JetCo Federal President Sue Schweim Tellier has stepped into a new advocacy role after being named vice chairperson of the Small Business Association of Michigan’s (SBAM) executive committee. Through the Grand Rapids-based supply chain and logistics consulting firm, Schweim Tellier has seen firsthand how widespread supply chain disruptions, inflation and labor shortages have taken a toll on small businesses. Schweim Tellier recently discussed the creative solutions that she and SBAM members have adopted in response to challenges.
How has SBAM’s role changed over the past couple years?
SBAM’s role at the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown was to serve as a credible source of information because we had information coming at us from all directions. Being able to have one source we knew we could rely upon — that became how I saw SBAM changed. Every employee at SBAM also became a customer service employee to answer questions.
What are the main issues keeping small business owners up at night right?
There is an ongoing struggle with some regulatory agencies and some of them affect every small business. The challenges we’ve had at the state of Michigan with unemployment insurance agencies have been pretty profound with employees and employers. All employees are looking for some clarity and responsiveness on rate changes. This happened during COVID, too, when there were changes in shutdown restrictions that had effects the following day. It’s really hard to deal with that.
Another big challenge right now is not being able to control expenses, including salary costs with wage inflation along with inflation of materials costs. We can’t always pass those costs down to our customers. Sometimes we can, but at a certain point they wonder if they need the goods or services that are being sold.
Are you seeing more concerns among business owners about housing shortages affecting their ability to attract talent?
There are some regions that are so vastly struggling with housing that if (a business) has a position open, they can’t fill it because they can’t get housing for a person that would be moving to the area for employment. Certainly for hospitality that is the case.
As a company that often deals closely with supply chain snags, how is JetCo Federal dealing with these challenges?
I don’t get to control prices that I pay, but I get to know about these challenges and I get to be creative on how we handle them. We have a mantra here that crisis breeds creativity, so when we have a crisis when costs exceed revenue, we have to get creative and look at how we are positioning ourselves. We have gotten creative in how we are consolidating truckloads of things and we have gotten creative in the way we consolidate materials.
It’s been a tough couple of years and I’m not alone in saying that. As a small business, you don’t have much control of those externalities, but we make sure our employees have tools to better understand and review what’s happening with raw material trends for any contract we have that it relates to.
What are some additional ways that your company and other small businesses have gotten creative to overcome these obstacles?
A lot of employers say their biggest challenge is access to talent and access to employees. If you can’t control that, you can look at other ways to rethink expenses. One of the things we’ve done is consolidate services and look at what we can outsource at a lower price point. We had an employee whose job was to coordinate our wellness programs, which we were able to outsource to a third-party company.
We’ve also seen creativity among business owners of rethinking office space and how much is needed. There are a lot of small businesses that still make things and need physical space. When we have conversations about virtual work, we need to make sure we’re also having conversations about alternative work environments for people who need space to produce things.
JetCo expanded into a larger facility on Feb. 8, 2020, and we have a lot of unused space right now because the growth plans we had were curtailed a bit because of COVID. That doesn’t freak me out because we have a couple different companies working in our space and we share some services between companies. We have a payroll provider that serves both companies, for example, and our marketing and tech support is shared as well.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Schweim Tellier’s company. It is JetCo Federal, not JetCo Solutions.