Challenges, large and small, are something all small businesses grapple with on a daily basis – things like economic downturns, increased pressure from the competition, and government rules and regulation, just to name a few.
To be successful, small businessmen like me have to be creative in our efforts to overcome those challenges – particularly if we want to make money.
As I review the data associated with my business, I try to look beyond the numbers. I am constantly asking myself questions: How can I reduce my expenses? How can I deliver the best products and services at a competitive price? How can I expand my customer base? And at the end of the day, how can I become more profitable and grow my business?
Recently, after going through some of that data, I realized that Tuesdays were the slowest day of the week for our shop, Green Mountain Xpress Lube. So I decided to run a promotion, providing a discount to women who brought their cars in for service on Tuesdays. We decided to call it “Ladies Day.”
My first step was to visit my local sign shop – another local small business – to have a banner made up so I could advertise the sale.
Clean, attractive, locally manufactured, and large enough for passing motorists to see, I posted the banner at the entrance of my business to advertise our Tuesday “Ladies Day” special.
After three weeks, I checked the data: We were up 17 percent on Tuesday. Now that was a positive number that I liked to see, especially during these tough economic times. “Ladies Day” was a success.
But before I had a chance to celebrate, one of my employees informed me that there was a visitor in the lobby who wanted to see me. To my surprise, that visitor was a representative from the City of Lakewood’s sign enforcement office, who informed me that the special I was advertising was a violation of the city’s sign code.
This was my warning, they told me. The city would be back in two days to make sure my “Ladies Day” sign was removed, or I could be fined.
I was shocked, and wanted to berate this person – a person whose job is paid for by the tax revenues my business generates each and every day. But I knew that wouldn’t do any good, because you can’t reason with a bureaucrat who is simply reading you the inflexible enforcement code from a prepared sheet of paper. So I had little choice but to remove the sign.
Now, I could understand if the banner I posted advertising the sale was badly constructed, handwritten, or otherwise poorly made. But the sign was professionally produced by a local company and looked good. But none of that mattered.
That is the problem with government agencies: They simply don’t understand how a business is actually run. If they did, they would understand that the more sales I make, the more tax revenue I will generate for them. It is a simple, straightforward equation that they seem completely unable to comprehend.
As I often tell my employees, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” And it should be no different when it comes to the partnership between small business and government. Businesses like mine need an efficient and responsive government to succeed. And the government needs vibrant and growing small businesses to generate the tax revenues that they so desperately need. After all, small business is what drives America’s economy.
Unfortunately, that economy isn’t in great shape these days – and my run in with the city’s sign bureaucracy is one example of why.
Business on Tuesday at the Xpress Lube has once again dropped. Customers who came in for the special before ask me what happened. And when I tell them, they shake their heads in disbelief.
As a small businessman in this economy, I have enough problems to worry about. Being hobbled by an overzealous local government that my taxes help to support shouldn’t be one of them.
Todd Rodenburg is a native of Colorado, a graduate of Green Mountain High School, and the co-owner of Green Mountain Auto World, Green Mountain Xpress Lube, and Green Mountain Shell. His family has continuously operated a small business in Lakewood since 1974