Recently I saw a small business shut its doors. I feel terrible because I am partly to blame.
Don't get me wrong. I knew the little sports supplements store was doomed from the start. It was obvious just from driving by it that the owner loves to work out and hoped to build a business out of his passion, but it was just as obvious he would eventually fail. We've all seen entrepreneurs open new ventures that we can tell will soon go under. I'm sure you drive by a few every day, maybe even placing a mental wager on how long they will last. (My over/under is usually six months.)
Many first-time owners go into business with big dreams and small budgets, so they do the best they can. They choose a poor location because it's all they can afford; they hope quality and service will transform an out-of-the-way spot into a destination. Their marketing is crippled by nonexistent ad budgets; they hope for great word of mouth. They have passion and desire in abundance; they hope hard work and persistence will overcome any roadblocks.
In short, they hope.
And every day, people like me dash those hopes.
I never stopped by this store. While I can tell myself it was more convenient to shop at a large retailer, the truth is I didn't stop in because I never saw any cars in the parking lot. I was uncomfortable with how both of us would feel if I browsed and didn't make a purchase: He disappointed, me guilty.
Your business is an extension of you and when it's struggling, perspective is in short supply. You know that you're not going to make every sale, of course, but remembering that "it's not personal, it's business" is nearly impossible. Each potential customer carries the power of validation or rejection.
That's a power I didn't want, but I should have. I could have made a difference, however small.
Every fellow business owner can make that difference. Instead of buying local, go a step further and buy personal. Put aside price/value calculations and rational market theory and survival of the fittest and take a chance on someone. Buy supplies from a local mom and pop. Ask the little restaurant down the road to cater a non-critical event. Call a new vendor and ask for a quote. Give other small businesses an opportunity to win you over.
In the process you may find a new vendor, or maybe not. What's the worst that can happen? You might spend a little more. The meal might not be great. The quote might miss the mark. That's okay. No matter what happens, be gracious. Be complimentary. Say something nice. Say thank you.
Pick a small business and give it a chance. Will you keep it afloat? Of course not. I couldn't have saved that store. But you and I can still make a meaningful difference. Few things are sadder than realizing your life will fall short of the dreams you once had. At the heart of every business is a person with a dream. Validate their dream, even if that validation is fleeting. Give a moment of hope to someone who desperately needs it.
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