What if there was a way to communicate to your customers (and prospective patrons) that your small business was a welcoming environment that will offer service to anyone? Sounds like a great idea, right? One group of organized business owners are doing just that with their creation of the “Open to All” coalition. Is it truly, however, the answer to today’s polarized consumer?
What is the Open to All Coalition?
A recent AP article credits the movement to big brands Levi Strauss, Yelp, and Lyft, who have a record of being change-makers in their industries. 1,200 business have claimed to be on board, as well, and their efforts have been centralized through an Open to All website with branded outreach materials, educational articles, and support for businesses who want to get involved.
So, what does it mean? Inspired, in part, by the recent Supreme Court’s decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case, the website states this mission:
Open to All is the nationwide public engagement campaign to build awareness and understanding about the importance of our nation’s nondiscrimination laws—and to defend the bedrock principle that when businesses open their doors to the public, they should be Open to All
It hopes to provide businesses with the tools to provide products and services – without discrimination.
How Can You Participate?
Since Yelp is a major partner in the project, their review platform is one of the core pieces of the initiative. Businesses who commit to providing service to anyone can get an attribute on Yelp to indicate that they are, indeed, open to all. The “Yes/No” field will be populated in the “More Business Info” section, which also includes details such as whether a company accepts Bitcoin and if there are gender-neutral restrooms.
There are other materials stores can use to communicate the designation, including window stickers and digital marketing materials. By making the pledge, requesting the toolkit, and displaying the logo, you can join the cause.
What are you promising? Businesses must pledge to:
Maintain a welcoming and safe environment for people—including employees, visitors, customers, vendors and clients—regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion or disability.
Law already protects many of these. In fact, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to refuse service in public places due to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. When it comes to sexual orientation, however, just 21 states and District of Columbia require businesses to serve everyone. The pledge places the responsibility to uphold regulations – and even extend beyond them – on the business owner. It’s a proactive approach to “not discriminate against any individuals or deny them goods or services based on any of these characteristics, and to provide all goods and services to everyone on the same terms” no matter the law of the land at the time or what any court ruling allows.
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Here’s What Opponents Say
Serving everyone is a good thing, right? According to the group’s founders, the organization simply wants to create a more welcoming business environment for all customers, no matter who they are. Some businesses, however, feel that joining any movement – even one based on inclusivity – has the potential to divide. Many already display their own homemade “Everyone welcome” signs and claim that they don’t need a third-party group to grant them status. Some have taken to add a few categories to their own inclusivity policies to make sure people of any political affiliation, dress code, or age can buy their goods and services. With this in place, they have no interest to join an outside group.
Others are worried that the campaign, which was started by the Movement Advancement Project (which advocates for LGBT people through their data collection and public policy), may take an otherwise seemingly impartial business and cause unnecessary attention. Loyal customers who don’t know about the campaign, or perceive it to be left-leaning, may decide a business is taking sides on a host of other (possibly unrelated) issues. The efforts to bring people together may have the opposite effect, and some worry it could drive customers away. They choose, instead, to let their excellent service do the talking.
Other Things to Consider
The good news is that, if you own your own business, you can choose if the campaign is right for you. With many companies desperately searching for a way to communicate that they are completely “open to all,” the movement couldn’t have come at a better time. The pledge that business owners are required to make falls in line with most businesses personal ethos, anyway; the community that will likely form around the campaign could be a great way to reach out to other like-minded businesses and get recognition on Yelp for your efforts. Customers will eventually seek out just these companies, so it’s an easy way to communicate your alignment with an open-door policy.
Before you sign up, make sure you are following the rules. Some franchises do not allow additional signage beyond what’s provided by their brand team. (Target, for example, has a no third-party sticker policy and has opted out of the program.) If you are already displaying signage letting customers know that everyone is welcome, the program provides a more uniform approach to fighting discrimination and holds the possibility to gain traction among active groups of shoppers who do more value-based shopping. Those seeking out Open to All businesses will see the designation, and it will be an easy choice for them to make.
Just be sure that you truly are “open to all.” Your customers will certainly be expecting it.
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