A Sad, Cautionary Tale

This is not an easy blog post to write, as I fear this sort of thing is happening with way too much frequency across the US. Anyway, I want to tell you a story about a friend of mine.

He’s in his late fifties, married, with no kids. He owns his own business. His wife worked for a small home manufacturer for several years as their accountant, but with the recent recession, business dried up and they downsized to the point where they didn’t need her any more. She also works for a big box retailer as a cashier and also does some accounting work for them as well. She too is in her fifties.

They’ve both had health problems before, so getting their own health insurance is pretty much out of the question due to pre-existing conditions. Also, the big box retailer won’t give her enough hours to become full-time. If they allowed her to be full-time, they would have to provide health insurance. She has asked to go full time, to no avail. COBRA (a government program that allows you to pay for your own insurance for X amount of months after you lose a job that provided it) ran out awhile ago, so they had to find a way to be insured (and make some extra money.) So, she got another job, one that provides insurance. The pay isn’t good, and the job commute is 30 miles one-way, but they do get insurance.

Now, because she obtained this new job full-time, she asked the big box retailer to be a little flexible in their scheduling. They refused. These retail environments truly care about no-one. They know they can get some teenager to do the job for cheaper, and if you go, they’ll just slap another person into your place. It doesn’t matter that she’s a sweet, kind lady with great customer service skills and does some accounting work. They can hire five more like her, so sorry, she has to work when they tell her to. It’s likely that the big box retailer will demand too much of her, and she’ll end up losing that job because she has to work the right hours in her full-time job (for the subsequent insurance.)

Let’s get back to their business. Due to the economy, and some other factors, business has been way down. This has been a trend over the past couple years. It’s led the couple to refinance their home, blow through their savings and borrow against 401K’s for money to keep the business going. This was before she lost her gig with the home builder. So now, she’s working two jobs, and they are barely making it with that and the business.

Well they fell a little behind on their business rent (which they’ve scraped enough up to catch up on) and they worked out a deal with the building management company to have a month-to-month lease. This was a couple months ago. Yesterday the building management told them they have 30 days to get out. When questioned, they weren’t willing to make any deals or concessions. They were just “moving in another direction.” Now this is a large national building management company, and this was one slot in a strip mall. In this strip mall there are currently 8 vacant stores. EIGHT. So here you have a small business man, who because he’s NOT in a lease right now, can’t even sell the business to anyone else to stay, and cannot easily move to a new location. There are some politics involved, but I won’t get into that now. The main thing is, this business, which has been in the same location for over 8 years, is ending (at least in its current form) and there’s nothing my friend can do to stop it.

And to me, I don’t understand the business of removing a paying customer, when you have so many slots open already.

Anyway, this is a rolling cash business, where he gets a lot of product ahead of time, and then pays later. He deals with his distributors on a rolling 30/60/90 day basis depending on the distributor. So now he owes a lot of money to these folks, and as of March 31st, he no longer has the income stream to pay. That throws a huge wrench in things.

Because of the type of business, he can’t just move to any location. There are some specific criteria which limit possibilities quite a bit. So it’s hard to move, money is far too tight, and there aren’t many options. Add to the fact that it’s going to be hard for him to get a job outside of the business. He’s managed a very niche type of store for over eight years. So that’s his only experience in the last eight years. If he can’t find another of the same type of store to manage, what kind of job is he going to be able to find?

So here are two people, nearing 60, losing a small business they’ve run for eight years and poured tons of money into, one of them working a crap job just to be insured and a second job simply for money (and let’s face it, it isn’t high paying either) and as of this moment, they really don’t know what they’re going to do. Retirement in five years? I don’t think so.

I write this as a cautionary tale to everyone reading. Just because things are good for you financially, it doesn’t mean they are going to last. It also sadly means that you shouldn’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Ask yourself, if you lost your job or business today, could you get employed easily somewhere else, with enough of a salary and benefits package to survive? If the answer is truly “no” you have to really re-think how things are going for you.

In addition, this outlines how the current health care system completely sucks, and totally discriminates against the people who need it most. I have some more personal ties to the evils of healthcare in this country and how people with small businesses and pre-existing conditions are screwed, but right now, honestly, I’m too tired and beat down to lay it out there.

All I know is that there needs to be some help for the small business owners in our country, and soon, and something needs to be done so people that need healthcare can get it.

Sorry to be a downer everyone, but I figure reading this might help some of you, and I hope it does.