Small Business, Money, and Ethics. Oh my!

Sam here, with a post about my small business Broad Lingerie, money, and ethics. Talking about money is uncomfortable! Which is why most of us avoid it. But not talking about money means a lot of things go unknown or get confused. So let’s clear it up!

How I started my small biz, and kept it going

Broad Lingerie exists because of LUCK. Starting a business is hard if you don’t already have connections and money. Before launching Broad, I worked in retail for most of my life, and I didn’t have much in the way of savings to open a store. Without a loan program (Futurpreneur), Broad wouldn’t have gotten off the ground!

And a big reason my business has lasted longer than a few months is simply that I’ve had financial help. I told my generous family, “I’m never getting married or having children. This store is it for me,” and I’m lucky enough to have a partner who can pay the bills at home when things get rough.

Nearly four years on, Broad is doing fine  — but I’m not raking it in. We’re stable and growing, but most of the money Broad makes goes back towards fixed costs like rent and hydro, or towards improvements like new inventory and better hardware (jeez, we need a new laptop soon).

Broad’s prices are considered mid-range in the lingerie world, but I’m aware we’re still pricier than some folks are used to. Our prices are what they are so I can keep my store afloat. Which includes things like…

Decent work for all staff

Broad is a small business. And I mean SMALL. There’s no social media team, there’s no bookkeeping squad. It’s just myself and two wonderful long-term employees. A good chunk of the money Broad makes goes to compensating them for their hard work and giving them reasons to stick around.

This means a fair wage, sick days, and health benefits. Employee retention and satisfaction makes for a better business, and it’s just the right thing to do. I’m not doing everything perfectly or doing everything I want to do. But treating my employees fairly is  — and honestly, has to be — part of Broad’s business plan.

A good deal for you may mean a bad deal for workers

Which leads me to how we, as consumers, make shopping choices. First off, I’d like to be clear on two things:

1) Small personal actions can only do so much compared to actual structural change, and

2) No one should ever be shamed for dealing with a limited income. If a $30 bra is all you can afford, you are not a bad person for buying that bra!

But if you do have the money to buy something a bit more costly, I’d encourage you to stop and think before buying it elsewhere for a few dollars less. Ask yourself why it’s cheaper.

Is it because the store is a huge conglomerate that can afford to make bulk orders and get goods at a discounted cost?

Does the store primarily drop-ship (having their order from the supplier sent straight to you, rather than actually keeping inventory in their store) or not have to pay the cost of having a brick-and-mortar storefront?

Is it because their employees are underpaid, or not given sick days? Are they cheating employees of money by denying overtime or holiday pay?

We’re all doing our best

This isn’t to say that all small businesses are good and all big businesses are bad. There are some big guys out there who offer fair wages and benefits, and there are some small guys out there who treat their employees terribly.

Nobody’s perfect. We all get tired or busy or just want that few extra dollars for a nice coffee or whatever. And that’s fine! At the end of the day, it’s your money and you get to decide what to do with it  — but you can’t properly decide until you have all the information.

For more on small businesses and supporting fair work practices, check out the Better Way Alliance.

Sam Conover, owner, Broad Lingerie, Toronto 

The Better Way Alliance is a growing movement of businesses supporting decent wages, paid sick days, and fair scheduling laws. Decent work is good for business. Our members employ more than 30,000 Ontarians. Industries represented include services, retail, food and beverage, and manufacturing.