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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Mission-based retailer focuses on training people with disabilities

Scott Duennes

A growing natural foods store in Lakewood, Ohio, has a unique mission: Serve its employees first. Bettering customers’ health is a bonus.

Nature’s Bin is a nonprofit that operates as a vocational training program for people with disabilities. Executive Director Scott Duennes shares his thoughts here about conscious business operations. He also will discuss the topic as part of a Natural Products Expo East 2013 Retailer Workshop panel.

NFM: What is the mission of Nature’s Bin and how do you carry out this mission?

Scott Duennes: The mission of Cornucopia, the nonprofit organization that operates Nature’s Bin, is “To help people with disabilities develop their skills, confidence and workplace potential.” Nature’s Bin is considered a Social Enterprise,” meaning that it is a business operated by a nonprofit to generate revenue used to support the mission of the organization. At 6,000 square feet (retail), annual sales have doubled over the last six years with retail sales topping out in 2012 at $6.3 million. Within the walls of the store, people with a wide range of severe disabilities including developmental disabilities, autism, mental illness, visual, speech and hearing issues receive vocational training. This gives them the opportunity to learn skills that ultimately will contribute to their financial independence and let them enjoy a higher quality of life. In 2012, Cornucopia served more than 178 individuals with disabilities.

NFM: What are the top three ways you operate consciously?

SD: Many people use these words to describe Nature’s Bin: commitment, dedication, community involvement, empowerment of people with disabilities, philanthropy, service, education and outreach. You quickly realize why Nature’s Bin is the No. 1 choice for the Natural Products Association’s Socially Responsible Retailer Award for 2013.

I would say the top three ways we operate consciously are:

1) Empowering people with disabilities;

2) Community involvement;

3) Commitment and dedication to the mission as well as bringing a better way of life to the overall community through healthy food.

NFM: What advice would you give to other retailers wanting to adopt more socially and environmentally conscious practices?

SD: Seek out opportunities within your community to support programs dealing with the need for food and shelter. You can sponsor 5K runs for specific causes which you can promote within your store, sponsor a dog wash to support the local animal shelter and get your staff involved by encouraging them to volunteer either hands on or on a board of trustees of a local nonprofit organization. Reaching out to local school systems by providing educational speakers is also beneficial as well as contacting local agencies that work with the disabled to offer to provide “work experience” for someone.

NFM: What’s your main message about conscious capitalism at Natural Products Expo East?

SD: We are a nonprofit that dares to make a profit to support our mission. It’s not just about the record sales and money generated but what we do with it to make our community a better place to live.

How does your business give back to your community?

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