The following is a guest post by Chris Horst, VP of Development at Hope International, and co-writer at the blog Smorgasblurb. You can find the original post here.
I pushed open the door of Center Court Barbershop and sat down, awaiting my turn. Center Court looked like a proper barbershop should look. Classic swivel chairs lined the mirrors. Longtime patrons, kids and adults alike, chatted about local news. Nobody rushed or hurried, despite the wait.
I stopped at Center Court on my way through Indiana, randomly finding it on my route through Wabash, Indiana. My barber, Jeff, recognized I was a first-time guest. We exchanged pleasantries and he then shared openly about why he had gotten into the business. He tried other careers, he said, but barbering was the first job that felt right.
“I take a lot of pride in what we do here,” Jeff shared. “We believe in the classic barbershop and the craft of it.”
He finished the haircut with an old-fashioned hot shave, carefully maneuvering his straight blade. He finished my cut and as he swept the floor, he handed me a Sharpie so I could sign their customer wall. I found an empty spot at eye-level and wrote “Chris Horst, Denver, CO” alongside hundreds of other signatures.
I walked out of Center Court freshly attuned to why we celebrate small business in this country. Jeff knew his customers by name. He understood their needs and cultivated community while he worked. The barbershop’s core ingredients—its people, rituals, ambiance and craftsmanship—blended together perfectly. But I do wonder what differentiates the small business experience and reputation from that of their larger counterparts.
For over forty years, Gallup has tracked American confidence in our largest cultural institutions, such as the military, our medical system, public schools, and organized religion. The results are fascinating. Ranking second behind only the military, small business enjoys high levels of confidence from the American public. On the flipside, ranking near the bottom since the time Gallup began the study, is “big business.”
So when do businesses transition from small to big? At what point do enterprises grow from loved to scorned? I’m not asking for a scientific answer. I know there are a lot of helpful definitions about what qualifies as small and big business. But survey respondents aren’t given specific parameters. They’re just asked to instinctively react to these labels.
I’ve wondered how this plays internationally as well. When we share the story of a hardworking Rwandan entrepreneur like Jacqueline, who bootstrapped her way from destitution to sustenance, it’s easy to rally around her. Her story is deeply personal and tangible. Though Jacqueline’s current wages are still modest, I will rise early to shout her story from the rooftops.
On the flipside, when I learned my friend’s company recently opened a production warehouse in Vietnam, I shrugged. Though he paid generous wages and provided financial stability to dozens of poor Vietnamese breadwinners, my emotions stood unstirred.
I have some guesses to why this dynamic exists. Small businesses feel more human. Big businesses seem faceless. Startups feel approachable. Corporations seem impenetrable. And then there’s the “headline factor.” If a three-person plumbing company installs a faulty toilet, only a few will ever know about it. If a Fortune 100 company mistreats an employee or, like my beloved Target, has a credit card security breach, it’s front-page news. Everywhere.
In his book, The Coming Jobs War, Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, looked at Gallup’s volumes of global research and came to this conclusion: The most significant global issue in our time—more pressing than even environmental degradation or terrorism—is job creation. “If countries fail at creating jobs,” says Clifton, “their societies will fall apart. Countries, and more specifically cities, will experience suffering, instability, chaos, and eventually revolution.”
The Arab Spring has put this on full display, with many experts pinning the revolutions not primarily to religious or political conflicts, but to youth joblessness. To address the deep and stubborn issues of unemployment and poverty around the world, we’ll need enterprise, both big and small. We’ll need the mom-and-pops and the multinationals to put the world’s population to work. We’ll need Jacqueline, the community barbershop, and Target.
Photo Credits: Center Court Barbershop website & Gallup