VOL. 133 | NO. 77 | Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Another Conscious Company: Which Wich
By Michael Graber
Editor’s note: Columnist Michael Graber interviewed Jeff Sinelli, founder and “chief vibe officer” at Which Wich, about the sandwich chain’s focus on conscious capitalism.
Describe the Vibe and how it helps the company operate.
The Vibe is the positive energy that's at the heart of our culture and courses through the veins of the Which Wich system. When I founded Which Wich, I really wanted to build a special company where every member of the team would feel like they were making an impact in their local community, on the world and in people's lives. The Vibe helps us when we're making decisions to determine if any direction we take is in line with the values we hold as an organization. It's all about creating raving fans and having fun in the business, and the Vibe is that connective tissue that ties every member of the Which Wich family to each other, and all of us to the communities we serve and can help support and improve. We want to create a brand known for innovation and a delicious product – but also that anyone who comes to a Which Wich leaves happier than they entered. That's the Vibe.
Tell me the Which Wich definition of Conscious Capitalism.
As a bit of background on the founding of our philanthropic arm, Project PB&J, the inspiration actually came while I was at the Conscious Capitalism conference in San Francisco in April of 2013. For years I had been building Which Wich, opening new stores, focusing time on improving our product offerings, operations, and supporting our franchisees. We were giving back in our home market of Dallas and our franchisees were making a difference in their markets, but I was still searching for that unifying force, a way to make a big difference across the board. So, at the Conscious Capitalism conference, I walked up to Kip Tindell, CEO of The Container Store, and he noted that on my business card I had printed that I wanted to make the world a better place. He flat out asked me, "How are you doing that?" That blew my mind. No one had called me out on the mission of our company. I knew I needed to be the example of how we could truly make the world a better place. As soon as I got back to Dallas after the conference, I went directly to our headquarters location, made two PB&J sandwiches, walked outside, found two people in need, and gave them the sandwiches. On that day, I made a promise to Kip, my wife, Courtney, our team and to the world that I was going to create a way to make real change happen. I've stuck to that to this day and we continue to find ways to give back through Project PB&J.
Since launching, we've donated more than 500,000 PB&J sandwiches to local communities and in times of great need, such as the recent hurricanes that hit in Texas and Florida. We've provided aid to great organizations such as The Salvation Army, the Boys & Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, as well as hundreds of local charities, churches, and those working to help feed those in need.
To me, the phrase "conscious capitalism" is more than just committing to using your business as a force for good in the world, it's a credo. Yes, we want to continue to grow and build our business and become more profitable to support the hundreds of franchisees and thousands of employees throughout our system. But we also want to make sure that we are constantly looking for ways to use our influence and product to make the world around us better for everyone. That's one of the keys as we bring on any new franchisees to the system. We only want to grow with people who want to create a better life for themselves and their families through our successful business model – but who are also just as committed to finding ways to improve the lives of the people who are less fortunate within their community.
How does Which Wich use the CC model in its operations? How does it measure and report the outcomes? Internally and with vendors? Explain.
The importance of operating our locations with a conscious capitalism mentality starts at the very beginning in how we communicate the brand to would-be franchisees, business partners, potential employees and vendors. We have specific questions and areas we discuss that help us determine if they meet our standards when it comes to conscious capitalism. We have corporate team members and franchise business managers who are regularly keeping track of the good we're doing in our local communities. We also provide local store marketing support in a way where we can help support our franchisees to find areas of need in their community and devise ways to offer their time, product and money to support. In regards to Project PB&J, we have regular meetings and reports detailing the number of PB&J sandwiches that we're selling in our stores and thus how many we are donating to local causes and banking for our global fund. We hold our LEAP conference with the entire system every other year, and part of our agenda and activities each year is devoted to philanthropy – both joining forces to give back during the conference, but also conversations, idea sharing, and strategizing on how to make the upcoming two years even more impactful overall in our mission to make the world a better place.
What type of hard and soft benefits has Which Wich seen as a result of this working philosophy?
We have a variety of indicators of the financial success that comes with being a solid partner in the local community. So, we can measure the impact that giving back and being an active participant in the community has on our locations' bottom lines. Where we have the highest levels of engagement, we have higher profits and sales. But that's not as important to me as the amount of good that we're doing within our communities and as a system across the country and in the world through our philanthropic endeavors, including PB&J. You can't measure a smile. You can't quantify joy. I've been in several of our local markets when we're providing PB&J sandwiches to people who may not have had a meal that night if we didn't show up. The gratitude and the feeling that you helped them through a tough time is the real benefit of our conscious capitalism philosophy. When you do good, you feel good – and it's also such an amazing way to build teams and deepen relationships among the Which Wich family. Every time I've had the honor of helping out our franchisees, or with our corporate team here in Dallas, as we create the PB&J's to donate through one of our Spreading Parties, it's such an amazing experience and you go home and lay down at night with a smile on your face and feeling closer to the Which Wich team members you spent the day with knowing that you're all helping create positive change as a team.
What role can business play in the national and global culture? Explain.
We're certainly at a time in our country where we feel the tension and the divisiveness that can create negativity. That's true across the globe as well. It's important that as business leaders we continue to strive for ways to be a positive voice and force both domestically and internationally. We have Which Wich locations in several countries outside of the United States and we take our role as somewhat of an ambassador seriously. We have created a positive Vibe and we want to spread that on a global scale. So, when we open new locations internationally, it's important that we're bringing the best qualities of American business with us and showing what the conscious capitalism philosophy can create. As Which Wich has grown to nearly 500 locations overall, it's extremely important to Courtney and I that we are leading by example and are constantly aware of the impact our brand can have in people's lives. Just like music, movies, art, etc., businesses have a direct line into people's lives and are a connecting force where they can find common ground. So, because our customers are supporting us and helping us to create opportunity for others to make a living and find happiness, it's just as important that we return that favor and find ways to create both a better country and a better planet together.
Michael Graber, managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, can be reached at southerngrowthstudio.com.