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FRONT PORCHES

 

Growing up in North Dakota, I did what many other kids in North Dakota do during the summer — worked on a farm. It seemed everyone had connections to farming somehow. If I wasn’t golfing with my best friend Jerry, I was at the farm cultivating, picking rock or harvesting.

Late August was the time to bring in the crops, which was always wheat. Wheat was about all that grew on our land. While my dad operated the combine and harvested, I hauled the wheat to the grain elevator in the little town of Alamo (where my grandparents lived). Going to the elevator meant waiting in the lobby for the results of the load. The lobby was decorated with what seemed to be old bus seats repurposed as chairs, and a coffee pot a quarter full of day old coffee. Only the most unsuspecting fool would touch that coffee pot. There was normally five or six farmers, all in OshKosh overalls — talking and waiting. Being the only teenager, I most often just sat quietly. Normally nobody much cared what teenagers had to say. However our wheat always had the highest protein levels in the area (giving me credibility); so if I did say something they at least they listened.

But what I do remember was the conversation wasn’t just small talk. These farmers, who were the civic leaders in the small town of Alamo, talked about problems they all faced; and most of all they talked about solutions. And by the time group dispersed, scattering to their respective fields to get the next load … they all seem to have some sort of a task to resolve to whatever problem Alamo and the people of it were facing. Maybe it was helping out someone or just checking in on them. Regardless, it was normally something.

I imagine Alamo had a formal town council of some sort, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the real work happened there in the grain elevator while we sat on those repurposed bus seats waiting for our protein counts.

Minot, where I actually lived and went to school had Charlie’s restaurant and the Elks Lodge. These were Minot’s version of Alamo’s grain elevator. These were the places where the “business of the community” was done. These were the places where ideas were hatched and where the future of Minot was mapped out … often under the influence of a libation or two.

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Front Porches

These informal meeting places described above, most often locally owned businesses, are what I call Front Porches, named after the front yard gathering spots so often seen in Latino communities that are used for neighborhood discussion. These Front Porches are where the Middle Ring flourishes.

Unfortunately Front Porches, like the grain elevator in Alamo and the Elks Lodge in Minot  — are fast becoming relics of the past. And with this decay, our Middle Ring and the neighborhood continuity they bring are following suit. It’s difficult being a small business owner: box store and online retailer competition, attracting talent and the lack of having sophisticated analysis tools are just a few of the obstacles.

More than ever, businesses need to capitalize on the advantages they have. Their position as potential Front Porches in their community is one of them. And taking advantage of societal peer pressure being an integral part of the Neighborhood is the strongest marketing tool you can have. All the advertising means nothing if your business isn’t looked at as being involved in well-being of the community. Melvin’s Neighborhood uses Front Porches as a foundation to this assumption.

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Being A Front Porch

Being a Front Porch in the sense of Melvin’s Neighborhood is not easy. It’s a commitment, a commitment that involves thinking beyond the normal way a business operates. That said, the rewards are enormous. Participating Front Porches can make great strides to financial success along with being an integral cog in the well-being of the community. Through self-sponsored volunteer projects, Front Porches pursue solutions to the problems not adequately addressed by the institutions currently in place. It's through these solutions or volunteer projects that a Front Porch sponsors will project its identity to the community that supports it.

 

In addition to buying into Melvin’s Neighborhood philosophy and tenets, each Front Porch will be expected (strongly expected) to sponsor and execution a cause campaign (volunteer project) that benefits the Neighborhood as a whole. Using their employees and patrons, each Front Porch will craft a volunteer project that will reflect how they want to be seen as.

One of the key advantages of joining Melvin's Neighborhood is access to its bleedingEDGE Engagement Platform. As I outlined in the previous section on Residents, this platform determines the areas of focus a Resident should work on based on their "A Look In The Mirror" assessment responses. These focuses (Action Points) are then integrated with a Resident's relationship activity at a Front Porch and the strategy (including nudge triggers) the Front Porch employs. From these calculations a personalized morning text link synopsis, "Opening The Shades", is compiled. "Opening The Shades" provides each Resident with a daily guide to how they can engage with their community and their favorite Front Porches in a positive and healthy way.

 

Data for the "Opening The Shades" calculations is obtained through BRICKS, Melvin's Neighborhood's custom loyalty program. Each Front Porch operates their own BRICKS program independent of other Front Porches in the Neighborhood. This way they can customize it as they wish, including the Bricks/dollar conversion rate. The data provided by BRICKS can also be invaluable to a Front Porch in other ways. Real time statistics from BRICKS can help a business design their product offerings along with the employee scheduling needed to effectively serve their customers.

Even though the team at Melvin's Neighborhood will be available to help, Front porches are expected to strategize their own marketing attack. The bleedingEDGE Platform is automated, but it isn't magic. The nudge content each Front Porch uses still has to be composed. Same goes for maintaining preferences, nudge triggers and tactical oversight. Again, we'll be here to help - but still, we can't read you mind.

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Fear Of Being Invisible

One of the several business ventures I've undertaken over the years was publishing commercial arts and printing directories, first in Minneapolis in the 1980s and later in Los Angeles with the L.A. Finder in 1991. All of them had one thing in common; initially we were selling 'blue sky'. Nothing like the directories had ever been published in their respective markets. We were asking the top players in the industry to commit thousands of dollars to something they had no assurance would even happen. All they got from us was an idea and a good pitch.But that was enough. It wasn't that they expected fantastic returns on their investment (which could be substantial including production costs). They couldn't NOT be in the book. If their competition was represented and they weren't, it was like they didn't exist. They were conspicuous by their absence - especially since the books highlighted technical innovation at a very innovative time for the industry.

I believe the same thing will happen with the stakes being even higher - the future of their community. In addition, this investment in community goodwill will provide them with the competitive advantage that no big box store or wall Street chain can duplicate. As a Resident, how could you not want to do business with a company that is selflessly helping out the city you live in. You'd feel obligate

I believe the same thing will happen when the stakes are even higher — the well-being and future of their community. Plus, this investment in community goodwill will provide them with the competitive advantage that no big box store or Wall Street chain can duplicate. As a Resident, how could you not want to do business with a company that is selflessly helping out the city you live in. You’d almost feel obligated.

The effect your business has, when it's a Neighborhood Front Porch, extends beyond you and your customers. Your Front Porch is integral in building a better community, one that is diverse and helps its Residents maximize their contribution to society by granting them permission to express and giving them easy access to the civic sphere.

We've broken down the main component parts of Melvin's Neighborhood; Residents and Front Porches. Next we'll deep dive into how they are used to create communities that are not only inclusive, but powerful and healthy - fueled by benevolence and care, not division and rage. Next we'll enter the rabbit hole of the Neighborhood.

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