"I was married quite young and when you’re young, you feel invincible. You don’t always think of eating healthier.
My husband was a long-distance runner in high school and college. There was a natural food store way in the Upper Peninsula where he went to college. He was starting to draw some conclusions that when you eat whole, pure, clean foods, you get better performance. Then he started applying that to life. He shared his philosophies with me, and I pretty much adopted them as well.
Here in Saginaw, we talked about a glaring need in our area: a place for whole, natural, organic foods and supplements, body care, essential oils, all of it. There was no source for that at the time. We liked the fact that we were introducing something that the city didn’t have yet. So we pulled our savings together and started the business.
We were married in 1978, and opened in 1982. I’d been working at K-Mart, and in the beginning, I kept putting in some hours there. I didn’t have a child yet, I was young, and I could WORK WORK WORK. It didn’t phase me as much. It was fun because it was our own place. It was tough too. You get tired whether it’s your own place or not.
Our original location was on Mackinaw. It’s still a walkable distance from us now, right in the same neighborhood. We developed a steady, loyal following for 10 years at that location. In 1992, we purchased our current location at 717 Gratiot Street.
We had a customer a number of years ago who was suffering—and I mean, suffering—from the symptoms of chronic illness. She asked us for supplements that could relieve some of the terrible symptoms she was living through. We made some suggestions. She tried them, then continued to buy them, then successfully got relief. A good two years later, she confided in us that she had once been in such misery that she had considered suicide.
There are other inspiring moments, but that one is at the top. This was twenty years ago, and she still shops with us.
It was really just incredible to be part of her story. Quite frankly, I was just thanking the Lord we were able to be there for her. It went far and above initial thoughts of our capacity to do good business. It was so enriching. Anybody that has empathy for others, and any inkling to do good, would be as blessed as we were to have that happen.
Heritage Natural Foods is a business based on truth, honesty and genuine concern for the customer’s well-being. It’s crucial to me that we try to satisfy anyone investing in one of our products. Because of that, we have a very lenient return policy, within reason and with a receipt. I feel that, even if the person’s reason for the return is somewhat goofy or without merit, the reality is that customer is not satisfied. The concern is genuine to him or her. So if they aren’t satisfied, we take the product back without batting an eyelid. The customer and my business reputation are most important. That’s one of the reasons we’ve hung in there as long as we have.
Why do I do what I do? Well, it’s not to get rich. I’ve made an honest living, and I’ve done it by doing something I believe in and have a passion for. Our philosophy is short but important. As a Christian business, our philosophy is based on Colossians 3:23, written on a little sign on our bulletin board. Paraphrased, it says, ‘Do everything you do as if you are working for the Lord, not for people’.
My husband and I opened our store in 1982, during the heart of a recession. At the time, he was laid off from GM. That was tough. The business was woefully undercapitalized at first.
Going through that time of layoff was terrible. It was early on in our marriage. At GM, in the beginning of your career, you would get laid on and off regularly. It was scary. But he always got called back before we ran out of our last penny. And we did something constructive with that time—we got the business up and going.
My husband has a higher risk tolerance. It was a calculated risk. I knew it made sense. I knew it sounded good to me. I knew if we didn’t go for it then, that opportunity might not present itself again. Even though I was chewing my nails the whole time, we did it.
In 1985, our son was born. I set up a makeshift nursery in the back of the store, and later a little play area. And this is the truth—taking him to work with me had its extreme pros, and its extreme cons. I had my son at age 30. That’s common now, but back then it was considered late in life. My husband I said to each other, ‘You know what, we’re happy with him, let’s call it a day, unless the Lord says otherwise’—and he did not. So I knew this was my one shot at being a mother.
Above my business, of most importance to me is maintaining a strong, healthy family. When my son was in grade school, I paid more in wages than what was probably affordable. I had one job: parenting. Given my husband worked 2nd shift in Flint, 35 miles away, it was me who was on the home front during the day. As much as possible, I wanted to be the one to pick up my son from school, make his dinner and help with homework. In a nutshell, I would have more in a 401(k) if I hadn’t paid out a lot of wages during his developmental years. And it was worth every penny.
I’ve had some adventures. We have a cottage in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and we’ve done some running around up there with the hiking and nice restaurants. For the sake of sounding interesting, it would be nice to say I backpacked through Europe or something. But at the age of 66, I’ve become quite comfortable in my skin, and I’m not afraid to say that my most cherished life events are the traditional events: memories from my wedding, opening my business, becoming a mom and best of all, becoming a Grandma."
- Debie Baxter, Heritage Natural Foods