Monday, January 5, 2015

Mom and Pop Shops Struggle

By Lisa Autz

Photo courtesy of Anna Thorner.

Think back to that one store in your community that was the epitome of a mom and pop business. It may have been the small, family-run restaurant around the corner that always remembered your favorite dish, or the local market that lends a helping hand when you would load your groceries into the car.

Whatever it was, there seemed to be a genuine, community spirit about them that emphasized relationship building instead of vapid slogans targeted at generating sales.

Thirty years ago these businesses were the backbone of most small cities across the country, but are now increasingly becoming a nostalgic memory. In the face of a staggering economy, advancing technology, and competing online sites, over 59 percent of owners say it's more difficult running a small business now than it was just a few years ago.

Utilizing the shopping frenzy of the holidays, Small Business Saturday is an attempt to combat that fact. The day, created by American Express five years ago, is slabbed between Black Friday and Cyber Monday with the hope of bringing the little guys back into the awareness of big-name shoppers.

Harry Hecht, a business consultant for SCORE, the nonprofit dedicated to developing local enterprises, sat down with BTR to discuss why local commerce is integral to a community. Although community shops may be an afterthought for buyers during the holidays, they have a strong importance in the growth of the economy.

"Larger retailers are always looking at cutting employees," reasons Hecht. "There is a greater capacity for long-term sustainable employment in small businesses when they don't have to deal with stock market implications and have a growth that is much more predictable."

Though consumers benefit from the low prices and bargains that giant corporations can offer, too many of these chain retailers clog up the arteries of our economy's blood flow by putting money into the hands of big retail instead of letting it circulate back into the local community.

Corporations have been eliminating approximately four million jobs since 1990, and America counts on the smaller enterprises to fill in those gaps.

Today, small businesses still account for 54 percent of all sales in the US and have provided 55 percent of all jobs since the 1970s. But growing taxation and regulations are making it increasingly difficult for people looking to bring their entrepreneurial visions to fruition.

"We need a better way to have a business start from scratch," proposes Hecht. "We still have 60 to 70 percent of businesses failing in the first five years because many are disconnected with their idea and what it takes to see it succeed."

Anna Thorner, the president and co-owner of an office furniture store in Sterling, Virginia called Sumner Furniture, attested to the difficulty of starting her small business in a phone interview with BTR.

"I've always heard people complain about the taxes and I used to roll my eyes, and now I see," admits Thorner. "It's mind-blowing--I don't fully understand why they tax people so heavily who are trying to do what they keep telling us to do to for the economy."

The furniture shop, that sells new and used office furnishings, started two years ago by her husband Jeff Thorner and has since become a part of the national advocacy group called Small Business Majority. Aside from utilizing networking functions, the company rarely employs a holiday marketing tactic and was not even aware of Small Business Saturday.

Instead Sumner Furniture's focus is on the supremacy of her customer's experience.

"Honestly, our tactic is to bend over backwards and do anything for our clients," remarks Thorner. "The word 'no' rarely comes out of our mouths, it's exhausting but we will do anything for our customers."

Though the old-fashioned ideals can go far, there's no denying the expansive audience that can be reached with the use of social media. In fact, the Small Business Majority initiated a contest days before the small biz holiday for owners to have the chance to get a total revamp on all social media platforms.

Chris Armstrong, a national partnership and government affairs manager for Small Business Majority, spoke with BTR about their outreach to help these storefronts generate more traffic with their contest campaign entitled, "Confessions of a Small Biz Shopaholic."

The hashtag #SmallBizShopaholic encouraged anyone shopping that day to join in the conversation on supporting their favorite local spot. The grand prize winner of the campaign will be announced in the first week of 2015.

"These businesses are constantly pouring more time and more passion into what they do and having more difficulty finding loans and getting access to capital to hire more people for the holidays," describes Armstrong. "As a consumer it's an important role to help heighten the awareness even if it's tweeting out that you bought something at your local store."

Collective work from both customers and business owners alike has the ability to make zealous, neighborhood businesses still thrive in our economy. Days like Small Business Saturday are just one avenue to combine traditional, service-oriented ideals with modern technology to keep innovation and compassion in business.