How To Lose 50% of Your Customers

By Geo A. Ropert, APR

In the 1990s, I owned a small golf equipment and apparel store in Cocoa Beach, Florida. It was my first foray into retail and I learned many valuable business lessons that have served me well these many years later. I also learned some very “expensive” lessons but that’s another story for a future blog.

One of those “valuable” lessons was taught to me by a respected mentor and fortunately, shared early enough in my ownership to be of benefit. It had to do with losing 50% of my customers and how easy it was.

It was an election year and I had many local candidates or their surrogates frequently visit the store and ask if they could put their “vote for” sign in my window or leave fliers on the counter. I knew several of the those running and supported their candidacy; others I opposed. Regardless, per the lesson, I kindly declined all requests. I knew none could keep all their campaign promises but each could do one thing: reduce my customers by up to half. Depending on whom I supported could dictate whether my customers continued to patronize my shop, or not.

Look at the vote for President this year. Not who won but the percentage of popular votes that were cast for each major party candidate. It was almost equal, with just a few votes separating them. If I had that same store today and I were to show support for one candidate or another by placing a placard in a window or sharing views online or in social media, you can be sure there are those who will base their decisions about doing business with me by the person whose name is on the glass or in my feeds.

Over the years, I’ve discussed this with many other business owners and most agree that keeping politically quiet during election season is good for business. No signs, no fliers, no posts.

It’s not only small businesses that must be cautious. Fortune 500 companies often stay out of elections for the same reason. In a June 3 article in The Washington Post, journalist Jena McGregor cites several instances where CEOs do support a candidate, and the reactions that come from customers, sponsors and others. In it, she references an interview with Doug Schuler, an associate professor of business and public policy at Rice University who stated, "Most companies -- especially these big, publicly traded, heavily followed companies where there’s a very public nature to their governance are really loathe to participate very much in electoral politics, particularly presidential politics. It has the potential to disappoint employees, drive away customers and even sour relationships politically if the opposing party wins, he says. "It’s a two-party system. If you go out and you really back one side, you risk the other side."

This isn’t to say you can’t have personal opinions but it’s important to consider how those opinions can be perceived, if they’re shared on behalf of a company or represented as such. There’s enough noise from hundreds, thousands and millions of others sharing their opinions on candidates and issues. It’s better to spend your time promoting your brand and marketing your products and services, and ensuring your message can be heard above the political roar.