Business success through community involvement

by: CONTRIBUTED BY JOHN M. VINCENT - Cupcake Jones, on 10th Avenue in the Pearl, has a selection of 13 flavors each day -- 11 regulars, plus 2 specials -- in mini and regular sizes. A percentage of each sale goes to a different local non-profit each month. For April, its SE Works.When Lisa Watson and husband Peter Shanky saw the line of people standing in a cold Vancouver, B.C. rain waiting to buy cupcakes, they knew that was the business concept they wanted bring to the streets

of Portland. But they wished for more than financial success their cupcake bakery — they wanted it to become a supporter of the community.

They quickly learned that the two weren’t mutually exclusive. If you understand your costs and budget appropriately, community involvement can become a cornerstone upon which you build a lasting business, according to Watson. Scott Marshall, a Professor of Management at Portland State University agrees.

“If you care about your neighborhood, why not have that be something that your company cares about too?” said Marshall.

From the day in July 2007 that Cupcake Jones became the second cupcake bakery in Portland to open its doors, it has been giving back to the community through local charities and community partnerships.

by: CONTRIBUTED BY JOHN M. VINCENT - Cupcake Jones owner Lisa Watson. Watson says Cupcake Jones has seen double-digit growth each year since their 2007 opening.“The biggest component of that is through our benefit month program, where we donate a portion of our sales — not profits — but our total sales to a different nonprofit

organization,” says Watson.

The shop sees both direct and indirect marketing to their programs, which also include providing free cupcakes to charity events, access to their event space, and gift certificates for charity auctions. Cupcake Jones also promotes the charities in their shop and on their well-followed network of social media outlets. Watson sees a direct correlation between the community involvement and the continued growth of their business.

“People feel a connection to us because they have shared values, and they want to support a business that is out in the community working towards things that they care about too,” says Watson. “I love that people tell us ‘That’s exactly why we came to you.’”

While some might think that the cupcake bakery fad is over, Watson says “we see zero evidence of that happening here.” The shop has seen double digit growth year after year, even during the depths of the recession. “We have chosen to stay the course, and just continue to do that really well to set ourselves apart.

It’s not just in the business to consumer realm that a strong community service commitment can make a difference. PSU’s Marshall notes that more and more businesses use a “supplier scorecard” to judge how the products and services that they purchase are made. He cites a number of Portland small businesses that are doing it right, including Grand Central Bakery, Hot Lips Pizza and Laughing Planet. Grand Central co-owner Piper Davis touts that 70 percent of what they purchase is grown, has value added, or is distributed by local companies.

Marshall sees other benefits to business community involvement. “More and more, people care about what kind of company they work for” and find it empowering to work with one that shares their values. “Our employees should not have to come to work and leave their values in the parking lot.” He adds that it keeps leaders engaged each day - “It’s more than just a cupcake company.”

The benefits to the charities supported are more than just financial. For Andrew Tweedie, Director of Development at Our House, a Portland charity that supports people affected by HIV and AIDS, access to Cupcake Jones’ customers is as important as the financial donations. “Lisa and Peter have a unique demographic that utilizes their business,” says Tweedie. “They’re talking about us on social media channels,” he adds, “That social connection is where we get the true benefit.”

Watson also serves on the board of directors for Our House, the Basic Rights Oregon business leadership council, and was just appointed to the Oregon Health Policy Board.

Cupcake Jones learned the proper way to support their chosen charities by experience. Initially they didn’t understand the total costs of the programs, but they’ve learned to budget time, product and financial donations. “Don’t be afraid to say no,” says Watson. “You don’t want to donate so much that you’re not going to be here.”

There’s universal agreement that a program of community involvement must be genuine to work. With the relationship between Our House and Cupcake Jones, “They walk the walk and talk the talk. They’re doing it 100 percent, not just to get their name on it, but they believe our organization’s mission,” says Tweedie.

“Facades don’t last,” says Marshall. With the amount of information at our fingertips, the chances of being declared less than genuine are real, and he refers to the adage that “reputation takes a long time to earn, and a day to lose.”

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