Big Tech is a big boost to small business
Big Tech is a big boost to small business
By punishing large online platforms for being successful, politicians will make things harder and more expensive for small businesses throughout the state.
By Greg Amundson
APRIL 25, 2023 — 5:30PM
Opinion editor's note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print each day.
SUNDRY PHOTOGRAPHY, TNS - TNS
Thirteen years ago, I made the leap. After nearly 30 years building homes on the North Shore of Lake Superior, I started a small business in our garage in Scandia, Minn. I had invented a product for contractors and homeowners, and it was time to light my entrepreneurial fire.
The first few years were bumpy for our business. It was nothing like Shark Tank, where investors throw you money and connect you to opportunities. But we had seven patents, and I knew from experience that our product would solve a common problem using traditional caulking and would be useful to people doing all sorts of home renovation projects and commercial projects.
But our challenge was clear: How would a business with just two employees reach thousands of contractors and millions of homeowners who might want to give our product a try?
Turns out the answer is: technology. One hundred percent of our sales are online. We sell on Amazon.com, Amazon.eu, Amazon.ca, HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com, Etsy.com, Ebay.com, HSN.com and on our own branded Shopify website. Platforms like these are essential partners for small businesses. They make it easy and affordable for a small Minnesota seller to connect with customers nationally and globally.
Operationally, the platforms allow us to be in charge and help us reach the best customer prospects, transact a sale and deliver the product. We are an Amazon Prime seller, and that means we use Amazon warehouses and delivery services so customers know their order will arrive on time — sometimes the same day. Working with Amazon fulfillment services empowers us to focus on the parts of our business we are good at, while they take care of shipping and delivery at prices we cannot beat anywhere.
When the pandemic hit and people were spending a lot more time at home, interest in DIY projects skyrocketed. We got lucky when online influencers showcased our product, and sales took off. It's not just retail platforms that help us succeed, it's also Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest where we market, advertise and benefit from customer and influencer reviews.
The power of online platforms to match consumers with innovative businesses like ours has been amazing to experience.
Unfortunately, Attorney General Keith Ellison and several Minnesota legislators think the online platforms are too big and powerful, so they are supporting "abuse of dominance" legislation (HF 1563/SF 1744) that targets the giant tech platforms but will in fact hurt small businesses like ours. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is leading this effort in Congress, and that's really perplexing because she has always stood up for the little guy.
It seems these politicians don't understand that if the platforms are punished for being successful, it will make things harder and more expensive for small businesses throughout Minnesota. We could never have succeeded without the platforms.
In full candor, our experience selling online has had challenges, and all of these platforms require daily management. But we've navigated the challenges and kept our products top of mind for our target consumers. Right now, the majority of our sales are on Amazon, but we're excited about our growth on Lowes.com, HomeDepot.com, and our own website. Amazon is still the e-commerce market leader, but the others are incentivized to invest online and catch up — and our sales growth shows they are starting to succeed.
I've never seen government regulation fix a marketplace by picking winners and losers. Does anyone think the health care market is consumer-friendly? Some may think the big online platforms don't have any competition, but I'm telling you from the inside that it's just not the case. And more importantly for small businesses — the big platforms help us compete and provides us with a level playing field with the big retailers and that's what really matters.
I understand concerns about the power of large tech companies, but these bills may create more problems than they solve.
Greg Amundson of Scandia, Minn., is the inventor and founder of InstaTrim, a flexible self-adhesive caulk and trim replacement.