When I first decided to open an ice cream shop, I knew that one of my goals would be to pay all of my employees a living wage. So I wrote it into my business plan, along with a few other things that were important to me, like paying 100% of the health insurance premiums for my employees and making sure all my product and packaging was compostable. I had my share of critics; there were plenty of people who said I was crazy, and that I would never be able to make a profit.
Seven years later, my company has grown from one shop with 7 employees in 2008 to six ice cream shops, with just under 100 employees during our busiest months. What I’ve learned is that taking care of my employees and paying a living wage is absolutely the right thing to do, and it’s also good business strategy.
Having a healthy, robust group of employees has a great impact on our community, and goes beyond just writing paychecks. It helps us recruit top talent, and it makes for a more loyal workforce and lower turnover which reduces training costs. Incorporating values into business strategy can also help your marketing plans. I know that, as a customer, I choose to spend money with businesses that share my values and I think my customers do, too.
Many people working full time on today’s minimum wage aren’t able to support themselves. I believe that as a community, we have to be willing to make some changes so that everyone in our city can have a chance to thrive.
I wasn’t the only one in my community who supported this logic. In 2013, a small grassroots campaign started in Seattle to increase the local minimum wage to $15 an hour. I joined in solidarity with that effort and decided to pay all non-tipped employees at least that amount. (Other employees in our company make about $8 an hour in tips, on top of the $9.32 Washington minimum wage.)
Along the path to a minimum wage increase in Seattle, it became clear to us that a consumer-driven economy needs an increase in low-wage earners’ pay, and that a minimum wage increase is good for business. More money in low-wage workers’ pockets will result in more money spent in all businesses.
One thing I learned during this campaign was that it’s important for business owners to be aware of the additional costs and rewards that come with raising the minimum wage. I know this may cost me more in the short-term, with significant increases in payroll. But the investment will yield significant rewards for my workers, community and my business’ bottom line. Not to mention my customers – many of whom will also be getting raises, and celebrating with more trips to the ice cream shop.
While $15 an hour is right for Seattle, it might not work for every part of the country. Nonetheless, the current national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is too low, regardless of what state and city you call home. The national minimum wage needs to be raised to $10.10 to give low-wage workers a much needed boost, and a shot in the arm to our economy.