Q&A: How Molly Moon’s uses data analytics to give back


Molly Moon’s is a local legend—a thriving and beloved ice cream company with eight locations in and around Seattle, Washington, and a mission to make the world a better place. Denise Brown is the controller for Molly Moon’s, and the person most responsible for making sure that the company’s values add up on the bottom line.

“So I do all of the data work, all the accounting, for the company.” Brown says that Molly Moon’s strives to be “the raddest employer in our industry,” by constantly giving back, treating employees right, and actively participating in the local community.

So can a business really be financially, environmentally, and socially responsible while still being profitable, too? We asked Brown how Molly Moon’s does it—and how the company uses data analytics to achieve their goals.

Q: Your mission is to change the world, one scoop at a time. What are some examples of that, and how does data analysis help you work towards that mission?

A: We try to have a really positive social impact. We partner with organizations that work with the homeless or families who need food or support, we work on social justice, and are politically active. Also, from the very beginning, everything that came out of Molly Moon’s was 100% compostable, and we’re always sourcing locally. All our jobs have paid a living wage from the beginning, with fully paid healthcare for anyone who works more than 20 hours a week. And we’re doing the best we can to provide compensation that makes it easy for people to live in Seattle.

It’s important to plan for these elements from the beginning, rather than layering them in as you become more successful. If Molly couldn't have created a business from the very start that would have allowed her to do all this, I think she would have done something different. It really was that fundamental to the creation of the company.

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Q: As someone on the finance and analytics side of the business, how has this mission affected your role?

A: In my history as a finance person, the decisions that you make are profit-driven. So higher sales, lower costs, the biggest reach into the market. At Molly Moon’s, those considerations are important—but equally important is, what kind of impact is this going to have on the environment? What’s going to make our people happiest? How do we support our community? How do we continue to be a brand that’s not just seen as a product, but as a company with a mission?

Q: How do you know that your approach of “doing good” is working?

A: We hear it from our customers and the community. Our employees feel like they’re part of something that does good. We have a lot of programs that give them an opportunity to participate more directly—for instance, at the end of the year, we allocate a certain percentage of our giving budget and our employees vote for how they want to donate that money. About 95% of our employees donate from their paychecks to the fund, which the company matches and adds to.

Q: What role does data analytics play in powering Molly Moon’s mission of “doing good?”

A: We use the data to pinpoint our expectations for sales, to really target what we need to spend on payroll, on ingredients. We need to be incredibly precise, so we know what we have available to give to the community throughout the year, in a way that is most effective. Without the insight from our data, it would sort of be shooting blind.

Q: Could you offer benefits like free healthcare and paid family leave without having the numbers and insight to prove they work?

A: I really don’t think we could. The expense associated with those is a major part of our spending, and if we weren’t really precise in our targeting and budgets, we would not have the ability to plan as generously as we do. It’s key to all those decisions, to really accurately know how our company’s going to perform.

Molly designed her original business plan with the idea of providing good jobs, with great benefits to employees. She really just wanted to make sure that was at the core of the business from the very beginning.

Q: Do you share data insights with the whole organization?

A: We actually do. For our management team, we have 100% transparency—so all the financial and performance information is shared with our managers. Not only does it help them make better decisions, but it’s part of the professional development work we do. And then we share out to the scooper on the shift-leader level, information on how the company is performing compared to goals, on employee happiness and customer happiness, on flavor popularity. So the information that’s more relevant to folks in the shops as well.

One thing that's really important with data is being able to create a great visual representation of that data for people who don’t usually work with numbers. So whether that's a bar graph, pie chart, or some sort of line graph—representing the data in a way that people can quickly grasp it, digest it, process what it means, and find that information very meaningful to them. We have a small office, and what's really great is to be right next to the operations team, and they know how the shop managers, kitchen managers, and area managers are going to need to see and use that data.

Q: What data should a small business be looking at, if they’re trying to be profitable while still being environmentally and socially responsible?

A: I think tracking things like employee happiness, productivity, customer satisfaction—and then tracking volume over time, how transactions increase—is probably the really key way of doing that. So much of that data isn’t as measurable as your sales and payroll costs and how much money you’re making on a particular flavor of ice cream, but these are the places I would start.

Q: Making the world better is obviously a good thing, but it’s easier said than done. Should that be a mission for all small businesses?

A: I feel like it’s extremely valuable. For small businesses, giving back to the community that supports you pays you back as a business. So while it seems harder to do these things at the outset, I think the return—in just feeling like you’re a part of something bigger than the business, like you’re supporting the people you hire, the people who come to your shops, and the ones who maybe don’t have the resources to—all that pays back exponentially.

A company that puts its values at the core of everything they do is just going to be more successful—because that sort of passion comes out in all different ways.

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