For Good Cause

For these entrepreneurs, success means more than just a big bottom line. Meet our 1999 Socially Responsible Franchisees of the Year.
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the July 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

It's 4 a.m. You've just spent the past seven hours readying your business for the big sale you're starting tomorrow, updating your Web site and restocking your shelves, all the while inhaling cup after cup of coffee and yearning for daylight savings time so you could just turn the clock back an hour.

You finally hit the sack, your body still quaking from the caffeine, your eyes drooping with fatigue . . . two hours later, your alarm clock screams, yanking you back into reality.

Sound familiar? We thought so.

That's why we're so amazed by those of you who manage to squeeze anything other than thoughts of business into your overworked brains--and why we established the first annual Socially Responsible Franchisee of the Year award. Of the numerous nominations we received, we found several exemplary citizens who deserved to be recognized, so we established three categories: Philanthropist Extraordinaire, an overall socially responsible franchisee (in this case, a husband-and-wife team); Big-Time Benevolence, a multiunit franchisee whose influential status benefits his or her community; and Oh, Charitable Canadian, a franchisee who carries social responsibility across the border.

Philanthropist Extraordinaire

Judy and Chuck Ruggeri, both in their 60s, were devoted to social responsibility way before it was cool. The co-owners of six Fantastic Sams locations in Pennsylvania have spent much of the past 11 years educating and supporting the public, promoting their industry, and charming customers, rarely pausing for a breather. "Chuck and I are [involved] in the business 24 hours a day, seven days a week," says Judy. "Last year, we had our first full-week vacation in 10 years."

They're able to handle the stress with the help of their son, David Ruggeri, and his wife, Flo, who both work in the business, as well as their loyal staff and customers, who often inspire ideas for helping the community. And let's not forget Fuzzy.

Yes, Fuzzy is a bear. A big, orange bear that journeys to local preschools and hospitals with the Ruggeris' stylists. While Fuzzy entertains, the stylists cut the kids' hair and teach them grooming techniques. "If we teach them while they're young, they'll learn to respect themselves," says Flo, the Ruggeris' director of operations. "The little things we teach them go a long way."

Other efforts include fund-raisers for cancer research and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, in-home haircuts for the elderly, Easter egg hunts, and in-salon birthday parties. In the name of social responsibility, Chuck and David even volunteered to do hard time: They spent a few hours in the slammer while stylists collected "bail" money from customers. The Ruggeris matched each dollar given and donated all the proceeds to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

What's next? Wigs. The stylists lop off customers' ponytails and ship the hair to a charity which turns it into wigs for cancer patients. Appropriately, the effort is called "Locks of Love."

"These events allow us to get along with the community," notes Chuck. "They inspire our employees to do more, which inspires us to do more, too. It's a rewarding experience for everyone." Including Fuzzy.

Big-Time Benevolence

Ever wonder what gargantuan quick-serve restaurants do with all their money? Do they pump up their marketing efforts? Purchase new equipment? Find exciting ways to improve the french fry?

Not necessarily. Take Danny Murphy, owner of D.P. Murphy Inc., a corporation that operates 19 Tim Horton's restaurants, eight Wendy's quick-service restaurants and a Holiday Inn, most of which are located near Prince Edward Island, Canada. Murphy, 43, who recently won Canada's Top Employer of Youth award, believes helping his community involves a different sort of bottom line. "We're able to do charitable things, so we do them," Murphy says. "It's that simple."

With a daily client base of 25,000, Murphy does, indeed, have that ability. After 20 years of helping the community, people have come to anticipate his ski trips for underprivileged children; food drives; highway cleanups; children's camps, one of which he personally runs and four others, to which he sends children; and the Easter Seals poster-child campaign, which netted $20,000 last year. Other programs include a soup campaign each February (for the Heart & Stroke Foundation) and Alzheimer's Day (proceeds from every large coffee sold at Tim Horton's locations benefit the Alzheimer's Society).

Murphy's advice for entrepreneurs looking to give back? "Big events and small beginnings," he says. "The first year, you might be by yourself, waving that banner, but don't get discouraged. Big events weren't always big; they all had to start somewhere."

Oh, Charitable Canadian

Although Stephen Simpson has lists of charitable events to his credit and owns 47 First Choice Haircutters salons throughout Canada, he's not one to toot his own horn. "I'm just the coach," says Simpson, 49. "It's the players who play the game."

The players, of course, are his staff and customers, whose innovative ideas get everyone's creative juices flowing. For a "Cops for Cancer" promotion, which raised nearly $150,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society, Simpson donated staff and equipment to help shave police officers' heads. "Our philosophy," says Simpson, "is to do things the community can be involved in."

Simpson's primary focus, however, is children's needs. He's donated revenues to the local Ronald McDonald House and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Institute. Once a year, Simpson's salons donate revenues to the Children's Wish Foundation in conjunction with a store-decorating contest. This fall, Simpson hopes to raise money to provide underprivileged children with snowsuits.

Simpson's only dilemma? Choosing which organizations to assist. "These charities are desperate for help," says Simpson. "They're overjoyed to hear from people who want to [pitch in]."

Simpson's efforts hit a personal note as well. "People tend to complain," he notes. "These events help us be more thankful for the opportunities we have that these kids might never have."

Better To Give . . .

Here are a few other community-friendly franchisees who caught our attention:

  • I scream, you scream: Fred Bradish, 57, a minister and Baskin-Robbins franchisee in Dallas, distributes coupons for free ice cream every six weeks to locals who maintain perfect attendance either at school or at work.
  • Couching staff: Vancouver, Washington, Chem-Dry franchisee Pat Heffron, 40, discovered a way to both train his employees and help the community. New technicians learn Chem-Dry techniques by cleaning discarded furniture, which is then donated to local shelters for battered women and homeless people.
  • Bless this mess: Country Clutter franchisee Sylvia Pardini, 32, helps charities in Milpitas, California, by donating gift packages and revenues to the local food pantry, YMCA and Rotary International.
  • Token of affection: Debbie Slavens' students don't just study at her Sylvan Learning Center in Vandalia, Ohio--they learn to be socially wise. Through an annual "token drive" for Shepherds, a residential facility for the mentally disabled, students give up their Sylvan-store tokens, which are rewarded for positive behavior. Slavens, 49, matches each one with $1 out of her own pocket.

Contact Sources

Fantastic Sams, Mountain Laurel Plaza, Rte. 30, Latrobe, PA 15610, fax: (724) 853-7061

First Choice Haircutters, (800) 617-3961,

Tim Horton's, (902) 368-3727, fax: (902) 368-3758

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