What Luxury Clubs Taught Me about Small Business Development

When my career started a little over 12 years ago, everything was new to me. Nobody taught me how to tie a tie (except YouTube), how to appropriately participate in a meeting, how to have a good handshake, and how to act properly at fancy chicken dinners (I still think of Pretty Woman when I attend one).One of those new experiences was visiting the City Club here in Los Angeles with my boss at the time.Have you been in one of these places? The City Club is one of the few “members-only” establishments in Los Angeles, a space that was created in response to the other clubs that prohibited women and people of color from entering the premises. (The others were forced to do so only about 20-30 years ago).The level of service is top notch.

They know you by name (even if you haven’t been in a while): “Hi Mr. Espinoza, great to see you again.”

They know what you like: “Your favorite table is ready for you with sparkling water.”

They anticipate your needs: “I took the liberty of bringing your coffee out before lunch was over.”

Imagine me as a youngster experiencing some of the best service available. This level of service is replicated in the most highly regarded institutions all over the world. Hotels. Country Clubs. Only the best places have high caliber concierge services.So, why not cities?  Why not a “Ritz Calton-like” concierge service embedded in our city government?A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to participate in a panel about gentrification and economic development. One person asked how small businesses were responding to changes in communities with new investment, and what we can all do about it. I believe that we have to get serious about small business development, and that means more than just capital, it means investing in community organizing and the time it takes to work with an entrepreneur day-in and day-out to get to know them, understand their needs, connect them to resources, and build a relationship so strong that you could eventually anticipate their future needs. 

“Hey Mr. Lopez, how was your weekend? I know you were thinking about which point-of-sale system to purchase for your convenience store. I know you were tired from a long week, so I took the liberty of researching some common POS systems, and I recommend you choosing this one.”

Although technical assistance workshops play an important role, I’m not their biggest fan. I believe individualized business coaching is the answer, and with that, we need to embody the persona of a concierge at the City Club, the Ritz Carlton, or the Four Seasons. Could you imagine Los Angeles with a committed workforce of concierges that focuses on business corridors in Boyle Heights, South Central, and  Pacoima? A service whose only charge is to make sure that the City (and outside partners) were doing everything possible to help ameliorate the specific needs of these entrepreneurs so they can be their best selves. Where a cadre of professionals got to know entrepreneurs as people, and became invested in the success of their business clients?We need a business concierge in cities like Los Angeles, where committed professionals are willing to invest their time to building long-term relationships with entrepreneurs.Yes, it could be expensive. But THIS is the work. This is what is required to truly help entrepreneurs build their businesses, create jobs, and take care of their families in an economy that is leaving more and more people behind.