Walmart isn't the only business taking a stand against the confederate flag.
On Monday, the Kickstand Cafe in Arlington, Massachusetts, raised $5,731 for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a social justice advocacy nonprofit based in Montgomery, Alabama. That's the cafe's entire sales for the day, plus customer cash contributions placed in a jar for the cause.
It might sound like small potatoes, but even small statements can reverberate throughout a community--engendering good will among like-minded residents and contributing to customer loyalty. It can also be cathartic for business owners and community members to coalesce around the shared cause.
"We were upset with the shooting in South Carolina last week," says co-owner Emily Germain Shea, 50. "And this past year, there have been so many racially charged situations. We wanted to do something."
It's not uncommon for businesses to pledge a certain percentage of sales or profits over a period of time to one cause or another. Kickstand's move to hand over 100 percent of its sales is novel--especially compared to the way most businesses give to charity.
Prominent retailer examples include Whole Foods Markets' community giving days. A few times a year, Whole Foods stores give five percent of that day's net sales to a local nonprofit or educational organization. In April, Buffalo Wild Wings hosted a Community Day at more than 600 of its restaurants and donated 10 percent of our total sales to local Boys & Girls Clubs--amounting to nearly $370,000.
How To Be "All In"
For Kickstand Cafe, there were no partial measures, no trips into terminology (e.g. "net sales"). The cafe pledged 100 percent of Monday's sales to the Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC. "This is actually going to cost us money," says Mark Ostow, 57, the other co-owner.
The sacrifice was part of the point. "For once, we're not just talking," says Ostow. "We're doing something concrete." In Boston suburbs like Arlington, left-leaning declarations and social-media-postings of purported outrage are commonplace. Actual action--more than simply watching "The Daily Show" in the comfort of one's home--is far more scarce.
By donating one day's entire sales, Kickstand Cafe eliminated any ambiguity about its campaign. Customers didn't have to think about percentages or profits or net sales or anything else. All they needed to know was that whatever they spent at Kickstand on Monday would help SPLC do its work.
From Idea to Action
Ostow came up with the idea just two days after alleged gunman Dylann Roof opened fire on nine people, as they prayed in Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
From there, Shea, a former lawyer who is a longtime personal supporter of the SPLC, did some online research. She wanted to double-check that SPLC would accept donations like this. She was fairly certain they would, based on the content in the "borderline-annoying amount" of fundraising emails she has always received from them as a loyal supporter.
She also checked a few online clearinghouse sites--she can't recall which ones--just to make sure most of Kickstand's contribution would go to the charity itself. Once she and Ostow felt assured about their choice of SPLC, they put a sign in the cafe window and announced the campaign on the cafe's Facebook page. It read:
On Monday, June 22, we will donate 100% of our TOTAL SALES for the entire day to the Southern Poverty Law Center. We want to support them in their fight against hatred and racial intolerance. --Emily Germain Shea, Mark Ostow, and the entire Kickstand Staff
They chose Monday because Saturday and Sunday were bound to be busy days, defined by other events. Saturday was the day of a big block party in Arlington; Sunday was Father's Day.
The three days of advanced notice turned out to give the 20-employee cafe a marketing boost. "It gave us time to get the word out," says Shea. On Saturday night, Phillip Martin, a reporter from a local NPR station, rode his bike by the cafe and saw the sign. That led to a mention of the campaign on the station on Monday morning.
Martin also promoted the event on his personal Facebook page. That, too, created a local buzz. Arlington resident Rekha Murthy, after reading about the campaign on Facebook, used her personal Twitter handle to tweet about it. "When I saw that it was all sales, not just profits, I was really impressed," she says. Indeed: Her tweet read: Kickstand Cafe is donating 100% of ALL SALES today to the Southern Poverty Law Center."
She also posted the cafe's announcement to the town email list. "Kickstand's act reminds us that what happened in Charleston is a real tragedy, not just a news headline, and that our community can connect with a grieving community and support it from afar," adds Murthy, 41.
Entities such as the local nonprofit Arlington EATS and the Boston-based consultancy Good Harbor Partners tweeted about the campaign. Residents and customers tweeted about it too, including photos of the sign in the window and #Charleston-related hashtags.
The Big Day
When Monday came, word began to spread more rapidly. The cafe does not have a website or a Twitter profile, just a Facebook page. But that didn't stop customers from engaging.
The cafe's initial post about the campaign received 408 likes. That may not seem like much to you if you run a national business, but for the indie cafe--whose Facebook page as a whole has garnered 1,287 total likes--that number is an impressive three-day showing. Moreover, a late-in-the-day (4:30 p.m.) post from the owners--indicating that there'd been 545 transactions so far with 2.5 hours till closing--earned 100 likes.
To handle the busier-than-usual Monday, Shea and Ostow made sure there were two more front-of-the-house employees than the usual four. Shea herself was back in the kitchen helping with lunch orders. By 12:30 p.m., the cafe had run out of Vietnamese fresh rolls, which cost $2.25 each or $6 for three. On a typical Monday, the cafe does not eighty-six the rolls until 4 p.m. or thereabouts. Likewise, the cafe sold all 50 of its homemade smoothies, which cost $4.50 each. Usually the cafe will only sell a dozen a day.
All told, sales for the day were more than 80 percent higher than they typically are on a given Monday. The cafe rang up 632 total transactions, a significant increase over the typical number for a good Monday, which is around 400. What's more, the average customer-spend-per-transaction was about 15 percent higher than it usually is.
But all of that fiscal info obscures what matters most to the co-owners: That their cafe, a place where political issues of the day are often passionately discussed, became a center for actual action. More than this, many of their customers thanked them in person for using their cafe as a venue to explore and respond to major causes. "We were brought to tears by our customers," says Shea.
"I'm really glad that we did it," adds Ostow. "And I'm wondering what would happen if we did this more often."