This is the Best Time to be an Entrepreneur
In an economy as tough as Michigan's, where job losses have been increasing, the conventional narrative is that it is difficult to do business here because people are struggling to make ends meet.
Added to that is Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's budget cuts which some say are painful, but according to the administration in Lansing are necessary to bring jobs to Michigan and get things moving forward.
All of that makes it easy to conclude that the current economic climate is nothing less than a tsunami that is a hindrance for small businesses.
But that is not what one Detroit entrepreneur believes.
Tony Stovall, owner of Hot Sams, a men's clothing store housed at the Compuware building in downtown Detroit, said the opposite is true.
"When the economy is down, it's the perfect time to be an entrepreneur," said Stovall whose store was founded in 1921 and has been a staple of Detroit. "This kind of economy forces people to be creative, to do something that is not the same thing. As entrepreneurs we have to create new ways of doing things."
Stovall, who has six people employed in the Black-owned business, said he is giving entrepreneurship a new definition.
"As entrepreneurs we need to be engaged in community issues because you have to go where the business is," Stovall said. "We go out and communicate with people. I'm involved in the community. You have to step out to meet your customers."
Stovall said some of his competitors downtown are "depressed because they expect the customers to come to their stores without stepping out there in the community."
"You can't sit on your laurels and be comfortable and expect that people will just show up at your store," he said. "As a Black-owned business it is more difficult for us to make business because our counterparts are dealing with generations of wealth and the playing ground has always been favorable to them."
That, according to Stovall, is the reason why Black-owned businesses should be striving hard to succeed and the owners should always embrace "the spirit of entrepreneurship and work to make meaningful change in the community.
Another innovative plan Stovall has adopted is to make his business a venue for the discussion of critical community issues.
During the last citywide council and mayoral elections, Hot Sams hosted a series of forums where candidates came to the store to speak to voters about why they were running for office.
While most businesses would shy away from such events, avoiding the mixing of politics and business, Stovall says it is important for entrepreneurs to become leaders in the community.
"We have forums here to discuss important issues that are affecting our city and people come to listen to the candidates and elected officials," he said.
Sometimes he is thought of as an activist because of his extensive involvement in the community and how Hot Sams has become a prime ssop for those running for office in Detroit.
"We want our business to take leadership in this community because what affects Detroiters affects our business," Stovall said.
One of the biggest complaints of the small business community is the bureaucratic red tape that they encounter at city hall when seeking permits and other resources.
One of Detroit Mayor Dave Bing's promises when he ran for office was to support the small business community in the city.
How does Stovall feel about that?
"I think the mayor loves Detroit, yet I don't know if the mayor or anyone knows what to do because there is not one path to solving all of Detroit's problems," he said. "The mayor could do more to support small businesses in this community so they can have a reason to stay in this area. But we are here and we are not going anywhere."
Rebranding Detroit as a hub for entrepreneurs and the business community at large has been at the center of every discussion that focuses on the city's future.
Too often some are quick to call for a political fix of the problem while ignoring the role that young people and entrepreneurs could play.
Stovall believes the Internet, which has become an effective tool in the information age, could be crucial to improving the image of the city.
"If we could have people create websites to talk positively about the city, that would encourage a lot of outsiders to come to Detroit," he said in an apparent reference to a resident who moved out of Detroit to New York and created a webpage to promote the city.
"Because we are concerned about where the city is today we have to create our own synergy in doing things," Stovall said, adding that this is one way to highlight some positive things about the city that may be deliberately ignored in the press.
Detroit certainly has potential and entrepreneurs are key to the city's much talked about revitalization.
Entrepreneurs have to show that they have the "can do" spirit because entrepreneurship is a key element in that revitalization.
"That mentality should not be foreign to entrepreneurs," Stovall said. "We have to help one another succeed in this community."