Chris Lampen-Crowell and herd run for sustainable social impact
It has been almost 30 years since Chris Lampen-Crowell set out with Bruce Johnson to co-found a running and fitness goods company. Now the company has grown to three Gazelle Sports stores, Team Gazelle, a New Balance store, and recently achieved certification as a Benefit Corporation (B Corp).
“We really just wanted to build friendships and a place that people could come and trust with their running and fitness needs,” said Lampen-Crowell. “We started in Kalamazoo and only saw that far. We wanted to impact Kalamazoo. We grew there and had success. Our model is much more hands-on customer care, relationship based, and building a community. It’s more than just walking into one of our many competitors stores who just sell product.”
From the very beginning, triple-bottom line, social impact, and environmental sustainability were important to Lampen-Crowell and his partners, but he didn’t know about B Corps until Local First
hosted the BALLE
annual conference in Grand Rapids in 2012.
“I went to one of the presentations and was like ‘wow, this is significant,’” Lampen-Crowell said. “It started my thought process. We really want to be a business that makes a difference to our employees, but also to our community. With that in mind, [the B Impact Assessment] was a true measure we could take and really see where we were at. It was more about measuring ourselves to determine what we could do to become a better company.”
In the summer of 2013, Lampen-Crowell set an intern about the task of going through the B Impact Assessment
“We didn’t have an expectation to become a B Corp, we just eked out. You need 80 points, and we scored 83,” Lampen-Crowell said.
B Corps receive certification from the nonprofit B Lab
, dedicated to using the power of business as a force for good. In order to receive this certification, companies must meet rigorous standards in four categories: governance, workers, community, and environment. These categories are measured by the B Impact Assessment
, a free tool powered by B Lab. The company states, “We ought to measure what matters most: the ability of a business to not only generate returns, but also to create value for its customers, employees, community, and the environment.”
In October 2013, Gazelle Sports achieved official status as a B Corp, although this was underplayed to customers and the media until just recently.
“We did a series of staff meetings. I was really overwhelmed with the positive response,” Lampen-Crowell said. “People cared more than I expected, it makes me feel really good about who I work with and why they are there.”
Scott Sneller, store manager in the Grand Rapids store, has been with Gazelle Sports for over 10 years.
“I love working at Gazelle Sports because we get the opportunity to positively impact people in many different ways,” Sneller said. “I am proud of Gazelle Sports becoming a B Corp because it reminds me every day that as a staff member, we can use our business as a force for good.”
“It’s a great outcome, that employees really want to be engaged in doing something through business to make the environment better, or really create more of a social relationship-based economy, focused on people and connections, rather than transactions and money,” Lampen-Crowell said.
Elissa Hillary, Executive Director at Local First, said that locally owned businesses have the advantage of connecting on a unique level with their communities, harnessing their social and financial capital for the benefit of those regions.
“Studies have shown that 73 percent more money stays in our community when you spend it at a locally-owned business,” Hillary said. “Gazelle weaves that even tighter by partnering with other local businesses and community organizations. In addition to creating jobs and vibrant storefronts, they engage their team in creating programs that benefit people across our region.”
These programs look like the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon
, Gobble Wobble
, and other 5k fundraisers. The company also plays an active role as a sponsor in the Fifth Third River Bank Run, Kalamazoo Marathon
and Girls on the Run
Encouraging people to “Get out and Move,” Lampen-Crowell spends his free weekends running with people, spending time with his wife, and simply training for the love of movement. This is truly living the mission of the company, to “actively pursue, encourage and celebrate a healthy lifestyle.”
Local herbalist, author, and runner Lisa Rose Starner has been a loyal client and active volunteer with Gazelle Sports for years.
“Gazelle has not only a strong following in the running community, but they are leaders in our local business environment,” Starner said. “I want to support business that is mindful and transparent with their business model and is thoughtfully structured to not only be a financially viable business, but invest in their employees and give back to their community in meaningful ways.”
In the process of certifying as a B Corp, Lampen-Crowell developed internal teams to brainstorm ways that the company can impact the environment in small and large ways.
Evan Groendyk is one of the Gazelle team members meeting with staff members who are interested in what Gazelle is doing as a B Corp. As a graduate from Western Michigan University with a degree in Environmental Studies, this added role couldn’t be a better fit.
“Chris asked me to feel out the interest people had in brainstorming ideas,” Groendyk said. “We have several staff members in each location who are actively interested in the ongoing process.”
As a running store, Gazelle is obligated to stock big name brands like Nike and Asics, but as a local specialty store, it’s able to offer much more.
“One of the things we may be able to do is survey our suppliers in an attempt to track their environmental performance and start asking the question, ‘What are you doing to be sustainable?’” Groendyk said. “We want to be an impetus for change.”
The core values of Gazelle Sports are active living, excellence, community, care and learning.
“Being structured as a B Corp allows a platform for these values to flourish in the marketplace,” Starner said. “I look forward to learning how it propels Gazelle to do more, better, stronger and faster for our West Michigan community.”
Lampen-Crowell said Patagonia
has epitomized what the Gazelle leadership hopes is a new direction for vendors.
“One of the things that we are doing, in discussions with our vendors, is have a conversation with [Patagonia] about what that they are doing for recycling and decreasing raw materials,” he said.
A recent change within Patagonia was to move to the stainless steel bottle vendor Klean Kanteen
, a fellow B Corp.
Becoming a certified B Corp means a lot of transparency for Gazelle Sports, and also leaves room for an incredible impact in the community. But it certainly isn’t the easy road.
“Running a business is hard, running a business with a social conscience is even harder. Cascade Engineering and Gazelle Sports are high impact businesses,” said Hardik Savalia, a senior staffer at B Lab.
Along with like-minded organizations Cascade Engineering and Local First, Lampen-Crowell and the team at Gazelle Sports are out on a mission to help others do the same.
Kelly LeCoy is the founder of Uptown Kitchen and freelance writer for UIX Grand Rapids.