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The Fight For Small Businesses

By Ramon Lo, Thought Provoker | Creative Thinker | Constant Innovator | Problem Solver | Idea Generator

You know, everybody loves an underdog story. In a previous life I hosted and produced a podcast and during its nearly two year run I dedicated all the episodes in the month of November to small, minority-owned businesses. As you can imagine, there were many inspirational stories. The commonality among all of their stories is plain: courage, grit, and determination. They took risks, bet on themselves, and overcame obstacles to carry on a legacy or blaze new trails. It’s in each of their stories as much as it is in their DNA. There is the passing of the torch from one generation to the next, which is made all the more pressure-filled when the shoes they are stepping into were the same shoes that paved the way as a pioneer of the ACDBE program. There is the dutiful servant boldly deciding to take his learnings and forge his own way and control his own destiny with his own venture. There is the son who, after years of being in the family business, decides it’s time to leave the safety of the nest and carve out something of his own. There is the family that started with selling baked goods and then taking the leap to operate a business in an industry that at the time was still evolving and had its own shares of uncertainties. And there is the daughter, ready or not, thrust into leading a company after the family matriarch was suddenly struck by a medical emergency.

These are true stories worthy of being in a best-selling book set to be adapted into an Academy Award-winning film. They’re that good. But for all the courage, grit and determination that has strengthened each of these businesses, they are a David up against an even greater and unprecedented Goliath that is the COVID-19 pandemic. They are a prize fighter taking punch after punch for which they have no counter.

Each painful week is another round in the match. As the bout continues for what seems to be an eternity, the choices are either your corner throws in the towel or through divine intervention you recover and you rally. For many, the option would be the former because it seems to be the easier and sensible choice for something for which there does not appear to be a solution. This would not be their choice. To small businesses, a surrender would go against the very approaches and mindset that brought them to the point prior to this crisis. How? Often these are family-owned companies and so it isn’t just about saving a company but saving a family. Think about the skin they have in the game. There is the all-in, push your chips to the middle of the table, grind ‘till you can’t grind anymore mindset that is their catalyst for success. So there is no quit. They built livelihoods for their families and for the families of those they employ. They represent themselves but, most importantly, they represent their community.

Don’t get it twisted. I’m talking about those who are in the ring and not the ones who sit comfortably in the front row. Several weeks ago I spoke to many of these small businesses and the talk was about when the industry would essentially hit the bottom. When things hit the bottom at least they could then push off the floor and swim back to the surface. In the interim, they watched passenger traffic and revenues fall precipitously by the week, by the day, and, painfully, by the hour. Decisions had to be made not just about who of their staffs would have to be furloughed but what of the health of those who remain, serving the slowing trickle of travelers. In more recent conversations I’m reminding the businesses I speak to that we are basically at the bottom. You can’t get any closer than being down 97%. As they and all businesses of every size swim along the ocean floor, it is now a question of, “For how long?”

Nobody knows. Essentially, they are running a marathon against an opponent who does not seem to tire. This is a race of survival, to outlast this pandemic until there is more testing and, most importantly, a vaccine. But a vaccine, from what I’ve read, could be about 18 months away. If we use that as the finish line, what of the many miles before then? It’s only through support and assistance that businesses make it across a finish line that, to date, appears to be moving two steps further for every one step taken closer. Do these businesses have the endurance? I can confidently say that they do have the stamina to see this through. But one thing to remember: the mind can will the body forward but unfortunately the body does have a stopping point if its basic needs are not met. This is when the talents and wisdoms of an industry come together. This is the time when we collectively look at ourselves as a community of neighbors and not as a set of tribes. We can put names, titles and responsibilities on every one of us but it doesn’t distract from the truth that we are all inextricably linked. As such, what affects one of us will inevitably affect all of us. And that is where the support of those who can and are able is so crucial. Lend an assist where an assist is needed. There are many methods and instruments that airports can apply as a stepping stone to extending the life of these businesses. Suspending MAG, adding term, switching to percentage rents—the list of asks isn’t new. It’s a matter of looking at the options and deciding what would work best for all. Neither side, I would like to think, is oblivious to the responsibilities of the other. On a personal note, I count many of these small businesses as friends. I have witnessed their growth and their impact on the people they employ and the travelers they touch. My wonder, love and respect for them is great for many reasons and none are any different than yours

Should you choose to hear their story. Again, it is their grit, courage and determination. These are traits from what I see them overcoming obstacles, surviving challenges and succeeding

So when you save the travel experience, it isn’t just saving for those, the travelers, who will benefit from these memorable experiences. It is about the creators and initiators of these experiences. It is about the ambassadors on the front lines of these experiences. It is about rescuing businesses who are woven into the fabric of an unbelievable industry and an unbelievable community.

Of the $14 billion generated by concessionaires, minority-owned businesses account for approximately $3.4 billion of that figure. At the current rate of loss that the industry is operating in, there has to be a wonder if this is sustainable. Spoiler alert: it is not and not for very long without help.

About the Author

Ramon Lo, Thought Provoker | Creative Thinker | Constant Innovator | Problem Solver | Idea Generator

Endless curiosity and a willingness to learn is Ramon's fuel, while passion and creativity are his tools. Ramon's focus is to develop a means to maintain a brand’s relevance and utility with its audience.

The victory comes in overcoming the habit of doing the same thing over and over again.

View Ramon Lo's LinkedIn here.

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