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There are so many options for shopping these days…sometimes we forget how important it is to make a conscious effort to spend dollars in our own community’s #SmBiz entrepreneurial run stores and restaurants. 

American Express’ Small Biz Saturday/Shop Small campaign has been a terrific way to build awareness for this but it’s only once a year. SmBiz owners need that awareness to be promoted much more frequently. One way that entrepreneurs stay top of mind is to be involved in local causes and community events. Sage North America just published a new survey (July 2015) titled “Small Businesses Are Doing Well By Doing Good.” 

There is tough competition on a daily basis from big chains and online retailers but it’s the local entrepreneurs who really help our communities on many different levels. 

In the Sage report, they note: “As stated in the January 2015 Jobs Report, small businesses in the U.S. created nearly 2 million of the approximately 3 million private-sector jobs generated in 2014.”

“In addition to job creation, small businesses funnel more of every dollar spent back into the local economy than other retailers. According to the research firm Civic Economics, for every $100 spent at a locally operated business, roughly $68 stays in the local community.”  Those are meaningful numbers for local communities.

Sage customer, Virginia based Catoctin Creek Distilling Company‘s founder and general manager, Scott Harris says, “At Catoctin Creek, we believe in being good corporate citizens and engaging with the community. For us, that means buying local produce to support independent farmers. We give our spent rye mash to farmers for organic and nutrient-rich livestock feed. This not only minimizes our costs, but also bolsters the local economy.”

Scott Harris told me a bit more about his commitment to community:

Our entire business plan was based on being a local business.  Everything we do is local, both as a business, and as a family.  We buy our vegetables and meat from local farms and our CSA (community shared agriculture), and we give back to those very farms with our spent rye mash from our distilling business.  

Our customers are often of the same mindset.  They come to us because we are local, and we make such awesome whiskey.  Local gets them in the door, and awesome keeps them coming back for more!

How do you decide which causes to support locally?

One of the hardest things to do is to choose to whom to give support.  We get so many requests, too many to handle ourselves.  So we decide which charities are closest to our hearts, and those are the ones we reach out to, like Loudon Habitat for Humanity and Blue Ridge Hospice.

What have been a couple of the most rewarding things that have come from having a socially conscious biz? 

We are grateful every single day for being able to do what we do:  make whiskey.  The benefit of being socially conscious is just icing on the cake,  that lets us know we are doing what we love in a sustainable manner.

What advice can you give new entrepreneurs who want to give back but don’t know how to set up a program or begin to get involved with community? 

Keep the scope small at first.  You can’t do everything, and nor should you expect to, despite the numerous requests you will receive.  Focus on two or three charities that really speak to you, and give larger amounts to them, rather than splitting it up among dozens and dozens of charities.  In the end, you’re a business, so you have to budget for charity expenses just like any other expense.

Another Sage client who is extremely involved in their community is Eugene, Oregon based GloryBeeRaeJean Wilson, VP of Stewardship and Brand Alignment talks about their community:

GloryBee has become known in our community as a company that shares via funds and food donations. We are a large contributor to both the Eugene Mission and Food for Lane County. Both of these organizations are focused on giving back and helping those in need to have a good life/future. Customers are included in the giving by being engaged to match funding during a few local events and also because we support so many local organizations on an annual basis. In addition to this we are involved in several local causes like a cereal program where kids are given a bag of blueberry spelt cereal at the local schools to curb hunger. We also worked with 7 organizations to raise the money to build a house in 1 hour through Habitat for Humanity. We are partnering with 3 other local companies to fund this program.

One of the biggest ways we impact giving is the new SAVE the BEE program. In 2014, we raised almost $45K from the 1% of retail sales and also others who have wanted to support the research that is being done at the OSU HoneyBee Lab. Colony collapse disorder has affected over 45% of our bees on an annual basis.

How do you decide what causes to support?

We have decided that our two main focuses are tied to our brands:

With GloryBee’s Save the Bee initiative, we give 1% of sales of the retail honey, retail bee keeping, and bulk honey that is tied to a promotion of the Save the Bee cause. We have several partners that also match funding. We feel this cause is aligned with our passion for the honey bee and its health. 40% of our food supply is affected by honey bee pollination. This cause is near and dear to our hearts.

With Aunt Patty’s/Food for Health program, we give 1% of Aunt Patty’s retail sales to food related causes that support health and nutrition in the youth. We fund Food Corps, School Garden Programs of Lane County, and Family Works in Seattle.  Aunt Patty believes that all kids and families need access to healthy foods. These causes align with her vision to give back.

What have been a couple of the most rewarding things that have come from having a socially conscious biz? 

When the way you do business is driven by your core values as an organization it is easy to use the passion behind the purpose to drive your programs forward. One super example was that in 2015 we set up our first annual Save the Bee 5K. We raised $6,000 for Save the Bee funding. It was the second largest first time 5K in the community. It is hard to say you’ve done enough when you are doing good things and others want to rally around and help you do it. It is really not about individual glory, it’s about communities working together.

What advice can you give new entreps. who want to give back but don’t know how to set up a program or begin to get involved with community? 

My best advice is to join others in supporting a cause that is already set up to source funding. You will learn a lot by being involved and seeing what others are doing. We did that for 4 years before we decided to have our own 5K fund raiser. Also include your people. If you cannot give money then give time and have your employees volunteer.

In my local community of Manhattan Beach, CA there are many #SmBiz entrepreneurs who have built a large and loyal customer base because of their generosity to the community. 

I can’t think of an event that occurs locally where Fresh Brothers isn’t a sponsor. The husband/wife owners, Debbie and Adam Goldberg are a constant and generous presence in the community. Another stand-out community SmBiz is Grow run by another husband/wife team; Kathy and Barry Fisher. They started as a street side cherry stand and now have two Los Angeles area markets. 

Barry Fisher shares his experience:  

What are some of your favorite ways that GROW gives back to our community?

My wife, Kathy, enjoys all the school field trips that come through our store every year. She used to be a teacher. It’s a great opportunity to show kids about produce and where food comes from. Schools like showing kids who supplies their food needs from field to plate. This lesson is well received, we’ve been doing it for 5 yrs. 

When schools within the local districts ask for something, we always say yes. Even when we first opened nine years ago and didn’t have a budget for it, we knew this was part of being involved in our special town, we wanted to give back.

What are some of the rewards that you’ve seen from being so active in the local community?

I didn’t know how much Grow would really become part of the community.  We truly appreciate that people here want to see a SmBiz succeed. Locals want to shop local here. We look at it as bigger than that though; we have an opportunity to earn the business, not everyone has to support us just because we’re a local SmBiz. We have to supply value, and we do that through providing top quality products and listening to our customers. 

When we opened, we were surrounded by the ‘giants,’ Bristol Farms and Whole Foods. Many people thought we wouldn’t make it, so we had to supply something different…which was produce. We had a sign that siad “Best Cherries in America,” and this got people coming in! The cherries were $9.99 per pound and people would say, “These better be good!” One customer was so surprised at how delicious they were, he said he underpaid. This customer was wealth of knowledge. He explained that we  do have these big competitors and we learned to diversify from mostly produce into meat, eggs, wine, fish, bread and grocery. Our customers told us what they wanted and we listened.

70% of our growth is from customer requests. As we open our second location, in downtown Los Angeles, we reach out to that community now to see what they’re looking for in our store.

How would you advise other entrepreneurs just starting out about how to get involved in community/giving back?

  • Work with schools.  
  • Don’t over commit or you wont be there to help later. Even small donation can help.
  • Don’t be embarrassed about what you can give, the point is that you want to help. Be sincere.
  • Any event that we work with, we continue to support each year, it’s more than a transaction… it’s a relationship.
  • If you have an expectation that your biz will be promoted in exchange for a donation, you have to articulate that. Those are marketing dollars and in the first years, when it’s lean, speak up and be sure to get a mention.  

Jodi Uecker, interim president, Sage North America says, “Small businesses are a vital part of our nation’s economy and of the local economies they operate in. As the holiday shopping season approaches, shop at local small businesses to support your community.”

And then keep on shopping local, even after Holiday season! Make an effort to get to know the owners of your local stores and restaurants. Once you know how much heart and soul goes into their effort to provide your local community with quality a product/service, you will likely want to go there more and support #SmBiz… every day.

Barry Fisher says, “When we go out to dinner or to the beach, we always run into a customer and this has made a small community even smaller. It’s wonderful!”

Let’s connect on Twitter,  Facebook   & Instagram and now…Periscope.

#TakeAction Follow your dream.

Sandy