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An Interview with Brandon Ericson - Owner of Camano Commons Marketplace

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Camano Voice Podcast

brandon ericson owner camano commons marketplace

Brandon Ericson is the owner of Camano Commons Marketplace. He is also frequently heard through his podcast, the Camano Voice Podcast.

We encourage you to listen to his podcast if you're interested in knowing more about the Stanwood and Camano Island areas here in Washington State.

Brandon even interviewed Dan for his third episode!

Interview Transcript

Dan: Today I’ll be talking with a businessman and also a family member; let me introduce Brandon Ericson. He is with Camano Commons Marketplace on Camano Island. Hi, Brandon.

Brandon: Hello. How are you doing today? 

Dan: I'm doing pretty good. How are you doing? 

Brandon: Good, thanks for having me on the podcast. 

Dan: I've been wanting to interview you and have you on, so this is fun. Brandon, can you explain a little bit about Camano Commons Marketplace and your role. Then I’d like you to branch out because I know that it’s more than just a business – you guys have more of a community focus. 

Brandon: Camano Commons Marketplace started as kind of a little boutique gift shop. It was a second thought of the main company, Camano Island Coffee Roasters. I believe you’ve interviewed their owner TJ Fittis in the past. It used to be just their factory store, and it was very small. It had the coffees they offered and a couple of boutique-y coffee items; nothing too special or exciting. 

Then, we launched a holiday gift shop, during which we'd have a bunch of local artists come together in November and December. They would help open this shop up. We would have all these different vendors there, and it really took off for those two months. We started wondering, why can't this work for the rest of the year as well? So we ended up taking over a building next door to the Coffee Roasters and opened up again. It was a pretty small gift shop. We also moved our espresso bar over there, and that was about it at that time.

We had some local artists, our coffee, and an espresso bar. That's how it all started in 2013; since then it has continued to grow. Now, it has a full French bakery (Tuesday through Sunday, but working on getting Mondays open), an ice cream shop, a whole assortment of fudge we make in-shop, our gift shop has expanded into clothing (some branded for Camano Island Coffee or Camano Island), and we actually have an art studio upstairs with Dorsey Fine Art Studio. Not to forget, downstairs is the Baked Cafe, which is a locally owned restaurant.

Dan: One of the reasons this interview is even happening is that Brandon is very community-focused and community-oriented, as is the Camano Commons Marketplace. Their goal is to have a successful business, of course, but also to make it a community destination area. If you’re ever nearby or want a place to drive to, come visit and hang out with the family in a relaxed environment. Camano Island is a great place for that. The Marketplace is situated where most of the traffic coming on to Camano Island has to pass. You’ll see the courtyard area with this huge metal crab lit up. The courtyard is used for events, music, art shows, farmer’s markets, and all sorts of fun things. 

Brandon has been wanting to take his passion for community and start his own podcast that focuses on community and highlights the local community. What we’re doing today is sort of a double interview where I’m interviewing him for my podcast, and then he's going to interview me for his. So, if you're listening to this, I'm going to link to it here. I would highly recommend checking out his podcast because Brandon is kind of a natural at this kind of stuff. I think he's going to have a great, local community-oriented podcast. 

Back to our topic, though. Brandon, what do you view as Camano Commons Marketplace’s role in the community?

Brandon: As I said, we started as this factory store and it's continued to expand from there. My dad actually owned a lot of different companies there, so I was working in some of the other companies at the time and transitioned into the store. I had already been doing a lot of the event organization for Camano Commons, which is where Camano Commons Marketplace is located.

As I’ve taken over more and more of the Marketplace, I've continued to hold on to some of those events and ideas from managing and working on the events at Camano Commons. I'm on the board of the Camano Commons Farmer's Market that we have there. I help organize the Camano Commons Tree Lighting that we have every year. There are some events that happen with the neighboring park, Freedom Park, which is at the other end of the triangle that is Terry's Corner. We work off each other well. We've also started doing events on the first Fridays where we have a live musician come in and just play. People can come and hang out, or if they’re just there, get a free concert. 

We're always trying to add little events like that to the calendar to help bring the community together. We also sometimes try and launch big events. For example, this year we worked on launching the very first annual Camano Kids Fest, which was a free event on August 17th. It was a Saturday from 10 to 4:30, and there were all these local businesses and nonprofits that put on arts and crafts, events, and stuff for the kids to do. There was even a wildlife adventure petting zoo and presentation. 

My goal is to add one large scale event per year that would happen at the complex just to keep building that community.

Dan: That's actually a great segue into remaining relevant and involved in the local area to keep your business alive. Many businesses can become stagnate or even disappear because they haven't found a way to remain relevant in the community. 

Brandon, what are your personal goals with Camano Commons Marketplace, and your professional goals moving forward? 

Brandon: Well, there are a lot of facets to that question pertaining to Camano Commons Marketplace. On the customer side, we do want to create a place that's a gathering spot for Camano. We want it to be a place where you can meet up with your friends and then take off from there; a place where you can go grab a bite to eat. We really want to create a hub for Camano Island. Since it is an Island, there has not been a natural gathering spot until now.

On the employee side, since we’re a retail store, a lot of the team members that we get are experiencing their first job. So we want to get them set up for success. A lot of them are on their way to college or just here for a small season. We've actually had a lot of turnover, but it's because we would get a 17-year-old working with us who then takes off for college in a year and a half. A lot of them actually try and come back and work with us during the summer, and we try to make sure our team is well taken care of. Then, we have some people who have been with us since we opened. It’s about taking care of them, making sure that they feel important, and helping them see that they are a part of something bigger than just a job. 

Dan: I can think of a few people who worked there, myself included, who have moved on to different, new challenges in life that they might have otherwise not moved on to without the business knowledge they gained while working there.

I kind of talked to you a little bit about your hopes and dreams, for lack of a better phrase, for the Camano Commons Marketplace. How about sharing any failures or challenges you have encountered in your life en route to success.

Brandon: I do have one that is really minor in the grand scheme of things. It was one of those things where you're the new guy and you're like, “All right, I'm going to prove myself with something.” While I was in my first year at the complex, that was the year that Pokémon Go was launched. 

Dan: I think I know where you're going with this. I remember this. Keep going. 

Brandon: Growing up I was super into “mon”. If I'm being honest, I still am, but I was into it obsessively growing up. So when Pokémon Go was released, it was like a dream come true. You could go find Pokémon in the real world. Everyone knew about it; it was viral. I noticed these Pokémon Go events would happen, and some were in fairly small communities, and they would just post the event and get thousands of people to show up to the event.

I was talking with one of my coworkers saying I think we should do a Pokémon Go event because I've been hearing about it and they seem to do really well. My coworker and I kept talking and he did a little research and agreed it could really work. We went to my dad, who was the owner of the companies, and told him we want to put on this event. We showed him some articles and started thinking this thing could be really big. He said, “All right, let's do it.” So we started planning the event. We went to Costco and got one of those massive cases of hot dogs, water, sodas, everything. We had some team members stay late to help cook and do stuff. Then, we launched the event...and it's crickets. There were maybe two families that showed up with a few kids each, one of which was an employee at the time. She had her brother, mom, and dad come to the event. It was not a great out of the gate event. 

Dan: At least you had dinner taken care of for a while. You probably never wanted to eat another hotdog again, but...

Brandon: Yeah, we were trying to give them away to the employees the whole time. But it was humorous. In the end, it wasn't like this catastrophic failure or anything, but it was one of those things where you're kind of betting it is going to be a thing, and then it doesn't happen at all. In some ways, it has really helped my events that I have planned at the Commons become more successful. For example, the Tree Lighting. I was on the ground floor when we started that. 

Dan: There’s always a ton of people at that event. 

Brandon: Well, the first year it was raining sideways. We actually did have a lot of people at that event. The fusion group, which was a fusion of Utsalady Elementary and one of the Stanwood schools, put on music with Rich Crouch helping to organize that. We had Brian from Naked City letting us use his porch...

Dan: For those of you who don't know, Naked City is a brewing company. It's not as racy as it sounds.

Brandon: So we had that event and that one went really well. There have been some smaller-scale events that we've put on like the Naked City Brewery Beer Can Derby, which is kind of like a Pinewood Derby. You use the same base, but then you put a can on top, decorate it and all, then race it down the track. When we were planning for that event, I had my expectations fairly low. Not that I was hoping it would be bad, but I just wasn't overly expectant.

I realized everything takes a lot more time than you want it to. Especially as a business person. You may think up this great idea and wonder why isn't anyone jumping on it? Even with this new event this summer, the Camano Kids Fest, I didn’t expect it to be this huge grand slam out the door. I was just hoping to get enough momentum so that next year we can make it bigger and better. 

So, my Pokémon Go disaster did help. It helped taper my expectations in a good way. I still always hope for the best and hope there's a bigger turnout than I'm expecting, but I'm not disappointed when I'm hit with that anymore.

Dan: An amazing truth of business, in general, is you try 40 different things and generally you can fail at a lot of them. It's the lessons you learn and the takeaways you get that can actually make those failures more valuable than the successes because then you know how to make the successes even better.

What brings you the most joy in your life? It could be your job, your responsibilities, or even personally.

Brandon: I have an engineering background. I went to school for mechanical engineering and I was an engineer for about four years before I joined up with my dad's companies. Going through school, I was talking with my fellow classmates and realized most everyone else grew up doing this kind of stuff at home. My dad is not at all mechanical; not even close. He was never a fix-it person – “Someone else can do it because I don’t know what to do” kind of thing. So I have none of that background. I had a short stint where I wasn’t actually doing engineering, but doing something more like project management. I was even working on the budgeting and scheduling side at one point. I enjoyed that more because I saw the whole picture rather than just seeing a super small facet of this whole project we were working on. I got to actually see the start to finish. That was a lot more exciting to me and more interesting than just being a specialist.

Now, moving into my dad's companies, all I’m doing is being a generalist. Things are always moving so fast that you don't have time to be super-specialized in any level. That was my career decision. On the one hand, I never really know what's going to be happening that day. There's always something that could happen that takes my time away. But on the other hand, it's always dynamic. It's always exciting, and I really enjoy what I'm doing now. So that's kind of the change in my life that I've done.

Dan: Let's bring this all around. We've had a nice little discussion about what you do and what brings you joy. Having a focus, having goals, learning and getting better is what's important to the business. However, if you were to offer one specific piece of advice, if somebody were to come up to you and say, “Hey Brandon, I'm starting a new business, or I'm taking over managing this business, what is the one thing you could share with me from your life that you've learned that could help me moving forward.”

Brandon: Going back to that failure I talked about earlier. I think tailoring your expectations is important. There is always a balance. You do want to aim high because then if you fail, at least you’re still doing better than you hoped if you had aimed low. But don’t be disappointed in those failures and those setbacks. When something bad happens, instead of seeing it as a crisis, see it as something to be solved. Look at it as a challenge rather than this terrible thing. Live each day like that: knowing things are going to go wrong, and when they do, you have a way to fix them and get through without letting anything knock you down for good. 

Dan: All right. Here's your chance to plug your business. 

Brandon: Come and visit Camano Commons Marketplace. Come and visit Camano Island. There is a lot going on on the island. There are two state parks right next to each other. There are a bunch of beautiful beaches. During the summer you can go out kayaking or paddleboarding. You can get out and just enjoy the island. Come stop by the Marketplace, get a coffee, get a pastry, get some food to eat. Then, come follow me on Camano Voice.

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