After a long old week, on Sunday I indulged myself by starting to pull together a list of Sip Club values – the core principles by which keep the business’ heart beating. I put something out on Facebook to ask our customers what they thought of the list and someone commented in to say we should be showing the big supermarkets how small community businesses do work. That set me thinking about how exactly a small, community based business is better for everyone, even if it doesn’t set out with that exact aim.
Smaller businesses have less buying power. They are unable to wield their terrific consumer base in order to bargain down to a cut throat and, at times, unrealistic price point. This may be a little worse for the consumer as it means prices are higher. But it does means suppliers tend to be paid a fair and natural price for their product. Where customer and supplier are of an equal size and hold a similar share of the market, they are more likely to reach a just price.
A smaller chain of command reduces the danger of the faceless and malevolent ‘boss’. As a small business owner, if you make a cruel, unjust or unfair decision, it is likely that you will have to look the person affected by that choice in the eye and see the effects of it. Where a huge chain of command exists, nasty decisions can often be hidden behind a veil of management prerogatives and indirect goals. That means the people at the top, harming the people at the bottom, or failing to recognise their hard work, never get to see what it is to be them.
Smaller businesses maintain a more personal interface. It is entirely possible for Joe Bloggs at the grocers to order in those special apples Mrs R. likes as well as making sure there are always ostrich eggs for the Q family. Though the big ‘uns may have more stock in general, they have nothing like the flexibility to react to individual demands. What’s more, Joe is likely to notice when Mrs R looks a bit peaky, and even to make enquiries if she hasn’t been in for a few days.
The various ‘developments’ in technology which serve to dehumanise the experience do not exist at the micro level. While supermarkets try to make processes more efficient for shoppers and cheaper for themselves by using technology in place of humans (self service checkouts being a perfect case in point), the face-to-face experience is much more prevalent at the micro level. For most of us that just means a pleasant chat and a level of customer service which can’t be reached by a synthetic voice bleating “thank you, do come again”. But for some, this interaction is one of the few interactions that person will have in the day. The pleasantries of customer service really are people people in the game, stopping them from being totally disengaged and isolated by an ever increasingly fast moving society.
Smaller businesses are inherently better at closing pay gaps. While in a massive enterprise the pay system will be a huge triangle with the people at the top receiving a wage which is incomparably higher than those at the bottom, a smaller enterprise will probably have a far smaller gap between the lowest earner and the highest earner.