Chris Hall's rise to the CEO role at Talking Rain Beverage Company wasn't particularly flashy. The Navy veteran worked his way up, starting as a human resources assistant in 2007. His approach to giving back to the community is similarly straightforward: the company invests in parks and recreation projects in small town America and amplifies the work of local heroes.
With its Cheers to You Beautification Project, Talking Rain will spend $250,000 this fall across three locales: Summerville, South Carolina; Hopkinsville, Kentucky; and Hall's hometown of Bedford, Texas. Another employee-inspired charitable program launched in June called Cheers to Heroes highlights and supports individuals who work hard on behalf of their community. To date, the company has put $400,000 into the program.
Talking Rain makes the Sparkling Ice brand of flavored carbonated water and did more than $650 million in sales in its most recent fiscal year. Talking Rain, which has seen higher demand for its products during the pandemic, came to prominence after Lawrence Hebner, Donald Kline, and Donald Jasper bought control in the late 1980s. For his part, Hall says he's always made community service a priority at the company. In the past, Talking Rain has supported breast cancer awareness, recycling education, and back to school supply drives. The challenges and hardships brought by Covid-19 this year, he says, have made a focus on service feel all the more urgent.
"It made us realize that a hero is someone who gets up every day and takes care of their community," Hall says.
Creating spaces for others to connect
Hall describes himself as a small-town kid and the son of a single mom, whom he calls an "unsung hero" in his life. He has fond memories of spending hours on the basketball courts of Bedford with his friends. That's in part what inspired him to launch the beautification project.
So Talking Rain partnered with 5W Public Relations to research and connect with towns that had urgent needs for restoration in their public spaces, and where they felt like they could impact the most people, Hall says.
In Summerville, Talking Rain is sponsoring the installation of outdoor pickleball courts--a sport that became hugely popular even during the coronavirus pandemic this summer, because it allows for easy fun at a distance, says Amy Evans, Summerville's parks and recreation director.
Why worry about pickleball during a pandemic? Hall says people need to have some fun. "When you think about the places that people congregate in small towns, it's usually the parks," Hall says. "They're focal points that people rely on."
In Hopkinsville, Talking Rain renovated the Hopkinsville-Christian County Youth Baseball League Field at Ruff Park, which was severely damaged by a tornado in March. "I think it gives our baseball community a renewed sense of pride," says Jonathan Zordel, president of the Christian County Youth Baseball League. Before Talking Rain reached out, he says, they were worried about whether and how they would fix the space.
And in Bedford, Talking Rain will help install the Musical Pocket Playground in the city's new park near the public library and historic Old Bedford School.
Helping others do good
Hall says the company's Cheers to Heroes program came about because employees were inspired by people around the country meeting the challenges of the pandemic in unique ways. So in June, Talking Rain issued a call for nominations of individuals either working for their community in an official capacity, like a nurse, or an unofficial one, like Bedford restaurant owner Rosako Bailey, who feeds homeless people and veterans. About 3,000 nominations were made, and Talking Rain randomly selected 300 people to win $500 for their charity work of choice. Online public voting determined the two finalists, who each won $5,000, and Bailey, who won $10,000 to continue to feed people in need.
Bailey, who operates a soul food and barbeque restaurant, began a free-meals-for-veterans initiative after meeting a homeless veteran he found digging through his dumpster. He then started a program where customers can donate money to go toward free meals for veterans. His restaurant also closes for a day each month to feed the homeless.
Bailey's "energy around doing the right thing just connected with people," Hall says.
Publicity around Talking Rain's gift has also boosted Bailey's business by 25 percent since being hit by the pandemic. Someone even drove four hours from Houston to visit his restaurant. "I do this stuff so that people feel care and love," Bailey says. "I just do what my heart tells me to do half the time."
It's stories like Bailey's that energize and give a sense of purpose to Talking Rain's employees more than anything else could right now, Hall says. During the Cheers to Heroes nomination process, one employee was so moved that she sent personal thank you letters to some nominees for the work they're doing.
"Talking Rain employees understood the challenge our country was facing from a personal and business level," Hall says. "With all of the hardship facing our country right now, our team saw an opportunity to share some good news and spread a message of togetherness."