Who would’ve known that a dinner conversation with friends would spark a new initiative in the incentives industry?
Back in 2003, Michael Arkes and his wife went out to dinner with friends Lauri Alpern and her husband. Lauri had just started her job co-directing a Chicago-based social enterprise The Enterprising Kitchen (TEK). Lauri explained the social purpose of TEK and how they helped homeless, at-risk or recently incarcerated women with employment by making soap products. She said they sold a lot of product but really weren’t making any money. Michael offered to help teach her how to replicate their sales success but do it in such a way to make money.
Over the next two and a half years, with Michael’s help and expertise, TEK increased how much they made by almost $500,000, which increased the number of people they were able to help from 28 to 78. It was a great start but Arkes knew more needed to be done in regards to marketing.
“We were only selling to people that we knew, which I realized wasn’t sustainable. They needed to start marketing to potential prospects to sell more.”
However, being a small non-profit, there wasn’t any marketing spending being done for the sheer fact there wasn’t any extra money to do it. That’s where his new idea for Helping Hand Rewards came into play.
“I decided to start Helping Hand Rewards,” said Arkes. “ I could spend the money on marketing and business development. The idea was that the enterprises could pay me a commission on sales that we generated through Helping Hand Rewards.”
With that in mind, Arkes set out to find other social enterprise partners. His thought was that if he could do this for TEK, he would be able to help other enterprises as well. Also, having a wider assortment of products to offer under the HHR banner would appeal to a larger prospect base. Through hearing about social entrepreneurs in periodicals to referrals from the Social Venture Network, eight additional lines were ultimately added to the Helping Hand Rewards product mix over the last couple of years. Arkes now says the focus has shifted away from adding more groups and more onto growing sales of the enterprises Helping Hand Rewards works with.
It’s amazing how one casual dinner conversation could spawn an entrepreneurial interest that is helping better others’ lives everyday!