Manadatory Credit: Photo by Brian Rasic / Rex Features (396812dh) PRINCE VARIOUS
Manadatory Credit: Photo by Brian Rasic / Rex Features (396812dh)

We Minnesotans have been mourning the loss of PRINCE. If you don’t know who he was, I can’t help you at this point.  He stood for a lot, but perhaps what he stood for the most was the right of an artist to control his/her destiny, material and distribution–essentially to run his/her own show.

Perhaps his strongest statement was  the word “SLAVE” on his face and changing his name  to a symbol to circumvent an oppressive contract w/ SONY.  In short, he was done, “workin’ for the man.”

As a small business owner, Prince has always inspired me.  Those of you who haven’t had the stress of running a small business may not realize that every day is a fight for independence. You fight to keep the bills paid, to stay true to your mission and, to not get swept away by the tsunami of market homogenization. You defend your  unique niche against the big players who want to eat your lunch and then hire you to work for a fraction of what your regulars think your worth.  When a company like CorePower sets out on a mission to “Build a Global Lifestyle Brand,”  they’re fine with your lifestyle being a casualty of their brand–hey, it’s business, right?

In my own neighborhood, Noodles and Company has moved in and put our local Pho shop out of business enjoying the “second mover advantages,” usurping  at least some of the business that family-owned shop grew over the years. Massage Envy has taken its toll on expert bodyworkers, hiring straight-outta community college grads to essentially give one-size-fits-few treatments.  On the flip side, the big brands get in early and block the entry of smaller, more creative offerings. We are flanked by 2 Caribou Coffees.   In a neighborhood of 3000 families, couldn’t we support one indie coffee shop that knows how to make a mocha with real chocolate!?

Just the other day, I was in Dinkytown thinking I’d join the “kids” for a little hot yoga on a cool day–now you know it’s not my thing, but I like to keep current. There’s a guy from NY who teamed up w/ a local to start Your Yoga.  They’re a good team, they have something worthwhile to offer. Imagine my dismay to find a TCF BANK had taken their place. I think the other location in Uptown is still going.

Even Santa Barbara, a haven for Indie Yoga is feeling the effects of a newly opened CorePower.  The indie classes aren’t nearly as full and the millennial crowd is noticeably absent.  Imagine my surprise at some of the world’s finest teachers having open spaces in their classes and offering free classes to get mats in the door.

So why is it when, we have so much info online about how to choose quality products and services,  independents scrambling to keep their prices competitive in the post-Walmart apocalypse, we see this trend toward homogenization all around us?  I mean, you know the Pho at Noodles and Co. isn’t the same Pho you get in Hanoi, right?  You’ve seen the travel shows, read the online reviews.  So why do so many of us acquiesce to the mediocrity of the mass-market?

I’m pretty sure it comes down to one thing, and it’s not price–heck, some of the mainstream offerings are more expensive.   I think it comes down to convenience.  The one thing everyone is short on is time. This cuts across all socio-economic classes. We all have too many messages to respond to, errands to run and places to be.  We’re just going through the motions w/o really thinking.  We all meet at Starbucks because it’s easy –our keyboard even auto-suggests it when texting and who wants to get into a big debate about where to have coffee?  We know exactly what’s on the menu, so we don’t have to ponder anything, which is good, right? Pondering takes time.  We know the service will be fairly reliable, so long as we don’t get the new trainee.  But, if we make all of our purchase decisions based on this, don’t we risk becoming, well…boring and predictable? Mediocre ourselves?

That said, isn’t it up to small business to become more convenient?  You bet. But there’s one thing a small business can’t be: BIG.  And, believe it or not, some of us don’t want to be big.  We left “big” jobs and “big” companies so we could do things right, our own way. We didn’t believe in cookie cutters and corporate culture.   We packed up our toys and carved out a little patch where we could play with like-minded individuals.

The thing is, when you have your patch of what you hope are unique offerings of higher quality, it’s difficult to find staff that can understand and execute your vision.  For instance,  it would be a huge commitment for me to hire someone trained by CorePower, Lifetime, etc.  I would have to clue them in on the subtleties acquired across a multitude of styles and years of travel and training. I would  also have to ask myself, if they chose to do their training with one of those outfits, do they really appreciate what I do and want to be part of it anyway–will they “get” me?  Are they just in a panic trying to pay back the hefty student loans they took out for the training?

When I speak to other small business owners, especially those providing services, the thing I hear time and time again as their biggest problem is in hiring.  Their clients want to see them. When they bring on new hires, they can’t get a following going, as they just don’t have the experience, understanding, similar style etc. –who knows? The owners end up w/ the lion’s share of work, no matter how much they try to delegate.

What I do know: I am lucky.  I am blessed. I have enough people showing up in my classes and actively participating in our little community, getting to know me, getting to know the other students and making it a great environment for growth and transformation.

What you need to know : You matter!  Each person matters in these small classes.  We notice when you’re not there, especially for a couple weeks. We wonder if you’re coming back, but we don’t want to pry or nag.  We all quietly hope we haven’t lost you to a more convenient offering, or, just to the demands of life –an illness, a loss, etc.  We hope you’ll make your way back to us and to the yoga.

In conclusion, I’d like to mention some of my FAVORITE independent, small business owners. Nothing means more to a small business than a referral, a little praise, gushing even.  This is what the Yelps and Groupons telemarketing me can’t comprehend: I don’t want to grow my business geometrically with their bargain shoppers off the Internet–  I want to stay small and just get better and better (kaizen!) at serving my people.  Big means all the things I don’t like: more administration, more staffing, more space, more time spent NOT teaching.

So what do I need? What all small businesses need.  You can help the most by telling someone about me and maybe inviting them to a class.  People are nervous to try new things.  But here’s the best part: if they’re friends of yours, they’re bound to be a friend of ours! They’ll fit in just fine, you’ll make sure of it. You’ll clue them in on the weird breathing before they come, the venue idiosyncrasies and how to set up best for neck traction so they’ll feel comfortable. Plus they’ll already know someone in the class and that’s worth a dozen walk-ins off the Internet!


The Bru House (New Brighton–and they can make a mocha!)

Maryjo Lohn (Indulge Salon –Massage, Cranial-Sacral, Lymph) 

Taj Salon and Spa (Bryan–repertoire goes beyond pink hair)

Mane Tease (Sheryl, Downtown White Bear Lake) ( Celia Wirth is a one-woman Geek Squad specializing in senior computer needs)

Zen Asia (Behind Cub on Hwy 96–Nancy knows tea!)

Karta Thai (By Rosedale –green curry is best I’ve had outside of Thailand)

Szechuan (Roseville by Outback Steakhouse)

Hummingbird Floral (Rice St.)

Ace Hardware (White Bear –they have Aussie licorice and answers!)

Scandinavian Bakery (North Oaks–they sell lefse by the piece)

Swedish Crown Bakery (Anoka– most everything is Gluten Free). 

Affinity Credit Union (Roseville–think of it as a banking co-op. Call customer service and talk to a PERSON, the same PERSON you spoke with last time if you like!)

Why not give some of the above a “Like” on Facebook.  Most small business owners don’t buy “likes” or “followers,”(did you know that was a thing?)  they grow their following organically. Help ’em out and see what they’re up to on social media. 

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Shaila Cunningham

Shaila Cunningham