Lots of people are in a giving mood this time of year.
Brian Shenton has been in that mood most of his life, and he’s built his business model out of it.
Two weeks from its launch, Shenton’s aptly-named industrial distribution start-up, We Share Supply, sets itself apart from the crowd, considering 2 percent of every sale goes to a charity of the customer’s choosing.
Canadian-based We Share Supply’s sole brick-and-mortar location in Kingston, Ontario and its website, wesharesupply.com, officially open for business on Jan. 1. The company will sell in four market segments: industrial, safety, utility, and non-hospital medical.
The enterprise will combine Shenton’s 30 years of distribution experience and lifelong philosophy of giving back.
“The source of it is a personal upbringing,” Shenton says. “It’s always been in me. I started life very humble. My parents had nothing. Still, my parents gave to people who had less. It’s always been there.”
Shenton was 25 when he used up his life savings of $10,000 to start his own safety distribution company, Safety World, which he grew into a regional leader and eventually led to him serving as North American Director for Comasec/Marigold Industrial (France). Comasec/Marigold was acquired by Ansell two years ago, and Shenton stayed on for a year before receiving what he called a “silver handshake” goodbye. He had been consulting in the distribution and utility sectors for most of this past year before forming We Share Supply and now preparing for its inception.
“It’s a busy time here. It’s an exciting time. It’s great to be back doing a startup again,” Shenton says. “I have a little more advantage than last time, although it’s a different time in the world starting a business now than 30 years ago."
Here’s how the charity portion of We Share Supply will work: its website offers a list of charities to choose from that 2 percent of the customer’s purchase will go toward. They make that selection at the time of the purchase, and We Share Supply cuts a check to the charity, in the customer’s name. The customer is provided a charitable tax receipt.
“That coming back into the customer will make the customer realize they did something unique and good,” Shenton says.
If the charity the customer desires isn’t listed, the customer can just let We Share Supply know, as long as it is a registered charity. The site will show 250-word descriptions of all charities it lists.
The company will also feature a ‘Charity of the Month,’ offering a source of advertising that those charities normally wouldn’t have.
Shenton calls We Share Supply a “for-profit business, with a conscience.”
“That’s the difference,” he says. “I thought of it a long time ago. It’s been percolating around, and now I’m able to cement it into a business.”
With that 2 percent of his business’ revenue going to charity, Shenton knows that it cuts his profit margin down considerably. But he believes the positive reputation it will build will help offset that aspect.
“People might say, ‘how will you afford it?’ Traditionally in a small business, net profit is 2-4 percent,” Shenton says. “If you look at me giving away 2 percent at the top, I’m giving away almost half my profit. I need to build the foundation of a business around having that charity and philanthropy built in. I need to build a structure to afford it.”
We Share Supply’s logo features two coins dropping into a bucket. Those coins represent the 2 percent of each sale going to charity.
Shenton says he’s a little shy about going public with a charitable practice after making donations privately and through random acts during business travels over the years. But at the same time, he’s excited to start a business that offers something most others can’t.
“I’m making it overt up front,” he says. “Nobody’s going to pay me more to give that 2 percent. To have a great business and do something good, it’s a great differentiator in the market. There’s no way the big guys can make a commitment like this. I need to make it a success. I want the benefit to come to people who need it.”