The man behind MOM's Organic Market

Scott Nash says accountability has helped his company grow.
Scott Nash says accountability has helped his company grow. (Bill O'leary/the Washington Post)
By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2010; 6:08 PM

I ask every Value Added subject to tell me the key decision or "aha" moment - big or small - that led them to business success.

Grocery store entrepreneur Scott Nash has two.

First came the 1989 "60 Minutes" report on Alar, raising questions about the safety of spraying the chemical on apple trees. The second involved a Post-It note on the door of a competitor.

Both were instrumental in the success of MOM's Organic Market, a chain of six stores in the Washington area carrying only certified organic produce, which means it was grown without chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers.

In the competitive good-for-you grocery business, MOM's is growing. It plans to expand to 12 stores by 2012, including locations in Timonium next spring and in Merrifield the following year.

As it happens, I am not in MOM's niche. I tend to shop at the big-name Washington area grocery stores, and I don't look to see if the bananas, carrots or anything else I buy is organic.

But Nash is doing well without me, building a 350-employee, $50 million business around the granola crowd.

"I call them the 'lifestylers,' " said Nash, 45. "They come in and shop it and they are living the lifestyle, committed to the environment and our worldview."

It's a reliable customer base. After two decades of fits and starts, MOM's yields enough profit to allow Nash and his family to live comfortably in a high-rent Montgomery County neighborhood. Employees do fine, ranging from $9 an hour for starters to salaries in the six-figure range for top executives.

Nash is a fanatic about overhead. You won't find his stores in leafy McLean or Bethesda. MOM's are generally on back streets in low-rent retail areas. No fancy lighting or feel-good wood finishes either. The parking lot in Rockville is pocket-size.

Service is funky but efficient; coffee, cider and hot chocolate are served for free and kids get balloons. MOM's opens up an extra register at the first sign of traffic, and everyone has their grocery bags - printed with Nash's e-mail address - carried to the car. Customers are allowed in before and after store hours.

MOM's is competitive, too. To keep prices below those of its rivals, the company sends spies armed with cellphones into other stores, from where they will call in prices to a MOM's employee. If the competitor offers an item cheaper, MOM's immediately cuts its price.

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