How Small Businesses Can Save Society
The 'little guys' have a bigger impact than most of us realize
Small businesses, in all of their uniqueness, might just be the secret ingredient to saving society.
Creating non-corporate jobs and bolstering the local economy are some of the ways we see small businesses helping communities. At a deeper level, more localized businesses impact our very identity by increasing happiness and creating a sense of connectivity.
Cities and towns — big and small — have networks of small businesses.
"According to the World Trade Organization, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent over 90 percent of the business population, 60 [to] 70 percent of employment and 55 percent of GDP in developed economies. SMEs, therefore, do not just significantly contribute to the economy — they ARE the economy," Christopher Arnold, head of the SMP/SME (Small and Medium Practice/Small and Medium Enterprise) interest group and researcher for the International Federation of Accountants, reported in 2019.
These networks are far from insular. Shop owners, managers, and employees have the opportunity to further strengthen and diversify economies.
One store doesn't carry what you're looking for? More than likely, the individual running the shop will have a recommendation as to where you can find the product you're in search of at a neighboring business. And chances are, the business they recommend will be locally owned as well.
Nearly every business in a given community network offers employment opportunities in one way or another.
These employment opportunities can offer immense benefits. Some common benefits are shorter commute times, more intimate work settings where employees can see the impact of their efforts up close, and less stringent employment requirements (think strict business-casual dress codes required at many corporate work settings).
According to the 2019 Aflac Small Business Happiness Survey, additional benefits reported by participants include flexible work hours, a greater sense of appreciation, the feeling that their input as employees mattered to the company, opportunities to broaden skill sets, and being rewarded for hard work.
Additionally, Aflac reported, "A majority of employees surveyed perceived working for a small business to be less stressful and more fun."
"These days, because leisure time is relatively scarce for most workers, [considering the traditional American 40-hour work week], people use their free time to counterbalance the intellectual and emotional demands of their jobs," wrote journalist Ilana E. Strauss for The Atlantic.
For many, this counterbalance manifests as evenings spent at home, tired from the week. Conversely, happier workers who feel more fulfilled and less stressed from their jobs are more likely to enjoy recreations such as concerts, meals, or shopping. These activities further contribute to economic growth.
The satisfaction employees feel from working for smaller companies often stems from a true belief in what they are doing or the product they are selling. This means that many times they will harbor an affinity toward shopping small themselves.
When there is a community with strong businesses scattered (or clustered — yes, we're dreaming of a walkable society), consumers are more likely to go from store to store instead of remaining at one large department store to buy everything they need.
Even without the explicit direction from one business to another in the form of product or service recommendations, this distribution of wealth can further feed other small businesses, strengthening the local economy.
The simple act of speaking to a shopkeeper and receiving a mindful recommendation opens the doors for further conversation. Those who are accustomed to shopping locally know, once they cross the line between the occasional shopper and loyal customer, owners will begin to take interest in them, just as they have taken interest in the business they are patronizing.
One of the reasons consumers take a personal interest in small businesses is their unique products and services. It is at these smaller, independently owned shops that consumers can receive a quality of service otherwise unheard of when shopping at big box stores. Small businesses keep a pulse on their communities and connect individuals in a variety of ways — from employment to personalized recommendations.
As a matter of fact, it is these unique items often only found at small businesses that have the potential to grow in popularity and change the world.
We don't have to look far to see the impact of business on society as a whole, "because companies, particularly big corporations and manufacturers, are the producers of many of the goods and services that the public consumes," reported Chron, a subsidiary of the Houston Chronicle, in 2018.
It is many smaller companies, however, that act as catalysts to impactful new ideas that are brought into the world by innovative entrepreneurs.
"Because they need to stand out from the crowd to be competitive in the marketplace, small businesses create new, unique products and solutions to problems," reported Chron.
Focusing on the potential to impact consumers worldwide, many small businesses simultaneously try to offset their environmental impact by occupying smaller physical locations.
Unlike the opening of a new superstore such as Target, or Walmart, small businesses do not need to prepare multiple acres of land, pour tons of asphalt and concrete, erect a 5,000-square-foot (or larger) building, or install rows of new, energy-sucking street lamps in an area that once housed natural wildlife and fauna. Instead, small businesses tend to utilize readily available space.
Since small businesses are more often located in downtowns, they require less development — and most often far less startup capital, the savings of which are commonly passed down the economic chain in forms of more product offerings or higher wages — to be established.
This leads to positive impacts on both the environment and community. Spaces that may otherwise have remained empty have the opportunity to become bustling community hubs while empty natural spaces can remain undeveloped.
From creating jobs that benefit both the business and the employees to spreading local wealth while protecting wilderness areas, the list of ways small businesses are positively affecting the world and communities which occupy it could go on and on. However, the point is made. The impact of local businesses far surpasses the annual day of celebration — Small Business Saturday.
The movement (and the understated antonym of Black Friday) Small Business Saturday began as a way to spread the wealth of the holiday shopping season to independent retailers — many of whom cannot compete with the massive markdowns boasted by larger corporations. For the most part, however, Small Business Saturday, which was started by American Express in 2010, fails to capture the essence of small businesses and reflect just how important they are to society.
Between the supply chain crisis and the ongoing pandemic, the future may appear dark. While many may look outward to a higher power, or — at the least — a higher form of government, for salvation, the answer may be right down the street at the corner store.
In Erie, that looks like fresh farmers' markets. In the summer months, through harvest season, these pop-ups are near-daily. It looks like a walk to get a fresh loaf of bread before enjoying a cup of coffee at one of the countless local cafes where you chat with the barista (who might just be the owner, too!).
Small businesses look like a more affluent city — one where the paying jobs empower and allow people to spend more time with friends and family; eating out, enjoying concerts, and — as lower commuting costs allow — supporting other businesses they love.
As good as all of this sounds, to the average reader the evidence might appear as if it has been filtered through rose-colored lenses. Yes, if the pandemic has taught us anything it is that we should shop local. But can it really save the world?
Give it a try. Commit to shopping all small for something small — maybe holiday gifts for your friends. See how it feels, and keep track of the new friends you make in the stores you explore along the way.
Hannah McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org