Written by Barak Hernandez
When you think about the Great Depression that took place in the 1930s, what comes to your mind? Perhaps it’s the images of old time cars and people waiting in soup lines, or maybe it’s grown men prizefighting for money because finding work was so scarce? Whatever the image, it was a time we would love to forget and pray it would never happen again. The term depression takes on a different meaning today, in regards to mental health. But when describing depression in terms of the U.S. economy, it simply means a deflation in the gross domestic product.
With all of the recent headlines pointing to another recession that is poised for 2020, should business owners operating in the Central Valley be concerned? There have been a few scary indicators, like the trade war with China and the slowing down of jobs added in the U.S during the latter part of 2019. But there is one indicator that stands out the most and is the scariest. It has been named the “Retail Apocalypse.”
This is a term used by the media to describe what has been happening to U.S. retail stores. The more that customers shop online for clothing and other home accessories, the less foot traffic there is for retail stores. Most clothing stores have a certain dollar amount they need to bring in every month in order to stay open. When that dollar amount is reduced because of online shopping and keeps being reduced, then managers have to explain to their superiors why their store numbers are down. Imagine the frustration that managers have of knowing that foot traffic is down because of online shopping, and not having any way to stop it and get customers back in the stores.
Eventually, a store that is doing poorly in sales will reach critical mass, meaning it is no longer feasible to keep the store open. That is what has been happening to retail stores across the U.S. The Washington Post quoted a report from UBS stating that since 2017, there have been 15,000 stores closed across the U.S. Fresno has not been immune to this — perhaps you may have even seen a few stores in Fresno close down because of no foot traffic. One store that comes to mind is JC Penney. This store had nostalgic memories for me growing up.
When school was about to begin my mother would take me there for school clothes. This was way before online shopping was available. JC Penney at the time was a huge store packed with other families shopping as well. You would have to wait in line in order to try on the clothes to see if they fit — that’s how packed it was. The sights of toys on display and the smells coming from the perfume and cologne area lingered and added a sense of excitement. Even though the store has long since been closed, the fond memories remain of a bygone era of shopping.
As a small business owner/operator for 30 years in Fresno, I know all too well how business can have slow periods. Often during presidential election times, customers are reluctant to spend and will often wait to see who takes office before spending. Call it superstition, or the psychology of the stock market reacting to who will take office, and how their new policies will affect trading. Whatever the reason, business owners need to be resilient. One season in particular my company was not getting phone calls and I remember calling the operator, asking her to call my number back to see if it was working. It was, and I was relieved.
Like the chameleon, small and large business owners need to adapt to their changing environments. A few key points that have helped my company through down turns in the economy are 1.) Do not be afraid of information, meaning do research on what is really happening to the global and local economy, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. By doing this you will be able to see market trends and make better informed decisions 2.) Diversify your services in terms of lowering prices and offering new services 3.) Keep the dream alive, or in other words keep your business running and open, even if you have to take on a second job. Remember — the storm will not last forever. 4.) Use current social media to advertise. If you’re not proficient with social media, ask a millennial ‘ and they will be more than happy to help.
Survival is not the only reason that chameleons change their colors; it is also a form of self-expression depending on the mood of the chameleon. When you think about the American dream of self-employment, is that not a form of self-expression of doing what you love and making money while doing it? Since the last recession the United States has gone through, it was small businesses that kept the economy alive while large corporations were on the verge of extinction and needed government aid to stay alive. The saying goes “the only constant is change”, and the Central Valley has definitely had its share of change. So whatever the future holds, business owners would do well to be like the chameleon.
Barak Hernandez is the owner of Clean Master since 2018 and has 30 years experience in providing all cleaning and water restoration services. Born and raised in Fresno California Barak is the youngest of nine children. Barak attended Norseman elementary, Easterby elementary, Kings Canyon Middle school, and finally Mclane High school. Barak was raised to work at a young age without pay. Coming from a large Hispanic family it was always expected that every family member contributed by doing chores and helping out with the family business. Both of Barak’s parents are currently deceased but live forever in his memory.