Publically traded companies often take a lot of heat from the general public (you and I) and very often it’s for good reason. It often seems that all that matters is how much money the company is bringing in or where their stock price stands at any given moment. The reality is that for-profit companies are in business for this very reason, to make a profit. No company creates a business plan and opens their doors in hopes they lose money. At the same time however, there are many great examples of for-profit companies that regularly give their time and money back to the communities where they do business. Their focus is often on the environment, our school systems and community outreach opportunities. These are wonderful and no one could argue that our world would be a much better place for our children and the next generation to come, if companies expanded these efforts. When is the last time you heard of a company giving back directly to its customer at the expense of their profits? This concept is so radical that I bet you wouldn’t easily forget. Look no further than to the chain of bakery-caf’ quick casual restaurants, Panera Bread. They just announced they are opening up their third non-profit, “Pay What You Wish” location or what they call their Community Cafes.
Some may argue this is just a gimmick to attract media and good well to their company rather than having true altruistic motives. I don’t believe it is but even if it was you cannot overlook how radical this decision is and the true value they are providing to their customers. As Founder Ron Shaich states “This is not about a handout,” Shaich said. “This is about a hand up, and every one of us has a need for that at some point in our lives.” Panera Bread should no doubt be applauded for their generosity and taken nothing aware from what they are done; I want to focus on another aspect of this great story. A less obvious aspect of this story is the fact that Panera Bread was willing to take such a big risk. Innovative companies are willing to take strong calculated risks in order to exceed their customer’s satisfaction and at the same time, differentiate themselves from their competition. I haven’t heard of any of their competitors following suit, have you?
No doubt there are some who oppose this idea and probably even some within the company who wonder if this is such a wise idea. This however is a normal response to a company taking a risk. Anytime you go against the grain so to speak you are opening yourself up to criticism and skepticism. However, there is also risk in going with the flow and continuing to do business the very same way it’s always been done for you and your industry. The definition of insanity is doing the very same things but expecting different results. If you want your company and/or your products to stand out you must be willing to take a risk. Risk is not easy and you have to be comfortable with the fact that you can potentially suffer loss. Panera Bread is not the only company that is finding success by taking a risk and going against the grain. The difference however, is they were not willing to standstill but instead they have decided to do something about it. Do you have an idea or solution that you have been thinking about but you know others will think is crazy? The question you need to ask yourself today is “am I taking a bigger risk by not taking any action?”