We had the good fortune of connecting with Kimber Lanning and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kimber, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
When I went off to the school bus stop for my first day of kindergarten, my mother hollered at me down the street, ‘just remember, Kimber, nobody can ever MAKE you to anything!” I smiled back- ‘got it, mom!’ And so it was. My mother built me to be tough with a solid poker face, understanding that power was not something to be feared; it was to be challenged. Risk taking to me has to do with challenging power structures and being able to accept the consequences. Sometimes people don’t take risks when the consequences are so minimal it’s hard to fathom the miss. I find it fascinating how many people just pass on risks due to some internal compliance barometer. When I started Stinkweeds, I was 19 and knew the general area in which I wanted to open the store, so I just started calling the numbers on the signs in the windows of places that seemed interesting. Having no idea what I was doing I just asked questions and listened. The first guy said ‘yeah that suite is $18 per square food, triple net.’ What the hell is triple net, I wondered. So I called the next guy and he said ‘yeah that suite is $15.85 per square foot.’ So I shot back ‘Triple net?’ and he said ‘yeah, exactly.’ So having this new fake knowledge I went on to ask- why is yours $15.85 when the guy across the street is only $12?’ Now, that is a risk of minimal consequence. I had absolutely no idea how much the place was across the street, but so what if he did. I could pretend to be confused and move on. Instead he said, ‘oh, well, I can be flexible.’ And so by the time I got done with that leasing agent, I got $9 per foot for my first year, $11 for my second and $13 for my third. I got $2500 in TI’s- which from what I picked up along the way, means Tennant Improvement Dollars. BAM. I’ll take it. People often ask me how I got the money to open a business when I was so young. That’s funny because I had 18 CDs in the whole store the day I opened and my brothers helped me make the record bins. I didn’t have money, but what I did have was guts. And that’s worth more than money on some days. So, risk is my middle name. I’m comfortable in that space and I use it sparingly so as not to scare others.
What should our readers know about your business?
Local First Arizona, while not technically a business, is a nonprofit run like a business. I am most proud of how we’ve evolved from a simple ‘buy local’ coalition focused primarily on retail and restaurants, to a comprehensive economic development organization that is changing the trajectory of Arizona. Our work touches food access, climate crisis, rural community development, racial equity, access to capital and entrepreneurial development. I am proud of the team we’ve built, with 30 hard-working leaders engaging people in all 15 counties across the state. Together, we are making policy recommendations that level the playing field for Arizona’s homegrown companies, and shaping thoughts to resolve issues that are negatively impacting our state’s vulnerable populations. I wouldn’t describe even one single day of this journey as easy. Overcoming challenges facing our organization takes determination and entrepreneurial thinking. We’ve had to innovate constantly to anticipate dips in revenue, especially during the COVID crisis. And we have to be constantly listening and learning from our community members. To be effective you have to listen first. I believe evolution is the way to grow any company. There is never a point of arriving somewhere- there is only a never-ending evolution of goals and constant change. How a leader deals with constant change is really the ultimate question. I hope history will find I was a nimble, innovative, and thoughtful leader.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
This question is my biggest fear! There is no way to answer- there are just simply too many places in Arizona to even considering touching in a week. But here are a few things I most appreciate: Driving North out of the megalopolis that is Greater Phoenix, you will pass through a remarkably high number of ecological ecosystems. You’ll start in the desert, passing through the beauty of the high desert with its striking rock formations and into the grasslands, then you’ll head up higher in elevation and into woodlands, which most people don’t even know we have in Arizona! If you’re going north on the 17, the transition will be gradual, but if you go north on the 87, you can find a mountain with saguaro cactus on one side and pine trees on the other! I deeply value the rich diversity Arizona offers and believe every single person should see the vistas and canyons spanning across Navajo, or winding through the Copper Corridor. I also love the Chiricahua Mountains in the Southeastern part of Arizona and would recommend anyone visit the small towns across that region. For eating and drinking I would suggest they try one of Arizona’s homegrown chefs, and would offer up those who have created unique menus using Arizona’s own in-season offerings of fresh produce or locally sourced meats. There are too many to name here, but statewide chefs who incorporate regional food would be my focus. Because of my own background in the arts, I would also suggest a few highlights of Arizona history such as going to see the famous John Waddell sculpture “That Which Might Have Been’, Taliesin West, Carver Museum, Arcosanti, Heard Museum, and Arizona Latino Arts and Culture Center. A visit to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix or Tucson would be recommended as well. Suffice to say if left to me, anyone visiting Arizona would walk away feeling this is the most spectacular place to be, while at the same time acknowledging we have a lot of work to do to ensure its future viability.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I created Local First Arizona in 2003, and struggled to get it going. After 5 years, I still didn’t have enough revenue to pay myself anything, much less hire a couple of staff people which I desperately needed. My Board of Directors was a mess, and on top of all that, my own personal businesses were beginning to fail because I was never in them- I dedicating all my time to Local First. In 2008, a friend of mine found the website of an organization called BALLE- the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. On their website, they had a map showing all of the Buy Local coalitions that had popped up around the country…and we weren’t on it! I called them immediately to tell them about what we were doing and that we already had over 800 members. Having no outside perspective at all, I had no idea we were already larger than anyone else across the country. But there were others who had funders, revenue and staff! Over the next 8 years of BALLE conferences and gatherings, I found a network of people like me and finally I had someone to call, to ask, to lean on, and to learn from. Over the past 12 years, the relationships I formed through BALLE helped shape the decisions and outcomes of the work I’ve done here in Arizona. In 2011, I became part of the first BALLE Fellowship Cohort, joined the board in 2014, and in 2017 I became the BALLE Board co-chair. During my time there, we transitioned the organization to new leadership and new name- Common Future. Common Future today, with the vision of CEO Rodney Foxworth, is a profoundly important organization in deep partnership with on-the-ground practitioners who work to eliminate the racial wealth gap, and in thought partnership with some of the nation’s largest foundations which are shifting their approaches to philanthropy.
Website: www.localfirstaz.com, www.localfirstazfoundation.org
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