A few weeks ago, Jimmy Lefler, owner of the four-location Lefler Collision & Glass, returned from Myanmar for the 13th time in the past eight years. Lefler doesn’t have a timeshare or blood relatives that live there. The reason he travels there is to help women who have grown up in orphanages, recovered from human trafficking, or have been widowed, learn business skills to become self-sustainable.
Lefler’s journey started eight years ago when he and his wife decided to sponsor three orphans from Myanmar through their church. Lefler’s wife encouraged him to make the trip to meet the kids. At first, Lefler didn’t want to go, but after being there once, he was inspired to do whatever he could to improve the lives of those that he met. Lefler signed on to help with a program called “Loom House” where people can purchase blankets made from woman in Myanmar, but Lefler has helped make it more than that. On his first visit, he saw the business potential and showed everyone that it was more than just blankets.
“Each blanket has a story and a purpose,” Lefler says.
Last year, the Loom House brought in almost $100,000, tripling the amount of donations that they had been receiving when Lefler first heard of the project. While visiting, Lefler saw the opportunity and potential to help the Loom House grow into something sustainable. WIth the permission of the organization, he is in the process of launching Restored Lives, which will carry all of the Loom House goods.
Restored Lives is not the only charitable work that Lefer does. In fact, Lefler’s Collision has an online form where people can request donations or sponsorships. On top of that, Lefler’s throws ladies night and teen night driving events. Lefler explains that at the end of the day, it’s all about the legacy that you leave behind. He also explains that it’s helped bring his team closer and has been a great way to invigorate his passion for his work.
There are many in the industry that give back in one way or another, but what you’re doing in Myanmar is so different. What was your thinking behind it?
I like big challenges and seeing the big picture. I’ve been on mission trips before. Those are great, but it’s basically providing something for a certain amount of time and then leaving. It doesn't fix anything. When I first went to Myanmar, the people that I met were starving for knowledge. I saw an opportunity where they could learn to be self-sustainable. When someone wants a hand-up instead of a hand-out, I’ll take my gloves off and start digging in the dirt with them.
How do you think you were able to apply what you’ve learned as a business owner and apply that to making the Loom House successful?
It doesn’t matter what business you’re starting, business is all about people. It’s all about lean principles, process improvements, skills of negotiating for your supplies. You have to make a profit, you have to have a team. They parallel each other.
How do you think what you’re doing in Myanmar and in the local community helps you run your business better?
It reinvigorates me. It allows me to get a new vision for the business. If I start to get complacent, this is a great way to get my creative juices flowing. After I started going to Myanmar, that’s when we purchased more locations and really grew as a business. I’ve taken staff from Leflers with me. My jobber has been 11 times.
How do you find the right fit for your business when it comes to giving back?
I think that this has showed me that if you do something just to gain business, it’s very transparent. If you don’t have a heart for what you’re doing, it’s clear. But, if you can match people with their passion, it works so well. We have close to 100 employees and their passions are all over the place. For example, if someone loves dogs, try and find something that they can do with the humane society. Whenever an opportunity comes up, we always try to find an employee that it will match with. We’re all about everyone giving back.
What’s one of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned from giving back?
It’s reminded me that even the small wins drive excitement. Keep everyone engaged in the process and what you’re doing. It will pay off in the long run.
What advice would you give to someone that wants to give back, but isn’t quite sure where to start?
Everyone has a passion for something. There are so many causes to choose from—battered women, the humane society, Boys and Girls club. That’s where you start. Find your passion. If you care about something, it’s not work.
Marketing Charitable Endeavors
Megan Williams has been Lefler’s director of marketing for two and a half years. During that time, she has been a key player in bringing awareness to all of Lefler’s charitable efforts, including Loom House. Williams shares her tips for marketing events and how this type of organization has helped bring the team closer together.
Why is being involved in the community and giving back so important for a business?
Being involved in the community is so important to us because it is the only way we get to interact and know our community on a personal level outside of when we are repairing their vehicle. We host our largest event of the year, Ladies Night Out, to help empower women of all ages and have around 250 ladies in attendance. Jimmy and Ed Dietz, our chief operations officer, are completely supportive of any type of marketing or outreach I want to do. Having their support is crucial for someone in my role to be able to think outside-of the-box and come up with creative ways to get involved within the community.
How have these events brought your team closer?
These events have brought our team closer because it creates a sense of camaraderie and teamwork amongst everyone. Being an MSO, we have employees at all four locations that volunteer to help with our events and it is awesome to have everyone under one roof working together. Jimmy and Ed have always been supportive in helping our team members with their own personal passions. I think this helps create a better buy-in with our employees and leads to better retention. This is not just a job, we want to be a team who supports one another.
How do you market Lefler’s charitable endeavors?
I like to use a variety of platforms to market our endeavors and events. We utilize traditional advertising methods such as radio and television, but spend a lot of effort on our social media accounts. We are currently on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and as of recently, Pinterest. Each of these are important in their own ways and appeal to specific demographics and interests. We also get involved with lots of grass-roots marketing campaigns with a modern twist, such as our Snapchat GeoFilter that had over 342,000 views last week during our cities annual Fall Festival event.
How do you get the word out about Loom House?
As with anything else I am promoting, I make sure to have visuals of the blankets in each of our locations and on our social media accounts. I make sure the signage in the locations explains who makes the blankets, where the money goes, and I love having a photo to go with it. At any given time, you can find an assortment of 6-8 blankets on display in each location. I try to switch them out every few weeks and if there is a holiday or event coming up- (such as Valentine’s Day) I try to pull as many red, purple, or pink ones and post on our social media that we have them available for gifts.
Tell me about your Paint Party Events.
Earlier this year, I knew I needed to think of a way to get a younger demographic into our locations. I know that paint parties (where attendees paint wooden door hangers in a variety of designs) are extremely popular in the demographic I was trying to appeal to. For our first party in May, we had 40 ladies in attendance. We paired with a local art shop who brings all of the supplies and just provided tables in our estimate bay. It was so much fun and it was a perfect way to meet some new people from the community and to be able to expand out of our comfort zone a little. Each participant paid $40 for their décor piece and a portion went to a local organization of our choosing, which was the Loom House. We recently scheduled our second paint party for November and are looking forward to hosting again.
Why is something like this a good idea?
The paint party is a good idea because it is filling a niche that is present. Many people want to partake in events like this but do not want to have the stress of hosting it within their own homes. This way, we can host, pair with a local business, donate to a local not-for-profit, and get to know new people. It is a win-win for everyone. I love the paint party because it is so easy to market for it. If your shop is wanting to get involved with something like this, give a local not-for-profit a call and see if they would be willing to help spread the word for you to their supporters. It then becomes a fun way to get members of their group and your organization working together for the betterment of your community. I think this and our other events are so much fun and something that I am so passionate about. We are dedicated to our community and want to get involved in every way that we can. This is our spin on being able to do fun activities to engage, inform, and assist.