By Alyce Gilligan
March 3, 2010
Social consciousness is the latest successful sales pitch, prompting a number of companies to create products or alter business plans to appeal to the consumer’s inner humanitarian. Sometimes, it’s just business as usual. But other times, there is someone like Tyler Merrick behind a company with heart like Project 7.
Merrick got his start in consumer goods at the age of 15, assisting his father with sales calls. After several years of building brands and creating products, Merrick began to question if there was a greater purpose to his chosen career. “A lot of the time, we look at things outside of ourselves as entities that need to be doing more, and I finally realized, what could I do?” Merrick says. Tired of the typical charity and philanthropy events, he realized that God wants to use the areas that we excel in, and Merrick had a knack for product development and marketing.
Gradually, the model for Project 7 came into place: a company that sells everyday natural items like bottled water, mints, gum and T-shirts, and gives 50 percent to seven different nonprofit organizations working in seven critical areas of need. These sales not only create awareness but provide an ongoing revenue stream for worthy causes. The multi-faceted mission of Project 7 is: Heal the sick; save the earth; house the homeless; feed the hungry; help those in need; build the future; hope for peace. At the end of the fiscal year, consumers narrow down a list of 21 finalists and select one organization in each category to receive money from Project 7. For 2009, $105,000 was split among a list of winners that included respectable names like Invisible Children, Partners in Health and Blood: Water Mission.
Merrick, sometimes called “the social capitalist,” recognized it would take guts to garner support for a fledgling company that gives away half of the profits grossed from an odd family of products. But the charismatic Merrick was up for the task of convincing buyers that it would be worth it to switch from longstanding brands to a company with purpose. He started with bottled water, and the other products were added while thinking on his toes in desperate meetings. “Someone would say no to water, and so I would come up with another item that maybe they’d have an option for,” Merrick says. Currently, Project 7 items are carried by chains like Caribou Coffee, Whole Foods, Books-A-Million and The Fresh Market.
To ensure that Project 7 isn’t just selling a humanitarian idea but making a real difference, Merrick and company have started 7 Days, a monthly event in which employees and supporters of Project 7’s mission fulfill a day of community service in one of the seven key areas. The company also provides resources to educate consumers about these conflicts and what they can do, both individually and collectively, to change their community. “We want just want to keep adding rungs to the ladder as people become more engaged,” Merrick says.