The B Series: When a Retailer Does the Unthinkable

Coffee; Custom Coffee Roastery; espresso roast; medium roast; b corporation coffee; social enterprise coffee; coffee with a social impact

Grosche International Coffee

When’s the last time you read a retail job posting that promised a good wage? Chances are, you haven’t.

It’s safe to say that the retail industry is notorious for paying a minimum wage, typically at the cost of gaining and retaining skilled (or motivated) labour. How do retailers honestly expect front-facing employees to embody the industry’s mantra, “the customer is always right,” when they’re stressing out about how they’re going to pay their next hydro bill?

Assumingly, there are c-suite retail executives out there who understand that there’s a correlation between pay and performance, but ultimately, many have been swayed by the belief that providing a living wage is unthinkable within their industry.

Grosche International Café; Grosche International

Grosche International’s Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Thankfully, we’re witnessing a monumental shift here in Ontario, Canada. This past week, online coffee and tea tycoon (and B Corporation!), Grosche International, opened a coffee and tea supply store, that doubles as a café, in the downtown core of Guelph, Ontario.

The café displays beautiful, filter-free pour-overs, tea infusers and coffee grinders. The air smells rich of freshly brewed beans and tea leaves and your senses remind you that you’re amongst high quality products. In fact, Grosche International designs and sells the most eco-friendly French Presses in the world, some of which are comprised of as much as 75% recycled materials.

Not only can the newly launched café boast a wonderful aroma and product line, but it’s also been named the first certified living wage retailer in Guelph, Ontario. The Guelph-Wellington Living Wage Employer Recognition Program, part of the larger umbrella organization, the Ontario Living Wage Network, is a group of employers, NGOs, nonprofits, researchers and advocates who believe in decent working standards for all.

The network’s website explains that the living wage is different than the governmentally mandated minimum wage here in Ontario. They explain that their hourly living wage rate is based on an array of calculations and data which are used to determine the actual expenses of a household (based on a family of two working parents and two children). This hourly rate is said to cover basic expenses, including items such as food, clothing, shelter and transportation.

Ontario Living Wage Network; Living Wage

The Ontario Living Wage Network

As the Ontario Living Wage Network puts it: “It’s a wage that allows employees not just to subsist but, also, to have access to the type of things that make for a decent quality of life: the ability for a family to participate in the community, to be healthy and active social citizens.”

I had a chance to meet with Helmi Ansari, Founder and Chief Sustainability and Innovation Officer at Grosche International, during the company’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. We chatted about what this certification means to his business and to the local community.

Helmi put it frankly: “When you care about your employees, they care about their customers.”

He spoke at length about the importance of having happy employees, both from a humanitarian and business standpoint. The latter is sometimes more difficult to prove, but Helmi simply stated that it all comes back down to retention: “If you want a business to prosper long-term, you have to be thinking about employee retention.”

As we began to wrap up our conversation, I asked Helmi if he’s concerned or worried about the financial commitment he’s making. He responded without hesitation: “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Time and time again we see B Corporations stretching their wings, venturing into the unknown, breaking down the status quo and doing the unthinkable.

Do you have a favourite B Corp that I haven’t reviewed yet? Are they breaking down the norms of capitalism? If so, feel free to tweet me @CSRtist with the hashtag #TheBSeries or comment in the reply section below.

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