Some of the largest U.S. retail companies—Forever 21, Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby, H-E-B, JCPenney, and Whole Foods—were founded by leaders with strong religious beliefs that they consciously infused into the daily operations of their business and the business practices of their employees.
The retail chains with the most openly religious founders sometimes have equally religious mission statements and religious visions. Sometimes, however, you have to look closely to find evidence of religious values in action because most retail chains prefer to retain a secular and nonpartisan brand image. To take a strong stand on religion would be risk offending or alienating customers who embrace different religious values. That's a market-share limiting stance that most of the largest U.S. retail chains are not willing to take.
Chick-fil-A's Mission to Glorify God
Like Hobby Lobby, Chick-fil-A keeps the doors of its retail stores closed on Sundays for religious reasons. And like the leaders of almost every religious-based retail company, CEO Dan Cathy created controversy when he took a religious stand against a political issue. Cathy publicly denounced gay marriage on religious principles and created both a public relations and human resources firestorm.
H-E-B’s Religious Roots
When he was in charge and actively running the H-E-B grocery store chain he founded, the religious beliefs of Howard E.Butt could be seen in the policies of his retail stores which weren’t open on Sundays and didn’t sell alcohol. Even though those business practices changed almost 40 years ago, H-E-B is still considered to be a religious-based business primarily because it donates 5% of its pre-tax profits to charity.
The Hobby Lobby Mission to Honor the Lord
Hobby Lobby’s founder David Green openly and unapologetically leads his company based on his own Christian beliefs. The Hobby Lobby mission statement makes direct reference to Christian principles, and clearly intends to align all stakeholders with biblical principles. Green demonstrates his personal commitment to his Christian-based business by keeping his retail stores closed on Sundays. In 2012, Green also launched a Freedom of Religion based lawsuit against the U.S. government in protest over the requirement to provide insurance coverage for “emergency contraceptives,” which is against his religion.
Retail Unto Others As You Would Like JCPenney to Retail Unto You
The son of a minister, James Cash Penney believed strongly in the philosophy of The Golden Rule. So it's no wonder that one of his first retail jobs was as a clerk in a store with the same name—The Golden Rule. It was his belief in the Golden Rule philosophy that allowed Penney to flourish, and rise quickly from stock clerk to owner-partner in the same company.
By embracing the values of honesty and trust with both his employees and his customers, Penney built both loyalty and a good reputation, which he used as the platform to grow his own chain of namesake JCPenney branded retail stores. Today the JCPenney chain is not considered to be a religious-based company, but it still has a strong set of guiding principles that guide its employees to live and work with the spirit of The Golden Rule which so strongly guided the JCPenney founder.
Whole Foods Mission, Neither Conservative Nor Christian
Whole Foods founder John Mackey didn’t study retailing or business management in college. Instead, Mackey studied philosophy and religion at the University of Texas Austin. Where there are no specific religious references in the Whole Foods Company Mission Statement and Core Values, Mackey is reportedly a practicing Buddhist and the Whole Foods way of doing business is aligned with Buddhist beliefs.