“I think it’s the people and my staff, our service,” Lawrence says, adding that Tradewinds combines intimate service with the resources of a major purchasing group in the region. “We provide the service of a small-town store and competitive pricing through being supplied by another local chain.”
Lawrence says the connections Tradewinds has developed means it offers customers the biggest selection of locally sourced products in the region, and that gives it a distinct edge over national chains like Walmart. “I feel like we’ve really created some edge from the competition,” Lawrence says.
Beyond the local connection to the products on its shelves, Tradewinds also is committed to creating strong local connections in other ways, as well. Primarily, this is achieved through the company’s charitable work and community service. One of the biggest examples of the company’s giving back to the community has been its donating one cent for every gallon of gas it sells. With more than 100 million gallons of gas sold, Tradewinds has donated more than $600,000 to local cancer charities over the last five years. “I think that’s been huge,” Lawrence says.
Additionally, Lawrence and his wife, co-owner Belinda Lawrence, have committed to building a $3 million community fitness center in Blue Hill, in addition to the numerous gymnasiums and running tracks throughout the area the company has contributed to. Lawrence says Tradewinds understands that promoting healthier living in the community means healthier and happier customers, which can have an even greater impact than simply taking care of customers when they’re inside the store. “We really believe in the full-circle approach to doing business,” he says.
Tradewinds’ full-circle approach to serving its customers and employees has been instrumental in helping the company combat one of its biggest challenges, according to Lawrence. “I think staffing is always one of your biggest challenges,” he says, adding that the perception in Maine among young people is that there aren’t enough jobs or affordable housing to justify staying in the state.
Tradewinds is working to fight that trend by offering more full-time positions as well as educational reimbursement for college students. Lawrence says the company also provides flexible scheduling for employees who are finishing school.
One of the biggest things the company has done for employees has been to build 17 townhouse apartments for employees near its Blue Hill location. Lawrence says affordable housing along the coast of Maine has been difficult to come by, and this effort combined with Tradewinds’ other initiatives has reduced turnover from 50 percent to less than 25 percent over the last few years.
Lawrence says Tradewinds also does what it can to boost other local businesses, as well. This includes building additional space in its stores to house other businesses and providing a board in each location for local businesses to post their business cards and flyers. “It isn’t just about building your business – it’s about building what you can for other businesses,” Lawrence says. “We try to build up the community around us.”
In the near future, Lawrence says he expects Tradewinds to continue expanding in existing markets as well as new ones. He says he is preparing his sons to take control of the business within the next several years, but the one thing that will remain consistent is the company’s commitment to helping its communities become successful alongside its own stores. “One of the things we do is when we’re in a small community we look at the needs of the community,” Lawrence says.