To its customers, a viable social enterprise has to run just like any other business, says Richard Lawless, general manager of Ashbury Images. Same value proposition, same profitability, same management controls and same customer service.
But Ashbury Images isn’t a business like any other. With its mission to make a profit, as well as an impact in the lives of the people it employs, Ashbury Images runs according to a double bottom line that accounts for both profits and people. Ashbury Images’ customers know it as a provider of screen-printed t-shirts, embroidery and promotional items. Dig deeper and you discover Ashbury Images is an enterprise driven by a socially-minded mission to provide paid employment, job training, and supportive services to disadvantaged youth facing barriers such as extreme poverty, lack of stable housing and experiences in the foster care system. Ashbury Images runs a job internship program that brings disadvantaged 17 to 21 year olds into the world of work. Lawless wants to be clear about one thing. “We are not training youth to be screen printers. The goal is to train them on how to become employable the rest of their lives.” Last year Ashbury Images employed 28 interns. On average, 65% successfully complete the six-month internship and over 80% of graduates move on to next jobs or further education within 30 days.
REDF was a long-term investor in Ashbury Images, helping get their screen-printing business off the ground when it operated out of a small storefront. REDF provided business guidance and assistance, financed working capital and equipment purchases, and found industry experts to optimize Ashbury’s manufacturing process. It also helped broker ever-larger contracts which enabled Ashbury Images to create more jobs. As a result Ashbury Images moved into a large, modern manufacturing facility in an industrial district in San Francisco.
According to Lawless, “REDF has been instrumental in our initial selling phase. They have helped us get the word out about the benefits of working with social enterprise.” Thanks to REDF, Ashbury Images was able to land one of its major accounts, each year printing tens of thousands of t-shirts to support Safeway grocery’s marketing campaigns.
“Because someone at Safeway understood our mission, they gave us the opportunity,” Lawless explains. “They understood we were accountable to the social good, and that we offer a quality product at a competitive price.”