Once upon a time, there was a small business owner named Becca. She loved to brew craft beer and found a small but solid market for it in her town. She opened a microbrewery called “Beer O’Clock.”
Business grew steadily, and Becca hired three employees. Her business philosophy was simple: she provided a desired, quality product, and paid her employees a modest wage along with shares in the business. The beer was excellent, and out-of-towners began traveling to the village just to sample Beer O’Clock’s wares. Other community businesses saw their profits rise as well.
Becca’s employees got a raise. Eventually Becca was able to match her employees’ contributions to a Health Savings Account. One year later, she was able to pay them a living wage.
Then a woman named Sheila opened a supermarket down the road. Sheila eyed Becca’s successful niche, and began offering gourmet beer cheaply. Sheila’s profits grew sharply as her beer undercut Becca’s hand-brewed small-batch products. Sheila was pleased, and added more specialty items. The other village businesses saw their profits evaporate as the supermarket’s increased. No one sat with Sheila at Rotary.
They sat with Becca.
Sheila hired more employees at a higher base rate than Becca could offer, and promised regular raises. But the raises never materialized, even though Sheila’s profits soared. There was no profit-sharing plan, and no benefits were provided.
She thought it politic to show up in church, but fidgeted when the preacher read James 5: 1-4:
“Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.”
The preacher followed it with a reading from Acts 4, ending with the words “they shared everything they had.” Sheila quietly walked out. This was not her kind of God.
But the preacher’s words inspired Becca. She believed that God was a tireless advocate for the vulnerable, and right now, that was her. She knew her employees shared her fears for the microbrewery, though no one was talking. Becca called a meeting and shared the situation honestly with them. One left to work at the supermarket, and the other two continued working with Becca.
They watched movies like this one:
Together, they decided that the “invisible hand” guiding the market was greed, not God. They believed that self-interest was human, but truly enlightened self-interest recognized the fundamental interconnectedness between people. They understood that Becca’s assets included the goodwill of the community as well as the unrivaled quality of her product. Together, they brainstormed competitive strategies.
One of the employees approached a retired farmer. The farmer agreed to farm an acre of hops for Becca in return for a small fee, and a seasonal sampling of her fine products. The other employee loved to bake, and the microbrewery contracted with her to offer gourmet pretzels along with the beer. Business boomed, especially when the brewery began offering fresh pizza featuring a tasty crust flavored with recycled hops.
Meanwhile, Sheila analyzed her market. Her gourmet beer offerings were underperforming relative to Becca’s. She dropped the line and, to generate community goodwill, contracted with local businesses for high-quality specialty items.
Becca sat with her at Rotary.
Sheila began stopping by “Beer O’Clock” on her way home, to drink beer and debate best business practices with Becca and her employees. Sheila later offered to buy Becca out. However, Becca and her employees respectfully declined, citing irreconcilable differences in business philosophy.
The story has no ending – yet. It is for us to write.
We all have choices. We choose how to spend our money and how to run our businesses. Too many of us have chosen cheap goods and high profits over each other’s well-being. I believe we’ll regret that, because it’s not sustainable. It’s also not what Jesus taught, and it’s not what his followers should do.
“What shall we do then?” the crowd asked. He answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” –Luke 3:11
I think it’s Beer O’Clock time.