An Ethos Worth Investing In
4 Min Read By Norman Wu
It’s Possible to Be Profitable While Sticking With Your Values, and Here’s How I’m Doing It
My business partner and I met when we were kids. In fourth grade, we became best friends and we shared a common vision to one day start a business together. After graduating from the University of Washington and starting a career in headhunting in Los Angeles, we decided to act on our entrepreneurial spirit and start our own recruiting firm. We learned a number of lessons in this business, which we later exited from. In particular, the value of a happy and valued employee.
While these two things may seem completely unrelated, they established a foundation for our business today – Conscious Hospitality Group. When we set out to found Conscious Hospitality Group and our flagship brand, Just Poké, we embraced the values most important to us – sustainability, and people being at the forefront – that we dreamed of implementing when developing our first business plan years ago. We wanted to build a business that we and our families would be proud of, and that also prioritized being a good employer. This is now actualized in our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies and actionable steps.
I believe many restaurateurs would love to operate in a more altruistic manner. However, in an industry with narrow margins, I understand the fear and concern of taking chances and doing it differently. At Conscious Hospitality Group, our various brands all operate in a unique way that fits their restaurants, however, our baseline of shared values ensures we are making a positive impact in the communities we operate in on the whole. In the hope that this article inspires others to build their business with their values integrated into their operations, I am sharing how I’ve been able to operate in alignment with my values and enjoy healthy profits.
When a company has a very clear understanding of what they stand for and what its values are, this allows them to respond swiftly and decisively when issues surface in the public arena of opinion.
First, it helps to clearly define your values on paper. You may not be able to include everything – but seeing your values written down helps provide a gut check of what is most important to you. When the values of your business are clear to you and clearly defined in your business plan, marketing materials, etc, they’ll be clear to everyone else as well. Consumers want to support their values with their wallets, so you’ll attract like-minded customers who are naturally inclined to be repeat customers. You’ll also attract business partners with an overlapping ethos. Just Poké, our flagship brand, has attracted a number of groups from potential landlords to event spaces and stadiums that want to partner with our brand for these reasons. We were invited to open in T-Mobile Stadium and most recently, Climate Pledge Arena as a direct result of our commitment to sustainability and the environment.
When a company has a very clear understanding of what they stand for and what its values are, this allows them to respond swiftly and decisively when issues surface in the public arena of opinion. Even if a company is not directly involved, consumers are increasingly demanding a position and transparent action for their continued patronage. Don’t underestimate the power of a loyal, values-based customer. While it may not be intuitive to lead with values when a possible recession is on the horizon, customers driven by value are more likely to remain loyal when prices rise.
If you are having a difficult time identifying your priorities, here’s a hack: check your budget. Where are you investing your capital? For Just Poké, we spend more on our ingredients and staffing. Uncompromising quality is key, as are the methods of our suppliers when catching the fish we serve. We invest a bit more in working with suppliers that have third-party certifications ensuring they fish sustainably. We also invest more in our people by compensating them with a higher wage and benefits package that goes above industry standards. As a result, we have a happy team that stays with us longer and is happy at work. Attitudes are infectious, and employees are the touchpoint of your brand for customers. Happy employees make for an overall pleasant environment that customers appreciate and want to return to.
Now that you’ve got a sense of what is your driving ethos and how that shapes where you direct your resources, make sure to factor in long-term gains in addition to just a short-term quarter-over-quarter profit. Our employee compensation strategy is to spend less to recruit and hire people. We learned with our recruiting business the long-term gains of an organization where employees want to work. Similar cost savings apply when maintaining a loyal customer following. Make sure you are factoring costs such as wages from a more holistic vantage point rather than simply hours worked x wage.
With a long-term approach, we’ve also been able to embrace the economy of scale. Balancing the long-term vision along with the immediate needs of a shorter strategy put into perspective how we wanted to grow our business. With more locations, financial risk is not only mitigated, but procurement of costlier items also goes down. Surprisingly, at a certain point in quantity, compostable flatware can be purchased for the same rate as the unsustainable plastic option.
While every business has different needs, features, and customer demands based on a variety of preferences, and economic and cultural factors, what worked for us can work for others as well. I hope this inspires you to embrace what speaks to you and integrate those values into your business.