The T-shirts for sale at the register first captured Dr. Dan Robinson’s attention at the sweetFrog yogurt shop. The bright colors and cartoon frog drew his eye, but the message on the shirt piqued his interest. The “frog” in the company name is an acronym for “fully rely on God.” The shirts bear the slogan and cite John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
Robinson, a practicing physician with no restaurant experience, said he felt moved by the Holy Spirit to open his own sweetFrog franchise. Once he discovered that all sweetFrog shops host fundraisers for church groups, schools and charities, he felt certain it was a calling from God. Within six months, he had opened his first sweetFrog in Maryland.
Relying on God and helping their neighbor has made good business for sweetFrog. The company, founded in 2009, is now the nation’s second largest frozen yogurt chain with 350 locations in 25 states.
Robinson, who now owns four additional sweetFrog franchises in California, said his focus has been on giving back to the community. Together, Robinson’s five stores raise between $40,000 to $60,000 for local charities annually.
Witness through business
The way Christian-led companies express faith varies greatly. Some, like sweetFrog, proclaim their faith openly. They may feature God in mission statements or reference Scripture on their product or its packaging.
In-N-Out Burger prints Bible citations on its cardboard cups, containers and wrappers. Former In-N-Out President Rich Snyder started the practice in the 1980s. “They are small because he wanted to express his faith without imposing it on others,” said Carl Van Fleet, the chain’s current vice president.
Similarly, fashion retailer Forever21 prints “John 3:16” on the bottom of all their shopping bags.
ServiceMaster — owner of brands including Terminix, Merry Maids and American Home Shield — states on their website that their foundational commitment is to “honor God in all we do.”
Interstate Batteries, marketer of car batteries, has a similar mission statement, to “glorify God as we supply our customers worldwide with top quality, value-priced batteries.” Chairman Norm Miller even put his personal testimony on the company website.
Business leaders from faith-based companies told Our Sunday Visitor that honoring the Lord through their work changes the way they approach business decisions. They seek to do business honestly and make high-quality products. They donate to charity. They care about their customers and their employees, recognizing that each individual is a unique creation of God.
“You don’t have to sell your soul to make your numbers. Nor do you have to give up good sound business practices to allow your values to participate in even the smallest, most pragmatic business transactions,” wrote Tom Chappell, founder of Tom’s of Maine, in his book “The Soul of a Business: Managing for Profit and the Common Good.”
Chappell, an Episcopalian with a degree from Harvard Divinity School, sought to run his company in a way that respected his customers, his employees, his community and the environment. His faith inspired these values, but Tom’s of Maine has never been a Christian company. Instead, Chappell’s company followed a set of values that could be understood by anyone from any faith — or no faith at all.
In 1974, Tom’s of Maine became the first company to market toothpaste that was made wholly from natural ingredients. The company later introduced other natural personal care products. Product packaging was made of 90 percent post-consumer paper. The company donated 10 percent of all profits to charity and allowed employees to use 5 percent of their time on the clock for volunteer work.
Chappell said employees were grateful to work for a company that gave them the chance to serve their community alongside coworkers.
“They come back different,” he said. “They are ready to get back to work with a new energy and focus.”
Tyson Foods is another company that, while not Christian, seeks to be faith-friendly. In 2000, the company started a chaplaincy program. Currently, 90 chaplains provide “compassionate pastoral care to team members and their families,” according to Tyson representative Caroline Ahn.
“Tyson Foods recognizes that faith is an important part of life for many of their employees,” she added.
Working for a company that takes its faith to the heart of its business comes with many benefits, according to Stephen Henley, executive director at Legatus, an organization for Catholic business leaders.
Faith-based companies should provide a decent wage, reasonable hours and good benefits, including paid maternity and paternity leave. They should celebrate employee milestones, including professional and personal accomplishments, he said. Supporting employees and their families is the right thing to do, but it also benefits the company. When employees feel valued, the entire work environment becomes more positive. Staff members work together as a team. Job turnover is low, Henley added.
“When you have people invested — they’re happy and their families are happy — then you can count on that individual to be very effective and efficient at their job,” he said.
Two major Christian companies — Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A — are known for closing their doors every Sunday. Since Sunday is a major shopping day, it would logically follow that any business closed on that day cannot compete with other stores.
Chick-fil-A ranks eighth in nationwide sales for fast food chains. But the restaurant ranks first in sales per store. In 2015, the average sales per location were $3.9 million. That is 56 percent more than McDonald’s stores, which averaged $2.5 million the same year. McDonald’s restaurants are open seven days a week, and some locations stay open 24 hours a day. Chick-fil-A also ranks first in customer satisfaction, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index Restaurant Report 2016.
When Hobby Lobby decided not to do business on Sunday, sales dropped significantly. The nationwide craft store chain’s most profitable hours of the week had been on Sundays. But customers adjusted to the change. Sales rebounded and have remained healthy, according to company communication coordinator Bob Miller.
Hobby Lobby stores also close at 8 p.m. daily in order to allow all employees who are parents to see their children before bedtime. The company pays their workers twice the federal minimum wage, donates half their pre-tax profits to charities and has chaplains on the payroll.
“Every aspect of the business is evaluated on whether it is honoring to the Lord,” said Miller, adding that the Green family, who runs the chain, sees themselves as stewards rather than owners of the company. “They would much rather risk losing business than compromise biblical principles.”
Those principles include not paying for contraceptives that can prevent implantation of embryos. Hobby Lobby challenged the federal contraceptive mandate and won a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2014. For the first time, the court recognized a for-profit corporation’s claim of religious belief.
Miller said that since the ruling, “Hobby Lobby has continued with business as usual, with the owners grateful to be able to continue honoring the Lord in all they do.”
Christine M. Williams writes from Massachusetts.