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Bank of America releases the 2020 Small Business Owner Report

Bank of America is pleased to present the 2020 Small Business Owner Report, the latest in our series of studies exploring the perspectives, aspirations and concerns of small business owners around the country and in 10 major cities.

2020 has been a challenging year, but small businesses have remained resilient and flexible as they navigated an evolving business landscape brought on by the health crisis. Most small businesses remained open in some capacity throughout the shutdowns, either operating as essential businesses or by adjusting operations. Nearly one-quarter also took steps to retool their products or services, and/or to leverage their business’ resources to support relief efforts in their local communities.

Top concerns on the minds of business owners this fall include the impact of coronavirus, the political environment, health care costs and consumer spending. Access to capital also remains a central issue for entrepreneurs navigating the current landscape. One-third of business owners we surveyed applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan to keep their staff on payroll and to maintain operating expenses. Nearly one-quarter of entrepreneurs took steps to retool their products or services, and/or to leverage their business’ resources to support relief efforts in their local communities.

Despite the hardships and challenges of this year, our research finds that most entrepreneurs anticipate a strong post-pandemic environment, with consumers having a greater appreciation for small businesses, and small business returning as the “backbone of the U.S. economy.” This confidence is reflected in business owner Debra Oberg’s outlook for her company, Oberg & Lindquist, which she expects will be stronger as conditions improve.


Safeguarding a Legacy for the Fourth Generation

For Debra Oberg, her family-owned, New Jersey-based home appliance business has been a special part of her life since she was a little girl. Today, as president of the business and carrying on her family’s legacy, she’s worked tirelessly to support her team, customers and community through the last nine months.

Oberg & Lindquist has thrived as a third-generation family business, and Oberg knows how rare it is for a small business to sustain its success for this long. Prior to the pandemic, she was focused on preserving Oberg & Lindquist’s legacy for generations to come. Oberg prioritized making investments in the business - such as enlarging the showroom, increasing inventory, expanding delivery capabilities and strengthening her workforce.

These efforts delivered a return on investment and gave Oberg the confidence that her business was on solid footing. However, when the coronavirus hit, she learned overnight that the way Oberg & Lindquist had done business for more than 70 years would need to fundamentally change.

In just a few weeks, Oberg & Lindquist pivoted from an in-person, showroom-based shopping experience to an online and by-phone retailer, requiring Oberg and her team to adapt to a drastically different operating model. All customer inquiries and sales conversations were now conducted via phone, online and video chats, while in-person deliveries had to keep moving with added safety protocols.

Debra Oberg

“I was selling appliances by the time I was 13,” Oberg says. “My father taught me it starts with relationships. Anyone can make a sale, but not everyone can make a customer.” A business built on 70 years of exceptional customer service, Oberg knew the secret to staying afloat would be finding creative ways to recreate the exceptional customer service they were known for – bringing the showroom to clients virtually.

“It was incredibly stressful, but it was critical for us to stay connected with our customers,” she explained. “We were available from 7 AM to 11 PM every day to talk to customers, answer questions and help them get what they needed. Buying an appliance is a very personal experience, and we needed to ensure that the relationship remained core to our business.”

Logistics weren’t the only challenge – Oberg needed financial help. “Every day, I woke up wondering what lay ahead for us,” she notes. “How would I pay utilities and healthcare, keep paying the salaries of my employees and be able to buy the inventory I needed for my customers? I didn’t know what each day would bring.”

When she heard about the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Oberg’s first call was to her bank. “I’ve only had one bank my whole life,” Oberg emphasizes. “My grandfather always told me, ‘You trust and stay with your bank.’” She credits Karla Yasmin Aguilar, a Bank of America Small Business Banker, with helping her secure a PPP loan to keep employees on payroll and maintain operating expenses.

Oberg also got creative, pivoting operations to keep up with consumer demands. Amid shutdown mandates, Americans were spending more time at home than ever before, triggering off-the-charts appliance usage with many more breaking and needing immediate replacement. To create a new revenue stream and cater to this demand, Oberg updated her business model to also offer free in-home estimates.

Oberg credits her company’s success to not only a heightened demand for appliances, but also customers’ trust in her family-owned business. “People want to get back to knowing who they are dealing with. Because of the health crisis, customers want to trust who is coming into their homes.”

Oberg & Lindquist’s doors are open again and serving customers at the company’s physical location by appointment with safe social distancing. Reflecting on her experience of running a business through a public health crisis, Oberg advises her fellow entrepreneurs to, “Trust what got us here and take it day by day. Running a small business is about sweat, tears and more sweat.”

Looking ahead, Oberg hopes to build state-of-the art showrooms to give her customers an immersive experience, especially as she anticipates the remodeling and luxury appliance markets to grow post-pandemic.

Oberg shares her number one piece of advice to fellow small business owners: “Reputation, reputation, reputation – hold on to it tightly, close to your heart, and protect it every minute when you are serving your community. It’s everything. Never compromise your standards.”

Originally published 11/19/2020