Learning from the Past

imageAs I enter this, my 12th year as a faculty member in the Western Illinois University Department of Communication, I am taking a sabbatical (technically called administrative leave) to broaden my understanding of organizational communication.  In addition to teaching a course in Organizational Communication, I also teach a special topics class about the communication culture of the Walt Disney theme parks.  This class, Communication 379, was born here at Western.  The class is only offered at this institution and offers students the opportunity to not only learn about the organizational communication of the Disney parks, but also allows them to immerse themselves in the world of those parks through a week-long visit at the end of the course.

My three-week journey to six Disney theme parks in four countries (the United States, China, Hong Kong and Japan), begins at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Disneyland opened over 60 years ago in July of 1955 and was Walt Disney’s first theme park. As a result, the park is nearing the end of its ‘diamond’ celebration event. There are images of diamonds everywhere and homages to the history of this ground-breaking park at every turn. Even after 60+ years, this park and its employees (Disney calls them cast members) don’t want you to forget where it all started.

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I think that’s an important lesson for us to remember whether we work in academia or elsewhere. The history of your organization is important, not only to see the successes, but also to learn from the mistakes. Since none of us have a DeLorean that can travel back in time (as far as I know), our way to learn from those that came before us is by learning the history of our organizations. It may not involve a massive year-long celebration complete with nightly fireworks like Disneyland, but the past is important, nonetheless. I believe each organization has its own unique way of life (often referred to as its culture) and, like a family, there are stories to be told about that life and its growth. As I learn about the culture of the Disney Parks, I hope you’ll find some time to learn about the history of your organization as well.

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Make it a win for wine! Alumna’s small retail biz gets some big-time attention

Susan Kaufman, WIU Alumna and Proprietor of Market Alley Wines in Monmouth, IL

Kaufman’s small Monmouth-IL based business has recently gotten some big-time attention. She entered a video about Market Alley Wines in the National Retail Federation’s “This Is Retail” nationwide video contest. Vote for Market Alley Wines at www.retailmeansjobs.com/ThisIsRetail/SusanKaufman_profile.

At age 45, Susan Kaufman found herself at a crossroads in her life. According to the Western alumna (Kaufman graduated from WIU in 1988 with her bachelor’s degree in mass communications and a minor in professional writing), she worked for many years as a journalist, left that career for a job in marketing, and realized that she “worked very hard selling a product that I wasn’t that enthusiastic about.” She decided she would be much happier working for herself.

And so Market Alley Wines was established.

Kaufman’s small wine retail business, based in Monmouth, IL, has recently received some big-time attention. She entered a video about Market Alley Wines in the National Retail Federation’s “This Is Retail” nationwide video contest, and, as of this week, her video is a top ten finalist. The winning video will garner the retailer a $25,000 prize. You can vote for Market Alley Wines, through Sunday, April 15, at www.retailmeansjobs.com/ThisIsRetail/Matchup/14.

During all the excitement and, of course, running her busy small retail business, she was kind enough to take time of out her schedule and answer some questions about her retail venture and the video contest.

Q). When and why did you open Market Alley Wines?

I have always been a wine enthusiast, love working with people, and had retail experience, so it seemed like the right choice. I made the decision in February of last year to move forward with Market Alley Wines and opened June 7, 2011.

Q). Were you at all daunted by the fact you were opening a small business in a difficult economy and in, what some would call, an even more difficult market in west central Illinois?

A small business in a small town in a bad economy. What could go wrong? Actually, not much has. I did a considerable amount of research in both the wine industry and the local economy, and both showed signs of potential. Monmouth was lacking a “destination” spot… a place where people gather, visit, and relax. I certainly did not enter into this business lightly. But Monmouth is like so many other small communities. We once had many thriving businesses downtown, and now there are very few businesses. I think people now get the reality that, to keep businesses in their communities, they have to support them. It doesn’t hurt that my wine shop is beautiful and comfortable.

Q). What do you consider the most challenging aspects of operating a small business like yours in a rural region?

There is often a perception that a small-town business will be “hill-billy” or crappy, but that isn’t always the case. So many times when people walk through the door for the first time, I hear them say they can’t believe the store is in Monmouth. It is an environment that beckons a big city, but with the charm of a rural downtown. Just because we are small town doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice quality.

Q). What did you do before opening your business in Monmouth?

I counted about 30 jobs from my first at age 13 as a corn detasseler to the present. It isn’t like I can’t keep a job, rather I kept struggling to find one that could hold all my interests. I love a job where every day is different and you never know what the day will bring. I love being creative. I love learning something new every day and sharing that knowledge. I love people and enjoy it so much when people leave my store happy. This job has all of those qualities, plus I am my own boss so my success depends on me. And I don’t have a dress code.

Susan Kaufman, WIU Alumna and Proprietor of Market Alley Wines in Monmouth, IL

Visit Market Alley Wines online at marketalleywines.com.

Q). Why did you decide to enter your business into the “This Is Retail” video contest?

My entire life philosophy the past few years has been “What do I have to lose?” And after I heard about the contest, I thought my story had some legs.

Q). If you win the contest, what will you do with the money you win?

I would love to start a yearly wine and music festival in downtown Monmouth. Something that could give back to this awesome community but also bring new people into our town that could help other businesses.

Q). Anything else you think is important to highlight?

I tried to model my business on those places that I love frequenting. The kind of place where every time you go in, there is something new. A place where the owner or workers know me and know what I like. A place that is inviting, clean, smells nice and plays great music.

I think I’ve done so well in this contest because we are in a small community in the Midwest. We stick together and support our own. I’ve really been so touched by all the support I’ve received.