According to the Small-Business Administration, small businesses are facing “unprecedented economic disruption.” As rural small business owners, my husband and I feel this disruption firsthand, as do our customers.
Yes, the CARES Act, Paycheck Protection Program and other federal loan programs and economic assistance have provided some support. But we’re six months into COVID-19’s effects — and any sense of “normal” or an economic revival feels out of reach. Customers continue to support our family-owned business, but supply chain challenges hinder our ability to serve them and provide building materials as we work to do.
Those same supply chain challenges are evident on grocery store shelves, on car dealership lots and in appliance stores that I’ve seen firsthand. I don’t know of a small business not affected by this economic disruption. You most likely have your own personal examples.
While this disruption of commerce continues, the U.S. hit the 200,000 death count tied to COVID-19 this week. I don't want this column to gloss over the gravity of the situation and pretend it's not happening. No matter your role or experience with the pandemic, you probably see and feel a weariness as I do. One aspect of my personal experience during this pandemic is felt through small business disruption.
Patrons naturally get frustrated when a business can’t deliver the products they desire to purchase — whether it’s Diet Coke in a can or toilet paper — in a timely fashion. When the transmission went out on my vehicle this summer, our small-town dealership had to search to find the part. They finally found a transmission 1,000-plus miles away in Texas, which meant it took a week longer than usual to fix my car.
For my husband’s second-generation family lumberyard business that supplies builders and contractors, as well as our home-building business, the disruption comes in the form of extended lead times to receive materials. From the cabinet builders in Kansas and South Dakota and to window companies in Minnesota to the flooring that originates in Dalton, Ga., the suppliers for our small business are communicating more and trying to keep their employees safe and healthy while feverishly trying to meet demands.
A common building material such as OSB sheeting now costs our small business three times what it did prior to COVID-19. We wouldn’t have any customers if we raised our prices that much. For our family business, that means our margins are tighter and profitability is down despite working longer days to meet the needs and demands we’re faced with weekly. I’m guessing every small business owner has multiple examples of how COVID-19 has directly impacted their supply and business functions, including the daily responsibility of managing employees and their health and well-being.
There is no pandemic playbook for small businesses. We’re writing it as we go.
We cannot afford to close or even cut back hours. Employees need paychecks and health insurance. Employers need employees to come to work to serve customers to generate revenue and pay their own bills.
With each passing day, I think a lot of small business owners alongside employees and customers are all reaching a stage of fatigue and weariness. I see it my husband’s face and hear it in his voice.
Let’s keep supporting local businesses and our communities — while being mindful of the recommended measures to flatten the COVID-19 curve. Continue to extend more grace, grit and patience than ever before. My hope is history books will one day tell about how Americans rallied around small business during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to an economic revival.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at email@example.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.