As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Crames. After 5 years as an Assistant State Attorney in Dade County Florida, Mark entered private practice where he represented a number of fragrance distribution companies. In 1986 he co-founded Northern Group, a distributor of fine fragrance that grew to $120,000,000 in annual sales. In 2002 he purchased Demeter Fragrance Library with his partner, Debra Janke, and together they have grown that business to a worldwide niche fragrance brand.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Pure serendipity. After 5 years as a criminal prosecutor, I became a trial lawyer who happen to represent a number of fragrance companies in trademark litigation. That led to work as General Ousley for a fragrance company, to founding my own distribution company, to buying Demeter in 2002. That I would eventually become a perfumer was unimaginable and never intended.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
In the early days I had no sense of humor whatsoever. The takeaway is I wish I had developed one earlier…because shit happens.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I was profoundly affected by Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Tom Peters in Search of Excellence. I left those books with a sense that it did not matter what I did, as long as I loved it and as long as I pursued excellence. Rewards would follow behavior. And they did.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I have always thought every man has a circle he cares about. My purpose was to care for my extended family, and over time, came to come to feel that circle included our employees. If I was successful enough to help other people who worked for and with me to achieve their dreams, that fulfilled me.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Believe. In yourself, in who you are, and in what you are doing. It is tattooed on my arm, in 4 languages.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
As a family we were fortunate. When I bought Demeter in 2002, it was primarily for the purpose of raising a second family. We consciously decided to wrap our work around our lives, rather than our lives around our work. A central part of that was creating a company we could run virtually in 2002, when the idea was bleeding edge. So much of the dust nets other families and companies have had to make were business as usual for us.
That, and the nature preserve 5 minutes from the house has stayed open. If they ever close that, all bets on my mood are off…
The business challenges were immense and remain significant. There is nothing in our international supply chain that is not broken. And our business is primarily international and had already started to be severely curtailed in February.
So, we took an inventory of our assets and decided our best assets were access to alcohol and perfume packaging-enough to give converting to hand sanitizer a try. We converted 2 production lines in 3 weeks and have been surviving that way ever since. And my wife and partner says survival is winning.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The biggest was what to sell when there was limited demand for our normal products. It was finding something that people needed, not simply that they might want. This is not an era made for wants and desires, especially for small, independent brands.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Listening. Not fixing the problem. Empathetic listening.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
We are changing our product mix to emphasis safety and comfort-sanitizer, soap, CBD, all in great scents that evoke better times and memories
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I think many habits will change, starting with handshakes, face to face meetings, significantly less travel, especially internationally. I am not yet sure how we will rebuild our supply chain. And I have no idea if I will ever get to go to a concert or a ball game again.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy? Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
The core principles are not going to change. Where, how and about what you connect with your customers and partners may change. But filling needs and creating a trustworthy brand will never go out of style.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There is no spoon
Within the rules and social contract, make your reality. Not just money, but how you want to live. For me, creating the environment I wanted to raise my family in was my top priority. Making a company that holds a place for them today and in the future is how that mission evolved. But it is all about creating your reality.
How can our readers further follow your work?