Best Buy Co. Inc.'s recent acquisition of Speakeasy Inc., an independent broadband voice, data and information technology provider, is the company's newest addition to its, "Best Buy for Business Unit." It is also the latest effort by a growing number of retailers courting the big business represented by small business, rolling out a slew of services to help small business owners save time and succeed.
According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), American small business is the world's largest economy, trailing only the U.S. as a whole and Japan. There are nearly six million small employers in this country, 90 percent of which employ fewer than 20 people.
Small business owners wear many hats. They lack the big business infrastructure that is unrelated to the company's core business, but keeps the engine running.
Early on, office products suppliers such as Staples, Office Depot and OfficeMax aggressively took on the role of replenishing paper, printer cartridges and other supplies for this market segment. And all of them and others have expanded well beyond simply making replenishment easy.
Last September, Staples, based in Framingham, MA, launched Staples Design Services, specifically to provide professionally designed documents, including brochures, flyers, letterhead, business cards, direct mail pieces and more, to small businesses. Available at Staples Copy & Print Center locations, the service goes beyond printing to help with the design and creation of copy and text.
Staples Business Delivery, a unit true to its name, automatically replenishes supplies for small business owners. This January, it surveyed owners of businesses with 20 employees or fewer to explore the balance between work and personal time.
Not surprisingly, "The results from this survey reflect what we regularly hear from our small business customers, who say a lack of time is a constant challenge," says John Giusti, vice president of Staples Business Delivery. In recognition of this challenge, Staples is redoubling its efforts to become a central resource for helping to increase productivity for this customer base. The resource includes consultation on technology and space configuration, in addition to document design capability.
Best Buy for Business is offered at 281 units of Minneapolis based Best Buy's approximately 1,150 stores nationwide. Darren Jackson, senior VP and CFO, says that by combining Speakeasy with this unit, "We are better equipped to provide our small business customers with one-stop shopping for all their technology needs, so they can focus on their customers instead of on technology."
Retailers outside the office products and electronics universes also see big potential in small businesses. Target, for example, offers the Target Business Card, a credit card designed specifically for businesses and operated through Target Bank.
It begins with a 10 percent discount for a full day of shopping in all of a Target store's departments, and is also a point based loyalty card. Every time a business account reaches 1,000 points, the cardholder gets another 10 percent all day, full day shopping discount.
Little more than a year ago, Home Depot introduced the Business Toolbox program. The Atlanta based home improvement retailer has long served independent contractors related to the building and remodeling trades.
Business Toolbox, however, contains a slew of benefits for small businesses that are unrelated to its own core customer base. In addition to discounts on logo wear and apparel, temporary storage solutions and dumpster rentals, it offers a health insurance benefits program for its small business customers nationwide, and downloadable forms, payroll processing and business management software.
The program was designed to, "Save any small business time and money," says Jim Stoddart, senior vice president of growth initiatives for Home Depot. As evidence of this initiative's growth potential, more than 12,000 small business owners registered for Business Toolbox within its first five months of operation.
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