News. Events. Ideas. People.
Getting the Word: Small Business Is Here To Stay
Image courtesy of Dan Gleiter, The Patriot-News
If you’ve been a purveyor of news or have even just been interested in pop culture over the last year, you’ve likely read about the momentum gained by startups and those who serve them. Entrepreneurship is hot. From the much publicized acquisition of Instagram to the more modest references to the Jumpstart Our Business Startup Act on sitcoms such as Modern Family, these risk-takers have garnered attention previously reserved for rock stars and professional athletes.
Less well known, however, are high growth companies that have survived the startup phase but are not yet a household name. These firms are, in concept, the small businesses that your local politician (or presidential contender) no doubt paid homage to during your last TV viewing. They may not be flashy but they represent most of the job creation over the past few years. Who are these firms? I recently had the privilege of speaking with an owner of one of these firms, Gloria James, VP and CFO of C. James Plumbing and Heating, Inc, to get some input to that question.
Nowadays, more than 1 in 4 companies are started by minority CEOs. When Gloria and her husband migrated from Guyana in the late 1960s however, entrepreneurship was the path less taken to say the least. It is understood that America is the land of opportunity because, if you work hard enough, you can be successful without regard to race or gender or past social status. No one would challenge Gloria’s work ethic; she launched a business with limited resources while raising a family of nine and managing an additional full-time job. The business was slow to get off the ground, but very effective in establishing a loyal client base that demonstrated their appreciation through new client referrals. ICIC founder and HBS professor Michael Porter writes in his seminal text, “Competitive Strategy” that successful firms in fragmented industries (like heating and plumbing) often succeed initially through a buyer perception of more responsive customer service. Through a laser-like focus on “providing great service locally”, Ms. James’ firm has become a Bronx mainstay and successfully forged an enduring place in its industry. Since its founding in 1986, C. James Plumbing and Heating, Inc. has booked tens of millions in revenues and grown to employ over 20 full-time staff. Not only is Gloria a successful small business owner, but she’s also poised for further growth as a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.
Echoing the words of the program’s other graduates, Gloria has been energized. “During the 3-4 months of the program, take advantage of every opportunity you get- it will come in handy immediately. Use the program to your advantage in every way possible,” advised Gloria. In the middle of the worst economic market since the 1930s, Ms. James’ company has continued to find new business and plot a path to greener markets. Joining the 10,000 Small Businesses program to “learn the tools to grow what was already a mature business,” she credits the program with opening her eyes to different marketing strategies to attract new buyers to her services. With high potential underserved businesses in mind, the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program helps U.S. based companies with at least two years of operations, four employees and between $150,000 and $4 million in revenue. The public-private initiative was founded on the conviction that many of these firms are poised for growth but need education, support services, and capital to grow and create jobs. If C. James Plumbing and Heating, Inc. is any indication, the program is well on its way to turning its initial conviction into a lasting proof of concept.
In our society, the story of the small business owner has, in most cases, become unsensational; most Americans have heard a story about a scrappy son or daughter of immigrants starting a transformative company. However, what seems so familiar as to be commonplace to Americans is unimaginable to many around the world. The fact that these stories seem ordinary is testament to the American model and represents a hopeful note in an uncertain time. As Thomas Friedman wrote in his most recent book, ‘That Used to Be Us’, “Indeed, what keeps us optimistic about America is the seemingly endless number of people who came here or live here who just didn’t get the word. They didn’t get the word that we’re supposed to be depressed or in a recession or unloved by the rest of the world. They didn’t get the word that new immigrants are supposed to wait their turn, college dropouts are supposed to flip hamburgers, and people of color are supposed to go to the back of the bus. Instead, they just get on it with it – whatever ‘it’ is.”
BY Sathya Vijayakumar on August 23rd, 2012
Trending Topicsworkforce development workforce what works urban revitalization small business shared value nyc manufacturing jobs inner city economic summit industrial ic100 housing food entrepreneur economic development detroit community development clusters cities capital business boston ask the expert anchors
FOR OUR MONTHLY INNER CITY INSIGHTS.
- CEOs for Cities
- SBA's Open for Business
- Opportunity Nation
- Living Cities
- Urban Institute's MetroTrends
- Atlantic Cities
- The Knight Foundation
- The Kresge Foundation
- Core Change Cincy
- Business Civic Leadership Center
- The Urbanophile
- Next City
- City Journal
- Rust Wire