the other companies that created new paths within old industries.
Now, if we can start joining all these elements together we might have an alchemical boost that looks a little like…well…MAGIC!
© 2012 The Boxcar Grocer.