I'll let you in on a secret: our big vision for Batch wasn't a retail store and fully operational warehouse. We just wanted to send a few dozen subscription boxes each month.
Why did we grow, then?
Our customers told us to.
Two months into our business, we got our first call for corporate gifts. So, we added that option to our line of products. (This year we've already sold more corporate gifts than all of last year.)
A year into our business, we opened a brick-and-mortar retail store (now closed due to the pandemic; more on that below) that grew to be half of our total annual sales as a company. We only opened the store because for months online customers emailed asking if and when they could shop in person.
Demand drives, we steer.
As I speak with small business owners who are hustling now more than ever, they're working hard to gauge customer demand. This isn't new for them; in fact, John Spalding of Brittle Brothers grew from making brittle as a hobby to a sizable enterprise because the folks he shared his product with wanted to pay him for it.
I watched the vice presidential debate this past week (Walker Feed margarita in hand). Guess how many times the word/phrase "small business" said by either candidate? (I'll wait while I refill my marg.)
That's right. Zero.
What about entrepreneur or entrepreneurship?
You guessed it. (Also zero.)
I know there are really big issues right now, especially a global pandemic. But that's also why I write here each Saturday. The effects of this pandemic are decimating small businesses, which have to be part of our economic discussion.
Why? Because it's all about demand.
The supply is at the ready. Small business owners, whether they produce products that we can ship all over the country, run a restaurant, manage a salon, or operate a hardware store are ready and willing to work as hard as necessary to sell their products and services to a willing customer base.
But that customer base isn't so willing yet. The demand isn't there and may not be for quite some time.
Outdoor dining open? Great. Too bad cold weather will soon squash that.
Your coffee shop offers drive through service or your barbershop is taking all the necessary COVID-19 precautions? Bravo, but with unemployment rising and major companies forecasting more and more layoffs, household budgets are only getting tighter.
Deals need to get done in Congress because small businesses ride and fall with the tide of demand that is the American consumer. And the American consumer is hurting right now. Even for those small businesses that are open, revenue is down at least 21%:
We permanently closed our store in July that we'd worked so hard to build and that did so well for us. When we did the math, due to decreased demand (read: fewer tourists in Nashville, smaller crowds at lunch and on weekends at the Farmers Market) our store would be a major loss center for us.
We would have met the sanitation regulations. We would have modified our operation to ensure safety. We would have staffed up and stocked up. But no one was coming. At least not like they used to. And in not enough numbers to make our numbers make sense.
Small businesses have done the hard work to increase supply. Now we also have to do the hard work to increase demand.
This is one major reason we launched the Small Business Pledge. We're asking anyone and everyone to pledge to do these three things:
- Shop at a small business at least once a week.
- Shift your spend from a big business to a small business at least once a month.
- Make a major purchase ($500 or more) at a small business at least once a year.
Cities can ease restrictions all they want. But until customers feel safe going out, companies feel safe sending employees back to offices and onto airplanes, and all of us feel safe about our spending power, demand will still be in short supply.