Article Date: 10/1/2011

Is There a Future in Small Business?
o.d. to o.d.

Is There a Future in Small Business?

The demand for “24/7” business hours has driven many small businesses to the point of extinction. Can you help?

By Walter D. West, O.D., F.A.A.O.
Chief Optometric Editor

For many of us, the short walk from the front door to the back counter of a small business is only a memory. In every way possible, small businesses of every kind are an endangered species.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of walking through warehousetype retailers only to then face a clerk who has little-or-no knowledge of the inventory or, at best, a rudimentary understanding of how or when to use a particular item (and then interrupts a cashier in the midst of texting to complete my purchase). Sure, the prices are low, but so is the quality of the experience for customers.

In a way, we're all to blame. The demand for the “24/7” hours puts tremendous pressure on small businesses—many times to the point of extinction. If you are older than 60 (which I am, but barely), you remember the days when you filled the gas tank of the family car on Saturday afternoon because most businesses, including gas stations, were closed on Sunday.

The narrowing market

It's getting to the point at which the entire spectrum of retail stores is narrowing, and we find ourselves in a funnel with the variety of small stores fading into a blur of huge parking lots, overhead lighting and gallon tubs of peanut butter.

Those of us who live in areas that aren't over-run by “big box” stores are lucky. We know our merchants, the wait staff at the local cafe, our local doctor, dentist as well as the pharmacist. To us, price isn't everything. Sure, travel time comes into the equation and also convenience. We might have a smaller choice of items to choose from, but for me the trade-off is worth it. In fact, it's priceless.

A home for home-grown?

Small businesses helped build our country and are supposed to be the solution to our current sluggish economy. I hate to think that my grandchildren may never know the pleasure of dealing with a local merchant on a one-to-one basis, but it could happen. If it does, it doesn't instill much confidence in those interested in starting their own business.

Home-grown? Home-owned? I wonder whether we'll recognize these terms in the years to come? We might not, but we can all help preserve them. How? Do business with your local merchants. Shop for quality and service, as well as sales. To put it more bluntly, shop with a conscience. Pay a smidge more to keep that local guy or gal in business. The survival of the small business is in our wallets.

What can you do?

Why am I preaching about small business and waxing nostalgic? The reason is that for the most part, independent optometrists who own their practice are described in everything I've written above. And, what about these business-owning optometrists? What can they do to not only survive but to flourish? Take a look at what your competition is doing, find out what your patients really want most from you or what they find that your competition does better, and change to meet your patient's expectations. And ask yourself: Is the way you manage your business best for you, or best for your patients? OM

Optometric Management, Issue: October 2011