If like me, you were both unsure as to the exact nature of what Corporate Social Responsibility actually meant and then needed to look at placing it in the context of what it meant to a Small Business, then you can understand my dilemma about how to show that we did incorporate CSR in our business!

At our size of business with less than 7 people working in the firm, you could be forgiven for thinking that CSR plays very little part in the overall business model.  That indeed is what I thought until I found a definition of CSR around the words “Corporate Citizenship” where companies are seen to work for the good of its staff, clients, suppliers and all of its “relations” as well as its owners!

This started me thinking about how a small company gets started applying CSR to its business.  Having had the opportunity to attend The Business for Growth Programme run at Cranfield University, I would advocate that the best place to start is by drawing up a clear Vision Statement for the company and then looking at the values needed to work towards that vision and seeing if at least some elements can be incorporated into CSR.

Our vision of “Combining contemporary design with traditional hand-crafted products” incorporates many principles of our business – among them using only English bone china and therefore supporting the British china industry in Stoke-on-Trent (our suppliers), striving to understand what our clients need to convey when giving their gift and offering second-to-none personal service to name but three of our values.  Obviously it is difficult to convey all of your values in one statement; that is why it is key to get your vision for the company across in a short strapline – ours is “Personalised with Passion”

Looking at these three values and, in particular, the one involving our suppliers and print-makers in Stoke-on-Trent, which has, I believe, been the one that has been the most difficult to achieve in making them believe that we were and are serious about building a design business based on English bone china. We had to show that we meant what we said and this meant taking time to build personal relationships with these people who were the key to our business.  One of our problems was that we did not come from the “local” economy and were therefore seen as “outsiders” so the onus was on us to make them see that we were serious about building this business.

When Susan Rose China first started for real in 2008, “The Potteries” was a very forbidding place having just gone through considerable economic turmoil. It required a great deal of determination to infiltrate what was left of the English bone china suppliers to make them think that we were serious about building this business.  We recognized that getting to know these people was key to our business and clearly the onus was on us in Northamptonshire to make this work for us.  So gradually, by calling them, visiting them all regularly, asking for their not inconsiderable advice, listening to their concerns, taking “cake” at key moments we have built this key relationship to our business.  As our business has grown, we are now using a second supplier – not nearly as difficult to find as at the outset when nobody wanted us!  In turn, these companies have been able to support their local economy again by taking on additional members of staff.  We are also helping to keep a key British industry going and giving it a new lease of life by actively promoting their product! In view of this relationship building, although we do not play on this too often, they will on occasion put our needs above those of other clients – which we see as a major step forward!

It is also clear that a trusting relationship has been built over the years and they do not feel as though we are checking up on them with production schedules but we discuss how we might help each other.  Production is done in an ethical way and all waste is either recycled or disposed of correctly.  This is very important to our business in that we can truly say that we are producing a premium product all the way.

Other aspects of CSR revolve around your staff and team and ensuring that the place they come to work also has the right “feel” around it.  For us, when we started, the workshop were working out of an old garage with the office in the house and the studio off the kitchen.  Whilst this did not do a lot for communication funnily enough it did give us all the feeling of having to “pull together” as if we didn’t communicate with each other we felt the business would disappear down the cracks!  SRC decided to bite the bullet and build an environmentally friendly office reducing our carbon footprint, become more energy efficient but, most importantly for the business, recognizing that getting all the team in one place for ease of communication would give the business the best chance to grow. We have also recognized the importance of employing the right people with the right skill set for the job and not just thinking “they will do”.

Finally on this subject for today, branding and image is also important to portray good CSR.  One of our key values is to provide outstanding customer service – this must be a perception to the customer but staff members must also “buy in” to this to portray it accurately.  Again this value is reflected in the statement in our branding – “Personalised with passion”.

It is important to see CSR at any level in business as a win:win situation. Your company’s vision and how it is portrayed will be what attracts and retains talent, and that talent is what sets you apart from the competition in an age where knowledge is an increasingly valuable commodity.

We have come to realise that CSR is directly linked to our business performance. We hope that we are well on the way to getting our company culture right and that this will be reflected not only in our sales but in the way we are perceived by customers, suppliers and staff alike.

Aspects of English Bone China making in Stoke-on-Trent
Aspects of English Bone China making in Stoke-on-Trent