Dream Big Small Business of the Year

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

By Rosalind Brewer, President & CEO, Sam's Club

May 22, 2012

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon.

I have  so been looking forward to this week … and to the Small Business Summit.

I am a big believer in small business, and a BIG believer in the chamber.

I have actually been part of the Metro Atlanta Chamber for years …and I serve on the executive committee.

I have the chance to see – first-hand – the critical issues that chambers must tackle …all over the country.

Our U.S. chambers really have a long history of making a difference …but I believe they are more important and more relevant …than ever.

Especially in today’s climate…as government has ebbed and flowed in its ability to be there for the people…the Chamber is there… connecting people, connecting business and improving our economies.

Big and small businesses face many of the same issues…including tax and regulatory uncertainty… and rising healthcare costs – all topics that concern the chamber, too.

Because our chambers are tackling such big issues, I am committed to working with the U.S. Chamber.

I want to be part of the solution, and I want to make sure that Walmart and Sam’s Club deepen their connection and partnerships with the Chamber, too.

I recognize the leadership role that Sam’s Club can play in this arena …to be a true advocate for our small business owners in America.

Today, we have more than 600 clubs…600,000 small business members who shop  weekly at Sam’s Club…and more than 47 million members overall.

Small business owners are the heart and soul of our economy…and no one takes more risk and works harder every single day … than those of you who are out there following your dreams and running your own businesses. 

One of the best parts of my job is that I get the chance to meet our business owners and hear their stories.

I love to connect with our associates, our members and our small business owners…which is why I am especially thrilled to honor and celebrate the small business owners who are with us today – and are finalists for – the Dream Big Small Business of the Year award.

Their stories are truly amazing…and since they are such an outstanding group this year –  they don’t know this yet – but Sam’s Club is going to recognize each one of the seven finalists by awarding them an iPad, iPad accessories and iTunes gift cards for their business applications.

Sam’s Club features many Apple products, and I know how important an iPad is to me at work and at home. We are also awarding each finalist a Sam’s Club Business-Plus Membership.

Having the right tools is critical to success. And these finalists are true success stories.

You will have a chance to hear about each of them – in-depth – in just a few minutes.

First, I want to share with you the picture we see of the American economy …through the unique insights we have at Sam’s Club.

We have an amazing member insights team that is constantly researching and diving deep into what our small business owners are feeling and experiencing.

We base a lot of strategy and direction on this feedback.

We are also out on the floor every single day, talking to business owners, moving fast to meet their changing needs and listening to their stories.

And I personally visit club after club, unannounced – you can imagine how surprised my management teams are to see me show up.

I go all over the country so that I can hear your stories firsthand …and make sure our associates are doing everything in their power… to make your businesses run as smoothly as possible.

Here’s what we are seeing right now, based on our experience and our survey of more than 1,000 small business owners:

First, business owners report that they don’t really foresee the economy recovering within the next 12 months.

Second, most small business owners feel it is important for the U.S. to balance the budget. They are concerned about the size of the national debt, as well as the upcoming presidential election.

Third, they say the cost of energy is no longer their most pressing issue.

Instead, they report that they feel challenged by customers cutting back even further on spending, by the cost of health care and by the prospect of winning new clients.

Other issues include: the value of their retirement accounts, high unemployment rates and their ability to effectively market their small businesses.

Women in particular appear to be much more worried about their business livelihoods.

Many women are worried about managing capital, the cost of equipment, interest rates and access to capital.

Women small-business owners are also significantly more concerned about their ability to increase profits and keep their businesses afloat.

So…these are some of the issues that we are seeing, and they may feel very familiar to you. Now, here’s the “glass half-full” view:

Many business owners are cautious, but still more positive compared to 2010.

They are setting marketing strategies and increasing marketing efforts to maintain and expand their client base.

They are poised to react quickly to the crisis du jour, and they expect the unexpected.

They are working flexible schedules and keeping unusual hours.

Customer needs and demands are also changing, and our small business owners tell us they are working hard to stay relevant, to master social media and to reflect the socially responsible and inclusive products and services that their customers may expect.

They are also spending more of their business dollars with us, and buying a wider range of our products. That’s  very good news.

So, where does that leave us? What’s next?

Our small business owners are our partners, and we want to put our money where our mission is – which is to be agents for and support our members and the small business community. Here’s how we plan to help:

This year, Sam’s Club will invest more than $2 million to support small businesses.

We are contributing $350,000 to the Corporation for Enterprise Development, an organization that supports micro-lending to small businesses; as well as $520,000 to ACCION, which also supports lending for small businesses.

We are contributing $250,000 to the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders, an organization that targets grants to help Latino-owned businesses access training and loans.

Sam’s Club is also contributing $750,000 to Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence to support the growth of women-owned small businesses.  And $200,000 will be contributed to SCORE – a nonprofit dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow, and achieve their goals.

Now, many of you know just how difficult it is to start a business – and to do it at any time over the last four years has been especially challenging.

One of our Sam’s Club members who lives right here in the D.C. area shared her story with me. The economy has hit her household hard, and in 2007, she lost a good job and at the same time, her health began to decline.

As she explains it, she saved her own life …by changing the way the she cooks and eats. She switched to fresh, whole foods. She lost 30 pounds, was able to cut out most of her medications …and then started helping her neighbors, friends and her entire church congregation do the same thing.

Today, she is a chef educator. She travels through the greater D.C. area with a propane burner and fresh produce in her car and teaches people – kitchen by kitchen – how to cook healthy and how to save their own lives.

She’s been working for two and a half years to get her business off the ground, and often works with SNAP and WIC clients through nonprofits and grants, so that they can have the tools to fight obesity and shop smart on limited budgets.

She takes them right into Sam’s Clubs and Walmart stores and shows them what to buy on a budget, then goes home and cooks in their kitchens with them.

In six months, we’d love to hear that her business is growing and that she has made a difference in even more lives. She’s here with us today: Chef Nadine Joyner.

Chef Nadine is just like many of you …who had the courage… to dream big  and take a big leap.

I want to thank you all for listening to that inner voice…for serving your communities… and for taking that giant leap despite the risk.

You are our nation’s heartbeat, which is why today, we celebrate your spirit.

Thank you!

And now, it is my honor to introduce to you…Colonel Greg Gadson.

Colonel Gadson was starting linebacker at West Point for the Army football team. He has also served in every major conflict in the past two decades.

On May 7, 2007, he was severely wounded in Iraq by an IED, losing both his legs above the knee and severely injuring his right arm.

Colonel Gadson gave many inspirational pep talks to the New York Giants during the playoffs, and the Giants really attribute their 2008 Super Bowl win to his messages of motivation and leadership.

He is still an active officer in the U.S. Army, is an actor and a motivational speaker. And, if you page through People Magazine this week, you will see a feature story about him, headlined, “From war hero to movie star.”

He is here to talk to us today about the power of a team and the power of relationships.

Please join me in welcoming …Colonel Greg Gadson.