I was on a trail run yesterday at one of my favorite spots. The loop has a nasty uphill climb followed by a lovely long winding downhill… perfect for letting your mind wander a bit. The downhill section is called the “Kay Bee” trail, which I recently found out was named for a woman, Kay Burnett, who had done much of the original trail building on the mountain in the 1950s.
Kay was responsible for one of Mt. Tom’s most unique and beautiful trails. It is called the Beau Bridges trail, and is not named for the actor. The trail follows the winding Cascade Brook and has seven small bridges that cross the water in different spots as it flows down the mountain.
It turns out that when that trail was originally created, Kay built all of the individual bridges at home in her garage. Then one by one, she strapped them to her back and hiked to the trail, installed the bridge, and then brought in the next one.
I can just imagine all of the people who heard what she was doing and thought she was crazy.
- “That is not the easiest way to build a trail, Kay!”
- “You should just do one bridge. Why bother to cross the stream seven times?”
- “You know, it would be a lot easier to just build the trail somewhere else.”
But I will tell you, Kay’s trail is gorgeous. It has also endured. The original bridges that she built in the 50s have long since worn out, but trail crews continue to repair and replace them. Her vision remains intact.
As I floated down her namesake trail, I found myself thinking about Kay. She not only had the fortitude to do the hard work of creating trails in the wilderness, but she also wouldn’t accept that “just any” trail would do. She had a vision, and if it meant doing something no one had done in the area before, she would figure it out in order not to compromise that vision.
This is how I see our clients within the greater business landscape.
Building a business is hard work. You’ve heard the stats. Half of all businesses fail within the first five years. But building a business made to endure for generations?
I hear the same naysayers that spoke to Kay ready to chime in.
- “That isn’t the easiest way to grow a company!”
- “You could totally sell this brand and make a fortune!”
- “There is no way you can compete in this industry without deep corporate pockets or VC money.”
For our clients, it is not about “easy.” It is not about “how things are done.” It is about vision, values, community, and family. It is about legacy.
These companies look at the traditional paths available, and then decide that none are right for their definition of success. From the outside, this often makes them look like they are missing something important, but I assure you, that is not the case. They know exactly what they are saying no to, and why.
One of our clients found a turning point when they started turning down high-volume, low-margin sales to big boxes. To the outsider, it was a no-brainer to sell to Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and others. But saying no to margin pressure allowed our client to keep domestic jobs and maintain product quality, which to them, was far more important than profit.
Another refused their industry trend of consolidation by huge national conglomerates and following wealth into urban markets. Instead, they merged two 100-year-old financial institutions that could combine forces to both compete and maintain an unwavering commitment to their local rural and milltown communities.
And what about a health and beauty brand that doesn’t believe in social media? It’s possible. Everyone was pushing the founder to follow trends, but as an engineer, she prefers to follow product quality instead. She is building a strong brand on results and word-of-mouth, instead of a flash-in-the-pan TikTok sensation.
These trailblazers aren’t flashy. They don’t succumb to the pressure to follow the fastest path to topline revenue. They are looking to build sustainable, enduring businesses and brands.
And in order to have a business that endures for decades, you have to inspire people with what you build. You have to make them fall in love with it as much as you have, and want to carry it on. It is hard work. You need to build something that has the potential to grow and evolve as your family and industry continue to grow and evolve.
The volunteer trail crews that continue to maintain Kay’s bridges love that trail. They find new materials to make the bridges stronger, sturdier, and more beautiful while they continue to uphold her vision. And for a true trailblazer, there is no greater honor.