Leadership: Trust & tradition: ’Mom & Pop’ shops bring it home

As clients ran for the hills, I held my nose and released my stubborn resistance to minority/small business assistance. All I needed was the chance to bid on larger contracts. Breaking my rule to never apply for help, I signed and submitted stacks of forms proving I was a. qualified, b. ran a small business and c. was born black. A year would pass before I heard from them. Fast forward to 2020. Staring at hastily written guidelines for CARES, PPP (1 & 2), (SBA)-EIDL, Express Bridge, SBERP — all meant to help them survive — most ‘mom & pop’ shops will not or cannot apply.

Small operations don’t believe in the blind-folded lady holding the scales of justice. Like now, when it comes to weighing the lives of the vulnerable against the accountants of the mighty, there is no match. The news asks, “Do you have to risk your life to save your business?” Small business owners already know that answer.

Of the over 30 million small (under 500 employees) or micro (less than 10 employees) businesses in the USA, barely 50% last five years. Most struggle to find qualified employees while only 40% are profitable. Smaller businesses create 64% of new jobs and total 90% of the business population. Most started with less than $10,000 of capital and bring in less than $100,000 in annual income to the owners. To them, a focus on survival is not waiting in a bank lobby. Filling out the forms didn’t work the last time. Someone else’s attorney was there when the bank opened.

Trust & Tradition

We trust the small store, bakery or print shop. We infer a connection that lets the shoulders drop — where tradition matters. Lasting small businesses fill a visual and emotional void. Research might highlight planning, flexibility and funding to keep a small or micro business alive, but I see pride, grit and determination. That’s why few ask for handouts. Few understand why the ‘mom & pop’ mentality isn’t geared to go to the bank, wait in line and plead for rescue money. Veteran ‘mom & pops’ know that trust and tradition sink deeper than short-term help.

Small to ‘Smart’ Business

If ever there was a time to make some structural changes it is now. Larger firms can trick clients with poor quality, hidden fees, surprise shipping costs and small-print lies. The small operation that lasts would never risk losing the trust and tradition customers crave. I’d advise three things to change habits and turn a small business into a ‘smart’ business.

• Hours — It doesn’t take much vision to work long hours. If you’re working 60 hours a week, 20 are wasted — I guarantee. Customers enjoy doing business with someone who seems rested, connected and vibrant. Direct those 20 wasted hours into community events, boards of directors, classes or volunteering. You might find your next big referral or client.

• Pricing — Most of you aren’t charging enough. Or, better said — you haven’t done the emotional work to merit better pricing. You also deserve to be paid on time — Late money is hate money. I once rented a spare office to an ex-IBM manager who promptly announced that I wasn’t profitable. No surprise there — only the speed of his deduction. He said I wasn’t charging enough. At our next staff meeting I announced that we were moving our standard training and consulting event rate from $2,200. to $4,500. One employee said, “I couldn’t charge that much” and resigned weeks later. It took nerves of steel but our good clients understood while troublesome ones gently faded away. We now had time to deliver a superior product — with much better margins.

• Favors — Be very careful using a small or struggling business to support worthwhile efforts in your family, neighborhood or community — it can overwhelm or cloud your business purpose. Your business is … your business. Most small operations fail due to cash flow or not bringing something new or useful to the market. Focus like a laser on satisfying client needs with something useful, unique or timely. Customers first; favors second.

Every small, micro and even ‘mom & pop’ effort to re-open and recover must sort out a balance offering something useful, respecting yourself and sustaining cash flow. Going forward you must provide valuable utility and fill out the forms to survive.

A year had passed since sending in my business assistance information when I received a surprise notice from the same agency. It was a new application to show proof that I was a. still qualified, b. still ran the business and c. still a minority — I tossed the paperwork in the trash.

Rick Griggs is a former Intel Corp. training manager and inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool. He runs the 10-month Leadership Mastery Academy. rick.griggs83@gmail.com or 970-690-7327.

Rick Griggs is a former Intel Corp. training manager and inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool. He runs the 10-month Leadership Mastery Academy. rick.griggs83@gmail.com or 970-690-7327.