A business owner in New England has found that a photo op with Donald Trump in the White House has a stiff price: his reputation and many of his customers.
It's easy to see how your business could take lumps over politics. It's happened to the likes of Trump's own company as well as the restaurant chain Chick-fil-A and many others. And, as Dave Ratner, owner of Dave's Soda and Pet City chain, learned, even some business love from Trump can backfire.
Ratner's stores have an unlikely duo of product lines: pet food and care in one part and plenty of soda in another. Offbeat and around since 1975, at first only with the soda, the chain has seven stores and 150 employees in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Well-integrated into the community, Ratner was excited to hear about potential changes in federal law that would make it easier for small businesses to work together and buy health insurance. He had also long been active with the National Federation of Businesses. When the organization got an invitation to attend the signing of a presidential order to make business association purchases of insurance easier, it told Ratner that he could come along and he did.
Then came the video and picture of the group standing behind and around Trump on the same day that the president would also indicate the end of subsidies for out-of-pocket costs and deductibles for low- to moderate-income people under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
Ratner told the Boston Business Journal that, "no matter what you think of Trump or his policy," the change making it easier for small businesses to get health care for their employees was good. But a lot of Ratner's customers saw only the picture, the association of Ratner and Trump, and then red.
Western Massachusetts, where the bulk of Ratner's business lies, is heavily blue and politically active. That extends to boycotts. And that's exactly what many people said they would do. On Yelp, plenty announced that they would no longer patronize the chain. Facebook had a bigger mix of sentiments, with many pledging to support Ratner's business.
But, overall, much of the feedback has been negative. Some of the stores have seen angry calls and drops in sales. Ratner said that if things didn't turn around soon, he might have to lay off employees or even close some stores.
Ratner wrote a letter to the editor of a local news site, saying in part the following:
You may have seen a picture of me at the White House recently while President Donald Trump signed his executive order on health care. I want to say strongly and clearly: I do not support this executive order. I had absolutely no clue he was adding all the onerous changes. I was duped, I am an idiot. I did not vote for Trump and I am not a Trump supporter. The President's executive order is bad for this region, our residents and our healthcare non-profits. I apologize to my employees, our customers and the community for being at the signing ceremony.
As we've all seen, politics can be divisive. Choosing sides risks alienating one side or another. Entrepreneurs are people and may have the need to take a stand. But maybe think twice before indulging in a photo op or other circumstance where you might wind up feeling badly used.