Believe it or not, now is a great time to start a small business. Perhaps you’ve heard of the so-called retail apocalypse—about 4,000 stores have closed in the past couple of years, with many of them coming from large companies like Sears (closed 39 stores), Sam’s Club (closed 63 stores), Foot Locker (closed 110 stores), Best Buy (closed 257 stores), Rite Aid (closed 600 stores), and Toys’R’ Us (closed each of their 735 stores).
For legacy brands, these are tough times. The scale of their operations and staggering overhead costs make it hard to compete with online juggernauts like Amazon. Small businesses, on the other hand, are better able to adjust to customer preferences and industry trends.
In many ways, the agility of a small business is like a sailboat, while the enormous bulk of a nationwide chain makes them more like the Titanic. If a massive ocean liner spots an iceberg ahead, it might not be able to course correct in time. Its path is already set. But a nimble sailboat can dodge around icebergs all day.
This flexibility helps explain why small business optimism is soaring in the middle of the retail apocalypse. According to the latest Small Business Optimism Index from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), optimism among entrepreneurs is at historically strong levels. It’s have been riding high nearly all year, despite a dip in January due to the government shutdown.
“Small business owners continue to create jobs, expand their operations, and are enjoying strong sales,” said NFIB CEO Juanita Duggan in the report. “Since Congress resolved the shutdown, uncertainty has declined as small business owners add jobs, increase sales, and invest in their businesses and employees.”
Sales appear to be up, registering a 6-point improvement from the last report. The NFIB researchers found that small business owners have capital available and plan to invest in their businesses in diverse ways.
Likewise, hiring is starting to increase. Small businesses added a record number of new employees over the past couple of months. The main snag in their hiring pursuits has been the tight labor market, which has many businesses reporting a lower number of candidates than they’d prefer.
Despite the hurdle of fewer candidates, small businesses nationwide are in growth mode.
“Owners are growing their businesses and expect that they can sell more if they can produce more with additional employees,” explained NFIB Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Investment spending has been solid for the past 2 years and owners are choosing to invest in their workforce as well by creating new jobs and raising wages.”
The consensus from the report is that small businesses have rebounded ably from the early struggles of January. With the economy humming and retail sales on the rise, now is an ideal time to start a small business or grow an existing one.
Keep in mind that the issue of staffing your business will need to be considered. Unemployment rates have been low for some time now, which will impact your business launch.
One mitigating factor is that young workers have been entering the workforce faster than usual. What does this influx of young talent mean for you? Well, they provide more options when you’re hiring. And they’re a key demographic, as small businesses often seek out young employees for the majority of their positions.
While young employees may help round out your hiring efforts, remember that they have different priorities compared to previous generations. Rather than valuing loyalty above everything else, they care about things like healthcare benefits, dental benefits, vision benefits, flexible schedules, career development, team activities, off-site work opportunities, student loan repayment, and snacks.
Perhaps it seems overwhelming to consider providing all of those things for your new employees. Don’t worry—just pace yourself. You can start with the easier perks, like snacks and drink in your office, to start moving toward an environment that will attract and retain young employees. The next move might be adding a quarterly off-site retreat. The important thing is that your employees see you’re making a sincere effort to meet their needs.
If you find yourself wondering what exactly you should do to attract and retain employees, simply ask them. According to entrepreneurial expert Codie Sanchez, having conversations with employees boosts engagement and lets them know they have a voice in your business.
“When I approach the boss-staff relationship with a younger employee from a mentorship stance, it instantly opens communication and we arrive at mutual understandings of expectations and deliverables,” says Sanchez.
By doing the right things to attract employees, you’ll help neutralize one of the few negative factors for starting a business right now. After all, the economy is strong, retail sales are healthy, and the capital is there for those who need it.