I know a thing or two about small business, having owned one for 30 years and having worked with West Hawaii small businesses on a daily basis for the last four years.
I know that small business owners are determined to achieve financial success using their unique ideas and not someone else’s about how to merchandise the products or services. I know they aren’t satisfied at being cogs in a larger business; maybe they’ve become frustrated with that or maybe the thought of that never even crossed their minds.
I know they’re not rule-followers, they’re willing to take risks, and they have a lot of their personal identities tied up with their businesses. They tend to be optimists: every new day can bring a new sale!
They also are well aware that the buck literally stops with them, both in terms of the quality of the product or service they provide, and in terms of the financial responsibility they have for themselves and their families, their businesses and their employees, and ultimately, the local economy. They’re a unique breed and one that particularly thrives in Hawaii.
You’ve heard it before, but here it is again: small business is Hawaii’s business. Of the almost 130,000 businesses in Hawaii, the vast majority, 81%, have no employees at all. Of the remaining businesses with employees, virtually all (99%) have less than 500 employees. Most of these, in fact, have less than 100 employees and the vast majority have less than 20 employees.
The figures are similar if you drill down into these state figures to look at Hawaii County.
The exact percentages matter less than one important fact: most of us on the Big Island work for small businesses. These businesses account for over $1 billion in payroll annually, and that brings the concerns of the Big Island’s small businesses up close and personal: what happens to our small businesses directly affects the livelihoods of most of us, it’s the economic fuel that sustains our community.
To acknowledge small businesses’ importance and to energize the impact that small business sales make on local communities across the country, American Express started “Small Business Saturday” back in 2010, urging holiday shoppers to “Shop Small!” on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
They report over $100 billion in sales spent by consumers who were aware of the Small Business Saturday promotion at small businesses nationwide on the eight Saturdays since the event’s inception. Of all that money, for every dollar spent at a local small business, an estimated 67 cents stays in the local community.
Kelly Drysdale, from Kona Coffee and Tea, points up another plus with buying small and local, the multiplier effect.
“When one has the choice to buy local, think of all of the jobs that are generated by just one purchase from a local merchant,” she said. “Our customers want a cup of our award-winning 100% Kona coffee, and coffee production provides jobs for our café staff and farmhands, those who do the milling at our mill, and livelihoods for those associated with our roaster and roasting. But what customers may not know is that on our farmland we also provide ulu and other produce for the Hawaii Ulu Cooperative, mac nuts for Hamakua Mac Nut Company, and produce honey with Kona Queen Hawaii. In our store, we sell food foodstuffs from other local companies like Standard Bakery, Twisted Danish, Palani Bakery, Hawaii Tart Company, Ola Brew, and Big Island Booch. The list, goes on and on, along with the local jobs.”
Other small local business owners like Mike Schiff from Kamaaina Diamond Company echo this sentiment in urging residents to “shop local and help keep jobs in the community and support local families.”
Angela Burton, from Floor Coverings Hawaii, hits on another factor that speaks to the importance for consumers in supporting local businesses.
“Shopping local gives personalized service from start to finish because every customer matters,” she said. “We care about your projects and want you satisfied because our small business depends on our reputation.” There’s no place to hide if you’re a small business. Your customers know where to find you and you know they will tell all their friends and neighbors about the good and the bad in shopping with you. Accountability like this provides a sort of extra value-added benefit to small business purchasing.
We’re all in one canoe, so do your best to support local business on Small Business Saturday, and every other day as well for that matter. Helping them helps the economy, helps you secure products and services that vendors stand behind, and ultimately helps you and your neighbors. It all comes around.
Dennis Boyd is a regular contributor to West Hawaii Today. He is active in many aspects of the West Hawai’i business community and is a resident of North Kohala.