It’s no secret that running a business can be hard, thankless work. That’s probably why about half of small businesses fail in the first five years. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, two-thirds of small businesses fail within just a decade of getting off the ground.
But it’s not the actual work that makes starting a business hard — it’s the lack of foundation. Without an established brand and clientele, it’s an upward battle to convince strangers that what you’re offering is better than your competitors.
This task is made all the harder if you’re a brick-and-mortar business. In February 2019, online retail sales overtook store sales for the first time ever. In an era where you can order practically anything — even a car — with the click of a button and have it arrive on your doorstep within a day’s time, it’s hard to get consumers to see the value in physical storefronts.
There is value, though. The value of transparency and trust that only comes from authentic human interaction. But it goes even deeper than that.
As a consumer, it’s your responsibility to ask yourself: What is my money going toward?
The Way of the World: Big Businesses Eat Small Businesses
According to eMarketer.com, Amazon now controls around half of the online retail market. That’s a level of domination that’s never been seen before. And the margin is only widening.
Statista places Amazon’s 2019 net revenue at $280.52 billion. That’s up around 17% from the previous year, and 37% from 2017. For context, Amazon’s income in 2019 is equal to the total net worth of the Chicago Cubs, the GDP of the Solomon Islands, and nearly 30% of the U.S. federal deficit.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just Amazon. Companies like Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Disney are all big players who have cornered their markets with unparalleled success. This success isn’t inherently evil, but it makes one thing pretty clear: No one can compete.
If you can even begin to understand the power of $280 billion, then you can also see why so many small business owners fail, and why department stores and malls are shuttering their doors all over America.
Consumer responsibility is the concept that you’re accountable for what your money does after you’ve spent it. It can be kind of a weird thing to wrap your head around; after all, how can you control a dollar that’s no longer yours?
But when you really think about it, it starts to make sense. Take grocery shopping, for example. If you choose to buy your groceries from a local farmer’s market, your money goes directly to the farmers who cultivated the food. This allows them to continue to raise their food as naturally and responsibly as possible, and also supports an individual rather than an unknown entity.
However, if you choose to buy your groceries from a big chain store, it’s harder to know what your money’s doing. Too often, it’s helping the chain store edge out local farmers, promote environmentally unethical practices like factory farming, and pad the wallets of corporate executives. It may be convenient, but it’s usually not the greatest good your dollar can do.
This concept applies to almost anything you buy.
You may be wondering, “But how can I know if the company I’m buying from is a good one?” That’s a question that’s sometimes hard to answer, but it gets easier in the age of online information. Here are a few key things to remember:
- If a bigger company doesn’t advertise that it’s environmentally conscious, it’s probably not.
- Products that seem like a ridiculously good deal may have been sourced unethically — whether it’s through foreign child labor, factory farming, or something else.
- With small businesses, you often know who you’re buying from (and, indirectly, where your money is going). With big businesses, that’s almost never the case.
- Research, research, research. When in doubt, look up the company’s reputation online.
For the military community in particular, shopping from Veteran-owned businesses is preferred because it’s giving money back to those who’ve served.
Paul Flynn, an ex-Army Ranger turned car dealer, has one of these businesses. Flynn owns and operates Mendo Motorz in San Antonio, which he started up in February 2019.
“It’s been a lot of effort just trying to get off the ground and to cruising altitude, but we’re really close to that point,” Flynn said.
Flynn has bounced from the title of Ranger, to banker, to broker, and finally car dealer — giving him the diverse skill set needed to be a successful business owner.
“I’ve explored a number of things. Between serving and starting Mendo Motorz, I took my GI Bill and got a degree in economics at UCLA. Then I went into corporate banking out in San Francisco, and after that I got into commercial real estate in Texas.”
None of these things satisfied him, however.
“I have an entrepreneurial spirit. I had invested some money in a dealership, so it was a natural migration into operating one.”
Mendo Motorz is located close to Fort Sam Houston, which will hopefully help it expand into the Veteran market — something that’s important to Flynn. Not only has he served, but his whole family has, stretching all the way back to the Civil War.
“It’s tradition. My grandfather died in World War II and my father and uncle both served. I have two sisters who were both Reservists, I’ve got a brother who served in the Marines and a little brother who served in the Army. We’ve got a lot of soldiers in our family.”
Flynn himself joined the Army fresh out of high school in 1994. He initially intended to be an infantry soldier, but a drill sergeant took notice of him in boot camp and suggested the Rangers instead. From there, Flynn went to jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was stationed with the 2nd Ranger Battalion at Fort Lewis, Washington.
Becoming a Ranger — specifically, through the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP) — was one of the hardest things he’s ever done.
“It’s a real test of your grit,” he said. “As physically demanding as it is, it’s really more of a mental challenge. You’re always to the point where you could justify quitting, but the reality is that the decision to do it or not is simply a decision. And while you may want to quit and have all the reason, you just simply decide to hang on because it’s what you want to do.”
Flynn had the opportunity to train in all parts of the country, as well as in Panama and Guam, before he left active duty in 1997.
When I asked him why Veterans should take their business to Mendo Motorz, Flynn’s answer came immediately: “Because we’re gonna treat them right.”
He also may have mentioned something about a discount… which certainly doesn’t hurt. He elaborated:
“We don’t have any history in the car industry, and there’s pros and cons to that. The con is obviously that we lack the experience that other dealerships have. The pro is that we don’t have any of the bad habits that the used auto industry has a reputation for.
We don’t try to be slick with anything — we just try to approach the business from our experiences having purchased vehicles before. We try to make ourselves competitive in that way, by just being good business.”
Just Being Good Business
Flynn’s description of “just being good business” ties back into that earlier concept of consumer responsibility. When you shop somewhere like Mendo Motorz, your money is not only going to a military family, but it’s helping a business that supports other military families, too. More than that, it’s keeping good and honest business practices alive, and those can be hard to find nowadays.
There are also a ton of Veteran-owned online retailers, so you can maintain some of that convenience while doing your duty as a responsible consumer.
To find Veteran-owned and other military-friendly businesses near you, explore our directory here.