Are Matt Lauer, Ann Curry, Al Roker and their competing Network Counterparts Destroying Small Business in the U.S?
Four stores in my town closed last week.
Not one, not two, not three, but four. In one day.
The town is not found in one of Pennsylvania’s old steel-mining areas. Nor is it found in the automobile-reliant suburbs of Detroit. In fact, it is not any of the towns that might first come to mind when watching news reports of decimated Main Streets across the county. It is, instead, found in an extremely affluent area of Westchester. The town is, in fact, Bronxville; a well-known Westchester bedroom community 20 minutes north of Manhattan. A town replete with stately homes along gorgeous, tree-lined drives. Bronxville is a village that is chock full of investment bankers and white-collar professionals who have made their mark (and their millions) in some of the most glamorous professions in the world; finance, publishing, media and entertainment.
So what exactly IS the problem? If it is so difficult for small business owners to succeed in the rarified, tony town of Bronxville, how hard must it be for others in less-privileged environs? What are the prospects for small businesses across other, less affluent areas of the country?.
While I am certainly Unqualified to answer the question in terms of any economic theories or data, as the owner of Fierson’s, a children’s boutique that has been an integral part of the Bronxville community for over 65 years, I feel moderately qualified to speak to the issue from my personal observations and gut instincts. My store is a destination store and having been around for such a long time, I have a very large and loyal following, so am somewhat protected, but I AM concerned for other small business owners in not only Bronxville, but in towns and villages across the country.
My gut instincts tell me that, YES, the internet is a significant factor. With Internet sales consistently up year over year, while sales at brick and mortar stores have declined, retail stores MUST get onto the e-commerce bandwagon if they are to thrive, or even, survive. I have had two successful websites for some time, (designersbestforkids.com and fiersons.com) and can attest to the fact that they demand an inordinate amount of time and effort. Many Mom & Pop stores just don’t have either the knowledge or time to put up and manage their own websites and are, consequently, getting a smaller share of the market.
I get it. But my personal observation is that the struggles small businesses are encountering can’t all be attributed to the Internet. Small Business in this country is not merely wounded, it is hemorrhaging.
As an explicit sign of the times, American Express, never known to be particularly friendly to small businesses, (their merchant fees are significantly higher than other cards) has recently established “Small Business Saturday”. They have seen the extent of the suffering, we small businesses feel it and live it. We NEED consumers to return to small business, and not just on one Saturday a year.
And yet, every time I turn on morning TV, I see Matt Lauer interviewing some money guru or self-proclaimed budget expert who proceed to tell viewers how to get the best “deal” possible, business owners be damned. Whether they are going on about how to go to the big box stores and decipher the codes at Costco, or how to wait it out to make sure you get the highest possible reduction on your Christmas purchases, it is always ALWAYS about how to squeeze every penny out of the merchants. These merchants are more often than not store owners who are barely surviving.
With profit margins already low, and most small business owners struggling, I have to wonder if these gurus and experts are thinking about the long term implications of their advice. With stores in towns across the country closing, main streets become ghost towns, sales tax revenues go down, property taxes go up. With no viable downtown area, home values are negatively impacted and REAL loss is experienced by those viewers ostensibly trying to save a buck.
It doesn’t stop there: One money guru even had the brilliant idea to ask stores for a discount for cash. Who exactly are they targeting here? Certainly not the big department stores since no one would be likely to ask a 16-year-old sales associate for a cash discount. The inference is to ask the small business owner for a cash discount. What is that saying exactly? Does a cash discount refer to only the 2% charge card fees…or something more, to perhaps take into account the sales tax? WHAT exactly are they espousing?
Follow up this with Ann Curry doing es a segment on head to toe outfits under $59.00 or $99.00 or whatever. Now, if the consumer can buy a blouse for 14.99, pants for 29.99, that means that the store owner is paying a little less than half of that. So, if this is the scenario, then how much is the young girl slaving over a sewing machine in a hot, humid factory making a day? 5 dollars??
Does that bother you? It should.
And then there is Al Roker telling viewers that it’s going to be rainy day, and advising them that if they don’t have to go out..then stay home. What??? IT is RAIN. Are we in the land of the yellow-brick road? Will we melt??
Too often, the media is always looking for the “dramatic”, the big story. Thus, every ½ inch snowstorm becomes a “Storm Watch” event and rain becomes an excuse to stay home and stay “SAFE”.
In a time when melodrama reigns, again, I get it.
But, it is also extremely short-sighted. Are these on air network notables thinking about what those statements actually DO to businesses across the country?
I suggest they forgo the drama for a little bit and look at the long term impact of their segments.