Not a week seems to go by without some sort of nonsense being reported going on in the corporate world. A few years back we saw the banks implode and need bailing out, many reported this was due to greed to make bonuses and the desire to make money at any cost. Often, it is not the business per se, but the behaviour of a few at the top who ruin things for everyone. Fast forward to last week and we had two large oil companies allegedly fixing prices. Then we have a raft of large companies allegedly avoiding tax (legally!). Without a doubt, it highlights just how much influence corporates have over our lives. Given that this is a small business blog- it will not surprise people to hear I hate this.
Now, granted we can’t go through life without ever using a naughty corporate for some sort of product or service, and actually some are great companies who contribute alot- but surely we can start voting with our feet for those that indulge with antics that have a negative affect on our lives? Very often that negative affect can be avoiding tax, and therefore the end result is of cuts to public services. I’m not going to bash the naughty boys and say don’t use them full stop- what I am going to say, it that in many cases there might be an alternative. We have seen what is happening with one large business and people voting with their feet.
One thing I have been involved with for many years is trying to get more small businesses started. The benefits for all are well documented- we need small businesses to survive and innovate- probably more than people think. It creates a vibrancy and drive in an economy, and we need entrepreneurs to create the next ‘big thing’. However, all this effort is pointless if these businesses have no customers. Over the last few years we have seen a decline in the traditional high street, gone are the butchers and greengrocers who knew you by name, and sold meat and produce that they knew where it had come from. You had direct contact with the people selling you goods. This is one of the big points. Corporates are fairly faceless organisations who control much of our daily lives, yet have you ever tried to contact one and tell them what you think? I spend my life pressing 1 for this and 4 for that, then holding for ages on the phone- then you speak to someone who is often fairly disinterested in what you have to say anyway, or cuts you off. It’s that level of service we seem to be happy with now. Changing things in large businesses no doubt takes a lot of time- and it’s all about the bottom line anyway-Quantity over quality.
I want to encourage people to make a point of buying goods and services where they can from our 1000s of small businesses- and really make the effort to support them. Why? Well first and foremost we need a culture change where people support these businesses ahead of the big boys. If we are putting all this time and effort into getting small businesses to start up and then they fail through lack of customers- it is tragic for the country. We have developed a lazy consumer culture where we get most of our goods from large businesses- it’s very convenient, but it puts an awful lot of power into corporate hands. Then when the same large businesses pay us back for our loyal custom by avoiding this, or fixing that – we get upset. We are so used and conditioned to buying sanitized produce from large businesses that it has a huge affect on the small business often producing the goods- prices are driven down and they struggle to make ends meet. It’s not right. Think of any time you have been to a market- how much more vibrant, fun and interesting is it than going to a supermarket?
If we had a culture change where people firstly went to the high street or made a point of supporting small, local businesses- the world would be a better place. The high streets would be vibrant, we would thrive on the variety of options available to us- remember choice? I think social decline often starts with shops moving away from high streets. People would be more keen to give starting a business a go in a vibrant small business economy. Even for small businesses to supply large ones- the hoops that have to be jumped through are onerous. We have to create a vibrant customer base across the UK- the people are out there, but they are buying things from the wrong place in my book and this has a big negative effect. I’m not saying big business is bad- don’t get me wrong, but there are some who I think just take the mickey sometimes. On the contrary, some have some great programmes and policies for supporting small businesses- but this needs to be because they believe in them and their role in the economy, not a token CSR activity to gain column inches.
So where am I going with all this? Well, it’s a simple case of thinking about where you buy things from. I would love to see ‘Small Business Britain’ return, with independent retailers crammed onto every high street- with customers getting great personal service, but I don’t think we’ll see that again. But we can vote with our feet- take some of the power away from companies who control our lives and don’t put enough back. There is a big focus on getting people to start businesses in the UK now- I just think we need to start focusing on where the customers will come from, not just the businesses starting, they are there- we just need to convince people there might be a much more pleasant alternative.
So- ‘Think Small’ first- it’s more equitable, and if Fred Bloggs & Co on the high street starts avoiding tax or fixing the price of cucumbers at least you can walk into his shop and tell him what you think…..but let’s face it, it unlikely to happen as he wants your custom. Get my point?