Just Gimme a Break, Man: Why Big Corporations Don’t Owe You A Damned Thing, and What You Can Do About It
The woman leaned towards me, stabbing the air for emphasis.
“I deserve a break! They owe me a BREAK!”
“They,” in this case, was Target Corporation. The woman, a service-disabled veteran, was angry that Target wouldn’t meet with her to discuss her new line of towels.
Her daughter stood next to us. Calmly, she touched her mom on the shoulder.
“Listen to her, Mom,” she said, pointing at me. “What she says makes sense.”
The three of us were at a business conference for women’s veterans. I had just delivered a seminar on how to get business with big companies. This particular woman had designed a nifty two-sided towel which had multiple uses.
She hadn’t, however, established a sales history with her towel. Target- as does any large retailer- requires proof that people like what you’re selling. They don’t take chances on new entrepreneurs, nor do they give folks a chance just because you or I happen to be female, veteran or disabled. I am all of those, too, but the only reason Target has been a client of mine is because I offered a service they couldn’t get from anyone else.
However, when it comes to products, that coveted shelf space only goes to items that have a proven local, or preferably, regional sales record. Target likes safe bets. They have shareholders to please.
They’re not in the business of handouts or charities on the sales side. While Target has an excellent record hiring veterans and working with veteran suppliers like my friend, that is earned. Just like every other supplier had to earn their way into the supply chain.
Buyers are regularly pummeled with such requests. They are borne of a lack of understanding of how large retailers work. Large business in general. I did my best to explain to this woman that one order from Target- many container loads, for example- could bankrupt her. She couldn’t see why. You and I have to bear the cost of manufacturing and delivery. You and I have to bear the cost of shipping those containers to Target. You and I have to pay interest on the loans- if we can even get one- until Target pays the invoice. That kills smaller suppliers off like so many gnats.
Weighed down by the costs of doing business, many don’t survive. This is why going after a Target isn’t necessarily the best business strategy for smaller entrepreneurs.
This woman’s daughter had told her repeatedly to go after the fishing and hunting stores in their native Texas. That’s precisely where she needed to begin. Small, local, and build a clientele. Once established, you move out regionally, as you fold the money you make back into the business to help it grow.
That is, if you want growth. You’d better if you want to play with Target.
Some folks take that profit and promptly buy themselves a new house, a Beemer, a fur coat. Those folks want a lifestyle business. That’s fine, but you will forever hover around $100k or so, and not likely be able to hire anyone. That works for a great, great many of us.
But not if you want to play with Target.
For many of us smaller entrepreneurs, focusing on much smaller, local companies is a much better strategy. The costs of doing business with the F500 are vast, and require very high quality technology, enough people to man the phones 24/7 and what’s called capacity. Those are those containers full of product that are shipped all over the country.
Capacity is king.
For example, a while back I was talking to Verizon about leadership training. I focus on small groups, and highly specialized senior level teams. As a one-woman shop, that allows me to deliver extreme quality for particular groups. Verizon, however, was seeking an enterprise-wide provider at the time. They needed someone with a bank of trainers all over the country. Not a fit. No harm, no foul. My job is to identify where corporations want that specialized training. I have a contract relationship with a UK firm which has that bank of trainers, so I can also offer that alternative. That collaboration allows me to provide a broader range of services, but they are not my company. Still, it expands my capacity. That’s what people at this level need.
My veteran friend was still spluttering, as her daughter reminded her, as did I, that we begin where we are. You can’t walk up to Chevron and demand a ten million dollar contract for promotional items when the biggest contract you ever filled was $2500 for the local Rotary club. Entrepreneurs don’t always understand how big BIG really is. They see a familiar house hold name (Kraft, Johnson&Johnson, etc) and assume that well, they’re big. They have money.
Yes, but they’re not going to spend it on a tiny supplier, which costs them a lot of dime and time. They are streamlining their supply chain, which reduces costs, which increases profit. You do not want to look like overhead. You and I have to aim for lower tiers, where our capacity is a match for their demands, and it’s likely that we can be highly successful.
For many of us, this is the sweet spot. Without the extreme demands of being first in class, we can make a very fine living without selling directly to GM. We may not get the bragging rights, but we do get to bank the profits. Grow, or not grow. That’s up to us.
Those of us in protected classes, say veterans, minorities, women, LGBT, and disabled have pathways to doing business with America’s largest companies (for another article). However, I do not earn business with Lockheed Martin (which I did) by demanding work based on my socio-economic status. I offered solutions to existing problems. I had the capacity for what they needed. This is what gets us work. The right fit, a need, and the capacity and quality to deliver. That, and a very realistic understanding of where we fit into the larger scheme of things, a willingness to be of service, and to do the work it takes to get the business.
We’re not owed anything, including a break. We have to carve those out for ourselves.