Op-Ed By Michael Kanter
Eagle Tribune (MA), July 6, 2018. Also in Somerville Times.
I’ve been a Massachusetts business owner for 44 years, and I’m looking forward to increased consumer buying power and a stronger economy as the state minimum wage rises to $15 per hour by 2023.
My wife and I founded our retail store, Cambridge Naturals, in 1974, and our daughter and son-in-law have joined us as second-generation owners. We’re getting ready to open a second store at Boston Landing this summer.
Our success has been rooted in fair pay, extraordinary customer service and forward-thinking business practices. This year, Forbes magazine named us a Small Business Giant. In 2016, we were honored as store of the year by the national Independent Natural Food Retailers Association.
We wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t see our employees as assets, and not just another cost of doing business.
Much has changed since our founding in 1974. Thank goodness, we didn’t listen to the naysayers then who didn’t understand what consumers wanted and said we’d never compete. Over the years, we continued to innovate and invest for long-term success. The natural products industry isn’t just surviving, it’s growing fast.
My daughter Emily and I give a seminar at trade shows and events across the country called “Stand Out Or Watch Out: How to Be Extraordinary in a Competitive Retail Environment.” We focus on the dynamic approach required to compete in today’s challenging, fast-moving business climate.
One of the key points we make to owners and managers is how vital it is to create a business culture that motivates your staff and keeps customers coming in your doors. Retail does not exist without customers who have money to spend and a willingness to spend it at your business. Paying fair wages and taking care of your employees yield better customer service, which in turn drives success.
In December 2016, we again bucked short-term thinking by raising our starting pay from $13 to $15 an hour. While we already paid above the state minimum wage and the retail industry average, we lifted our wage floor to $15 to be in line with the living wage standard in Cambridge.
In addition, we continue providing 100 percent medical and dental insurance coverage to all full-time employees.
Since we raised starting pay to $15 per hour, we’ve seen even lower employee turnover. That saves us money in hiring and training, and it frees up time to spend improving our business.
More experienced staff mean better product knowledge and assistance for customers, deeper relationships with our customers over time, and better understanding of what customers want. That means better sales and more repeat customers.
The positive customer response to our announcement about raising wages has been far larger than anything we have ever done to promote our business.
Brick and mortar businesses can’t compete with online retail by trying to be cheaper or shortchanging customer service with underpaid employees. You have to give customers a reason to come into your store and keep buying from you. Frontline employees often make the difference between a repeat customer and a lost customer.
State government has a vital role to play in setting higher standards, like raising the minimum wage, that encourage better business practices and strengthen the consumer spending that small businesses depend on to survive and grow. We were but one business raising our entry wage, and we saw increased spending by happier customers.
Raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour will put needed money in the hands of workers and families all across our state – boosting consumer spending, businesses and our economy. It’s a virtuous cycle.
Raising the minimum wage also helps level the playing field. When the minimum wage is not enough to live on, it allows big chains to pay inadequate wages and then count on taxpayer-financed public assistance programs to subsidize their bad business models. That strains our vital safety net and our tax base, and undermines our economy.
I’m in good company with hundreds of businesses in Massachusetts Business for a Fair Minimum Wage that supported raising the minimum wage to $15 as smart policy.
Raising the minimum wage will help our commonwealth grow together.
Michael Kanter is co-owner of Cambridge Naturals, with stores in Cambridge and opening this summer in Boston, and a leader in Massachusetts Business for a Fair Minimum Wage.
Copyright 2018 Michael Kanter
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