Business Unusual: Sustainable Models

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In this third and final installment of our vital interview with Shauntrice Martin, Founder of Feed the West and Black Market KY, she speaks about the drawbacks of non-profit structure and why she chose to establish her business as a for-profit model as a social enterprise, ensuring a sustainable living wage and a beneficial establishment for her community as a whole.

(Please note: this was recorded while Shauntrice was in transit, during her only available window of time. We recognize the sound quality is less than perfect, but felt her work and words were too important not to share. We did our best to clean up the sound so that everybody could benefit from her wisdom and vision!)

Read the Interview

Michelle Winnett: So thank you for joining us, my name is Michelle Winnet, Vice President of Partner’s in Strategic Marketing at Ruby. I am so delighted to be talking this afternoon with Shauntrice from Feed the West in Louisville, Kentucky. Could you introduce yourself and maybe share a little bit about how Feed the West got started?

Shauntrice Martin:
Absolutely. So I’m Shauntrice and I’ve been a volunteer with Change Today, Change Tomorrow for almost a year, and that’s kind of how Feed the West started.

Michelle Winnett:
You explained that Feed the West is kind of the nonprofit part but Black Market is going to be partly … Or going to be profitable in an effort to maybe support well-paying jobs for the community. Can you speak a bit about that structure and different functions of the local market while maintaining grocery donation and delivery? Are they completely separate entities?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah. I’m happy to talk about that. Black Market, initially we thought about making it a nonprofit, like another program within Change Today, Change Tomorrow but what we found when we did research on sustainability and all the historical analysis of past small black grocery stores that used to exist, is that a lot of them did. Even on paper they were for-profit, they operated as a nonprofit. So largely on donations and having super low prices, which is good in theory but it means that you have to depend on a foundation or community donations. We don’t want to do that. We want to make this something that is truly sustainable, and that allows us to pay our workers a living wage instead of just minimum wage, which here is about $7. And that in turn will allow us to open another store in the future or just franchise it out, not for money but to tell people, “Hey, this is how we did it.”

Shauntrice Martin:
So for us, the for-profit model as a social enterprise, was the most appealing option and within our operations, we ensure that I as the owner, Shauntrice will always be the lowest paid employee, so that’s within our operations. So if I ever do take a salary, which I don’t plan to do for at least the first year, it is within our organization at Black Market, that I will always be the lowest-paid employee. We also include childcare and transportation for free for employees for the first month that you work and we’re working on making sure we have the funds to do that for longer. That’s for most full-time, part-time employees, whoever works there, making sure that everyone makes a living wage [inaudible 00:02:44] and then I mentioned transportation which can be barriers, but oftentimes people will see in that patient not apply, They don’t think they have the skills and the hiring managers in the past and for some [inaudible 00:02:57].

Shauntrice Martin:
And yeah, so we for sure are going to cover the first month of both childcare and transportation for all employees, no matter if you’re part-time or full-time, and we’re hoping to be able to continue that. But at the very minimum, we want to commit to that for the first month, because a lot of times when you start start a job there are so many costs associated with starting a job and it can feel very expensive to set it up. And so in recognition of that, we want to cover some of the barriers that folks have to starting a new job. We’ll also be providing clothes. So we’re not sure yet if we’ll have uniforms for example, but if folks need professional clothes or they need non-stick shoes or non-slip shoes, we’ll provide those things too, because we don’t want anything to hold folks back from their potential.

Shauntrice Martin:
And ideally the folks who work as part-time or work as cashier will want to own the grocery store one day. So those are the sorts of things we keep in mind in order to have a thriving business, there can’t just be a, “What are we going to do today?” There has to be a, “What are we going to do in six months, a year, five years, in perpetuity? And so we want the employees to be part of that conversation because they’re the ones on the ground. And I think what happens often when companies are successful, they stop listening to the folks who are really on the ground doing the work. And we don’t want to make that mistake, which is again, why I will always be the lowest-paid employee, no matter what. And I have a great advisory board, that’s going to hold me accountable for that. And so, like I said, I feel very blessed and privileged to provide this opportunity, and I’m hoping it’s a catalyst for other businesses that come into the West End and beyond.

Michelle Winnett:
Well, what you’ve described is inspiring and visionary and a fantastic blueprint for other businesses. What do you think? Is there anything else other project managers or directors would need to embrace in order to build an equitable business like you’re describing?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah. I mean, they have to get comfortable with not making that much money. So during Feed the West, I had two jobs. I was a loan officer and I was a community organizer for KFTC. And so I never really depended on Feed the West as my moneymaker. Like I said, I’m a volunteer there. In Black Market, I consider myself the owner but also an investor. And if I’m investing in the long-term stability of this company I can’t, in good conscience, take a salary because I need to make sure that folks are taken care of, that this is a good company, that this is a solid company. And so I need to be willing to sacrifice a potential salary. And I know that’s not the norm, but my suggestion for folks who have the privilege to not take a salary, I suggest that they don’t. And if they want to still make money, come up with other ways outside of the pool of money that pays your employees and pays your vendors because we’re paying a living wage. I don’t think it makes sense for me to take a salary, at least, in the first year.

Shauntrice Martin:
And I don’t think that’s something that folks in this industry want to hear. I don’t think that CEOs are very excited about not making money. That’s not why they got in the game. The Kroger CEO makes $11.7 million and I’m sure … I mean, I’ve asked him to give up his salary, but I’m sure if someone that he respected more was like, “Hey, how would you feel about giving that money away and not having it?” I don’t think he would be very open to the idea and that’s how CEOs generally are. That’s how folks in C-suite level executive positions are, they are there to make money, even if they believe in the business or the idea. And so by no means am I saying no one should [inaudible 00:06:42] at least part of their salary to make sure that folks can have a living wage, folks can have a job that is secure.

Michelle Winnett:
Absolutely. You mentioned a lot of collaborations and partnerships being important both from a networking perspective and from resources and donations. How do you hope to increase partnerships? Or do you have a strategy around that kind of outreach?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah, so we actually just secured a few more MOUs with some of our local black-owned businesses. For me, it’s really about getting out into the community and it can be challenging because of COVID to do that, but what we found is even networking online or over the phone has been a tremendous way to support each other and to network. So for instance, I was originally going to go to an event last week, but as this hunger strike has developed, I haven’t been driving around much but I looked at all the people who were on the list who were supposed to speak, who were involved, even the sponsors. And I looked them up on LinkedIn. For some of them, I find their numbers on their company websites. And so through that, I just called people like, “Hey, I saw this article about you. Hey, I was supposed to be on this call that you were on Zoom and I really like what you’re doing. Could we have a conversation about how to partner? Here’s what I’m doing.” That has been really successful.

Shauntrice Martin:
One of the companies that we reached out to recently, we worked on an MOU on the phone on that first phone call. So it’s been really good to kind of do it old school, just pick up the phone and call someone. And so for us, the goal is to have at least 60% of our vendors and employees be black and, or from the West End. And it’s really easy in a lot of businesses here in the West End, just to pick up the phone and call someone and say, “Hey, this is what I’m doing. By no means, am I an expert, but this is how I see us possibly working together. What do you think?” Sometimes they’re like, “Yes.” Sometimes they’re like, “No.” Sometimes they’re like, “Oh I’m not sure.”

Michelle Winnett:
Which is, if people want to learn more about your work, support it, where can they go? How can they they get involved?

Shauntrice Martin:
Yeah. So if you want to get involved with Feed the West, the best thing to do is go to our Facebook page, which is at Change Today, Change Tomorrow. You’ll find all our latest updates. We have a website as well but Facebook is the best place to get up-to-date info. So if you want to donate food, if you want to volunteer, if you need groceries, the best place to go is our Facebook Page at Change Today, Change Tomorrow. You can also visit our website just to find out more about what we do. It’s change-today.org and you can follow us all around social media.

Shauntrice Martin:
And if folks want to get involved with the Black Market, you will find us at Black Market KY all over the internet, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, even LinkedIn. And if you contact us through Black Market, even though I say we it’s me, so I’m pretty accessible. If you’re interested in just learning more, figuring out how you can do that in your own community. I’m also happy to talk about that because I really just want more people to get access to good food.

Michelle Winnett:
Thank you so much Shauntrice.

Shauntrice Martin:
Thank you so much. I’m so excited.

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