For years I felt Kansas City needed a showcase for the various brewers, jewelers, designers, potters, confectioners and others whose small-scale enterprises reflect our unique communities, style and creativity. Not another impersonal online marketplace with bots handling the transactions. And not another tourist shop with “Kansas City”-branded products made overseas. I wanted a brick-and-mortar, neighborhood-based store, where local residents would be likely to find something made by the artisan next door.
Three years ago, with one employee, we opened our first Made in KC shop in the Prairiefire shopping center in Overland Park. We now have 40 employees at five shops, with a sixth on the way that will feature a taproom and food.
Although we had no idea if the venture would succeed at first, we started paying our first employee at a rate above the minimum wage — and have done the same for every employee since. It was more than a strategy to attract employees who could easily find work at big box stores. It was a business priority.
Paying fair wages is a core part of our business model, and it has been a key reason for our success and rapid growth. And as a business owner, I think the proposed ballot initiative to gradually raise Missouri’s minimum wage to $12 by 2023 makes good business sense.
We pay a fair wage not just because it’s the right thing to do for the people who work for us, but because it’s good for our business overall. Paying a decent wage has brought us dedicated employees and low turnover rates. Any one of our employees could go to work for another retailer. But they don’t. They stay with us. I have saved thousands of dollars annually on the cost of recruiting and hiring, onboarding and training, and time that is not lost because of unfilled positions.
Low turnover and more experienced employees lead to increased customer satisfaction. The No. 1 feedback we get from customers is that our customer service is great. They love the quality of the products we carry, but it all keeps coming back to the interactions they have when they shop in our stores.
What has been a cornerstone of my business success, I believe, should become a cornerstone of Missouri’s economic policy. If all Missouri workers were paid a fair wage, it would have a huge positive impact on our economy and on communities across the state. A lot more of those dollars would stay in local communities: People would go to local restaurants more often, make more trips to the hardware store and buy more locally-made goods.
Putting more money into the hands of those who are most likely to spend it is a “lifts all boats” phenomenon. On an individual level, this helps businesses like mine grow our customer bases, expand to new locations and hire more workers. On the community level, increasing the purchasing power of local working people helps stabilize families and lessens the need for tax-supported public assistance to make up for a $7.85 minimum wage that doesn’t cover basic necessities.
We would like to see a thriving Missouri, where working people can make ends meet and more entrepreneurs can grow their businesses and create jobs. Let’s increase local purchasing power. Let’s raise the minimum wage.
Keith Bradley is the co-owner of Made in KC, with five retail locations across Kansas City, Prairie Village and Overland Park. He is a member of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage.