The drive to do business — and do good

This summer, the Dallas, Atlanta, Las Vegas and JuniperMarket home furnishings markets have teamed up with Gift For Life to raise money for World Central Kitchen, the charitable organization founded by celebrity chef José Andrés.

As a fan of World Central Kitchen, I was happy to see the effort. The organization is on the ground — sometimes in mere hours — after hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, building collapses. Most notably right now, its teams are in Ukraine and in the neighboring countries that are sheltering refugees from the war with Russia. World Central Kitchen’s mission is simple: feed fresh, nourishing meals to people who’ve often lost everything — loved ones, homes, belongings, livelihoods. Andres talks a lot about “building longer tables” as a way of bringing people together. I like that imagery.

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The home furnishings industry has a long history of charitable efforts, far too many to name here. We see them both industrywide and at the individual company level among manufacturers, retailers and design firms.

But like so much in life these days, even efforts to do good can be complicated. We’ve seen that in other industries where big-name companies like Disney, Spotify and others have found themselves involved in controversy because of their stance on issues.

How can you and your company continue to do good and reap the secondary goodwill that such efforts engender?

A new study has some insights.

First off, consumers like companies that have strong values. When they have a choice — and when they have the knowledge — about one-third of consumers overall are more likely to buy from a brand because of its involvement in social or political issues. That’s according to a report from eMarketer released this month that looks at several consumer studies done in fall 2021. Younger consumers are most likely to be swayed by a brand’s values: 42% of Gen Z vs. 23% of baby boomers.

But across age groups, “doing good” tends to be a secondary factor in consumers’ decision-making. For instance, when asked to choose whether a product’s price or a brand’s values is more important, only about a quarter of consumers across all age groups said they prioritize a brand’s values. Price is the big driver. That makes sense, especially at a time of high inflation.

There’s a generational difference there, too. Older consumers care more about price than younger consumers who, again, care more about a brand’s values and social responsibility — and younger consumers are our industry’s future.

Here’s a part of the study I found especially interesting. Many studies about corporate efforts to do social good have shown a consumer preference for steps that protect the environment and improve the sustainability of supply chains, manufacturing processes and products.

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But the eMarketer report indicates consumers are most concerned about how a company treats its workers, with 63% saying “treat workers fairly” is very important to them when choosing to buy from a company. This might reflect “the early-pandemic publicity about frontline worker treatment and the resurgence of gender and racial justice movements,” the report says.

Another 62% say “keep workers safe” is very important and 45% say “promote equality” is very important. Those are followed by “source and manufacturer ethically” (40%), “promote the environment” (40%) and “support local communities” (33%). “Articulate social values” and “take a stand on political issues” were far behind with only 23% and 16% of consumers, respectively, saying those are very important. I do wonder if the environmental factors are less important than worker treatment because sustainability has become, for many consumers and companies, table stakes: It’s expected.

As I mentioned, there are pitfalls to trying to do good and proudly telling your customers about it. With U.S. consumers being highly polarized, “brands that take a public stance on issues ranging from climate change to immigration and racial justice to LGBT+ rights risk alienating large swathes of their customer base,” eMarketer says. Consumers also can turn on companies that seem inconsistent (for instance, changing their stance on an issue), appear hypocritical or stay silent on important issues.

But that shouldn’t discourage us from doing good. eMarketer offers some tips for making the most of your efforts.

  • Stay authentic. Align your efforts toward social good and philanthropy with your business values and culture. “Brands should start with their corporate mission and use it as a filter to determine which issues to embrace and avoid,” eMarketer says.
  • Check with your community. “Companies should connect with advocates and community leaders to gain a deep understanding of their needs and concerns — and opportunities to deliver value,” the reports says. “Leveraging these relationships, and combining them with focused research, allows brands to plan and react as market conditions change.”
  • Restrain yourself. “Not every stance requires a press release,” eMarketer says. “…Consumers place greater emphasis on doing the right thing than on making statements about these issues.” The adage to walk the walk rather than talk the talk applies here.
  • Involve relevant parts of your team. Your HR team is the front line for addressing issues like diversity and pay equity; your IT department can help you improve accessibility; and your supplier or vendor partners can collaborate with you on issues like sustainability.

I hope the home furnishings industry will continue to find new and meaningful ways to make a difference — within individual companies and out in the broader world. I plan to do my small part by donating to this summer’s effort to help World Central Kitchen (Click for info about Dallas‘ effort, those in Atlanta and Las Vegas and through JuniperMarket.) Will you join me?

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