Social enterprises are businesses that combine profit with a social purpose. The business skills needed to run a successful social enterprise are myriad, so it’s no wonder that many are led by people from a business background who want to use their skills to make a difference in their communities. “The Business of Social Enterprise” blog series profiles just some of the incredible leaders we partner with who are doing just that.
As a real estate developer with more than 10 years of experience, I was deeply engaged with building huge neighborhood-scale redevelopment projects for the Michaels Organization, one of the largest for-profit developers in the country. I had the amazing good fortune to work on the planning of the Jordan Downs redevelopment in Los Angeles, which is a conversion of 800 public housing units into a mixed-use and mixed-income campus. As I met more residents and small business owners, I saw with my own eyes the irony that we were building a community without making any effort to build an economy of sustainable jobs. As I worked on mapping out a plan to align the Jordan Downs construction schedule with the resident hiring plans, I began to feel the pull of job creation.
That same year I attended a conference where I heard Kabira Stokes speak about social enterprise. Kabira founded Isadore Recycling (now Homeboy Recycling) and I was hooked. I knew that social enterprise was next for me. And I also knew that I wanted my social enterprise to be in the same neighborhood that I had already been working in as a housing developer.
The business model was simple: buy an existing small business in a disadvantaged area and reconceive it as a social enterprise. I thought, “If you can fix up an old house without a lot of new construction, why not fix up a commercial corridor with the existing businesses in place?” Commercial laundry seemed like a great fit.
The power of people, product, profit, and partnerships
My social enterprise is a for-profit business. Ultimately we rely on having a great product that is priced fairly. Our customers want us to first and foremost be a great linen company. This is a little thing, but I love that my customers see my company and my employees as just another vendor. When an LA Towel & Linen Service employee delivers linens to a customer, it is just a driver doing his job. But for my employees it is the end of a long transition back into the work force.
Internally, one of the biggest things I’ve learned from my employees is that you can always recognize and promote talent within the organization. This is compatible with social enterprise. My commitment to a living wage means that my operating expenses are a little higher than they might otherwise be, but this is a business decision. I believe it will result in lower turnover and higher productivity.
Among the many things I’ve learned running a social enterprise is that partnerships with service agencies are key. So while I focus on product and growing my business to serve more people, I partner with a variety of dedicated, top-notch service providers to ensure that I am providing the kind of support my employees need to succeed.
The power of data-driven performance
I feel so lucky and honored to be part of REDF’s SE4Jobs Accelerator cohort. Early on in my time at the Accelerator, I used our sessions on business planning to bring our mission into better focus. With a clearer mission, it was easier for our employees to rally behind our product. This has really helped us maintain our competitive edge as the highest quality linen company in the area. With the help of REDF and partners, I learned to leverage our product and brand to drive sales and unify employees. REDF’s data-driven case for letting your values drive company performance has been life changing for my company. I see it as our self-reinforcing product cycle. Employees that learn to take pride in their work are gaining all the skills they will need for long-term employment success.
About Kevin Rodin
Kevin Rodin is a social entrepreneur with diverse experience in real estate and community economic development. His experience across sectors drives him to seek practical innovations for the neighborhoods he works in. Over the past ten years, he has participated in successful economic development initiatives and real estate developments across California, including affordable housing for students and artists. Kevin partners with organizations and other entrepreneurs to make catalytic change, bringing jobs and affordable housing into underserved neighborhoods. The social enterprise he leads—LA Towel & Linen Services—is a member of the LA chapter of SE4Jobs, and a bridge employer for LA:RISE. In addition, Kevin is also a member of the inaugural cohort of the SE4jobs Accelerator.
About LA Towel & Linen Services
LA Towel & Linen Service is a mission-driven, locally owned, small business that provides the highest quality towels and linens to all of Los Angeles. We are based in Inglewood, the City of Champions!