Note:  We’re adding a new feature to our site – a focus on energy and small business we’re calling “Small Business Power.”  We’re kicking it off with this three-part series of blog posts, “On a Mission.”  Watch for Part 3.  Read Part 1!

What mission drives your business? What beliefs define your culture? What actions do you take to impact not only your business and your world, but something greater? Why?

Many energy-related decisions go into a business’s ability to offer a chilled bowl of fresh fruit.

I recently had the chance to learn from business superstars John Simmert, General Manager of Beech on King Street, Wade Boals, an owner of Saltwater Cowboys on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, and Cathey Petkash a national consultant around franchise businesses. So today, let’s start with the mission behind the energy mindset.

When I asked John about the electrical equipment used at Beech, he explained that in one location they run 14 pieces of equipment including refrigerators, freezers, steamers, and an espresso machine. The walk-in cooler uses the most power, with the ice machine coming in second. When I asked about the concerns about saving money on electricity and return on investment of higher priced equipment, his answer inspired me. The thinking at Beech is business-minded and the dollars and cents matter. However, the calculation is not a straight line return on investment model. Rather, it is mission-driven. John explained, “Keegan (owner) instilled in us early on that we have one planet so let’s take care of it. Any way we can conserve and minimize waste, we will do it.” So, Beech is happy to invest in ENERGY STAR graded equipment, LED lighting, dimmer switches, and door sealants. He explains that decreasing the energy bill is particularly important as in this business there are so many things that fluctuate and can’t be controlled (like a case a strawberries going from $16 to $40 depending upon the season) that managing overhead costs is essential.

However, more important than the direct financial implications of energy savings, Beech seems driven by the mission. John explained that they are transitioning to compostable containers for example. This means $0.18 not $0.06 for each bowl and lid. Yet, doing so is more consistent with who they are and the brand they are building. It is a connection to the Beech tribe. Since I spend most of my entrepreneurial consulting time building personal and corporate brands, I am intimately familiar with how important it is to have consistent messaging throughout any business. Sometimes that messaging is delivered through products, packaging, experiences, and promotion. I have learned that loyalty matters in business and building a deeper connection with customers is a great long term strategy, even if it means some investment upfront.

Wade shared that an analogy for him is the mission driven decision to purchase local shrimp even when it costs significantly more per pound..and is more work with the heads and shells on. Since they use over 50,000 pounds of shrimp annually, this is a major decision that they make on social and ecological reasons, not 100% financial. They can’t fully measure the impact. How many people come to the restaurant because they buy local shrimp? Do they know? Do they care?

I was especially interested to think through fluctuations of supply, when and how they need to supplement? How to balance it with the menu? The chef and the customers expect a certain number of shrimp on the plate and yet the size changes. So the cook time is different and the value perception changes as well. I realized we do the same with electricity. When we enter a retail store or a restaurant, we expect it to always be fully lit and air conditioned. We don’t expect that at peak hours, that half the lights will be turned off, or the temperature would be less than comfortable, or that we would have to wait for the dishwasher to run a clean cycle at an off peak time. Do we? Our expectations are set at a certain level and the business meets those expectations even when the cost to do so fluctuates.

Cathey Petkash had great insights as to how this sort of mission-driven decision making leads the conversation with potential franchisees and directs the search for potential franchise locations. “It is important to see if communities hold the same values and it is critical to determine if the future business owner will be motivated to support and build on these values.”

As for me, I am inspired to see continual creativity around conserving energy and to see it done in a way that is motivated from a lasting core belief. From there, I know important and lasting impact can be made.