My Facebook status stream is pleasantly awash today in a flurry of hashtag ridden posts reminding friends to #shopsmall for #smallbusinesssaturday accompanied by images with inspirational quotes about how patronizing small businesses supports a family, pays for dance lessons, funnels money into the community, and improves the economy. Small businesses are often passion driven and innovative, started by people who want to make a change in the world around them, but success is hardly guaranteed. Failure rates are high, and customers frequently assume the owner is rolling in the cash or “getting rich” from sales. Small businesses can lend you financial stability, but they can also place you on the verge of financial ruin, to say nothing of the tremendous strain they place on personal relationships. What you perceive as a successful business owner could be one on the verge of bankruptcy and divorce. We’re all faking it until we make it, but the problem is some never do make it. It’s a hard path to walk, and small business Saturday at least tries to reward those who choose it.
Truthfully, I have always thought wedging Small Business Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday was a mistake. Unless your small business is in a mall or a lifestyle center, foot traffic is usually low, and many owners motivate customers with sales and discounts to boost the gross for the day at the expense of their profit margin. And this isn’t just the lingerie community. My neighbor in the shopping center runs a successful tanning gallery and nail salon, and there’s an ale house across the way that is always crowded on Saturdays. Both were empty. Why not allow us to really differentiate ourselves? Better yet, why are we limited to a day? Why isn’t it small business Saturday every day?
Like my friends who want to spread small business cheer, I had planned a post extolling the numerous reasons why—in the midst of big box retailers engaging in price competitions this weekend—you should take one day, just one, to shop with the small stores and restaurants owned by normal people with big dreams. But I’ve done that before, and this year, words failed me. Everyone talks about what makes small businesses great, but people still turn to Amazon or department stores to score savings. No, this year, I am not interested in figures about what small businesses do for the economy or how much of our money goes back into the community. Instead, I am interested in the bold, courageous, compassionate, crazy, wonderful people who put themselves out there, warts and all, and do their damnedest to make their dreams come true. I’m talking about the entrepreneurs behind the business. They also happen to be some of the best people you will ever meet.
They know what it is to struggle and offer to help.
I can’t think of a single small business, even successful ones, that did not have a period where they struggled. It’s hard to watch something you poured so much effort and time into flounder, and most small business owners are empathetic when they see a fellow entrepreneur going through the same issues. When our shop opened, we were exceptionally fortunate to be surrounded by amazing fellow businesses. The family who owns the aforementioned nail salon put our brochures and cards on the front desk, and the guys at the International Minute Press next door let us plug our tools and lights into their power outlet while we were waiting for Duke to set us up. We offered to pay them for the electricity, but they never accepted it. Sue of Focus Fitness, a local women’s gym down the road, not only promoted us to her customers but allowed us to use a back room for fit seminars, sports bra Q&As, and general business promotion. Her kindness came without strings, without a demand for recognition or repayment. When we were in need, she was there, and the support of her business helped us grow and succeed.
They give and give freely.
Do you remember back when we were vandalized? Oh yeah, that was a wonderful way to start the day, but you know what made it better? Mimi’s Pizza. I’m not saying that just because they make the best pizza. I’m saying that because Jimmy, the owner, personally came by with free lunch for us to brighten our day. He saw the post on Facebook of our destroyed office and thought we could use a little pick-me-up. Then there’s Patricia of Bolero whose loving generosity is ongoing. She sent me dresses and books to cheer me up when I was battling fierce depression earlier this fall simply because she knew it would make me smile. When my world was falling apart, she did not want me to lose hope of being happy.
They support your community.
In our area, whenever there is a charity in need, small businesses are the first places they come to for donations because they know we will contribute. The Piedmont Ale House organized an event to find homes for shelter animals, and I’ve seen many small businesses pull resources to collect food and clothing for the homeless, veterans, families in need, and hospice. Jeanna of Bluestockings Boutique, an online small business (and yes those count too), gives proceeds of sales to charitable organizations and political activist groups who represent her and her customers. Our communities are your communities, and by supporting us, you are giving us the ability to pay it forward later.
They place relationships above competition.
The word of business is frequently perceived as being a cutthroat environment, but I have worked with many small business owners who have no problem helping people who may in some ways compete with them. I’m part of a private Facebook group for lingerie store owners, and we often share advice about what worked for us, what fell short of our expectations, and what should be avoided. We have sent items to each other when a manufacturer was out of stock, and we have shared detailed advice on how to improve marketing, who to consider stocking to fulfill certain needs, and how to organize and promote events. If we were corporations, our relationships would be tantamount to spilling trade secrets, but still, we work together. We make those relationships a priority because when we work together to make our individual stores more successful, the boutique business as a whole blossoms.
As I was jotting down my unusually disparate thoughts and emotions about small business Saturday, the post I ultimately wanted to write was part testament to the beauty of the small business owners themselves and part love letter to the many people who have helped my own business prosper. The store, for all the heartache and exasperation, has been a blessing to me in many ways, and the enrichment I have received by meeting other struggling entrepreneurs, both in person and online, can never be adequately described. We have gone beyond colleagues and become friends, working to support each other in what is easily the hardest task most of us have ever undertaken. No one understands the daily struggles like another small business owner, and the amount of support received and given is enough to remind all of us that kindness and generosity do exist. If you shop small for no other reason, do it to support the truly inspiring people of the world who are trying to make their dreams and the dreams of others come true.