Project 20-21: $20/hour by 2021

Recently there has been significant coverage on large retail closures.  Things are not easy out there and the landscape is changing.  As written by Boots regarding What's the Future of Fleet Feet Sports & YellowJacket Racing in 2017, in it he introduced our concept pf Project 20-21.  Here's that blog as a recap - http://www.fleetfeetbuffalo.com/community/boots-blogs/a-year-in-preview-not-a-year-in-review-bring-on-2017

Since the blog many questions and curiosities have risen about Project 20-21.  It's indeed a different mindset, certainly a different pay bracket from current retail standards, however the reason behind the concept is not new to bring "special" back to Specialty Retail.  It's a concept of retail from yesteryear, that we plan to reincarnate. Here's more...

Fleet Feet Sports Project 20-21
And why supporting local matters

Recently we publicly announced a project that we launched to our employees back in the fall, Project 20-21.

At its most basic, Ellen and I, as owners, have committed to having a $20.00 per hour minimum wage for ALL of our employees by the end of 2021. To say this is unheard of in retail is an understatement.

Many business owners have asked us why and how are we going to do this.

First the why: Our employees are the most important part of our business. When we first opened the store in 2004 we could barely even pay our employees and actually had to lay them off after just a few weeks in business. Ellen and I had to do everything, wait on each guest, check in the product, pay the bills, write the orders, go on the fun runs and produce the races. As we grew as a company our roles have changed. While we still order most all of the product and pay all the bills we don’t get to spend as much time out with our guests. It simply isn’t possible with 3 store locations and nearly 40 races that we produce. Our role is now to make sure our employees have a stable and secure place to work and our team is our front line creating amazing experiences for everyone that we interact with. Every day my number 1 focus is to make sure our employees have a great job to come to the next day.

More why: We hated having to lay staff off in those first few months but there simply was no money to pay them. Now with over 50 employees we make sure they are secure and have a place to make a career. We have now gotten to a size where we can offer our employees’ health benefits, paid time off, company matching 401k programs. We have been offering these for many years now and Project 20-21 is the next evolution of this. Retail used to be a career that others looked up to, think Macy’s in their heyday or Nordstrom’s. We know our team is made up of amazing people that have extensive knowledge and work extremely hard every day to provide amazing service. We want them to be compensated as the best in class that they are and also for the public to know that they are professionals and to treat them with respect.

The how: We have always worked hard to run a smart profitable business. The major reason why, is if we are not run well we cannot support our staff and our community the way we want to. Our number 1 goal when we opened was to build a bigger and healthier community, we can only do that if we are profitable. Ellen and I personally have never worried about making a large salary, we’ve always invested more back into the stores and communities than we have ever taken out as a salary. We know by 2021 we will be lucky enough to have our mortgage on our home paid off and any business loans will be clear. That means we will have extra resources to invest in our staff, hence Project 20-21. Sure we will continue to strive to operate our business as efficiently as possible but we know that if we follow our 5 year plan that we will be in a position for our staff to benefit, as they should.

Supporting local is obviously a big part of this: This is our home, we don’t ever plan to leave and we want it to be the best. Building our community and supporting it as much as we can is the basis of our business. We also need local runners, walkers and everyone that can to support local businesses, including ours. It is how we will make this project a reality.

A few examples: We totally understand that just about everything can be found online, cheaper. I myself buy some things that I cannot find locally online, but if I can I will buy in my community, and I have no issue paying more for that item since that extra amount I paid stays in my community. Nearly daily we will have people come into the stores and say they just want to get fit by us so they know what shoe to buy online since they can get it cheaper. While totally unfair to our staff they do it but think about it, the reason you can find it cheaper online is there is zero service there. Our staff provides a service, and not just a shoe fit or advice on training and nutrition. They host free runs, support water stops, take your picture at events, cheer you on at that race. They do so much more than just fit shoes and that little bit more that buying locally may cost, provides all of those things.

More examples: Did you know that we fund hundreds of charities every year through donations and services. I don’t know of an online store that supports a charity or event in our community. We support races, charity groups, high school and youth groups, food banks, homeless shelters.

How about this example: In Rochester we support a great youth program called Monroe Milers, we have since they started. Did you know that we use profits from a few of our training programs to help outfit them with footwear, apparel and socks? YellowJacket Racing donated nearly $2000.00 in entry fees to them in 2016. Also last year I personally lobbied to get one of their athletes into a training camp at the Olympic Training Center. He was the first athlete from an inner city school to ever attend. We also paid his tuition and outfitted him in about $1000.00 worth of gear that he would need for the week. All in we provided about $6000.00 to a local youth group all because we were able to run a successful training program for local runners.

How about racing local: I totally get traveling to races, I have done it plenty but I also supported local events as much as I possibly could as they drive so much money back into the community whether it is a charity event or a for profit event. I see more people skipping a local race to attend out of town races since “they’ve done the local race before”. Over the last 12 months we have seen a large increase in the amount of local races folding up due to declining participation so be sure to get out there a few extra times and run those local races.

And how local is that local race: Since I launched YellowJacket Racing in 1998 I have used a total of 1 screen-printing company. They started around the same time as I did, they were small just like me. They operated out of their parent’s basement, me out of an Astro-Van. They are now in a large space with multiple machines and YJR is a whole lot bigger now as well. I could easily get our race shirts from out of state for less money but my local printer employs local people and pays local taxes. Over the last 2 years I’ve seen a huge trend in races buying their event supplies from out of state in order to save a few dollars, I’d much rather see them forsake a little profit and keep the money local. Our shirts are printed local, all the post-race food is bought local, and heck we bought all our traffic cones from a local construction company. So support local races and push local race directors to support local companies for their needed supplies.

So you’re probably saying “I get it shopping and racing local is important” but really it is more important now more than it ever has been. The economy in Western NY is not great and the more money that each of us sends out of our community the harder it will be for our region to rebound. Once that money leaves Western NY it never comes back.

Ellen and I have committed to our employees via Project 20-21. We’ve committed for years to our communities via all of the programs we support. We are asking you to commit to us, help us make this community, our community, the absolute best one possible.

It’s a really exciting time for our businesses. We know that with the support of the local runners, walkers and everyone that needs comfortable footwear and gear that we can work together to make our communities so much better, more vibrant, with more energy and so much more healthy. So come on in the store, join us at a race, or a fun run or join one of our training programs. We promise to continue to support and build our local communities just like we have since the day we started and we’ll be investing in our team by committing to a $20.00 per hour minimum wage by the end of 2021.

We’ll see you out there, in the store, on the roads, or the trails, running, walking, doing yoga, lifting weights, riding a bike, paddling on the water, getting fit, having fun, and making friends.

Regards,  Boots, Ellen and our entire team at Fleet Feet Sports and YellowJacket Racing

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