Business has been a little weird the last couple of months – something has just seemed off. Something I just couldn’t put my finger on. Then, while scrolling around the internet, I saw that there is some kind of an election today. Not sure what that’s all about, but I’ll sure be glad when it’s over. Ha ha, just kidding. According to the media, the future of the entire galaxy is at stake. For the last 6 months or so, we’ve all been bombarded with negative attack ads nonstop, so at least that will stop in the next week or so. Then, ‘we’ can start bombarding people with our ads for a couple of months. But, this particular situation made me remember something I learned a long time ago, and now all of this weirdness makes sense to me.
About 20 years ago, I did trade work for a store, smack dab in the middle of downtown Nashville. Coles and Waller had a ground floor retail location in a 20+ story office building full of lawyers, corporate types, and government agencies. The owner’s name was Jim Carter, he was a third generation owner and had a great business until he decided to retire. Sometime around late September, early October, in the mid ‘90s, both of our businesses were very slow. He didn’t seem as concerned as I was about it, and I asked him why. He said, “It’s a Presidential election year.”
I didn’t understand what he was talking about, so I just gave him a blank stare and waited for him to explain. He said that every four years, the country has the opportunity to elect a new president. Every four years, the direction of the country can take a hard 180 degree turn, for the good or for the bad. That being said, every four years, about 3-4 months out from the election, the powers-that-be in all aspects of our lives, put a temporary hold on lots of decisions.
He said, business expansions, either planned, or in the planning stages, could be cancelled or expanded, depending upon the results of the upcoming election. Hiring could be lessened or expanded, depending upon the results of the upcoming election. Layoffs could be implemented or cancelled, once again, depending upon the outcome of the upcoming election.
I had never thought about the big picture in those terms before, but they’ve made a lot of sense to me since. This year, even though these are mid-term elections, they seem to be taking on the same importance of a presidential election. And to think, I thought my business was slow because of record high inflation and soaring gas prices. Silly me.
As owners, managers, and employees of small businesses, we don’t have the luxury that major corporations have to hedge bets because of numbers on an Excel spreadsheet, or outcomes of an election that might not meet our expectations. Usually, if we plan an expansion, we’re committed to it regardless of what happens in any upcoming election. If we choose to hire additional staff, we’re doing it because we need additional staff now, not in 60-90 days, and not depending upon outcomes we have no control over. And worse, if the political winds shift away from what we were hoping for, we’re still forced to commit to those plans.
Regardless of what happens in the current election, we’re all going to get up the next morning, we’re all going to come in and open up our stores, and we’re all going to do whatever we were doing yesterday, and the day before. The media has everyone in a tizzy about things that nobody needs to be in a tizzy about. Ignore them as best you can.
As we move into our industry’s Superbowl season, it’s a weird year to try and make business plans. The last two years we were dealing with COVID and post-COVID complications. This will be the first post-pandemic Christmas season where in-person shopping should be at normal levels – whatever normal levels are. I don’t know about you, but I could really use a good Christmas season.
But heading into this Christmas season, I just don’t know what to expect. To be honest, I think I’m probably like that every Christmas season. I gear up and I get let down. The next year, I don’t gear up, and I get my butt kicked. The next year after that, I don’t gear up (because it worked so well the last year), and I don’t get disappointed because that season was terrible. And it was probably terrible because I went into it unprepared. Note to self; don’t take my own advice!
Running a small business has many advantages. I’d say way more advantages than those available when working for large corporations. The biggest difference between the two is the large corporations actually give you a playbook to follow. Their playbook includes the merchandise that matches the ads they produced over the summer for you to sell.
Their playbook also includes talking points to ‘romance’ the stuff they sent you – because honestly, you saw the stuff they sent you and you needed help with some positive adjectives to describe it.
And then, their playbook actually tells you how much of the stuff they sent you that you are required to sell, based upon fantasy numbers that someone you don’t know just made up. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Running a small business comes with no playbook. I wish it did sometimes, but I always wondered if I’d follow the playbook. Hell, I doubt I would even read it. The funny thing about playbooks is how often they are wrong. If the creator of the playbook sent you merchandise that just won’t sell, and bought ads in places none of your customers saw, you’re still the one they blame. No one ever blames the person that wrote a bad playbook, just the people who had to execute it!
The beauty of running a small business is when we get something wrong, we don’t have to stay the course. The big company playbooks don’t have the ‘oops, we got it wrong…abort, abort, abort’ chapter. Since we don’t have a playbook, we have the option of pulling the plug and going in a completely different direction on a moment’s notice. And if that doesn’t work, going in a completely different direction until we find what we were looking for.
So, let’s get this election thing out of the way, put out our Christmas decorations early, start playing Christmas songs in our stores, cross our fingers, and dive headfirst into this Christmas season. Good luck to everyone, and I hope you have a wonderful and profitable season.