When Jody Steinhauer, president and chief bargains officer of The Bargains Group, got together with her staff to launch a charity initiative, they never imagined this philanthropic effort would become an entirely new business opportunity. The Toronto-based discount wholesaler created Project Winter Survival and Project Water to help the GTA’s homeless and less fortunate survive. Employees worked together to assemble kits that were then distributed to those in need.
This philanthropy turned out to be an incredible bonding exercise.
“It’s all about employee engagement and group bonding,” said Steinhauer during an interview at last year’s W100 Idea Exchange. And those are things she never expected when she launched the charities.
Something else Steinhauer never expected: other companies wanted these results for themselves. “Companies would come to us and say, We’d love to get our staff involved in this—how much would it cost?’ And we thought, Really? You would pay for this experience?'”
“Companies and HR departments are longing to find these experiences,” said Steinhauer. “They need to engage their employees—they want to engage their employees—but the question of how to do it is the problem. They don’t want to do the same old ropes course or scavenger hunt.”
The Bargains Group realized it could scale the program down and bring it to individual companies, essentially packaging something it had been doing for years as the “secret sauce” to staff engagement.
While this program was never designed as a PR, marketing or engagement activity, it’s become all three for The Bargains Group. “We’ve never paid a penny for advertising,” said Steinhauer. “When you’ve got a story that people are interested in, and a voice, then you’ve got an audience.” The initiative has grown by leaps and bounds—and with it, the free PR. Social media now multiplies any publicity the program garners. “I could never afford to pay for that kind of advertising,” said Steinhauer.
To hear more about what Steinhauer calls the “secret sauce” to employee engagement, view the full video below.