Scott Nash said he knows the “psychographic” of his customer base. The CEO of the regional grocery chain MOM’s Organic Market joked that the customers are the type to drive a Toyota Prius.
“Long story short, it’s a tribe, and a really strong tribe,” he said last week.
Nash was one of three local business leaders who spoke last week during a panel discussion entitled “Creating Communities from the Inside Out.”
The other panelists were Timothy Chi, the founder of the wedding company The Knot Worldwide, and Susan Tynan, the CEO of the custom framing company Framebridge. Custom Ink CEO Marc Katz moderated the discussion.
The event was held Thursday during the grand opening of Custom Ink in Bethesda — the first brick-and-mortar location in Maryland of the apparel company.
Although Chi and Tynan work in different industries, they agreed that a shared purpose is essential for running a successful company and making both customers and employees feel welcome.
Asked by Katz how the CEOs create a sense of community with their companies, Tynan said the mission of being able to frame “moments of happiness and joy” is a key element. She said the ability to frame hallmark moments in culture, such as the U.S. women’s soccer team’s World Cup championship or the anniversary of the lunar landing 50 years ago, helps give her company a role in society.
Chi said that by virtue of connecting wedding couples in 15 countries with key services, his company is creating community, in that it is a business powered by other businesses.
“These are DJs, photographers, florists, caterers. And that community is a community of creative professionals,” he said.
Nash said he isn’t afraid to take political and social stands in his company, which includes refusing to sell bottled water, or giving his employees paid time off in 2016 to vote on Election Day. He said he hears from a few “haters” each week unhappy with positions the company has taken, but it isn’t the majority.
“We have, like, 100,000 customers a week, and you hear from 20 that are outraged, then you know you’re OK,” he said.
During an audience question-and-answer session, one audience member asked how, in the current political climate, it was possible to strike a balance between creating common values within a company without becoming too “tribalistic.” Nash said that ultimately, taking a strong stand on an issue will help a company’s bottom line, even for companies with conservative ideologies that he disagrees with.
“Anyone can look at me and know what I sell and can tell I’m liberal. And there’s a lot of debate about whether corporations should jump into the political landscape. I say absolutely yes. Even with places like Hobby Lobby and Chik-fil-A, they’re very smart and principled. And I respect the hell out of that, even though I don’t agree with them,” he said.
Katz said a tribe can become “dangerous,” either when it is based on a negative belief or an “arbitrary bond.”
Tynan said a balance needs to be struck, but some political issues should be considered when running a successful business.
“There are some things you have to take a stand on. I’m not gonna have a company that’s questioning equal pay for women. There are some things that are right and wrong,” she said.
Ultimately, Nash said his customers flock to his establishments because they want to feel part of a group they identify with — a staple of contemporary culture.
“There’s a stronger need now than ever to belong to a greater group,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.email@example.com