Developing Holistic Business Practices

Developing a business is not easy. It is even more difficult to juggle the needs of shareholders along with employees, the environment, and the community. Examining communal societies and their business practices is one way to develop more holistic business practices. Time Machine Consulting can assist with creating comprehensive business structures that intertwine profit and altruism.

Sampling of work appearing in The Folklorist in the Marketplace (Utah University Press, 2017).

The hammock industry was chosen in part for its low barriers to entry, scalable cost of industry and ease of training, the community had chosen a successful business to pursue in order to capitalize on the waves of visitors that crashed through the community. Particularly during the first decade of Twin Oaks, many visitors flocked to the community to see what communal living was about. The hammock business was a perfect way to capitalize on the mass of interested but temporary labor because the work was easy to learn. However, this meant that it was also easy for competitors to enter the industry. Business for Twin Oaks Hammocks was troubled by the introduction of ex-Twin Oaks members opening up shop nearby and utilizing their skills to start a hammock business themselves.  The ease of entry into the hammocks business, which initially had greatly benefited Twin Oaks, became its bane as the industry grew and then became inflated with competition and a struggling economy. Multiple ex-members began small hammock industries, and the fellow communities Twin Oaks shared their workload with began to market their own brand of hammocks.

Twin Oaks met with past members who began a hammock business to see what their intent was. They were “not exactly sure what” they were up to, but that they “enjoy[ed] making hammocks as a way to make income,” believed there were “hammock orders in them thar hills, more than T.O. [Twin Oaks] will fill,” and they wanted “to be a worker-owned business” but were “not interested in being in competition with T.O.” at least “in the same way we would be in competition, with, say, Pawley’s Island.”[1] They hoped to subcontract with Twin Oaks for filling orders, imagining that it “might could be worked out to…mutual benefit.” The community of ex-members had plans for a three point hammock and a rattan stretcher, but despite the non-competition imagined, they finally admitted that they would also have to make traditional hammocks in order to have a product line that would appeal to buyers. Then to dress it up, the ex-members hoped to establish a non-competition agreement: “we could simply agree not to horn in on each other’s sales. This is a minimum cooperation, but also minimum bureaucracy, sort of arrangement.” They felt that their tiny community would not threaten major suppliers like Pier One that Twin Oaks relied on, but failed to consider that Twin Oaks also desperately relied on small sales in order to keep afloat during the winter.[2] For example, when scrambling for accounts for fear of losing the Pier One account, Twin Oaks turned up Akron, a chain of California stores, but further digging found that this lucrative account had just been taken by East Wind.[3]

Advertising and promotion was a frequent site of contention. Some community members struggled with the idea of using sales representatives for example, which “carries ideological overtimes for some folks.” Yet, admittedly, the community ultimately decided not to use them “primarily because we could sell enough hammocks without paying their high commissions.”[4] The larger issue rose again when Twin Oaks accepted the aid of a trade journal in developing an ad. Unfortunately, the ad the journal developed was “sexist, classist and slick in the worst definition of the word.”[5] Twin Oaks decided to put in their own ad, which they described as “definitely an amateur job” but it did not rely on “the bathing beauty model in a piece of lawn furniture.” Instead the ad featured men and mostly women from the community in gender appropriate clothing. The community felt unhappy about the ad in the end; while it allowed members to add input and respond to typically advertised material, members were concerned that working together in such a manner “doesn’t always produce something that management thinks will be effective.”[6] Additionally, some members were upset that they had to dress and appear conventionally, which was sharply in contrast to their daily life and ideology of Twin Oaks. The perceived needs of the business of Twin Oaks versus its ideological underpinnings was often a source of contention in the community.

The concerns over appearances and appealing to the business world, and by extension, society as a whole, created a bit of a rift between the hammock department and the rest of Twin Oaks. For example, some community members questioned the amount of resources going into appropriate attire, transportation and materials for trades show booths and sales meetings, especially since the average Twin Oaks member wore old, typically out of fashion, clothes and hitchhiked or bused to most places. Not only were hammock managers under the extra stress of running an enterprise, they had to do so while conforming to the ideological needs of Twin Oaks.  For example, the manager could order $20,000 of supplies without any concern, but did not order a new typewriter or phone system, even though one was badly needed, because it would look out of place with the rest of the community which was populated by cast off goods. One hammock manager reported being hassled over getting a $6 haircut to look presentable for a sales trip. For some members, it created a sense of inequality between the business and the community.[7]

Another area of contention was the desire to be efficient but environmentally minded. Twin Oaks used thousands of pounds of synthetic rope in their business, a non-renewable fossil fuel product. To compensate for this, they spent a great deal of time developing renewable energy sources for other parts of hammock production.[8] Twin Oaks experimented with a variety of naturally sourced energy, particularly passive solar heating. Yet the community was not entirely familiar with these emerging types of energy sources, so projects cost more money, and took longer to develop. Not all members were on board, which led to further delays. Ideally, the environmentally-friendly options were preferred, but as one member noted, a desire to make all new projects solar heated ended up delaying them all.[9] Twin Oaks was successful in developing a solar powered kiln to dry the sustainably harvested wood they used in developing their hammocks, and continually sought ways to make their process more environmentally friendly.

It should be noted that ideological conflicts arose over areas other than business in Twin Oaks. Conflicts between ideal versus cost effective practices often appeared. For example, wanting to be environmentally friendly, self-reliant, sustainable and remove themselves as much as possible form the system of capitalism, Twin Oaks prepared and jarred their own produce, including 750 quarts of green beans. It was so much that they found themselves eating them every day. They stopped after finding out that home-canned goods don’t have an infinite shelf life. Additionally, the process of preparation, such as scraping corn off cobs to can was also a difficult, messy and time consuming process. In the end, Twin Oaks found that, despite the benefits of farm fresh food, it was not often cost effective for a burgeoning community. Even neighbors, who were farmers by trade, shopped at grocery stores, as the cost of cans alone for processing was often in excess of the cost of purchasing canned food.[10]

[1] UVA Box 4, 9840-Q, Planning Council: Community Planners—Business Meeting Notes 1976, “Expatriates Hammocks, Inc? Feb 15, 1977 by Sara.

[2] UVA Box 4, 9840-Q, Planning Council: Community Planners—Business Meeting Notes 1976, “Expatriates Hammocks, Inc? Feb 15, 1977 by Sara.

[3] UVA Box 4, 9840-Q, Planning Council: Community Planners—Business Meeting Notes 1976, “Update on Pier 1 1/7/79.

[4] UVA Twin Oaks papers, Box 3, No 9840-Q, Income Council: Products-Hammocks, 1971-77, “Your Input” 15 August, 1977, by Sam.

[5] Larry Lenske and Mikki Wenig, “It’s the Community’s Business” Communities: Journal of Cooperative Living. April/May 1980, 8).

[6] Larry Lenske and Mikki Wenig, “It’s the Community’s Business” Communities: Journal of Cooperative Living. April/May 1980, 8).

[7] Larry Lenske and Mikki Wenig, “It’s the Community’s Business” Communities: Journal of Cooperative Living. April/May 1980, 9). 

[8] Larry Lenske and Mikki Wenig, “It’s the Community’s Business” Communities: Journal of Cooperative Living. April/May 1980, 7).

[9] UVA Box 6, 9840-Q, folders 1974-81 Planning Council: Land Planning, page 6 of “Tupelo Solar, Ta Chai Renovations & Greenhouse Addition” by Tom 6-19-79, comment by Nathan).

[10] Kinkade, A Walden Two Experiment, 67.