Trish Karter is one busy small business leader. We spoke with her last week while she was on the road in between meetings with suppliers for the 14-year-old, Boston-based baked goods provider, Dancing Deer Baking, that she co-founded and runs today along with her 100 employee owners. She says she’ll be just as busy this week, as she travels to Chicago both to speak at our Top Small Workplaces Conference and make some sales calls.
Not bad for someone who thought she would be a full-time artist, if not for the calling she heard to join the business community – specifically, the social venture movement.
What Karter and her team are doing are defining the marriage of product creation and marketing with a vital social need. The company’s Sweet Home Product line, in effect since 2002, “draws a clear line in the sand,” she says – enabling the company to donate 35% of the retail price of orders to provide food and shelter to Massachusetts’ homeless population.
The CEO and her staff don’t have to venture too far from their headquarters to understand the need they’re fulfilling. The 2002 book “Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That Work For All Of Us” profiles Dancing Deer’s long-impoverished inner-city neighborhood, which has become a chief recruiting source for her workforce.
Following are questions we asked Karter about what she plans to impart to attendees of our 2008 conference during her October 15 keynote address, and her responses.
What are the main points you plan to cover?
In the context of what’s happening in the world, I thought I would step back and look at some of the reasons we need to be double bottom line companies, and some of the initiatives I’m aware of that could change some of the standards legally and financially.
I have an active interest in this and I plan to relate some of the financial crisis we’re in now to the reasons I run Dancing Deer, and some of the things I can do to push the double bottom line movement forward given the obvious need for it. I’m going to talk about some things that are happening in my space of social ventures that are cutting edge – specifically the B Corporationinitiative and “slow money.”
What will you mention in regard to your Sweet Home Product line?
How it works, and I’ll check off things about it that make us a double bottom line company.
What takeaways do you want attendees to leave with?
In the world I think broadly about who the stakeholders are, and how companies can translate them to be strategic for their organizations. They can build a program like ours that serves a need into the core of their business model and have it support their commercial mission as well as a social mission.
How did you come to 35 percent as the portion of the retail price to give to charity?
The decision to go that high was huge. It could grow to any size; we wanted it to be cash neutral for us. We wanted it to be a substantial commitment that would be distinguishable from our other marketing efforts, and a sincere effort to devote our limited resources to the change we seek. There’s a lot of green washing in the corporate social responsibility movement; I didn’t want any part of that.
What are some key challenges of running a socially responsible business?
It’s hard enough to run a business, and then add on to it a set of objectives which require people to think slightly differently every day, and put their choices through a filter of, “Is this good for the community, and for the environment?” Not everybody is in tune with this – it’s a huge management challenge. But it’s also a huge management opportunity because you attract people who want to do that. You get people with very high expectations which are not often met.
Change is hard, and the road is bumpy. We’re just regular people doing our best – it’s not Shangri-La.
So what are the rewards that come from fulfilling your mission?
Personally, I don’t want to put my energy into something that doesn’t play a positive role in the world. I also think that business wouldn’t have been attractive if I couldn’t do that. I was an artist and gave that up; what we’re doing pays psychic rewards.
On the business side, there is a good argument to do it. I run a consumer brand, so the articulation of mission and loyalty we earn from consumers because they understand who we are accrues to the good will built into the assets we’re building. Visibility in the marketplace, PR – these are both good for sales, and they help create a stronger bond with audience we’re trying to talk to.
Anyone can make a good cookie, so you have to ask what you do to distinguish yourself beyond that.