Giving Interests: Helping people in poverty
Kenneth R. Larson has managed his family-run company, Slumberland, Inc., using a four-point mission statement, only the last of which mentions anything about profits. It’s a strategy that has clearly been profitable: Slumberland has grown from a single small storefront in South Minneapolis to a major retailing chain of more than 118 home furniture and mattress stores in 11 states.
Slumberland’s mission stresses the importance of working with "honesty and integrity," treating each other with "love, dignity and respect" and being "good community citizens." Larson stresses the fact that these aren’t mere words on a piece of paper. "We take our company culture very seriously," he says.
Larson practices the company’s third principle — being a good community citizen — by giving a double-digit percent of Slumberland’s earnings back to the community each year through the company’s giving program and his family-run private foundation. "I see that as an important part of being a responsible member of the community," he says.
Larson also instills this community commitment in his company’s giving program. Along with sponsoring various charitable events, the company operates a "Home for the Holidays" program, begun in 1993, that has become a company tradition. More than 1,000 new beds are given away each year across the 11 states Slumberland serves. To date, more than 11,000 new beds have been donated to those who would otherwise be sleeping on the floor.
Slumberland runs its "Home for the Holidays" program in partnership with nonprofit organizations in each of its service regions. The nonprofits identify people in need of a bed, and help distribute the beds.
Each year on a Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Slumberland employees set up one of the company’s warehouses as the program’s distribution center, where charities come to pick up mattresses, box springs and frames and deliver them to needy recipients. Many Slumberland employees get involved in the day, doing everything from loading up the beds to serving hot chocolate and chili.
Larson has delivered some of the beds himself over the years. He tells about one delivery where the person had been sleeping on a balled-up blanket, and another where six children in a family were sleeping on the floor. "If you don’t have a bed, you don’t perform well during your daily activities," Larson says. "This is where we can help. This is what we can do best."
Larson believes there’s a great deal of synergy that can occur when a company gives in ways that are related to its business. "It’s one thing to write a check, but there is something unique about giving in ways that match your company’s business," he says.
For one thing, Larson points out that Slumberland employees are "absolutely ecstatic" about the company’s Home for the Holidays program. "They’ve come up and told me how much it means to them. That’s one of the things that happens with giving: it becomes infectious."