MOM’s Organic Market sells hormone-free eggs, locally grown kale, and sustainable seafood to 50,000 customers a week through its 10 stores in Maryland and Virginia. The eco-conscious chain packs groceries only into reusable totes and doesn’t sell bottled water. That alone is not terribly exceptional. What is: The company emblazons CEO Scott Nash’s e-mail and phone number onto each of its sturdy, 99-cent bags.
“In most companies, the CEO is the last person to know about a rude cashier or a bad customer experience,” says Nash, who founded the company in 1987. “I try to [bridge] that gap by setting up direct channels of communication. Then I just sit back and listen.”
How does the busy CEO of a growing midmarket company (MOM’s has grown from 82 to 587 employees since 2007) find bandwidth for fielding a deluge of customer calls? Well, here’s the thing: He doesn’t have to. Nash says he receives only seven or eight complaints a week, tops.
“I’m not overwhelmed because we’re run really well,” says Nash, who is cc’d on all customer communication via the MOM’s website. He also has a staffer scour social media sites daily for comments — good and bad — to which he or another top team member replies.
What all of this says about Nash is not that he’s a micromanager or a glutton for punishment, but that he believes strongly in personal accountability.
Personal accountability emerged as a guiding theme for MOM’s in March 2005, when the company launched an initiative called Environmental Restoration. The move would help MOM’s better walk the green talk. First, the company offset 100 percent of its electricity use with carbon credits. Next, MOM’s boosted its recycling and composting efforts significantly, keeping 825 tons of material out of the waste stream in 2008 alone. Then, in 2010, the company eliminated unnecessary plastic waste by banning the sale of bottled water, which led to the introduction of non-plastic alternatives to deli containers, produce bags, and bulk food wrappers.
“In 2005, great things started to happen everywhere for MOM’s,” Nash recalls. “Sales were up more than ever. Retention and productivity were up. Recruiting was up. Profit margins were up. I can’t think of another company in America so dedicated to purpose as us.”
So, what’s the link between the environmental initiative and gains in recruiting, retention, and productivity? Nash says it’s all about building loyal relationships with employees through learning. “We motivate people through education — that’s where passion comes from,” he says.
For example, every employee is offered the company’s Green Benefits package that features a $3,000 incentive toward purchasing a hybrid vehicle, a 20 percent subsidy for buying Energy Star appliances, and energy-saving household items, such as a programmable thermostat, CFL bulbs, and a clothesline.
But some environmental education only happens through hands-on experience, Nash says. So MOM’s invests heavily in employee training, field trips, and conferences. MOM’s also hosts regular, issue-based internal meetings, as well as book groups with breakout sessions. One such group sparked the company’s plastic ban three years ago. Inspired by a short video called “The Story of Bottled Water” and a documentary titled Addicted to Plastic, MOM’s employees proposed the plastic-bottle ban. They also installed filtered water dispensers and educated consumers about the ecological benefits of ditching plastic by mounting video screens in the beverage aisle of MOM’s stores and showing “The Story of Bottled Water” on a constant loop.
Despite cutting out a high-demand product, MOM’s has seen no customer blowback, Nash says. What’s more, employees have taken the idea further by transitioning the whole company to biodegradable plastics and making it their mission to educate consumers on ecological topics of all sorts.
“It’s been proven over and over again that [employees] want more than a paycheck,” Nash says. “Money is not the chief motivator. People need to feel good about where they work and the good things they are contributing to the world.”