Alex Carlson of Achieve Services
Alex and I talk about Achieve Service’s various programs, what it’s like to coach a high school speech team, and our favorite plays.
Alex Carlson and I met at the Caribou across from Har Mar in Roseville, just south of Highway 36. It was a meeting spot I was becoming more and more familiar with; several chamber members and I conducted interviews at this cozy Caribou, including DJ just last month. It was morning, but not too early, and I arrived just a few minutes before Alex did so I could get my coffee and pick a nice table. Not all Caribou’s are created equally, I thought while taking up residence closer to the door. But this one has such a homey feel to it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been coming here for many years, and maybe, it’s because I’ve made some good memories. So many good conversations.
Alex was also early, walking through the door just a few moments after I sat down. Because I’d been to a few Friday sunrise breakfasts over the years, Alex was a familiar face and I lifted my hand to let him know that I was his 9:00 am. He had a purposeful step, a bit like someone with lots of ideas that were just waiting to bubble to the surface. After we shook hands, Alex went and grabbed a drink. We started our conversation at 8:40, which is the earliest in Tales history (a feat worthy of applause, I should think).
Alex’s Linkedin profile was stuffed with interesting tidbits and showcased his broad talents, but I thought it only natural to start with his work in the nonprofit sector and asked how long he’d been working at his current position. “I’ve been with Achieve Services for five years,” Alex began. “Basically, the reason they brought me on was for a new position. They were looking at a funding overhaul, so I help with business development and creating our own in-house businesses to sustain us. I also do the website, social media, and our Achieve Clean laundry detergent.”
This was a shift I’d seen in a lot of nonprofits, and I when I commented to Alex much of the same, he agreed. “There’s only so many people with open pockets. The younger generations want more experience instead of going to a gala to write a check. They are caused focused in their purchasing. What’s the core mission they’re supporting? Even for-profit companies are being caused focused.”
When a consumer buys a product made by Achieve Services, they are supporting a nonprofit that serves over 200 adults with developmental disabilities, and each adult gets a personalized plan to help them become more independent. “For some, it’s competitive employment,” Alex explained, “And for others, it’s teaching them how to brush their teeth. We want to ensure each person we serve is able to be as independent as they can. For the jobs, we do the work of matching people’s skills and interests to community partners.”
Achieve Services also employs some of the people they serve. Alex told me they have an art group in which participants make pieces that are turned into products. T-shirts, garment bags, greeting cards and anything else that can be printed on. They also have participants working on Achieve Clean.
I was curious about the laundry detergent and asked Alex to give me some more details. “Lubrication Technologies is very community focused,” Alex said, “And they’re the ones that developed the detergent formula we now make, which is awesome. We’ve been running the business for three years now, and are still very much in the growth stage. Our participants are basically doing everything,” he said proudly. “We get the detergent shipped to us, and they fill the bottles, label them, organize them, and ship them out. During sales activities we bring the people we serve with us. We want them to feel like this is their company, their business. The more people invested in it, the better.”
Achieve Clean is on its way toward it being a sustaining business, and Alex has been working on innovative ways to make it grow. The laundry detergent recently got an Amazon store, which will help boost the product’s visibility. The big dream would be for box stores to pick up selling the product, and I thought about how amazing it would be to see Achieve Clean on the shelf next to Tide, right there for the consumer to pick up.
I was surprised to learn Alex first found out about Achieve Services through a LinkedIn search. “It’s funny,” Alex smiled at me when I commented on it. “And since being in the non-profit world, I love it. It’s so tightly focused. When I was in the corporate world, everything was very spread out. There’s teams for everything. But because of the nature of the non-profit, I do QuickBooks, social media and networking groups. Nobody donating to a non-profit wants to support a twenty-person marketing team. I love that I can do a lot of different things.”
During his first week at Achieve Services, Alex didn’t know anything about the MetroNorth Chamber, until it was suggested he go connect with Lori. “I think the first chamber event I went to was Working with Women,” he said. “And then I just started going to everything, and I stuck with it. It helps a lot, getting involved and getting your name out there. It’s good to be ‘part of the club,’ as it were,” he finished with a smile.
Alex’s ability to juggle multiple skills at Achieve also applies to his other hobbies. In college, he doubled majored in both theater and business, a fact I was very curious about. “When I talked to my dad about it, he thought it was a good idea,” Alex told me, “Because having a theater and business major is like a dream. A lot of people have companies where they hire people who can work their way around a spreadsheet but can’t lead a meeting. So with theater, you learn how to communicate.”
I honestly hadn’t thought of that point, but after hearing Alex talk, it made sense. Alex also gets to put his theater major to good use by helping his wife coach a speech team. “That’s kind of my artistic outlet,” Alex smiled to himself. “There’s multiple categories, but an example of what I coach, you take a play and cut it down to ten minutes and perform a selection. It’s a huge activity in Minnesota. My wife was recently at Nationals, and Minnesota had almost half of the national finalists.” I couldn’t help but interject my amazement at this astonishing fact, which prompted Alex to tell me something else. “A lot of big acting names were speech people. A friend of mine coached a girl who graduated speech in 2013, and she’s currently on Broadway with Denzel Washington in The Iceman Cometh.”
My mind was blown by this fact, and I wondered if Amy Adams, an actress I knew was from Minnesota, also participated in Speech. I asked Alex what other categories there were. “My wife is an English teacher so she’s a writer and does persuasive speech,” Alex explained. “I do more of the comedy categories. There’s 14 in all with a lot of variety.” I’ll say! I thought, my amazement probably showing all over my face. “There’s humorous interpretation,” he continued, “Creative Expression, where you write a short play and act it out, Storytelling, which is basically retelling a children’s story in your own words, Informative, which uses visual aids.”
When Alex and his wife first took over the speech team, there were only 20 kids. Now, there are over 120 who audition each year with the total team number being around 70. There are eight coaches who all help the students and go to competitions. Alex often helps students pick a piece if they’re having trouble and gives them pointers.
In the summertime, Alex tends to read a lot of books and plays. “Everything is tainted,” he laughed. “I just think, ‘How can this fit into speech?’” With an enthusiastic smile, I asked Alex to tell me what his favorite play was. He lightly drummed his fingers as he thought through his list. “For a musical, I’d say Sunday in the Park with George. But generally, maybe Othello, that I saw in England back in college.”
Alex’s semester abroad in England allowed him to see some stellar plays with some very famous actors. He got to see Daniel Radcliffe in Equus and got to see Sir Ian McKellen in King Lear. Knowing he’d seen that play, had me a tinge jealous. When it came to the Guthrie stage in 2007, tickets were sold out before they even became publicly available, leaving me to wallow in my not being able to see it. Alex also told me of his experience going to see a play at the Globe Theater, which was standing room only. “It’s a four-hour play. I was expecting to hate it, but I loved every minute of it,” Alex reminisced.
There was one more creative endeavor I wanted to ask Alex about, which was a movie review blog he was running. “I don’t do as much with it as I used to,” he confessed, “But I am still an editor on it. I really love movies, and was looking for a place to write about it. Eventually, it got fairly popular and people started emailing me telling me they wanted to write for it. That’s what’s great about the internet; you find communities. I’ve met a lot of people through the website who I’m now good friends with.”
We’d been so busy talking about plays and movies that the time had slipped by without us realizing it, and we were very nearly out of time. I was hoping to get Alex’s thoughts on what the next steps were for Achieve Services. He smiled and leaned backward, looking pensive. “Right now, we’re working with a company that’s going to help us with our inbound marketing. We want to see a bigger online audience come to Achieve Clean, because it’s a lot easier to manage. It’s great being out in the community, but we can’t be everywhere at once. If we can grow organic searches by spreading our story that way, it would be a lot easier. We also are working on our SEO to get stuff more to the forefront.”
Each of the nonprofits who are members of the MetroNorth Chamber focus their expertise in ways where they can make the biggest impact. After spending time with Alex, I was reminded at just how talented the members are.
If you’d like to reach Alex or learn more about Achieve Services please go to www.achieveservices.org