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Plain Talk from Ed Lowe

Don’t forget where you came from

When I was growing up, there was this old man who lived just outside town. When strangers asked directions, he unfailingly replied, "Mister, all roads lead to Cassopolis."

When I was growing up, there was this old man who lived just outside town. When strangers asked directions, he unfailingly replied, “Mister, all roads lead to Cassopolis.”

I considered him slightly kooky. From my youthful perspective, all roads led away from my southwest Michigan hamlet of 1,800 toward bigger, more exciting places. But as an adult, I learned what he meant.

When I launched my cat-box filler business, I had no choice about where to hang my hat. I had a pregnant wife and no stable income, and Cassopolis was cheap. But after Kitty Litter and Tidy Cat took off, I contemplated relocating to a commerce center like Chicago or Detroit. Then I thought, “Why?”

There’s no place like home

The big cities certainly offered more hustle and bustle, and maybe the chance to throw more money around and feel like a big shot. But I had plenty of these so-called benefits on the job; what I needed was a release from all that. Cassopolis may not be everyone’s promised land — but it’s perfect for me.

Little things count

I like being able to walk down the street and see friendly people I can greet by name. No business award I’ve ever received has provided a bigger kick than being the grand marshal of the Bluegill Frolic Parade in nearby Marcellus.

And in a big city like Chicago, I certainly can’t buy anything comparable to my 2,300-acre Big Rock Valley estate. When I’m not working, there’s no place I’d rather be than plunked down at the homestead in one of my favorite backwoods pondering spots.

Many entrepreneurs tend to stampede like lemmings to what they consider the next business hot spot. Silicon Valley is the latest Oz, but I’ve watched businesspeople do the relocation shuffle for decades. Me, I’ve decided that Cassopolis is as important to my bottom line as it is to my mental health.

Strong foundation

Nothing taught me more about customer satisfaction than the five years I spent as Cassopolis village president. The fact that I ran a multimillion-dollar company meant nothing to the little old lady who was having trouble with garbage pickup.

That same little old lady also had cats, and she and hundreds of other “Cassopolitans” formed a snapshot of my customers nationwide. I couldn’t ask for a better focus group than the middle-class Midwesterners of my hometown.

No inflated egos

Cassopolis keeps me from “getting above my raising,” as my Grandpa Huber used to say. It provides me with a sense of grounding and a foundation that not only contributed to my success, but helped me remain at the top. The more I branch out and expand in business, the deeper I try to sink my roots into the soil of home.

Entrepreneurs are, by nature, programmed to look ahead and focus on the big picture. But whether it’s a country town or an urban neighborhood, I would urge you to relax and look back once in awhile at the “small picture” of your own backyard. Stop and smell the roses, as they say. In Cassopolis, they start blooming in June.

This column is one in a series that will explore the thoughts, ideas and unadorned advice of an entrepreneur who made it, Edward Lowe. When he “brought the cat indoors” with a revolutionary cat-box filler, Kitty Litter, he created an industry that changed the lives of millions of cat lovers, not to mention cats. During his life, Ed Lowe used “plain talk” to speak about the bottom line from the bottom of his heart. We believe these writings, revised and updated after his death, offer value for both your business and personal life.

Edward Lowe (1920-1995), Founder of the Edward Lowe Foundation

Born in 1920 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Ed Lowe grew up in Cass County, Michigan. After his Navy duty, Ed returned to Cassopolis, Michigan, and joined his father’s company, which sold industrial absorbents, including sawdust and an absorbent clay called fuller’s earth. In 1947 Ed was approached by a neighbor who was tired of using ashes in her cat’s litter box and the resulting sooty paw prints. She asked for some sand, but Ed suggested clay instead. Soon the neighbor would use nothing else, noting that the clay was much more absorbent than sand and didn’t track all over the house.