The state of small business

Note from the editor

The U.S. depends on small businesses. More than half the people in the country either own or work for a small business, and those companies create about two out of every three new jobs annually, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Retail was responsible for a little over 35% of small business employment as of 2017. 

In recent years, large chains started to take the lessons of independent companies and apply them at scale. The most impactful of those decisions may have been bringing down the square footage of brick-and-mortar locations. At the same time, independent retailers started to experiment with solutions that used to only be available to mass marketers or large national chains. For example, as technology improves and becomes more affordable, small businesses are able to deploy savvy payment solutions, delivery mechanisms and other operational improvements. 

The pandemic has impacted the trajectory of small businesses, pressuring many of them and particularly squeezing stores that were deemed non-essential during periods of required closures early on in the crisis. Small retailers tried some of the same pivots their national competitors did in response — shifting where possible to e-commerce or piloting new delivery options but the challenges of scale and competition that have always plagued those retailers haven't evaporated. And in many cases the ongoing uncertainty pinched small retailers further by disrupting cash flow, employment and normal business. 

This trendline profiles small business leaders, delves into news impacting the space and explores several topics facing small retailers as disruptions from the pandemic, e-commerce and broader economic trends continue to bedevil operations.

Small and mighty: How independent retailers navigated the 2020 holidays

Indie players' challenges mimic those of larger retailers. But, small businesses found creative solutions for customers during an unpredictable season.

• Published Dec. 7, 2020

Nearly a third of small retailers still can't pay their rent

• Published April 21, 2021

Fred Segal is dead. Long live Fred Segal.

The man who gave retail some of its most worthy concepts died this year at 87, but his eponymous store in many ways is just getting started.

• Published Sept. 8, 2021

Etsy will buy the 'Etsy of Brazil' for $217M

• Published June 28, 2021

Powell's Books has had enough of Amazon

The Portland, Oregon, bookstore has been a marketplace seller from the get-go, but is now calling it quits and staking a claim for independents.

• Published Oct. 1, 2020

Google introduces Black-owned business distinction in its Shopping tab

• Published Feb. 2, 2021

A former J. Crew store employee is now one of its star collaborators

Blackstock & Weber Founder Chris Echevarria, who as a store employee once caught Mickey Drexler's attention, sees the classic men's loafer as an ideal canvas.

• Published Sept. 24, 2021

5 signs that retail is going to be OK

The industry took a beating in 2020. Challenges remain, but here are a few indications of retailers' strength.

• Published May 12, 2021

As collectors seek out luxury watches, Tiny Jewel Box expands showrooms

The Washington, D.C., business has expanded its Patek Philippe showroom and an additional Rolex space will open in 2021 to cater to growing demand.

• Published July 12, 2021

9 emerging DTCs to watch in 2021

A lot has changed since Warby Parker and Dollar Shave Club entered the scene. In an increasingly crowded space, brands need to find what sets them apart.

• Published March 30, 2021

The state of small business in retail

The U.S. depends on small businesses. More than half the people in the country either own or work for a small business, and the retail industry is responsible for a little over 35% of small business employment.

included in this trendline
  • How small retailers cope with pandemic disruptions
  • What online shoppers are looking for right now
  • The role of mobile apps in small business
Our Trendlines go deep on the biggest trends. These special reports, produced by our team of award-winning journalists, help business leaders understand how their industries are changing.
Davide Savenije Editor-in-Chief at Industry Dive.