Maybe business isn't just business after all.
Far from Wall Street, many business owners are actively trying to find ways to not only better their enterprise, but their community as well — and charities are finding they can capitalize on that.
“Entrepreneurs of this generation want to make a positive impact,” said Lance Roper, owner of Actual Coffee, a small bean-roasting outfit in Toledo. “We do that with the way we run our business and the way we help our community, supporting nonprofit and other charitable organizations.”
Mr. Roper, who launched his company in 2012, is now one of the first to partner with the Thoughtful Market.
The project of Food For Thought, 3540 Seaman Rd., Oregon, the Thoughtful Market is an attempt to create a place where local artisans can sell their goods while at the same time generating much-needed funding for the food bank.
In addition to supplying Flying Joe in Perrysburg and selling through his Web site, Mr. Roper is selling his freshly roasted coffee through the Thoughtful Market.
“We want to help the city, we want to help the world, and partnering with Food For Thought just made sense in that way,” he said.
Sam Melden is the executive director of Food For Thought, and the man behind the Thoughtful Market. Since taking over two and a half years ago, Mr. Melden has been trying to come up with more creative means to secure funding while sticking with the pantry’s grassroots theme.
With the Thoughtful Market, Mr. Melden is tapping into the growing push toward conscious consumerism — the idea that individuals care how and where a product is made, and what’s done with the profits when it’s sold.
“People want to make a difference with their purchases,” Mr. Melden said. “They want to buy something that makes a difference in the life of someone else.”
Mr. Melden is currently working with four vendors, selling locally roasted coffee, handmade soap, T-shirts, and hand-blown glassware. He buys the goods at wholesale prices then resells them, turning the profits into food.
“We just kind of stand in the middle and connect the dots, and the benefit of us is it helps fund our organization and feed people in our city,” he said.
For example, a $7 bar of peanut butter cookie soap translates into 19.56 pounds of food.
The market launched last weekend at Toledo’s 419 Day. A Web store (feedtoledo.org/thoughtfulmarket) went online earlier this week.
Organizers say the initial reception has been strong. At 419 day, they sold out of coffee and glasses, about half their stock of soap, and more than 100 T-shirts.
“We definitely think the Thoughtful Market can be a significant source of income,” Mr. Melden said.
Officials hope to recruit more vendors in the coming weeks and months, and plan to set up at art walks and festivals.
Tim Puls liked Mr. Melden’s idea so much he decided to roll Glass Wear, his Toledo-centric T-shirt business, completely into the Thoughtful Market.
Mr. Puls said he started the line to bring awareness and civic pride to the city he loves.
“The more we thought about it, it just made sense. If we really truly believe in changing where we live, you have to do it that way,” he said. “That’s really what we care about.”