Purpose At Work: How Jersey Mike’s Combines Good Business and Doing Good with President Hoyt Jones

Jersey Mike’s is an excellent example of a company combining purpose and profit. Since it was founded, Jersey Mike’s has lived by the ideology that businesses should give back to the communities where they work. Today, Jersey Mike’s gives millions of dollars to charities around the United States every March during their Month of Giving initiative culminating in a Day of Giving on the last Wednesday. I spoke with Jersey Mike’s president, Hoyt Jones, about how the company’s purposeful work impacts its corporate culture, messaging and strategy.

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SIMON MAINWARING: Hoyt, can you share the story of Jersey Mike’s giving program and how it began?

HOYT JONES: To fully explain it you have to go all the way back to the beginning when Peter Cancro, the owner, bought the original store when he was in high school. He decided to emulate the local business people by giving back to the community around town unconditionally, especially through sports programs. As the company grew, we kept that giving tradition alive. We open all our stores on a Wednesday. A couple days prior to opening every store we bond with a local charity — whatever local charity the store owner selects — and we do a fundraiser with them. For the first five days, we also give away free subs and, in exchange for that, we ask for a donation that goes to that charity. In so doing, it consolidates our relationship with the community.

Around 2009, Dalton Stewart, one of our area directors franchisees in the Dallas market, was connected with the Wipe Out Kids’ Cancer founder, Cindy Brinker. Dalton said, “Let’s see if we can make this more than just a one-day event,” and that’s how the Month of Giving started. Other franchisees heard about it and one of our National Advisory Council members said, “Maybe we should think about doing this across the country.” The franchisees really were the ones who said, “Let’s do it for the month of March and then on the last day, we will donate 100% of the sales to the different charities.” Since then, it has grown enormously. This year we raised about $7.4 million for charities around the country

SM: Was this tradition started because of a personal sense of responsibility to give back to communities?

HJ: The essence of it is that we’re fortunate to be in business in these communities. It’s incumbent on us to participate in that community. Sometimes it’s very local and sometimes it’s a little bit broader in scope like Make-A-Wish, which is the charity that was chosen here in New Jersey. One cool thing about it is that we really encourage the charities we work with to be in our stores. It really demonstrates to the employees what a business owner should be.

SM: What difference does it make to employees?

HJ: It does and it’s very subtle. We don’t necessarily use it to attract new employees. It raises the game of the employees that we do have in the stores. You feel it when you go into a store, especially in the last couple weeks after the big day. People are just beaming. It’s cool for them to participate in their own little way to feel like a part of this big national campaign.

SM: How do you bring your giving to life in a way so that it kind of connects on an emotional level to employees or to the guests that come in?

HJ: Every market does a kick-off with the charity. Typically somebody from the charity comes in and speaks to the to the managers and the franchisees. Then they go back out to the stores. We also have a communication to everybody in the field every Friday morning called Subtext and, in that briefing, we share press releases, people that were on TV, and just acknowledge what everybody’s done. It’s a great way to reinforce what’s happening

SM: A lot of purposeful companies do great work but don’t capture the stories or share it back with the teams. Do you do that?

HJ: We do it through the Subtext. We ask our franchisees and the managers to share that with their team members. We do it through social media. But it’s not so much about us. It’s mainly for the people internally. We’re not trying to put a spotlight on ourselves. The spotlight is on the charity itself. We’re secondary. We’re just a conduit to help the charities do more great work.

SM: How has it changed your experience and how you see your role at the company?

HJ: It makes my role easier. Here we are back in New Jersey and we’re inspired by the folks in Seattle, Portland, LA, etc. And like I said, we’re very fortunate to be able to do it. The brand is strong. We say that the business economics allow us to do these kinds of things. If the business environment wasn’t so strong for us, maybe we wouldn’t be able to do it. But we’re very fortunate to be able to do it — and happy to do it.

SM: Some brands talk about doing good in order to do well and others talk about doing well so they can do good. Which direction does that dynamic work for you?

HJ: Well, that goes back to Peter. I think it was just unconsciously the right thing to do. Even when Peter probably didn’t know whether he could afford to do it, he still did it. I think that’s what’s inspired the five hundred franchises in the fifteen hundred plus stores to be able to do it.

SM: Was it hard to get franchisees on board?

HJ: No. We stood up at one of the meetings and said what we were going to do. Then we had some early adopters, some influential franchisees who said, “Gosh, this is amazing, you know I want to do that too.” We really haven’t had to coach anybody. Everybody voluntarily jumped on board. We talk to prospective franchisees that are coming into the system and we’ll talk about it. We’ll show them the video and ask them the question, “Is this something that resonates with you?’’ And most of them say, “Oh my gosh — that’s unbelievable!”

SM: Do you find sales go up in that period of time? What do you see as the key value to the business?

HJ: We do some advertising to let everybody know about the giving month and about that specific day. I think even if customers were unaware of it and happen to come in on that particular day and then say, “I can’t believe that you’re doing that.” We get a lot of word of mouth. We get some goodwill from that. There’s also a couple months of a halo effect and it’s nice because employees have a little bit of pep in their step. You know, it’s just really fun around here. Everybody in the office and our 140 some people here — we all try to go out and participate in some way now.

SM: You can’t undervalue that culture base. What’s the next goal internally around this?

HJ: Every year, we’re just trying to break another record. And it seems like every year we have. The biggest opportunity that I’ve seen is continuing to work with the charities to get them more involved in the stores. I think selfishly it helps our stores more because the more activity we have in the stores the more employees feel it, touch it, see it and take it to another level. We had recipients of Make-A-Wish Foundation wishes literally in stores around New Jersey in the past year. In Atlanta, the charity that they’ve worked with for about nine or ten years now is Burt’s Big Adventure. It’s a radio personality that takes kids to Disney that are having health issues. Those kids come in the stores that have gotten that wish or about to get that wish. You can’t help but feel good about what you’re doing that day.

SM: Is there a vision that you and the leadership team have for the future?

HJ: I don’t think there is a specific long-term goal. As we add more stores — we’re going to add maybe 200 stores this year — we can help more people and more charities as we go into new markets. Over the next five to ten years, we’re going to add a couple thousand stores and we’ll probably break a record every year.

SM: When you look over the next five years, is there some sort of sort of legacy you have in mind in terms of impact?

HJ: The mission statement for the company is giving — making a difference in someone’s life. Giving is a very broad term. It doesn’t have to be just financial. iI could be making a great sub, making somebody smile or holding somebody’s door. There’s a million ways you can give and make a difference in someone’s life. The legacy that we leave is that we’ve made a little bit of a difference in the communities that we serve our products. I think that’s a win.

SM: What would your advice be for a company that’s currently is focused on the bottom line alone?

HJ: I’d say start slow. You don’t need to shoot for the moon on the first go around. Start slow and let it build. Let it gain traction. See the effects that it has on your employees, owners and also the local community and the charities that you work with. Let it grow. You don’t need to hit a home run, just hit a single and then you can hit a double triple — then eventually you’ll hit a home run. It will happen sooner than you think.

SM: As you grew were there any insights about giving partnerships?

HJ: Sure. We’ve had charities that have been very engaged. We’ve had charities that have been not as engaged. You clearly want to team up with a charity that’s really engaged. Not just in trying to raise money, but trying to raise awareness. If you don’t have that interaction with the charity it just becomes procedural. There’s no emotion to it and I think that’s absolutely critical.

SM: On the partner side, are there any special actions you take to prepare or train the nonprofits?

HJ: You have to meet with them many times and explain to them how many stores in each market are going to participate. Try to get the charity — it may be the director — with the franchisees in a marketing meeting. That interaction and energy builds off each other. The charity all of a sudden sees a market that has 100 stores that are going to participate. Maybe 30–40 owners are excited about it and those owners get excited because the director of the program is as excited about the impact that the money we’re going to raise is going to have on their community.

SM: Are there any pain points or challenges you faced in terms of external communications?

HJ: Sure. For us, it’s just the sheer amount of markets that we’re in. This year there’s 130–140 charities that we’re managing. It’s a logistical challenge. Our office gets it out. We really rely on the charities to be the spokesperson for what we’re doing. We put some faith that they’re going to do some PR around that after the money is raised. So, better equipping them to tell the shared story is important. We help them with press releases and things like that to get people excited about the month and about that last Wednesday in the month. We try to get them to use their social media platforms and use our platforms as well.

SM: Is this initiative run by philanthropy, operations or marketing?

HJ: It’s executed from a marketing standpoint as far as the coordination with the charities, but it’s really an operations-driven project. You really have to prepare yourself for not just a month but that day is oftentimes a record day in sales. The teams around the country and our franchisees have to be spot on that day.

SM: To sum up, what is Jersey Mike’s mission that drives you each day?

HJ: Our national campaign is “a sub above” when we interact with a franchisee or a customer. But it’s more than making an excellent sub — it’s about the experience overall. Giving and making a difference in someone’s life is the key mission for us all, every day.

If you’re an entrepreneur or growing company that wants to define and activate your purpose, see our online courses at WeFirstWorks.com. If you’re interested in working with Simon and We First, connect at contact@wefirstbranding.com

Written by

CEO We First Inc, author NYT's bestseller We First, strategic corporate consultant and trainer, father, Australian, optimist.

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