Small businesses, which comprise 99.9 percent of all American enterprises, have borne the brunt of the economic downturn resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Some 4 million of them closed their doors in 2020, and in polling undertaken by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in December, nearly half of those owning such companies described their financial health as no better than average.
New president Joe Biden has promised to address this matter as part of a sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, but that only goes so far, considering there are over 30 million small businesses in the U.S., employing nearly 60 million people.
Clearly, a grassroots effort is necessary to prop these businesses up until the pandemic becomes a thing of the past. And clearly, those in the real estate sector can become part of the solution by being of the community, as opposed to just being in the community.
Consider, if you will, a Chicagoland agent named Ande Breunig. Well aware of the struggles of small business owners in Evanston, Illinois, she launched an initiative known as “Adopt a Shop,” where participants align themselves with a business, shop there and then post about the experience or a product they purchased on a Facebook group page.
In time, some 3,100 people joined the group in support of 150 businesses. And the page, Breunig told WGN, became “kind of a virtual marketplace” in that visitors were able to view several businesses’ wares in one place.
The program was an outgrowth of another initiative known as “Support Evanston Shops, Salons and Studios,” and was alternately described by one shopkeeper as “a godsend” and “a warm hug from the community,” according to an Evanston Now article. It was one that Breunig, who considers herself an “ambassador” for the city, was happy to offer.
“I love Evanston,” she told WGN, “and I just thought, ‘I can’t be a bystander. I have to be a participant.’ And what better way to do that than to use a great platform … and enlist the help of the community?”
So immersion and innovation are crucial to anyone — whether in the real estate space or otherwise — who hopes to fight on behalf of small businesses. There is a “multiplier effect” of doing so, as Bill Brunelle, managing partner of Independent We Stand, an organization dedicated to aiding small businesses’ marketing efforts, told the New York Times.
“If you buy at a hardware store, that owner may hire a local accountant,” Brunelle added, “while the employees may go to local restaurants and other nearby stores. The success of one business can steamroll through the economy.”
Here are some other ways in which Realtors can help other small businesses survive in this most challenging time.
Come together, right now
The first thing to keep in mind is that everybody is in the same boat and often has something to offer others as they ride out this crisis. Consider, for example, the owner or manager of a multifamily property. Would he not be wise to welcome the fliers, menus and (especially) coupons of local restaurants, affording his residents the opportunity to give those establishments their business?
Certainly the all-for-one, one-for-all approach has served businesses well in other sectors. Time magazine provided the examples of two New York City restaurants banding together to provide customers with discounts and of several Oklahoma City vendors peddling their wares via something called The City Box.
“One of the things about a crisis is that it does bring out creativity and ingenuity and typically, collaboration and incredible generosity,” Jennifer DaSilva, the founder and director of Start Small Think Big, a New York City-based nonprofit, told Time. “When people work together, they’re able to accomplish more, so I think this has changed everybody and brought many of us closer together.”
Take the hard road
Yes, it’s cheaper for those in the real estate sector to buy office supplies at a big-box store. And yes, it’s easier to find items like office furniture online. But here’s a thought: Don’t. Now more than ever, it is beneficial to buy local — to bite the bullet and pay a price that might be a dollar or two higher than you wish to pay.
“Think of the people on the other end of the purchase,” Ellen Baer, president and chief executive of New York City’s Hudson Square Business Improvement District, told the New York Times.
Yes, you sacrifice convenience, cost and the like. But the tradeoff is a stronger, more vibrant and more viable community. Having fewer empty storefronts is an idea anybody can get behind — especially someone in real estate.
Share your knowledge
Those who operate multifamily properties were making use of new technology even before the pandemic began, but it has proven to be even more valuable now.
Think, for example, of virtual tours, which enable prospective residents to have a look around without being in direct contact with a property manager. Then there are online payment methods and apps that enable residents to schedule service calls and the like.
Opening the eyes of others in the community to tech is invaluable at a time like this. There is, for instance, a jeweler in Crown Point, Indiana, called Moriarty’s Gem Art, that took to livestreaming gem shows after the pandemic began.
By making people aware of the options available to them — options they might not have considered otherwise — you expand their horizons and enable them to see things through a different lens. There’s a tremendous amount of value in that.
In all these ways, those in the real estate sector can come to the aid of small businesses within their communities. It is, certainly, a time like no other, and as a result, requires something more of each and every one of us. The real estate community can be as big a part of the solution as any other.
Michael H. Zaransky is the founder and managing principal of MZ Capital Partners. Founded in 2005, MZ Capital Partners, based in Northbrook, Ill., deals in multifamily properties.