This article originally appeared in the June/July 2019 issue of Canadian Music Trade magazine.
By Michael Raine
In our preview of the 2019 RPMDA Convention in the last issue of Canadian Music Trade, we spoke with Christie Smith, Alfred Music’s senior accounts manager for Canada, about her then-upcoming resentation on how “embedding purpose” into the heart of a music store can attract and motivate good employees while also driving profitability and social progress. Due to space constraints, we could only share a portion of Smith’s responses in that feature, but because we felt the entirety of what she had to say was fascinating and insightful, we’ve decided to share the full interview here.
CMT: How did you come to look at the Me to We movement and the book WEconomy has a source of inspiration for the MI retail business? What lessons did you take from it that apply to music products businesses?
Christie Smith: Every page of this book excited me and inspired me to look further into the Me to We movement. I have done several RPMDA sessions over the last few years – one on the power of event sponsorships, and one on how to keep your best employees inspired and committed – so this is something I think about a great deal. Me to We is a movement that was founded in 2009 by a group of young people in Toronto whose mission and vision is “to empower people to transform local and global communities by shifting from ‘me’ thinking to ‘we’ acting.” Written by the founders of this organization – Craig Kielburger, Marc Kielburger, and Holly Branson – WEconomy is about aligning business with important causes to create an environment of “purpose and profit in your career and company while driving positive impact.”
Music businesses, whether they be retailers, publishers, or wholesalers, have always been the first in line to support their local communities. We support a multitude of music- and education-related organizations and have fought hard to keep music in the schools and in our homes. We have a sense of pride knowing that we don’t just sell things to people; we are creating music makers and educating the world on how music makes us better at anything we do in life. We already know the power of aligning ourselves with a cause. It’s exciting to do our part to help the world, and if we take steps to do even more, we could transform our businesses. Not only will we see our profits grow, but at the same time, we can make a big difference in the lives of those connected to our business and in the world.
CMT: Are younger people looking for more from their jobs, in terms of having their work align with their personal ethics and politics, in a way that previous generations were less likely to?
Smith: No question about it. Younger people want to work in companies where they can make a difference. They are seeking out these companies to work in, and it is my belief that if you make it known that your company will support their efforts to make the world a better place, you will attract many more quality people.
People want to be inspired by their work. Everyone wants their lives to mean
something. Younger people have watched while our world has spiraled these last few years and they are frustrated and done with sitting back hoping our leaders will do something about it. They are fearlessly grabbing the reins and doing everything they can to change this trajectory so they can secure a better future for generations to come.
[Christie Smith (left) receiving the 2018 RPMDA President's Choice Award from Don Langie]
CMT: What does it mean to “embed purpose into the heart of your business?”
Smith: “Embedding purpose” means to centre your business activities around a cause that means something to you and to your employees so that every time you sell a book or rent an instrument, every person in your company and every person who shops there knows they are contributing to something important.
CMT: Are you seeing businesses’ ethics or charitable purpose becoming a bigger focal point in retail generally, and music products specifically? If so, how?
Smith: Yes, definitely! Business trends move fast, so keeping your eye on what other successful businesses are doing is so important. Just take a look at the businesses around you and you will see the amazing and creative ways they are committing themselves to important work in their community and in the world.
Aligning your business with a cause is leveling the playing field. You don’t have to be big to make a difference in the world. Even a small business with one or two employees can create a plan that can make them completely stand out among their competitors. We are living in a world where we are inundated all the time with horrible things that we seem to have no control over. Business owners, employees, and consumers are looking for anything they can do to take back some of this power and heal some of the world’s deepest wounds.
Bottom line: people are spending more to shop in companies
that are helping the world. This is excellent news for the Davids
struggling to compete with the Goliaths out there!
CMT: What are some examples of how music products retailers
can use their businesses to help their community or the
Smith: I think we need to step out of the circle of supporting just music-related causes. We have been doing that for years and it is important and necessary for us to continue to do that, but honestly, it’s preaching to the choir. If everyone in your industry is supporting the same things, it doesn’t stand out, nor does it make you or your business special. At this point in time, supporting music causes is expected, so if we want our sponsorship efforts to attract new business, we have to do more.
I think we need to open our minds to how our business connects to other important causes and introduce ourselves to potential music makers that perhaps never noticed us before. Think of the print music business, for example. It could be aligned with causes like literacy, the environment (reforestation), and mental health. It could also support causes that mean something to one’s specific community but aren’t an exact match to the business, like homelessness, animal welfare, and equality.
There isn’t a thing that can’t be connected in a positive way to your business, and it doesn’t have to just be one cause. Remember that supporting a cause doesn’t mean it will cost you money. When grocery stores ask you if you would like to donate a dollar to their cause, it isn’t costing them a cent. If a publisher works with their chain of sources to create sustainability, it’s just smart business! These efforts will give you more visibility and appeal to mass audiences and, at the same time, be a part of changing the world for the better.
CMT: How does embedding purpose attract better employees, or help get the most out of the employees you have?
Smith: Attracting and retaining the best employees can be extremely difficult nowadays. We aren’t always able to offer the best pay, nor the best benefits in comparison to other industries. What employees really want, though, is purpose and passion, and that we can offer. We help the world experience the joy of making music every day! Employees want to be listened to and respected; they want a chance to learn from strong leaders, to become leaders themselves, and to know they are making a difference.
What I recommend to employers is that you sit down with your team and choose a cause (or causes) that resonates with them. If you get your employees’ buy-in into this plan and allow them to run with their ideas, you will have someone that is excited to come to work every day and do everything they can to grow your business. You can also support your employees’ efforts outside of their job. This gives your business even more of a reach and is a powerful way to connect to your employees and show them the respect you have for their efforts in the community.
You don’t have to limit this plan to include just your employees either. What about the students in your local schools or your own music school? What do you think is in their hearts? What do you think they want to do to make the world a better place and how can your business be a part of helping them?
CMT: How does it help to drive sales?
Smith: It allows you to align yourself with bigger businesses outside of the music industry to piggyback on their advertising dollars. It will attract better employees that will come to work with enthusiasm and commitment, which makes them much better advocates for your business. It will attract the consumer that doesn’t mind spending more money as long as they know their dollar is doing something to make things better. It will connect everyone – our employees, your teachers, your students, your schools, your customers – and give you a powerful messaging system that will carry far beyond what is possible for you to do alone.
Michael Raine is the Senior Editor of Canadian Music Trade.