Editor's Note: Although the official Small Business Week has been postponed, we at Inc. feel it's always appropriate to recognize the teams and companies that serve the needs of their communities and help keep Main Street humming--and not just for one week!
Caution plus creativity. For small businesses during the pandemic, that's a pretty good survival formula.
Andrew Dana is co-owner and founder of Call Your Mother Deli and Timber Pizza, in Washington, D.C., and a smaller offshoot of Timber and a bar in Arlington, Virginia. The businesses have an aggregate revenue of $8 million. Brick-and-mortar sales (Dana also does farmers markets and catering) are down just 10 percent. The company's 144 employees all remain on payroll.
The businesses are faring better than most in part because they are acclaimed and popular. But they've also benefited from Dana's cautious approach to budgeting. The company has always banked two or three payrolls in case of emergency.
The creativity piece is the 17 public-broadcasting-style incentives that in a few weeks brought in more than $75,000 from donors. Many involve post-social-distancing activities. For $15,000, you get a pizza and open-bar party for 75; $4,000 buys an empanada-making class for 18. There is also a yearlong "cut the line" pass at Call Your Mother for $2,000. "We're notorious for having a line that stretches down the block on weekends," Dana says. "So that one is pretty popular."
Every May, to coincide with National Small Business Week, Inc. honors the small, chiefly local companies that contribute jobs to our communities, vitality to our downtowns, and flavor to our lives. Companies that would rather be listed as Readers' Choice winners in city publications than be splashed across the covers of national ones. Companies like Call Your Mother Deli.
But this year the Small Business Administration postponed National Small Business Week, which was originally scheduled to begin May 3. (No new date has been announced.) That was probably the right decision. Many of the activities that make up the annual event require shared physical space. And given the mammoth economic relief effort currently heaped upon the SBA's plate, the agency does not need the distraction.
The sad reality, though, is that when Small Business Week does eventually happen, millions of companies now struggling through coronavirus-related closures and demand troughs will not be around to participate. Small businesses are uniquely vulnerable to crises because of their scant access to credit, meager cash reserves, and reliance--in the case of Main Street merchants--on pedestrians stopping in for an ice cream cone or to try on those sunglasses in the window.
Such businesses don't like their own odds. Forty-three percent expect to shut down permanently in less than six months if conditions don't improve, according to a study by Metlife and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Now, more than ever, small businesses deserve our attention, our appreciation, and our support. So Inc. decided not to put our own celebration of Small Business Week on hold. It is a challenging environment for hopeful stories, but we did find some out there, and not all are related to the manufacture of masks and hand sanitizer.
We found stories of local merchants supporting one another. Of small business owners rising above their own misery to raise the spirits of their communities. Of entrepreneurs rallying their peers around new distribution channels. And of innovative ideas that may help transform the shop-local ethos of Small Business Week and Small Business Saturday into a yearlong state of mind.
So warm up your delivery lasagna from the checkered-tablecloth restaurant down the street, pour a glass of curbside-pickup Chianti, and read. And, when it is once more possible, grab your wallet and head downtown.