Why Creating a Cartel is a Good Thing – The Green Well Uses Ambassadors to Advance Brand

    Back in the 1970s the word ‘cartel’ conjured up images of oil embargoes and Americans waiting in long lines to gas up their vehicles. Fast-forward more than 30 years and at least one savvy company has taken the cartel stigma away and turned it into something positive.

    James Berg stands in front of the Green Well Gastro Pub.

    Essence Restaurant Group, owners and operators of Bistro Bella Vita and The Green Well in West Michigan have formed “The Green Well Cartel” -“ what they hope to be an elite ambassador program to represent The Green Well to the general public in exchange for exclusive membership benefits.

    Corp! chatted with James Berg, general manager of The Green Well Gastro Pub and Essence Restaurant Group owner, just days after the April 27, 2009 announcement of the cartel.

    The idea for the cartel, says Berg, came out of the company’s strategic planning, held every August. “Our goal was to try to get good customer feedback and we did not want to do it in the traditional way, via going online or using comment cards, which we feel is too intrusive for our customers. We wanted to create a way to get good, honest feedback as well as a focus group and put those two together,” explains Berg, who formed the Essence Restaurant Group in 2006 with partners Patrick Wise and Jeffrey Gietzen.

    The interior of the Green Well. Photo courtesy Clark Communications.

    Obviously, Berg and partners expect some benefits from the venture. “The goal was to create more promoters. Our whole marketing concept is based on experience. Most of our business comes from word of mouth,” says Berg. “We wanted to focus on our strength and give our ‘cartel’ members a little more information about what The Green Well is all about while giving them an appreciation of what we do in order to get product on table and give great customer service. Hopefully, they will want to promote that with their friends and colleagues more. The whole experience is what we are trying to sell.”

    Prospective cartel applicants visited The Green Well Web site to fill out an application and describe why should be selected to represent The Green Well. Initial response to the first e-mail invitation generated over 100 applications in the first few days. It’s been rather “overwhelming” according to Berg, who adds, “We didn’t anticipate this much response.” The first group is expected to consist of 12 to 20 people.

    James Berg in front of the reclaimed wood bar created from a piece of a fallen tree. Photo courtesy Clark Communications.

    In exchange for their time, passion and energy cartel members will receive food and beverage sampling at three events, education from the experts at Essence Restaurant Group, special pricing on events at Bistro Bella Vita and The Green Well, VIP access to an Online Cartel feedback system, VIP e-mails with news and events, and free promotional gear and other perks.

    Since The Green Well Gastro Pub promotes itself as an establishment serving “honest fayre with local flair” in a LEED-certified green building located in Grand Rapids, prospective cartel members must show similar creativity.

    Green Well collects, retains and reuses all rainfall and runoff from its roof to water the nearby gardens. They are not connected to the storm water system. Photo courtesy Clark Communications.

    “We are asking people to give us 150 words describing why we should pick them. We’ll select the ones who are most creative. We also have customers who have been promoters of ours for quite some time, so we will have some honorary members,” says Berg. “It’s not meant to be a big cross section; we’re looking at who offers the most creative reasons for being part of it.”

    The program is designed to run June, July, August and September with monthly events, then culminating at a ‘farm to plate’ event featuring Michigan wines, beers and food. The event ties in well with The Green Well’s menu, which features a range of eclectic flavors prepared with ingredients from local farmers, and a wide array of local craft brews and wines.

    The ‘farm to plate’ event -“ scheduled for Sept. 20, 2009 -“ will also be open to the general public and involve a charity, which will reap the benefits of a $100 ticket price, says Berg.

    The ‘green’ in The Green Well also signifies its dedication to practicing green principles. Seating 120 people inside and another 30 on the patio, the gastro pub is not only in a LEED-certified building, it also has LEED-certified interior furnishings including sustainable wall covering, flooring, ceiling, tables, chairs and florescent lighting. It’s smoke-free, too.

    All cooking grease at Green Well is recycled into bio fuel. Photo courtesy Clark Communications.

    “We have processes that describe our local environmental and sustainable business efforts. In the summer months probably 70 percent of our food is local,” explains Berg. The Green Well green team includes three associates who are responsible for its recycling program. “We always try to do more. It’s part of our philosophy -“ create as little waste as we possibly can.”

    This explains Berg’s involvement in the Local First Sustainability Conference held on April 29, 2009 in West Michigan. He’s just accepted a board position with the approximately 500-member group and was a speaker at the event.

    Grand Rapids Mayor, George Heartwell speaks at the Local First Sustainable Business Conference. Photo by Russ Climie/Tiberius Images

    “I am speaking as a Local First member on how to use your membership to your advantage and help people to understand what Local First is and how to use it. I want to make sure they are networking and looking at a Local First option before they settle on the big box store. If we can create more awareness with business owners, they can be educated to share that perspective with their customers and associates.”

    And awareness, education and sharing is what Berg and partners hope to be an outcome of their cartel -“ one that brings positive results to The Green Well.