We had the good fortune of connecting with Michelle Tunno Buelow and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Michelle, what is the most important factor behind your success?

At Bella Tunno, we don’t measure success in dollar amounts. We measure success by how much we give back, how many meals we donate, and the number of people we help. Since day one, we’ve never sold a product without giving back. We’re committed to doing good with our brand – for our community, our team, our customers, and most importantly, hungry children. We’ve donated more than 7.5 Million Meals since we launched our Buy One, Feed One initiative. We put purpose before profit, and THAT is the driving factor behind our success.

I launched Bella Tunno in 2005 after losing my only sibling, Matt, to addiction. I was looking for a way to honor his life as well as prevent other families from experiencing the pain ours endured.

From day one, we’ve donated a portion of every sale back to charitable organizations. Over the past 15 years, through our commitment to giving back, Bella Tunno has helped change lives and break destructive family cycles.

In the beginning, we focused our charitable work around drug and alcohol rehabilitation, education, and addiction prevention. We added 5 dual occupancy rooms and a bathroom to a local rescue mission in a project that we called Extreme Mission Make-over. We hosted a one-night charity event called Posh with Purpose that raised $30,000 which allowed over 30 women to go through a 120-day treatment program. We provided a true Christmas, complete with presents and meals, to all 90 clients at the Charlotte Rescue Mission. We gave college scholarships to unwed teen moms after identifying them as a vulnerable group for addictive behavior. Every year, we sponsored drug and alcohol rehabilitation for at least 4 clients.

In 2014, we came across some research stating 1 in 6 children in America faces hunger on a daily basis. That’s more than 13 million children in America. Those numbers haunted our team and we knew we had to do something to help. We also found a link between childhood hunger and addiction in adults, which was the catalyst for Bella Tunno becoming a one-for-one social impact brand where we donate at least one meal to a child in need for every product sold. To date, we’ve donated more than 7.5 million meals to hungry children.

Measuring success by how many meals we donate and how many children we feed keeps us driven, passionate, and connected with our brand and its mission.

Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?

I’d love to share some of the key lessons we’ve learned along the way…

1. When your products and purpose align, everything else falls into place

From day one, Bella Tunno’s mission has been to give back, help break destructive cycles, and change lives. And we’ve never once wavered from that. However, for the first 7 years, our giving was directed toward drug and alcohol rehabilitation efforts. That’s something I’m passionate about, and it’s part of my personal story, but there was a huge disconnect between the charitable work we were doing and the target audience for our products. Our customers were new parents who just brought a brand new life into this crazy world. The LAST thing they want to think about is that sweet little bundle potentially becoming an addict. While it felt good for me personally, it was a miss for the brand.

When I came across the link between childhood hunger and addiction in adulthood, we immediately changed direction and found our purpose. Once we launched our Buy One, Feed One initiative, we were a purpose-driven brand selling feeding products for children, and donating meals to children in need. Now we had a story that made sense to our customers, and it was something they wanted to share with others. The newfound alignment between our products and our purpose united our team and made us stronger. And we became even more invested in the business because we wanted to donate as many meals as possible. We are all mothers and aunts and mentors to the children in our lives, and we can ALL relate to wanting children’s core needs to be met. Our entire team volunteers once a month at a local school. We set up a food pantry through our food bank partner and hand out more than a week’s worth of healthy meals to each family. It’s our favorite day of the month because we get to meet the people we are serving. We get to talk to them and share with them and see where our donations are going, which means so much more than simply writing a check. EVERYONE shows up. Not because they have to or get paid to, but because it’s our shared purpose, it’s fulfilling, and it makes what we do even more meaningful.

Now that our purpose and product are in total alignment, our customers are proud to use our brand and contribute to our mission. I’ll never forget when we launched our Buy One, Give One initiative at Market in Atlanta in 2014. We wanted an impactful way to show how our customers how their purchases were making a difference. So we bought a bunch of mini pom-poms and gave them one for each meal we would be donating as a result of their order, and we added them to a big glass container that we kept on our table all week long. I still remember the very first order we received, for 204 products. We literally counted out 204 pom-poms on the table and had the customer add them to the jar. She started crying and kept saying, “I did that? I gave all those meals?” She sure did! That same customer sent 3 more people our way just that week, and we still hear customers talk about how excited they are about the meals they are able to help us donate. People want to do good and help others, and they love having such a simple way to be part of the solution.

We were named the 8th fastest-growing company in Charlotte for 2020, and I truly believe our mission alignment is the driving force for our growth.

2. Learn to fail forward

The entrepreneur’s journey is not for the weak. You will fail. Over and over and over again. But the only real mistake in failing is if you choose not to learn from it. Failure fuels growth, and it’s crucial for expansion and change. Failing means you are trying something new and pushing beyond what feels comfortable. It can be painful if you look at it as a negative, so don’t. Celebrate failure and share those mistakes, as well as what you learned from them, with others on your team. At Bella Tunno, we have a “learn and turn” mentality. You don’t always have to be right, you just have to figure out what went wrong so you can do better next time. This business practice allows for vulnerability and encourages creativity. Framing failure as a positive gives people permission to take chances, try new things, think big, and take ownership of their work.

3. Own your story

Each of our stories are unique, and they’re what makes us who we are. I spent a lot of time and energy trying to hide from my past and push away things that made me the person I am. And I didn’t even realize how much that was holding me back. It wasn’t until I embraced it and accepted it as MY story that I was able to turn it into a positive.

When I started sharing my story on bigger stages, I’d have people lined up afterward to share theirs in return. So many people had similar experiences, and there was freedom in knowing we were not alone. One time I was speaking on a panel, and a woman in the third row cried the entire time. Turns out, she had just lost her son to an accidental overdose a month before. This was her first week back at work and her first time in public since his passing. Her pain was so raw, she had no idea how to function without him. She came up and hugged me and shared her story. We cried together, and she said she felt seen. Some of the undeserved, but unshakable shame and guilt she felt were lifted in that conversation. We were both part of a club no one would ever choose to join, but in that shared connection we both found a clearer path forward. She wanted to start helping others and donating her time and resources to families that still had a chance to change their stories.

Owning your story can be painful, but connecting to that pain could be what helps you find your passion and your purpose. I consider that a gift.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
It feels like Charlotte changes weekly and there is so much to do! One of my favorite spots is the White Water Center – it’s a training facility for the national white water team, but open to the public. It’s fun to white water raft, zipline, listen to live music, and have a casual meal I love all the new restaurants and shops popping up in Southend. Southend is also becoming a fun arts district with monthly art crawls. My two favorite boutiques are Fashion & Compassion in Dilworth and Moxie Merchantile in Matthews. Fashion & Compassion is an artisan boutique selling jewelry and gifts that empower women around the world. They partner with women in 7 different countries to give them opportunities to overcome vulnerable situations. Moxie Merchantile is a boutique committed to carrying local or mission-based brands and I love their assortment.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d love to give a shoutout to Sherry (Stewart) Deutschmann. She has led multiple companies and she shared her business philosophy in a book called “Lunch with Lucy.” The book outlines how she has motivated, rewarded, and most importantly respected her team. She is a mentor, a leader, and an inspiration. She is intentional about everything she does and has started an incubator to help women launch and grow new companies.

Website: www.bellatunno.com

Instagram: www.instagram.com/bellatunno

Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/michelletunnobuelow

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BellaTunno

Facebook: www.facebook.com/bellatunno

Youtube: www.youtube.com/user/bellatunnotv

Image Credits
Becca Bond Erin Jackson

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