Soup-To-Nuts podcast: 5 lessons for succeeding for the long-haul from the founder of Bob’s Red Mill

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Rolled oats

Love and passion, not a bottomless bank account and fierce competitive spirit, are the cornerstones for Bob’s Red Mill’s longevity and success, according to founder Bob Moore, who recently celebrated his 89th birthday and has overseen operations at the company for 40 years.

When Moore and his wife founded Bob’s Red Mill in 1978 it was partly inspired by their love for each other and their desire to live a long, healthy life together as well as to take the best care they could of their three sons. To do this they began eating the most nutritious food they could find – including whole grains.

The operation also was inspired by Moore’s romanticized view of an idyllic life as a stone mill operator, which he says comes from the book John Goffe’s Mill by George Woodbury, which Moore stumbled upon at his local library as a young man.

“After I read that book and I thought, ‘By, golly, if I could find a mill, people might beat a pathway to my door and I would have the most delightful life,’”​ Moore said, adding, “That is exactly what happened.”

After milling for 45 years, he adds, “If I had my life to live over, I promise you, I would have started earlier because I have enjoyed every minute of it.”

But of course, love alone isn’t enough to run a fruitful business. Rather, Moore explained, the success of Bob’s Red Mill also hinged on several lessons he learned throughout his career, including knowing when to ask for help, to never stop learning, to take care of yourself, your customers and your employees and, last but not least, be flexible in your approach to your business while still maintaining your core values.

Lesson 1: Ask for help when you need it

One of the most pivotal lessons for creating and maintaining a successful business is one that Moore says he learned early in his adventure as a miller, and that is recognizing when you need help and asking for it.

“I can still recall, I thought, I am not going to do any of this unless I have some help,”​ said Moore. And so he quickly found a partner who, along Moore’s wife, helped “get this old mill going … and it just kept growing.”

Lesson 2: Do your research

Another lesson that Moore learned early on was to find out everything he could about the milling business and the value of whole grains so that he could effectively do his job and promote his products’ value. An ancillary lesson he learned many years later was to fund ongoing research to keep the spotlight on his products and help his company stay relevant.

“I acquired everything that seemed like it had anything to do with milling to help me understand what the old-timers [did] when they were back milling with stone mills and stuff and how it could help me,”​ Moore said, while looking across his office a bookshelf crammed with resources. “They all helped. Everyone one of [the books] helped.”

He said he also donated $25 million to Oregon Health Sciences to continue researching whole grains and their benefits, which is helping the company as it creates brochures, books and other literature on the benefits of its products.

Lesson 3: Take care of yourself and your consumers

Anyone who is an entrepreneur knows that starting and maintaining a business can be an all-encompassing process, and if you aren’t careful your own health will suffer – something that Moore cautions against based in part on the belief that living a healthy life contributed to his seemingly boundless energy and ability to make it to the office most mornings before 6:30 am.

“Fortunately, I got married young enough and my wife began to put, I think, better food on the table,”​ and that laid the groundwork for a healthy lifestyle and “outstanding operations,”​ Moore said.

One aspect that makes Bob’s Red Mill so “outstanding,”​ to use his word, is its dedication to also ensuring the health of its consumers. One way that it is doing this is by becoming certified by the Safe Quality Foods Institute.

Lesson 4: Take care of your employees

Just as important as taking care of yourself and your consumers is taking care of your employees, Moore says. That is why he decided several years ago to create an employee stock ownership plan that would transfer partial ownership to the people who work at Bob’s Red Mill and rewards them for their loyalty and hard work.

“The Bible, I have to tell you, when we come to the part about doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, it resonated so clearly with me that when I became somewhat profitable, which happened in the first two or three years of our mill, I looked at the earnings that I had … and I simply figured a system where I could evaluate how many hours [employees] worked the past month and then I took a portion of the profits … and gave it back to them,”​ he said.

Years later, he started the transition to an employee stock ownership plan to ensure that those who worked for him would be well rewarded going forward. The move also created a sense of loyalty that has helped the company grow over the years.

Lesson 5: Be flexible, but don’t lose sight of your original mission

As consumer perception and demand for whole grains has evolved, Moore said, it is important that Bob’s Red Mill has also evolved its product portfolio to reflect the foods shoppers want.

Moore said the top grains on consumers’ radars now are quinoa and millet. The first of which is well known to many Americans, but the second may be less so.

Millet, Moore says, “is a wonderful grain … you can cook it just like rice and use it as a side dish, a little salt and pepper, a little butter on it or something, and it has wonderful nutritional qualities. However, it hasn’t got the sparkle that a lot of people like to put in their foods, and so you can sparkle it with anything you want, if you like a lot of crazy stuff in it.”

Oats, however, remain the company’s best seller. Whether they are Bob’s Red Mill’s award-winning Irish oats or its steal cut and rolled oats of various sizes, Moore says consumers “are seeing that oats are a swell way to start the day.”

And while Moore says he has never eaten oats on the go, he realizes a lot of today’s consumers want to and his company is helping them do that by rolling out several cups of grain that require consumers to simply add hot water, wait three minutes and then enjoy.

At the same time that Bob’s Red Mill is flexible in what it produces, it does not compromise on its core value of offering nutritious food.

“I think one of the biggest things … is not to change it much. I don’t think that whole grains are going away and I have tried my best to keep the wholesome whole grains in our focus, and I don’t think it has been a mistake,”​ he said. “I think because of that we have kind of dominated that that facet of the food and have done some surprising things when it comes to readings on our success and in the marketing.”

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