Reserving some profits for the community makes good business sense for Richmond printer
on October 9, 2023
Leftside Printing survived COVID-19, the Great Recession and the decline of print, and yet it is still here. A colorful shop on 15th Street and MacDonald Avenue, it has an unfamiliar smell of ink and a humming noise coming from the printing machines.
“I started Leftside to change my life and my community,” Diego Garcia, Leftside CEO, said. “Things have been difficult, but here we are.”
While the general consensus might be that screen printing is dead, Leftside has not only survived, but thrived, by using a community-based business model.
The model is characterized by a business’s commitment to contributing to its community’s well-being, said Jillian Grennan, associate professor at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.
By allocating profits toward community-focused initiatives, small businesses like Leftside align their operations and strategies to enhance the welfare of their communities, Grennan added.
“Businesses build a loyal customer base, get community support and a sustainable operating environment which is an investment in the economic ecosystem that sustains them,” Grennan said.
Garcia, 45, was born in Mexico, and moved with his family to Richmond in 1977. In 2006, he established Leftside Printing.
“Diego is a committed entrepreneur who adds so much value to Richmond by giving back to high schools, families and youths,” Wesley Alexander, CEO of COBIZ Richmond, said.
In July, 2020, Leftside joined the rest of Richmond to support the family of the late Vanessa Guillén, an Army private who was sexually harassed and murdered by a superior at Fort Hood in Texas. Guillén’s death greatly affected Richmond’s Latino community, which responded with a series of vigils and protests. Leftside joined the cause, printing a design that read “In Loving Memory Vanessa Guillen” on T-shirts for free and charging $ 5 to design new ones.
During COVID-19, Leftside partnered with Richmond Main Street to donate $ 2,000 in digital banners, to help local businesses let customers know that they were still up and running. The 2-feet-by-3-feet banners read: Yes, we are Open. And the goodwill behind the gesture did not go unnoticed.
“The same businesses we gave free banners to, reached out and ordered printed masks and social distancing stickers,” Garcia said. “We allocate a part of our profits for community-focused programs and activities.”
In 2003, Garcia started the Richmond SOL community soccer club for children and young adults, and Leftside is one of its sponsors.
The city also have given him business, asking Leftside to print the 2023 “Taste of Richmond” marketing materials, said Lizeht Zepeda, Richmond’s senior business assistant officer.
Leftside is among other community-minded businesses in Richmond and many more in towns across the country, where owners sponsor events, donate goods and services and get involved in community activities. It’s a model proven to be beneficial for businesses and customers, Grannan said.
“It fosters a symbiotic relationship that feeds back into value creation,” she said. “This connection is paramount, especially for small businesses, as it enables them to engender customer loyalty that they can rely upon in tough times.”
Community-based business models are similar to the social responsibility that many large corporations build into their business strategies, Grennan said.
But there is a downside. Andrea Portillo-Knowles, executive director of Richmond Main Street, noted that small business owners might not get a return on their investment.
It also keeps a business’ focus local, which could make it less competitive in broader markets, Grannan said.
For Garcia, the model has reaped dividends. Had he not forced a deep bond with his community, he wonders whether Leftside Printing would still be standing.
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