Black Franchisee in Minnesota Speaks Out on George Floyd Protests, How Businesses Should Respond
“It’s important as business owners that we understand where our people are coming from, and meet them where they are,” said Justin Butler, a Duck Donuts and Rita's Italian Ice franchisee in Minnesota.
Justin Butler, a Duck Donuts and Rita’s Italian Ice franchisee in Minnesota, was featured in the pilot episode of the MN Black Chamber of Commerce Show in January. Butler opened his Duck Donuts location in Woodbury in December 2018, which took a huge hit during COVID-19 shutdowns and is down 62 percent in sales year over year.
Then, George Floyd—an unarmed black man suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at Cup Foods—died on May 25 after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed face down in the street. A viral video sparked outrage, leading to protests not only nationwide but also worldwide in cities such as London, Berlin and Auckland. While a lot of protests have been peaceful, rioting also damaged nearly 500 businesses in the Twin Cities as of June 5, and at least 67 have been destroyed completely by fire.
After seeing news of businesses broken into, Butler’s employees started asking him what to do if rioting broke out at their store in Woodbury, a middle- and upper- class suburb located about nine miles from St. Paul that serves as a shopping hub.
Butler told them, “shut off the fryer and leave immediately. I can replace equipment, but I can’t replace you guys.”
An employee called Butler after to say how much that statement meant to them, and Butler felt grateful he had a staff that cared so much about his business.
“With us being in Woodbury, we didn’t experience the immediacy of physical security, but we had plans in place and meetings and conversations about it,” Butler said. “I’m in an odd situation where I have several employees who have been with us since day one, and we have a very high turnover business, so for me to have that says we’ve done something right with our culture here.”
Butler has continued those conversations on Zoom meetings with his managers and employees, stressing the importance of acknowledging and understanding emotions. Many of his employees are high school seniors who didn’t get the chance to go to prom or celebrate their graduation, or they’ve been impacted by family members losing employment due to the pandemic.
“It’s important as business owners that we understand where our people are coming from, and meet them where they are,” Butler said. “Some people will say, ‘I just need a day off’—we all have that, and we need to grant it. We need to think through the internal emotions people are going through, who may not feel comfortable coming to work and sharing those items, but they still go through it and it impacts their ability to perform.”
Additionally, if an employee is fearing for their safety, that’s going to have an impact on their ability to perform their job duties, Butler said, and franchisees need to be sensitive to that.
Company actions against racism
In regards to some brands coming out with broad statements on how their company doesn’t tolerate racism, Butler says this:
“I don’t know if any company tolerates racism, so to some extent, it’s not necessary to make those statements. It’s more necessary to think about actions companies can take and their impact on certain populations.”
Actions can include rethinking your business hours and where your stores are geographically located. Is there accessible transportation nearby for both employees and customers? Butler also suggests companies revisit their HR policies on hiring.
“These are all things people need to think through that aren’t necessarily on the surface race- or class-based, but can have an impact on a particular race or class of people,” Butler said. “I don’t know anyone that’s going to have overt racism in their business, as that’s bad for business. But we need to think about how we do business and if that’s the right way to support diverse people in our communities.”
There are more than 200 Duck Donuts locations open in the U.S., and the franchise investment for Duck Donuts ranges from $348,350 – $568,000. As the franchise expands, Butler hopes to see the franchisor continue to think about how the brand shows up in all communities.
“I want to see us continuing to think about how our product and brand shows up not just in one community, but in all communities; where we are geographically located, having a diverse franchisee population, and supporting a diverse workforce.”
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