By Joan Leotta
Scott Monette ‘s St. Louis company, 100 Percent Wine, is more than just a purveyor of premium California wines. The company’s mission represents a major shift in paradigm, a change in the way America views people with disabilities in the workplace. Monette’s ambitious goal of creating more inclusive environments is powered by his belief: “Work is a basic right. Having a job helps people feel that they have a place in society.”
This very conviction — along with something more — inspired Monette to leave a prime position in the corporate world to found 100 Percent Wine. As he explains, “I have a strong vested interest in inclusive workplaces. My son Matthew is deaf and on the autism spectrum. The number of people in our country with disabilities is staggering—56, 57 million. In addition, two thirds of them are completely out of the workforce. A job defines your place in society. I wanted my new business to start a conversation about what people with disabilities can accomplish in the workplace if we just give them a chance.”
In both hiring people with disabilities and determining their placement within the organization’s structure, Monette’s approach is unique. Approximately half of his small staff identifies as having a disability and all its profits are donated to groups who work toward creatively integrating people with disabilities into the workforce. Monette explains, ” We are a certified “B” corporation. B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency and not just wealth for shareholders., We take this seriously. In fact, we were recently named a 2016 Best for the World Company by the B in Change Media. This award highlights companies around the globe that create exceptional positive social and environmental impact. In our case, we were honored for our work in the communities we serve. We felt obtaining the certification and the award was important because they tell people we are serious about our commitment to the inclusion of people with disabilities into the workforce.” In evidence of this uncommon commitment, Monette’s salary as company head is one dollar per year.
Or course, lofty goals are not without their own unique challenges. As Monette explains, product perception can be a stumbling block for potential consumers: “One of our major challenges is getting people to realize that they can have a great product experience while supporting a wonderful cause. So many companies have produced poor products under a charity umbrella that consumers have become rightly skeptical. I knew our wine had to over-deliver to be credible. Based on feedback from consumers and wine critics, all of our wines exceed that high standard. We have to prove it to consumers at every single tasting.”
Another challenge related to the company’s larger objectives is persuading potential employers to hire people with disabilities. To address this, 100 Percent Wine actively models both its hiring practices and training techniques. Such proactive transparency allows “other firms to see that hiring people with disabilities is a good business decision” Monette says. He goes on to point out that “we have plenty of data to show that people with disabilities make dedicated hard working employees— that their turnover and absentee rates are very low. Low turnover alone, once experienced, makes it well worth it to hire a person with a disability. These figures alone, however, do not make the case about the importance of training, or even one on one coaching. Experience makes that case.” Monette notes that one person can get the ball rolling in a large or small business. Walgreen’s Pepsi, Ford, UPS, Amazon,, and Xerox are industry giants who have innovated employment opportunities and implemented training for people with disabilities.
Employees at 100 Percent
Andrew, who has attention deficit challenges, is one of the employees whose job is to ensure that patrons of 100 Percent come away with positive shopping and purchase experiences. After Andrew’s first employee experience as a 100 Percent Brand Ambassador at a grocery store tasting, Monette was motivated to write an article describing what they had both learned that day. Those reflections which appeared in Fast Company relay the practicalities and the passions that combined, can create a successful venture. From the vantage point of company founder, Monette is clear about the learning curve: ” I had done a number of wine tastings and understood how to be effective,. I assumed all of that knowledge would be intuitive for Andrew. That was not only wrong, but it was also unfair. I realized that Andrew just needed some coaching on how to interact with customers, Once I took the time to help Andrew, he learned quickly and became successful— so successful that customers began to ignore me. He ended up selling twice the volume of wine that day that we normally sell. I learned a lot. My biggest lesson was that no company had really given Andrew a chance. I quickly figured out that Andrew could be very successful once he was properly trained, just like anyone else. I knew there were lots of other “Andrews” in the world who deserved a chance to be successful. At its core, that is what 100 Percent Wine stands for.”
Half of the small company’s staff of six have disabilities. Tom Jenkins who oversees social media has cerebral palsy and is mobility impaired. Valerie Hill, has learning difficulties and other disabilities goes out on tastings. As the company grows by adding products, Monette hopes to add more employees as well, including those with disabilities. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we know that once people see what we are doing it opens their minds to the possibility of hiring persons with disabilities in their own companies. It was important to have a person with a disability in a position where he or she would interact with the public. That works to change public perceptions of what people with disabilities can or cannot do. Disability inclusion is integral to our business.”
Monette works with local agencies committed to helping people with disabilities find meaningful employment. “We recruit employees from several organizations where job development is part of their mission. One of these is the St Louis Arc, which gave him the referral to Andrew.
As inspiration for this innovating venture, Matthew Monette may one day work full time for his father. Scott Monette explains, “Matthew works with me on a part-time basis now but he recently got a full time job at a local grocery. Matthew always comes home smiling from work. When I was driving him home recently, he pointed to the grocery store where he works and said, ‘That is a happy place.’ I want everyone to feel the same sense of accomplishment and joy that Matthew feels from work.”
Even the most altruistic of business enterprises rely on positive customer feedback, a reality which Monette has sought to balance with the other objectives of his company. With a goal of “creating an experience beyond the simple transaction of tasting the wine,” Monette seeks to establish “customer engagement that not only creates a good atmosphere for the product but also helps the general public change any negative perceptions about people with disabilities in general and specifically about what they can do in the workplace.”
Exceeding customer expectations contributes to the company bottom line which in turn strengthens the case Monette makes to potential employers in other lines of business. People with disabilities constitute a vast untapped labor pool. By engaging the challenges unique to this highly diverse and talented demographic, 100 Percent Wine effectively models how to “build on each small success and clearly articulates as a company that this is who we are [hiring]. If it were easy it would have no real value.”
Partners and Profits
At present, two organizations, United Cerebral Palsy Heartland and Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, are the largest recipients of 100 Percent Wine profits. Of special note, Mercy’s work in the community closely aligns with Monette’s own business objectives. Dana Brodeur, who serves as Manager of Disability Inclusion Services for Mercy Hospitals in St. Louis, has, according to Monette, developed a stellar program “that turns volunteers, especially volunteers with disabilities, into employees. Not only has she formed a very successful program, she has made it into an innovative employment creation model and implemented it in all of the other Mercy hospitals in the area. In addition, she is broadening it to the six other states where Mercy has a presence. She uses volunteering as a way of training for the people she hires. She has also integrated dealing with people with disabilities into the hospital’s diversity training program.”
In addition to the positive coverage in disability media, several local, general media outlets have devoted news stories highlighting the company’s mission and its important impact on the community.
Regrettably, not every interaction has been a success. Monette recounted a recent incident where a grocery manager asked Andrew to leave the store before he had even begun the tasting. Monette notes that Andrew had done anything wrong and when pressed, the manager used a flimsy excuse to justify asking Andrew to leave. Monette says, “Andrew was, of course, deeply hurt and it reminded me that although we have made progress, there is still a lot of work to do.”
Vision for 100 Percent Wine
Fortunately, such episodes are infrequent and will not deter Monette and like-minded businesses and organizations from seeking even great inroads. For this father and CEO, the future is clear: “Our vision is to develop more products, hire more people including people with disabilities … and as a bigger company we will be able to support more organizations with a vision for employment of people with disabilities.” To this, Monette added: “I like to think that we are in the business to help people. Some are cynical but I have a son in this population and I am committed to making this work. We are transparent as a company and we live what we say we are going to do. We want to continue to be a brand that brings lasting value and impacts lives.”
Note: 100 Percent Wine’s products in many retail stores throughout Illinois and Missouri. In states where online alcohol purchase and delivery are legal, visit drinkwinehelppeople.org or contact Scott directly at Scott@drinkwinehelppeople.org.
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