Truck drivers, co-ops and Frontier’s 1970s social network

By Alan Miles

Decades before the Internet as we know it, “social networking” fueled our co-op’s success.

Word-of-mouth marketing that’s so prized in today’s digital environment was the lifeblood of Frontier for almost a decade, when our advertising budget was essentially zero. The social network that supported Frontier in the early days  was all about chatting and sharing — but, unlike today, it was done in person. In fact, the business started because founder Rick Stewart, then a delivery truck driver for a local co-op warehouse, talked to people at every stop and learned that they wanted bulk herbs and spices in their stores as well as grains, beans, honey and peanut butter.

We talked to our member/owners on the phone, as we do now. We also interacted with other co-ops through our board members and regular participation in co-op events. The social interaction at these events often centered on topics familiar to our online friends — natural food recipes and tips. New friendships would spring from discussions of the recipe for the tabouli served or the spices on the grilled tofu.

Frontier’s first board of directors.

Our early boards of directors were made up primarily of active co-op leaders who further contributed to the reach of our network — talking to the people their co-ops served and sharing Frontier’s story with other regional and national co-ops. Our first board had a manager/truck driver for a regional warehouse and a co-op educator who traveled the country setting up co-ops and training their management. Our board provided a social network of people active in, and communicating with, co-ops across the country.

Yet, the most social aspect of Frontier in the early years was probably our trucking. We made runs in semis to both the east and west coasts, delivering orders to large co-op distributors on the way out and bringing back herbs and spices from suppliers on the return trip. The personal interaction and sharing of information that these regular truck runs provided gave us valuable feedback about our products and service akin to that we often get from our customers via Facebook, Twitter and even Pinterest today.

Methods have changed, but social media today is an extension of a way of communicating that has been a natural part of Frontier from our beginning. Listening to people. Sharing good ideas. Selling and doing things worth telling your friends about.

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