Small Business Impossible

Cities, counties, and states should adopt a Restaurant Impossible model to transform their small businesses.
Restaurant Impossible is a popular show on the Food Network where Chef Robert Irvine renovates failing restaurants in two days on a budget of $10,000. These restaurants are deep into debt, have lost most of their customers, and are often weeks away from closing their doors. The initial assessment shows some glaring issues with the decor, food quality, staff, and ownership. Chef Irvine breaks down the owners and staff and guts the restaurant to start from a clean slate. He and his team then quickly transform the kitchen, restaurant design, operations, and menu. After only two days, the restaurant owners are blown away at the changes made and the new outlook it has made on their business and personal lives.

This is a model that should be replicated across the country with the help of state and local governments. Governors, mayors, legislators, small business administrations, and chambers of commerce should assemble Small Business SWAT teams to provide hands on guidance to businesses on improving operations. These teams would include consultants, general contractors, designers, and experts in the major areas of business operations. They can target local restaurants, retail shops, or any number of small business industries. These teams would provide an external assessment, a plan to transform operations, training for staffs and owners, and the manpower to overhaul or strengthen their business.

This model could be applied to both struggling and successful small businesses. Small Business SWAT teams could help new small businesses in the first few years to overcome the high failure rate. Profitable small businesses can also benefit, just as professional athletes continue to work with coaches and trainers to improve their performance. Federal and State Small Business Administrations provide many programs and support services to businesses from financial assistance, counseling, and training, but a SWAT team provides businesses a targeted transformation or boost.

Imagine a mayor establishes a Small Business SWAT Team, hiring a few local businesses with a broad base of expertise and unleashes them on his city. These teams could be staffed by (underemployed) young people serving as apprentices to gain valuable hands on experience with dozens of businesses in the area. In a year these teams could transform 50, 100, or more businesses across the city. These businesses would emerge with fresh coats of paint on the walls, sleek new websites, and improved operations. With many of the glaring issues addressed and a new outlook provided, business and profits should grow. Local news can profile these businesses, showing before and after pictures, and offer free publicity. The community comes together to strengthen the local economy one business at a time. A sound investment by a forward thinking mayor.

As small businesses are the engines for job growth in America, a Small Business Impossible model would pay huge dividends. Public-private funding models can be tailored based on the business and local government commitments. The return on investment would be increases in tax revenue from businesses and employees, decreases in those seeking public assistance, and a strengthened local economy.

This model enables Government to serve as a platform for innovation, enabling significant transformations at low costs. An owner today looking to remodel their restaurant could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and months to renovate. Restaurant Impossible works with a constrained budget and maximizes reuse of existing materials. The Small Business Impossible approach can be the key shot in the arm that a small business needs and should be scaled to help transform hundreds of businesses to grow our local economies.

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