By Danielle Duggan
Clinton County Chatter
Independent businesses are the hidden jewels of small downtown areas. While some believe large cities attract more customers and benefits, small business owners in DeWitt beg to differ.
Bill Sermak, barber and owner of Family Barber Shop in DeWitt, said the largest advantage of owning a business in a small town is loyalty.
“It’s the number one thing. People just want to only come to you,” said Sermak. “They take trips and they’re gone for a month or two and they don’t want to get [their hair] cut anywhere until they come back to this. Because this is their only shop they’ve ever gotten a haircut from.”
According to Sermak, the stop has been around for roughly 80 years and has been passed down to three different owners. Sermak also said that seeing his customers around the community creates special relationships.
“I’m in the community. I see them at church. I see them at the restaurant,” said Sermak. “I think that can sometimes be a plus because you’re that reminder. Like, ‘Oh there’s barber Bill. I need to get my hair cut!’ Me being around and being in the community a lot is a good thing…. [because] you’re going to see that [customer] that many more times.”
Emily Frushour, a worker at DeWitt bakery Sweetie-Licious Bakery Café, said that close customer relations benefit her place of work as well.
“We get to know our customers,” said Frushour. “There are a lot of regulars that come in here and we enjoy talking to them. We also like to get out of town people and meet new people. It’s more close-knit. We have the little businesses that always come in here and get little foods.”
According to Sweetie-Licious customers Lara Alspaugh and Bea Griffith-Cooper, independent businesses like Sweetie-Licious are more worth the trip and money for them than franchises.
“I live about five miles up the road so it would take me just as long to get to Panera but when I come in here it’s always different,” said Alspaugh. “It’s a little more expensive, but I would rather spend my money here in a place that employs people from town that the woman that owns this place is from town so that it stays here.”
According to Griffith-Cooper, an independent business owner herself, she enjoys supporting other small businesses whenever she can.
“We have to support each other,” said Griffith-Cooper. “As a small business owner I know the benefits of supporting other small businesses. That’s really important. And the quality is often times…so much better than what you’re going to get at Panera. I want to see a small downtown business succeed, because otherwise what’s going to happen to the small downtown areas of our country?”
Other downfalls to franchises, according to Michigan State University hospitality business expert Bonnie Knutson, are strict restrictions put on storeowners.
“[With independent businesses, you have] control over your own destiny. You have decisions over hiring, packaging, and over your own residence,” said Knutson.
While there are benefits of having freedom to make one’s own choices with their own small business, one will also experience a larger workload.
“You’re going to work your butt off. I grew up in a family business. The down side is you never leave it,” said Knutson. “With your own business, it always stays with you. It’s a 24/7 life.”
With large franchises, though, workers may lack the heart and passion that independent business owners have for their work. Sermak is an example of how beneficial is can be to have a love and passion for your work.
“I love mostly just making people feel better about themselves,” said Sermak. “Sick people, when they’re down and out, when you give them a hair cut you just lift them up. They’re like, ‘Oh my god, I feel brand new again.’ It’s providing a service to people that’s more than just cutting their hair. It’s really powerful. To make people have high self-esteem and just feel proud, that’s cool. I never ever thought about leaving the trade.”
Beth Herendeen, owner of Twiggies, a florist and home décor shop in DeWitt, said the same.
“Any time you own a business or you’re in business, you have your good days and you have your bad days. You have to have a passion for what you do. I learned early on in my life that I’m not meant to work in an office. I need flexibility. I need to be creative…so having this has been beneficial for my career path,” said Herendeen.
According to Lauren Helfrich, customer of various small businesses, the workers tend to be more pleasant at small businesses rather than franchises.
“Workers are usually just nicer and more friendly,” said Helfrich. “At big franchises you can tell that most of the workers don’t want to be there and it’s just a shift to get through.”
According to Sermak, passion and love for work is something that one will find in almost all small, independently owned businesses.
“I recommend people trying to find a profession that it’s very easy in the morning to get ready for work and looking forward to doing it. I get to do that every day. Long days are a little bit tough, but at least I’m doing something I enjoy all day long.”