It’s a real joy when a business opens its doors for the first time. “Open for Business” sounds and feels like hope and possibility to me. Starting a new business is where creativity blossoms and where innovation is made real. You’ve created something and you want to deliver that value for a fair payment in return. That’s what an entrepreneur does.
Why would the government put anything in the way of a win-win business transaction?
The law recently passed in Indiana (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) is being fiercely debated. I really don’t want to comment, much, on the moral aspect of the law, I want to comment instead on what it means to open your doors for business in the USA. While this law may purport to support freedom, at least in some ways, it limits freedom. And the freedom it limits is a long-standing American tradition, and one I personally treasure. As a young boy in Wilkes-Barre, PA my mother took me on her shopping trips. The first stop was usually a Jewish Bakery (Kornblatt’s bagels were the absolute best), a Chinese Laundry, and a Polish Butcher all in a morning shopping trip. We were always welcome in those shops, even though we weren’t of the same faith as any of those vendors. They knew how it worked, you open your doors, and you welcome everybody.
When you open your doors for business you’re saying you have a service or a product to offer. In the land of the free and the home of the brave — anyone — with cold hard cash can walk through your door and buy your offering. Someone coming through your door should always be welcome. Customers support your business, and, are validation of your business idea. Their money, in exchange for your product, supports the life you choose to live. Your customer supports your freedom — all your freedoms.
Opening your doors for business means anyone should be free to buy — that’s the implicit promise you make.
Isn’t that an American tradition? Wasn’t the civil rights movement fought to expand that tradition to all?
What somebody does with your product or service, as long as it’s legal, should be of no concern to you. You might have an interest in what they do with it, but selling your wares does not give you a right to anything more than the money you are paid. Customer relationships ought to be cordial and professional and sometimes a lot more, but nobody has a right to expect anything more than the fair exchange of goods and services for money. Having a product to sell, having a going concern, does not make you better than anyone else — and it doesn’t bestow you with a robe and a gavel.
Who buys your product also should not matter.
I’ve had some difficult customers in my time. Challenging, difficult people can make doing business hard. Sometimes there are people I’ve agreed to work with I really don’t care for — and whose values I question. Some people come in your door and you have a gut feel that they are just Wrong. And — I still make my best efforts to give them the finest quality I have. Why? Because I hung out a shingle, I said I was Open for Business. That’s the deal you make when you open a business. Breaking that deal means you have no integrity, by opening the door you should be saying everyone is welcome. ALL paying customers are accepted — be they Jerks, Purple-tatooed-Punk-rockers, Pink haired goofballs, Scientologists, Amish, Beatniks, African American’s, Native American’s, anyone from Norwood, Ohio — or LGBT — not to single anyone out.
Most unpleasant buying and selling experiences are bad for both the buyer and the seller. Guess what? The market will sort it out if given time. Paying customers go where they feel appreciated. Generally you only have to hold your nose once — and that’s part of being Open for Business. Sometimes people walk in who smell. That’s how it goes folks, that’s business in an open and diverse society. It’s fair to fire a customer if the deal isn’t a win-win — that’s negotiation — but if someone meets your terms, pink hair or not, smelly or not, that should conclude the deal. There should be no other considerations. If you have strong feeling about how bad or evil you think your customer is, remind yourself that they are helping you pay your mortgage.
Religious freedom ought to mean that your religion doesn’t ever step on anybody else’s religious beliefs and choices. Let’s keep our religious beliefs to ourselves unless we are invited to share. Let’s keep our judgements to ourselves and realize we live in a diverse society.
Let’s keep the implicit promise we make when we open our doors for business — that we are open to business — let’s keep our word.
If you want to discriminate, don’t open your doors for business.