Getting involved is a business strategy.
We built our first business by being visible and ongoing contributors in a small city of approximately 22,000 people in Eastern Ontario. We moved from Alberta and started a business in a community where, we did not know one person and, at first glance seemed to be closely knit and unwelcoming. It was lonely, our first summer here, we would drive around looking for something to do with our kids but not incognito as the vehicle we drove was our flower delivery van.
Often we would just park and watch a softball game and let the kids play at a play structure. It embarrassed our kids, who wished we could get a real vehicle like other families. I would go for groceries and try to make conversations with the cashier or the guy restocking the produce. Anything for the people contact I craved and to stretch my time out of our rented house or storefront business.
Getting involved in our community was a strategy, somewhat of a necessity to meet new people and make friends, but also a reflection of us as owners. We love people, we love to help out and get involved however we can.
To this day when someone asks me to help out on a project, facilitate, or use my expertise, I rarely say no unless my schedule won’t permit. What happened is our business exploded by the contacts we made from our volunteer efforts and desire to get involved in our community. Although we no longer own that first business, the long lasting legacy is the breadth of contacts across this community and the many contacts who are now friends and associates and being regarded as a “connector”.
This past experience has shaped who I support in business and also those I do not. Those I do not support also reflect my interest in social justice and my observations from working with unemployed and underemployed youth and older adults.
Here is my list of businesses who have my support and why…
- First and foremost I try to support an independent business, because these are becoming scarce. Economies of scale like large grocery chains and franchises have such a huge advantage with large volume pricing discounts that independents have been gradually squeezed out of the market place.
- Secondly, I try to support someone (whether they are an independent or not) who is active in the community. This would describe a business that donates door prizes at hockey tournaments, volunteers as a coach for soccer or hockey, or does some kind of charity work or is active in service clubs/groups.
- Businesses that can be spontaneous and respond to an immediate need always get my respect. I see this when there is a local crisis, a family in need after a tragic event, or a fundraising effort falls short. These business people rally and will step up to the plate by donating their tips from that day, act as a drop off point for donations of goods and services, encourage their customers to donate and or donate their own profits for the day. Sometimes need is immediate and on the spot decisions are required.
- I support businesses that treat their employees fairly and with respect. I often ask individuals how they are treated by their employers to gather this information. Questions such as: Are you paid overtime in accordance with current legislation, do you feel safe in your workplace, do you feel comfortable making a suggestion towards improved operations and how is that received, and how much flexibility are you given in the event of a family emergency. Asking an employee for how they view their employer can be very insightful into the part of the business not often revealed.
- Lastly, I try to support new businesses that have great products and services but lack steady clientele and community connections. I give them a try and try to spread positive feedback about my experience. Sometimes you just have to give them a try and consider your purchase as an investment in your local community.
We all have different reasons for supporting business. For some, it is strictly price driven and for others, they repeat with certainty their patronage because that is just what they have always done.
In this increasingly competitive economy, be sure you have your reasons but most importantly, remember to support small business!