The Power of Small Business
When I was about 8 or 9 years old I went on an African safari. It was incredible. The mosquitos were the size of hummingbirds and they flew at me with lighting speeds. Fortunately the bug netting around my hat kept me protected from their attacks. I hung on to the rope harness strapped around the elephant's head for dear life. Thick underbrush scraped against the tough hide of the giant creature's legs. They reminded me of tree trunks, plodding across the earth. Dust swirled each time the pachyderm flapped its giant ears in the hot sun.
Off in the distance I could hear the roar of a lion. It was far enough away to sound intriguing, any closer and I would have been terrified. Startled by the warning siren, a gazelle darted across the clearing. The guide spoke to the animals in a gentle and monotone voice. I found this odd. I would have assumed that a creature of this size would only respond to loud volume voices.
It was an incredible adventure - that I experienced all in the parking lot at Neiman's Family Market (Alpena IGA at the time). I did not, in fact, go on a real African safari but had an opportunity to ride an elephant at the grocery store parking lot while the circus was in town.
My Aunt Lois worked at the store and took my brother and I to town for the occasion. But the opportunity inspired my imagination to transport me to a world that I had never experienced. After the ride I went on to read books about Africa and was interested in learning more about the home of these exotic species. It was something so simple yet so inspirational to me. I learned that there was more to the world than life on our family farm. The experience ignited a fire in me to want to explore and learn more about our planet.
This is the power of small business.
At a recent Good Morning Alpena breakfast I asked Hal Neiman if he remembered when he brought the elephant to his store. He surely did and I learned that he had invited circus animals on various other occasions for the public to see throughout the years.
What does a circus animal have to do with groceries? Probably not much but it sure did attract attention, brought people to the store, and perhaps, inspired other young minds to explore the world.
Often times I talk to business owners who feel that big box retailers are the death of their business. While it is a possibility, it is certainly not a guarantee. Small business has the power to change the world. Interactions can be personal. Real connections can be formed. And, lasting relationships can be built. Loyalty is built on relationships. When I shop at Neiman's I feel a personal connection to the store.
Hal doesn't know I'm writing about him today. But I wanted to share this brief vignette of just one example of how a local business has inspired my life. While I don't buy everything at this store I do have certain things that I don't buy anywhere else. Through out-of-the-box thinking and an unending dedication to always wanting to offer more they have earned my loyalty and are the reason why a "real" African safari is on my bucket list.
As a local business owner, what can you do to inspire your community?
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.