Bottom Line: Business Owners Wary of Talking Politics
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While they may be fighting for far different things, protesters in Wisconsin and Egypt have a common thread: They all feel so strongly in what they believe that they’re willing to forcefully make their opinions heard in an attempt to influence government practices.
They aren’t alone. In the last month, hundreds of thousands of protesters have marched everywhere from Illinois and Oregon to Libya and China.
But the same political expression is not necessarily spreading so freely in the business community.
While Tami Lax, owner of the Old Fashioned Tavern and Restaurant in Madison, Wis., says she supports the thousands of protesters who have come to the capital city in recent weeks, she feels strongly that, as a local business owner, it’s not her place to voice her opinions – and she’s made it clear her restaurant has a strong bipartisan flavor.
Just across the street from Wisconsin’s capitol, the Old Fashioned has become a hub for protesters and politicians alike as they debate a proposal to limit the collective bargaining power of 170,000 state employees.
“I have my strong political opinions, but I don’t think it is right for me to wear them on my sleeves,” Lax said. “I run my business for the betterment of my employees and community.”
Sam Richards, a senior lecturer at Penn State University and co-director of the World in Conversation Project, said small-business owners across the globe are, like Lax, hesitant to share political opinions with their customers.
By stating their beliefs , Richards said, owners run the risk of alienating their patrons.
“They can lose a lot of business because they assume that everyone feels like they do,” Richards told BusinessNewsDaily. “If money is on the line, you have to be very careful.”
Business owners in Dayton, Ohio, discovered that this summer, after joining together in a program designed to show support for the Ohio Tea Party. The program was shut down in just one week, when businesses began backing out after hearing from customers who said they would boycott their establishments if they continued in the program.
Nonetheless, some business owners are comfortable speaking their mind.
At Ashour’s Barber Shop in suburban Chicago, owner Ashour Kanoun said he believes customers expect to hear his opinion.
“I am always talking about what is happening in the world,” Kanoun said. “We are talking a lot now about the Middle East, and it doesn’t bother me at all to share my opinion.”
Being from Iraq, Kanoun said many of his clients encourage him to share his thoughts on the Middle East, given his close ties to the region.
“They are always asking questions about it,” Kanoun said, adding he isn’t at all worried about losing or offending clients because of his beliefs.
Richards said he would place owners like Kanoun in the minority, however, and encouraged business owners who want to share their political beliefs to first understand who their customers are.
“You have to really know your clientele,” he said, “and know if your clientele is on your wavelength.”