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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design services.

I’ve been covering this industry for a lot of years, but every once in a while I read something that reminds me that not only do I not know everything, I actually am only about half as smart as I think I am. My kids tell me that I’m also only about half as funny as I think I am, but that’s a different story.

Anyway, I was thumbing through an actual paper copy of the New York Times the other day, and came upon a story about Zingerman’s Delicatessen, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based business that, to be honest, I’d never heard of before. I guess I just wasn’t paying attention, because since then I’ve spoken to a number of people who have looked at me in stark disbelief at my ignorance. But there it is.

Zingerman’s, according to the story, started off as just a simple deli doing about six million dollars a year in sales. Six years ago, the owners sat down and started thinking about how they wanted to grow the business…a conversation that many of us should have, but often don’t because we’re so busy making sure today’s business is taken care of and that all the fires are being put out.

This year, as the business celebrates its 25th anniversary, the deli has some company. As the Times notes, customers who visit the store can “taste bread from Zingerman’s Bakehouse, barbecued pork from Zingerman’s Roadhouse, fresh goat cheese from the Zingerman’s Creamery and coffee that Zingerman’s roasts itself.”

In fact, the company already has achieved everything it wanted to get done by 2009…and so now the owners are thinking about 2015, and, the Times reports, “weighing ventures like a microbrewery, a small hotel, fish and meat-smoking business and a publishing house.”

What Zingerman’s seems to have done is a couple of things. First, and most important, ownership doesn’t stop thinking about tomorrow, to quote the old Fleetwood Mac song. That’s incredibly important, because the pace of consumer evolution is so fast that it no longer is good enough to be reactive. I think it is important to lead.

Which brings me to my second point. Analysts say, and I agree, that Zingerman’s has become a transformational business because it has become an arbiter of good taste, a depended upon and reliable source of both products and, implicitly, information about the food that people eat. Again, a critical factor, because it establishes an unusual level of trust between retailer and consumer and creates for the business a differential and unassailable advantage.

Except that, of course, no advantage is unassailable. Even the greatest of advantages are only temporary, which is why Zingerman’s isn’t resting on its laurels and plaudits, but rather continues to look for new worlds to conquer, new spaces to occupy, new products to sell and new customers to romance.

Ownership also keeps net margins low so it can pay its people well, make sure that local producers are making a sustainable profit, and contribute to the community. And there’s no interest in franchising the concept, no matter how many offers management gets – they have no intention of taking the money and running.

No wonder it’s a legendary business. I just can’t figure out why I hadn’t heard of it before.

For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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