hird-generation entrepreneur Ciara Stockeland, 38 — the daughter and granddaughter of window salesmen — always knew she wanted to own a small business. When her pop-up overstock jeans shop in Fargo, N.D., took off about a decade ago, morphing into a storefront called MODE, she didn’t want to stop at just one store. By franchising, she could expand her brand to other communities and enable others to own small businesses, too.
From the get-go, she wanted to make it easy for franchisees not just to be successful, but also to give back. So she came up with a number of ways to weave community engagement into the very fabric of the four MODE stores, in North Dakota and Iowa. Stores regularly organize denim drives to collect jeans for the needy, hold sales where 20 percent goes to a local charity, send staff to volunteer for local nonprofits, and sell merchandise to benefit an international water charity.
“When you give back, it reminds you that small businesses are what make cities and American culture so vibrant,” Stockeland said. “There’s something fantastic about that.” Stockeland’s model of socially responsible business is just one example of the many ways small business owners embed themselves in their communities. Some are leaders in local chambers of commerce and business associations. Others stage neighborhood events such as concerts and gallery nights. And according to the Allstate/USA Today Small Business Barometer, almost half of small business owners contribute to local charities or do community service close to home.
“Everything that’s good for the community is good for your business,” said Steve Blume, 62, owner of an Allstate Insurance agency in Bellevue, Tenn., and director of membership for his area’s chamber of commerce. “It’s the responsibility of every business to be a part of the community and contribute to it.”
At Jirani’s Coffee House in Manassas, Va., co-owners Ken and Detra Moorman, both age 46, have a vision that goes far beyond serving java. After all, they named their one-year-old business after the Swahili word for “neighbor” or “neighborhood.”
It’s all part of the plan to host book launches and open mics, set aside space for a family reading room, and let local bakers and caterers use the kitchen to prep food for their own small businesses.
“We wanted to create a space for people to gather and connect and build relationships,” Ken Moorman said.
Coffee is not the only thing that brings people together. Dave Roggeman, 41, owner of screen-printing, embroidery and design company INDYINK in Denver, Colo., uses art as the draw. The company hosts monthly art exhibitions at its 84 South retail space, giving local artists — professional and amateur — a venue to showcase their work. INDYINK sells the artwork at affordable prices, taking a lower commission from artists than traditional galleries might.
“The art shows are a way for us to be a part of the community,” said Roggeman. He supports the artists in other ways, too, for example by commissioning some to do custom designs for his products.
Down in Opelika, Ala., Jimmy Wright, 55 — owner of Wright’s Market since 1997 — is passionate about zeroing in on the specific needs of people in his town and surrounding rural areas. His 15-passenger van transports shoppers to and from the store for free. And last year he founded a nonprofit to help revitalize two neighborhoods in the city of 29,000 people and improve access to medical care.
“I’ve always lived by the philosophy that our goal was that our business would do well so then we could do good in our communities,” Wright said.
Volunteering and promoting social issues can provide a lot of bottom-line value to companies, large or small, said Jenny Lawson, executive director of the Corporate Institute at Points of Light, a national nonprofit that promotes volunteerism across the U.S.
“Connecting your brand to social issues raises the visibility of your brand and sets you apart from other brands in the community,” she said. In addition, lending employees out for skills-based pro bono services, she said, can boost employee satisfaction and engagement and provide skills-building opportunities.
When Katie Dix, 52, along with her sister, husband and brother-in-law, opened a neighborhood ice cream shop on a tucked-away street in Mt. Prospect, Ill., the health inspector predicted her business wouldn’t succeed.
To prove him wrong and differentiate her store, Capannari Ice Cream, from corporate chains, “I knew I had to be a part of the community and let people know who we are,” Dix said.
To that end, Dix throws and supports dozens of charity events each year, including “The Coolest School,” in which 14 area schools compete to sell the most ice cream and walk away with a share of their earnings.
But even more important than bringing people into the store, Dix says, is the way the events create loyalty among customers and bolster the idea of Capannari as a neighborhood stalwart.
Stockeland, of retailer MODE, said her giveback program reinforces the company culture she’s establishing as she seeks new franchisees.
“We’ve found in visiting with prospective franchisees that the people who are going to align culturally with our brand want to be part of something bigger,” she said.
Giving of oneself and of one’s business brings challenges of limited time, money and staffing. But small business owners rise above those obstacles using their love and commitment to their communities as the driving force.
“Being part of the community gives me and my business that human quality that’s so important,” said Alison Doner, 37, owner of an Allstate Insurance agency in Cincinnati. She regularly volunteers with her local Rotary International Club and a children’s charity, and at any community service event Allstate hosts in the area — on top of giving her customers every minute of her working day.
Lynn Le, 28 — co-owner of Society Nine, a Portland, Ore., sports gear company that sells women’s boxing apparel — and her Boston-based partner manage their charitable commitments by focusing on nonprofits that champion the fighting spirit in women. Beneficiaries have included an organization that offers free self-defense classes to women in Oregon and other states and a Boston nonprofit that holds charity boxing events to raise money to fight cancer.
By aligning the ways they give back with their business mission, Le said, they’re able to make sure, “people register exactly what it is we’re all about.”
For small business owners, waking up every morning and loving what they do is a dream come true. And serving the community is a big reason why they feel it’s worth it.
Jirani's Ken Moorman says that the existence of a thriving coffee shop in Manassas was a dream for lots of people — something the community had desperately needed.
“For me, it’s about how we contribute to the place we live, work and play in. How do we make it better through giving back and helping others,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s what it’s about.”
Source USA today