For several years now, November has been set aside as National Entrepreneurship Month with a variety of special days set aside, including Small Business Saturday coming up this weekend.
It’s especially fitting this year that we take some time to honor the men and women willing to gamble their future and, in many cases, fortune on business ownership, because never in our lifetime has the entrepreneur — especially the small business owner — faced such challenging times.
According to various studies, the Coronavirus pandemic had forced over a hundred thousand small businesses at a minimum to close their doors permanently by the end of summer. That number may be much greater. All you have to do is drive past a local shopping center and you will very likely see more than one space sitting empty.
And if a global pandemic weren’t enough to deal with, small business owners were already being squeezed under the weight of online giants like Amazon. Online shopping had been a looming threat to small business, but it has become a clear and present danger as a result of COVID. Many Americans who had never shopped online were forced to use the Internet to take care of their basic needs, and now these newcomers increasingly are becoming accustomed to the online shopping experience.
As a result, shopping in stores this holiday season is expected to be down by as much as 30 percent or more from last year due to both the pandemic AND the ease of shopping online.
Why does this matter? The numbers vary by study, but some estimations say small businesses represent more that 90 percent of all US businesses and generate almost 50 percent of our GDP. And two out of every three net new jobs are estimated to be created by small businesses.
The true value of small business
The true value of small business ownership is not about numbers, however. It’s about innovation, opportunity, community and people.
Think of the local corner store or construction company or car dealership that has been a fixture in the community for decades, supporting the schools, contributing to food drives, providing jobs for local residents and generally being a valuable member of the local economy.
So how can small businesses survive the current and future threats to their very existence?
Ironically, franchising is one answer. Once considered a threat to main street America, franchising may well be at the forefront of the economic recovery and play a major role in keeping the American Dream of business ownership alive.
Make no mistake about it, franchises ARE small businesses. In most cases they are owned and operated by members of the local community. They have access to the support of their franchisor, to be sure, but it is the local entrepreneur whose money and resources are on the line. It is the franchisee who will ultimately determine if he succeeds or fails and THAT is the definition of entrepreneurship!
Yet never has the franchise mantra of being “in business for yourself, but not by yourself” been more on display than during the pandemic.
Franchises were able to respond to the crisis
When government restrictions began shutting down all but the most essential businesses in many states, mom and pop business owners had nowhere to turn as they struggled to find ways to keep their doors open. Meanwhile, franchisors were springing into action and developing innovative ways to help their franchisees not only keep the doors open, but also grow their businesses by providing valuable services to their communities.
Over the past few months in our BizBlog we have highlighted many of the ways that franchise brands were able to quickly pivot their business models in the face of the shutdown. Thanks to the ability of the franchise brands to provide the products or services needed to solve problems created by the pandemic, the franchisees were able to seamlessly transition to new ways to serve a need in their individual communities.
For example, global gifting franchise Edible took advantage of its fruit and produce providers and its state-of-the-art e-commerce capabilities to help local franchisees drive new business by offering and delivering fresh fruit and produce boxes to homes during the shutdown.
There was music education franchise School of Rock taking advantage of its technology and relationships with superstar musicians to help local franchisees pivot to online classes. Thanks to the technology available through their franchisor, fitness franchises such as Gold’s Gym and 9Round Fitness were able to keep their members in shape with digital fitness offerings.
As has happened in past economic slowdowns, interest in purchasing franchises has also been growing in past months as men and women, many of whom have been victims of layoffs and furloughs, started searching for ways to take more control of their financial futures.
The good news is that there are some signs that even the federal government is beginning to recognize the critical role small businesses play in the economy. Support provided by the PPP Loans and CARES Act for small businesses in order to keep them afloat during the early days of the pandemic were a welcome surprise from the government, which in previous economic downturns had all but ignored small businesses while pouring money toward the corporate giants.
We admit we are prejudiced. For over two decades our agency’s client base has primarily been franchise brands, ranging from start-ups to global icons. But as we look ahead to what will be needed as we emerge from the pandemic to bring our economy back to its pre-COVID vibrancy, we are confident the true recovery will come when more and more small business owners — our friends and neighbors — are flipping the “closed” sign to “open” on those empty store fronts in the neighborhood.
And our guess is that it in many, many cases it will be franchising that makes it possible.