Commentary by Bob Schaller
There are only a few certainties in life like death and taxes. One economic certainty is that all businesses start small. Some grow larger but most remain small, often by choice. As any small business owner will tell you, it's an everyday challenge just to stay open and make payroll, much less expand operations, sales, and profits. My father taught me the intrinsic benefits of being a small business owner. He was a storekeeper who spent fully half his life running a small general merchandise store. He opened and closed his store, and spent lots of time in between, every single day of the year. He employed one or two others on a full-time basis, a few more part time, and family members to round things out. He took very little out of the store but genuinely enjoyed the independence that came with the job. In other words, he loved being his own boss.
I started to compile a list of local small, independent businesses and realized how much a person's name, thus really the person, is associated with the business. Small business, especially a sole proprietorship, is by definition an individual's work. If you stop and think about local small business names over the last generation or so, consider how many are known by the owner's name. Some that come to mind include Anderson's, Bailey's, Bennett's, Cook's, Copsey's, Courtney's, Dean's, Dyson's, Gatton's, Guy's, Hayden's, Hewitt's, Mattingly's, McKay's, Murphy's, Raley's, Ridgell's, Russell's, Scheible's, Thompson's, Tippett's, Wentworth's, Wood's, and Woodburn's. In every case customers know what each of these businesses does. It's not necessary to say "Gatton's Barber Shop." How about Stauffer's, Hertzler's, or Milt's? Bowles, Sanders and Winters don't need the apostrophe, nor do names like Burch, Cole, Franzen, Guy, O'Brien, Somerville, or Taylor. If you just consider first names then businesses referred to as Bert's, Buzzy's, David's, Kenny's, Lenny's, Linda's, Mike's, Pat's, Rick's, Rita B's, Sarah's, and Wayne's are all familiar. My dad's store was simply known as Don's. And of course there are partnerships that produce names like A&M, B&B, C&C, and Two Guys.
This is by no means a complete list. It's just to illustrate the fact about small, independent business that the owner and the business are typically one in the same. Imagine if I included the vast number of insurance agencies, accounting, bookkeeping, legal, health care, and even some defense contracting firms? They are usually referred to by the professional in charge such as a particular doctor or insurance agent. The same point holds: these are all small businesses and we equate service expectations directly with the individual who is the business.
Not all small businesses are nor should be known by the owner's name. But when it is, you should take note. It may be a simple business name to remember, but it's also a signal that someone is so fully invested in their work that they're proud to say, "come see me." I'll never forget when customers in dad's store would react when they saw Don every day. It was usually positive, sometimes not when credit was due, but it was always reassuring.
We thank all the small business owners for what they do every day. They work both sides of the counter, serving customers and employing people. To hear from this group, a Small Independent Business Roundtable is scheduled on Monday, November 16, 2009 at 8:30 am. It will be hosted at Lenny's Restaurant on Rt 235 across from the Wildewood Shopping Center. Any independent business in the County not associated with a franchise, chain, or larger group is invited to attend. It's an opportunity to meet and hear from others, share experiences, and talk small business. My department is anxious to hear your thoughts and suggestions on how to keep this vital sector going and growing.