As I watched the horror of Hurricane Harvey unfold on the people of Texas, as well as Irma barreling down the Caribbean towards Florida, I couldn’t help but think about all those people who lost everything and the devastation to their lives as a result. Of course, I also thought about all those small businesses who will also need to recover and won’t necessarily have the resources that the larger businesses will have. My heart goes out to all those who have been affected by these devastating disasters.
And then I read about the owner of the mattress store known as “Mattress Mack” who opened up his stores as shelters. This is why small business matters. It is of little sacrifice or consequence for large businesses to help in times of need – they have provisions for “rainy” days, (no pun intended), and deep pockets to carry over for business loss or interruption. They have funds set aside for donations and community outreach and it’s often a small decimal point on their bottom line. Don’t get me wrong, community support from our large employers is absolutely needed and much appreciated, but the impact on their ability to run is very different than for small business owners.
The difference is that small businesses generally don’t have the savings or provisions for these sorts of disasters and yet, give way beyond their means. The percentage of their bottom line as contributions, aid, and donations is much, much higher. The generous mattress store owner saw a need and did what he could to ease his communities suffering. He opened his stores as shelters, letting people sleep on the brand new beds not worrying about the cost. This was generous, small business entrepreneurship at its finest.
Small businesses employ 72% of the workforce in the United States. They provide benefits beyond what they can afford in most cases because they know how important it is for workers and their families. I’ve seen multiple owners go without pay to make payroll for their people. I’ve seen them give donations of time, money and products when they were barely breaking even. They care. They care about their employees, their communities, and all the families.
Some small businesses become large businesses and that’s when they seem to lose some of their heart. When the focus is on shareholder value rather than the people whose lives contribute to the business operating successfully, things change. The employees become a means to an end rather than part of something bigger than themselves. When is the last time a CEO of a Fortune 1000 company went without a salary? Opened up his businesses and gave things away because they were needed? Did the right thing, just because it was the right thing to do?
Let’s celebrate all those small businesses that are the engine of our economy, that provide opportunity for so many and that provide the heart and soul of so many communities. Let’s thank the mattress store owner for showing us his humanity and doing what he could to help his community and showing us the real spirit of entrepreneurship through giving.