Found People Thursdays – GUEST BLOG – Jody Steinhauer’s WOW Factor – Founder of The Bargains Group – On Giving Back and Making a Difference
Thursday, May 23, 2013

Jody S.People who make a difference light our lives up at FoundPeople and with all the testosterone of our last few Blog’s we needed to find a woman with a digital presence and enough wow factor to balance things out, guess what? We found one. Jody Steinhauer, Chief Bargain Officer of The Bargains Group one of Canada’s best kept e-business wholesalers of family discount products and corporate SWAG.  Engaging loyal followers across all social media channels and tirelessly spreading her message through Nationally acclaimed live conferences and awards programs, we wanted to pitch in and share Jody’s approach to building a successful business while making significant social contributions.

Here’s a snap shot Bio:
In 1988, from a one bedroom apartment, Jody started The Bargains Group with the goal of helping retailers save money on wholesale clothing and accessories. 25 years later, The Bargains Group has grown into an award-winning company. Initially famous for $2.00 t-shirts;  The Bargains Group now offers over 10,000 custom promotional products and other non-branded items all at up to 80% off through on and off-line channels.
Fueled by an entrepreneurial passion and commitment to helping others, Jody has also launched two highly successful social impact projects focused on giving back to those less fortunate in our community. These projects have become poster children of Corporate Social Responsibility and Employee Engagement. Driven by the philosophy “giving back makes good business sense” Project Winter Survival and Project Water were born and are the seeds for lager National programs soon to be rolled out.

Questions:
FP  The Bargains Group may be a well-kept secret but even more so is your amazing track record of presentations and mentorship when it comes to teaching and consulting businesses how to engage employees through giving back, tell us more about that?
JD  People usually think of The Bargains Group as the $2.00 T-shirt people, but we’ve always considered ourselves to be in the happiness business. I live by the mantra, “giving back makes good business sense” so while anyone can write a cheque to a charity, I take pride in encouraging people to engage in volunteerism and be more active in giving back. When I founded Project Winter Survival and Project Water, I discovered that these events we’re needed not only to help the homeless, but as an outlet for businesses that were looking for a socially responsible way to engage their employees. As a result, more and more people approach me about these opportunities, wanting to get involved.
During these projects, people from all areas come to volunteer and engage with co-workers, and they see the atmosphere and how we are able to mentor and teach people about giving back. As a result of the experience they have, they end up becoming clients of The Bargains Group. The word-of-mouth about our give back projects has been tremendous, and I realized how important it was to educate and mentor companies and employers about corporate social responsibility and how they can engage their employees while helping the less fortunate.
FP Speaking of engagement, you’ve got quite a social media following. Where do you shine most and how does your following impact your culture and bottom line?
JS  One of my biggest strengths has always been my ability to network and connect with people, so I’m always meeting new people and social media has been a great way to maintain these connections. A great deal of The Bargains Group following are people who connect with us because they support our causes and are excited by Project Winter Survival and Project Water and are looking to get involved. These connections continue to grow along with the projects, and we have incredible interactions with people who have taken part and want to share their stories and experiences. It has been a huge area of social media development for us, and has helped grow the size of our give back projects as well as The Bargains Group client base who love buying our bargains.
The area that we shine the most is in our unique voice. I’m so proud of the culture that exists at The Bargains Group, so we shout it out to our social following. There’s always a birthday party or celebration going on, so we try to make our online presence replicate a trip to our office. Everyone is encouraged to participate as well, which really goes against the traditional businesses mindset. For such a long time people have trained to not be themselves at work, but at The Bargains Group we want all the unique personalities to be reflected on our social media. It’s a voice I encourage, and I practice what I preach. My own social media voice is helpful, honest, and sharing. It’s a very real representation of how I act in real life, and I push my Bargains Group family to be as authentic as I strive to be.
FP  You’ve were a social entrepreneur before the term was invented, how have you leveraged the discount goods model to “Make a Difference” and what organizations have you aligned with to help you do  this?
JS  I really think that’s just a fancy term that recognizes I can find a good bargain! I’ve always been a closet social entrepreneur, because at a young age I discovered while volunteering that so many not-for-profits were wasting their budgets when buying supplies, which is a major “no-no” in that sector. When I was able to help a handful of organizations save money, it was only a matter of time until more and more not-for-profits were coming to me to help stretch their budgets. We’ve supplied basic essentials like socks, underwear, t-shirts, and personal care products, and always helped social service organizations do more with less.
With our promotional products division—Branding at a Bargain—we’re able to help these same organizations with custom logoed event products, fundraising items, and appreciation gifts; all at a bargain. It’s just another way we’ve been able to help the sector save money while providing them with all the items they need. And to top it all off, every not-for-profit order receives a free case of donations to help support their cause. We’ve helped national organizations like Habitat for Humanity, The Salvation Army, and Big Brothers Big Sisters; as well as small community and faith-based not-for-profits who so badly need to make the most of limited budgets.
FP Project Winter Survival and Project Water have won accolades in business communities for their ability to directly impact the quality of living for homeless, what’s next?
JS  Right now we’re focused on taking our projects National! Our goal is to help facilitate the ongoing packing and distributing of a variety of kits in major cities across Canada. This past January, Project Winter Survival took place outside of Toronto for the first time, with an event in Vancouver led by Hain-Celestial Canada. This is just the start of what I envision as an continuous National event, and proves that with a small amount of funding and education on a cause, life-saving kits can be packed and delivered in a short amount of time to those in need. Not only that, but it allows the companies volunteering in these events can leverage their good deeds in recruiting, retention, and even good publicity which helps promote our Canadian movement.
We are also in the process of launching a national charity, known as Engage and Change! This charity will facilitate the packing and distribution of a variety of kits to help those less fortunate, while providing an event for companies to engage their employees while being socially responsible. While our Project Winter Survival Kits are well established, with Engage and Change we are also launching Project Water Summer Survival Kits, Welcome Shelter Kits to help homeless shelter newcomers when they enter a shelter, and Back-to-School Kits to provide those less fortunate with the tools for a successful for the school year. There is a lot of change coming, and the whole team is excited about the growth of Engage and Change.

FP How does your business grow and if you don’t mind us asking, how much does it grow year over year?
JS  There’s a saying, “If you’re not growing you’re dying” which is something I take very seriously. Every single moment we’re working to grow The Bargains Group. Every call is a potential opportunity and moment for growth. The more people that know about us, the more people we’re able to help save money; and also the more we’re able to help the not-for-profit sector.
Our fastest growing division at The Bargains Group is also our newest division. Our promotional products division is constantly finding new clients because business have such a hard time capturing people’s attention nowadays, so they’re are resorting back to the tried and true method of free branded give-a-ways. And because there’s no direct return with free handouts, businesses will always want a bargain price to save money, so our promo experts are always helping new clients find bargains on promotional items for a variety of purposes.
FP  The Bargains Group story is one of constant innovation and creativity, which we hear through Mitch Joel is the only way new economy business will survive, what’s your secret sauce??
JS  For us at The Bargains Group, the word “no” doesn’t exist. There are no problems, only challenges and opportunities to help people find what they need. We never sell anything; we just work to point people in the direction of what they’re looking for.  A great deal of what we do is simply old fashioned business techniques. When someone calls the Bargains Group, they will get an actual person answering the phone who will point them in the direction of the expert who can help you; we don’t have a frustrating automated system where you can never reach anyone. As I said before, we’re in the happiness business, so we will try help you find what you’re looking for; and if we can’t find the right solution, we’ll do our best to point you to someone who can.
Internally, we find success not because I hire only the top people, but because we hire to fit our culture, and I encourage the team to embrace change and stress over communication. If we’re consistently adapting to change and over communicating along the way, people will always be on the same page, and it will make our path to success that much smoother.

Jody and her teams amazing work can be seen below, just follow the links:
Visit Project Water’s website here
Visit Project Winter Survival’s website here
Watch Project Water’s Video here 
Watch The Bargain Group’s TV Commercials here
Listen to The Bargain Group’s Radio Commercial here
Check out more media here
View photos from recent events here

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