Flexibility and the Small Business Owner


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While reading Ben’s Merchant Circle blog entry for July 3rd, I left a comment that I would like to expand on somewhat today. Ben’s blog discussed the importance of small businesses to the community, particularly a pharmacy from his youth. In my comment, I noted that flexibility was what made the small business owner king.

In Ben’s example, the pharmacy owners were able to step outside the realm of profit and make decisions which ultimately improved the lives of those around them – decisions like letting a family in need have some food and medication for free. This would never happen at a store such as, say, Walmart (since Ben references that in his comment, I’ll follow suit).

Let’s say that a person obviously in need comes into a large chain, be it Walmart or another mass merchandiser. The cashier decides that something should be done, so she would call her supervisor. The supervisor would contact the manager; the manager calls the store owner. This all assumes that the cashier isn’t laughed at immediately by those above her.

A small business owner, however, has more flexibility. Many times, the person running the register either owns the business or is in close contact with the boss. Decisions can be made quickly, and if approval must be sought, it doesn’t take five phone calls to get the permission. An obvious example of this is My Fair Lady gym in Tucker, Georgia, where all of the sales representatives are in close contact with the owner. If a decision can’t be made immediately, one phone call clarifies the problem.

Granted, a large store such as Walmart can’t give blanket permission to its employees to help those in need. With millions of stores across the nation, Walmart would quickly go broke. Instead, they participate in larger charity causes.

A small business, however, makes significantly less profit than a larger store. But because the owners can interact with the community, they can see firsthand what would help on an immediate and personal level. The small business owner becomes part of the community, and can work on a one-on-one basis to make the decisions they want to make, to help out in whatever ways they think is best.

The flexibility of a small business owner is apparent in more than just giving. It is also apparent by the lack of bureaucracy, by the ability of the employee to use their head. Let me give you a real-world example.

A large part of my husband’s twelve years of wiring experience - prior to creating our own wiring business with Redd Infinity - comes from working with large corporations. He has been on the team for BellSouth, Comcast, and AT&T. He has also done some similar sales work, where appointment windows were given to him. In most of these companies, the person who scheduled his day did NOT live in Atlanta. They would Mapquest the area and assign windows accordingly. One day, my husband has his first appointment in Snellville at eight, had a ten o’clock appointment on the west side of Atlanta, south of 20, had a twelve o’clock appointment in Stone Mountain, and a two o’clock appointment in Marietta. His presentation was about an hour and a half, but would exceed two hours if the client decided to make a purchase. A look at a map will show that he would have crisscrossed the city that day. What Atlanta residents will tell you, however, is that going from Snellville to the west side of Atlanta at 9 o’clock, in rush hour traffic, is going to take more than an hour. It just will. This meant that my husband, like many of those employees with distant window-makers, was late for several of the appointments. As I recall, he pushed back one of the early ones to the end of the day and contacted the third appointment to ask if it could be done sooner. In short, he used his head. The customer, of course, had planned on him arriving at a different time.

At Redd Infinity, we actually live in Atlanta. In fact, my husband was born here – one of the very few. He knows how to reasonably estimate the driving time. He also knows not to expect a two or three hour job to be completed in an hour. Because we are small business owners, we plan locally, we know the area we are serving, and we have reasonable expectations.

In short, the flexibility provided by small business owners simply cannot be matched by larger corporations. They may be able to drive down the price and cause problems for the entrepreneur. They may be able to strongarm communities to getting rid of all competitors, forming a virtual monopoly so that they never have to worry about nitpicky details like customer service. But the small business owner will always be able to provide more flexibility, simply because there are less layers to cut through.

Freelance writer Nola Redd is part-owner for an Atlanta-based wiring business, Redd Infinity , which provides a blog and newsletter for small business owers. This article has been submitted in affiliation with http://www.Facsimile.Com/ which is a site for Fax Machines .


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