Profits greet decision to pursue worthy causes

Succeeding in small business

June 15, 1992|By Jane Applegate | Jane Applegate,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

In 1987, Carolyn Bean Publishing Ltd. posted a $3 million loss on sales of $2.7 million, reflecting its struggle to compete against a field of greeting-card giants.

When Bruce Wilson was hired as chief operating officer to rescue the ailing Northern California company, he knew that the company not only had to slash payroll and operating expenses, it had to find a niche in the $3.5 billion greeting-card industry.

"Carolyn Bean was trying to be everything to everyone," Wilson said. "But there was no way we could compete against giants like Hallmark, American Greeting and Gibson."

Although it was producing thousands of different greeting cards, Carolyn Bean's strongest seller was a line of photographic cards sold to raise money for the Sierra Club. Sales of the elegant cards were growing 20 percent to 30 percent a year. Last year, the company paid the Sierra Club $140,000 in royalties from card sales.

Based on that success, Wilson and founder Larry Barnett began aggressively pursuing the cause-related greeting-card market.

Today, the Petaluma, Calif.-based company produces cards for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), among other groups.

The strategy is working. In 1991, Carolyn Bean turned a profit -- $11,000 on sales of $2.9 million. Carolyn Bean's business is now 90 percent cause-related. (The business was not named after a Carolyn Bean; Bean is founder Barnett's nickname.) Many money-losing card lines have been jettisoned.

The company not only narrowed its product line but trimmed the staff from 58 to 18. It relies on independent sales representatives to sell its cards and stationery.

"If you can align yourself with a cause or organization that has broad appeal, it's pretty tough to miss," Wilson said. "And our employees think it's fun to have a job that not only supports them financially but does some good in the world."

No matter what kind of business you are in, consider doing something good for the world.

Why not donate a portion of your profit to a charity? Sponsor a food drive or graffiti paint-out.

"Consumers want more than a product for their dollar," said Faith Popcorn, a marketing consultant and author of "The Popcorn Report" (Doubleday, $22.50).

Popcorn said consumers now want to know what kind of business they are dealing with, how you treat your employees and how you relate to the world.

Other companies are also forming alliances with causes. The Nature Co., based in Berkeley, Calif., donates 5 percent of its proceeds from certain items to the Nature Conservancy, a conservation group that purchases environmentally sensitive lands to protect them from development.

Other companies are also forming alliances with causes. The Nature Co., based in Berkeley, Calif., donates 5 percent of its proceeds from certain items to the Nature Conservancy, a conservation group that purchases environmentally sensitive lands to protect them from development.

In recent years, the Nature Co. has signed up about 10,000 new Nature Conservancy members and donated more than $300,000 to the conservation group. (For a catalog, call [800] 227-1114.)

Small-business owners Tom and Caroll Romano produce a Whale Gifts catalog for the Washington-based Center for Marine Conservation. The catalog and shipping operation, run by the Romanos' CRT Associates in Old Saybrook, Conn., generates between $200,000 and $300,000 a year for the center.

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