Op-Ed By Urban Media News
Aaron’s, Inc., a major retailer focused on the leasing and sale of furniture, electronics, appliances and computers, has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Milwaukee Urban League, Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce, Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce and the Urban League of Greater Madison. This MOU represents the first known instance of a national retailer seeking to operate in the state of Wisconsin making a written commitment to work with diverse civic and business organizations to ensure that people of color are afforded business and employment opportunities.
The Aaron’s Business engages in the sales and lease ownership and specialty retailing of furniture, consumer electronics, home appliances and accessories through its 1,726 company-operated and franchised stores in 47 states and Canada, as well as its e-commerce platform, Aarons.com. As of this date, Aaron’s has no retail locations in the state of Wisconsin. The Company is hopeful that it will be able to open retail locations providing lease-to-own agreements throughout Wisconsin based upon legislation pending before the Wisconsin Legislature.
The MOU focuses upon five keys areas: 1. Employment/ workforce recruitment; 2. Procurement; 3. Franchise Opportunities; 4. Philanthropy and Community Investments and 5. Marketing. Upon commencing operations in the state of Wisconsin, Aaron’s has committed to provide opportunities for minority businesses and to maintain a diverse Wisconsin workforce. Additionally, the Company has agreed to invest in community organizations and provide scholarship support for minority students. The MOU also provides for the creation of an Advisory Board to set metrics and timelines for the Company’s commitments under the MOU. Former Mayor Marvin Pratt has agreed to serve as Chairman of the Advisory Board.
“We are excited about the prospect of doing business in Wisconsin,” stated Robert W. Kamerschen, Aaron’s, Inc. Executive Vice President, General Counsel, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer and President of the Aaron’s Foundation. “We fully recognize that some people aren’t aware of the customer benefits that the lease-to-own transaction provides and as a result may have mixed views of our industry. We’re focused on creating general awareness around the many community benefits offered through the lease-to-own industry, including more jobs and a way for cash constrained customers to own lease and own necessary and quality merchandise for their homes. The lease-to-own agreement is the most affordable and flexible transaction available for those without credit. In our discussions with leaders and policymakers here in Wisconsin – including members of the Black and Latino Caucus in the State Legislature – we learned that it would be critical for Aaron’s to establish a mutually beneficial relationship with the community and to conduct its business in accordance with the highest ethical standards,” Kamerschen stated. “By entering into the MOU – something we understand that no national retailer has done here in Wisconsin – with highly respected civic and business organizations our intention was to demonstrate a commitment to a true partnership with the community,” he said.
One person who can attest to Aaron’s commitment to the Milwaukee community is Vincent Lyles, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee. Last year, Aaron’s made a significant contribution toward the complete renovation of the Don and Sallie Davis Boys and Girls Club in Milwaukee.
“Aaron’s contribution of close to $30,000 enabled us to renovate one of our key club locations here in Milwaukee,” said Lyles. “The fact that Aaron’s was willing to make such a significant investment to help our kids, despite not even having Wisconsin operations at that point, suggests that the Company will be a good community partner should it actually commence operations here” he added.
The donation to the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee is part of a three year, $5 million national partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Keystone Program, helping teens develop their character and leadership skills in hopes of helping them reach their potential and creating positive change in the community. Keystone Club teen centers provide members ages 14-18 an environment to plan and participate in activities that focus on community service, academic success, career preparation and teen outreach.
Last month, the Wisconsin Assembly approved legislation that would protect consumers and create regulatory certainty for companies like Aaron’s that are in the lease-to-own industry. The Wisconsin Senate is expected to vote on the proposed legislation on Wednesday, March 20. Should the legislation be approved by the Wisconsin Senate, and signed into law by Governor Walker, it is expected that new players in the lease-to-own industry like Aaron’s will enter the Wisconsin market and provide consumers with an affordable and flexible transaction available for those without credit.