Small Business Majority Blog

Small Business Matters

A love for pounding out rhythms and grooves with his own two hands became an unlikely success story for Kevin Brown, owner of Rhythm House Drums.

The Matthews, NC based small business was a labor of love for Brown, who claims it wasn’t his initial goal to set off and start his own business.

“I was just playing and building drums as a hobby,” Brown said. “I soon realized that what I was doing was very unique and others were interested in these drums.”

Hailing from a family of classically trained musicians, Brown also gravitated toward his musical muses. His first introduction to percussion came in college where he was seduced by West African rhythms and the surrounding culture behind them. He soon set out to make and sell these types of drums, setting up a website that spiraled into Rhythm House Drums.

“Inspiration grew from the desire to build a better hand drum,” he said, noting that most mass produced drums don’t have the rich sound or look that many organic West African drums like the Djembe possess. “I wanted to do better, for myself and other drummers.”

This proved to be a challenge initially, seeing as how mass-produced and imported drums are sold on a fairly large scale and are cheaply made. Some cultural traditionalists also dismissed Brown’s use of local North Carolina lumber and other materials in his drums.

Djembe drum

“[Many] believe a Djembe should be made in Africa with African wood,” he said. “It’s been challenging to change their minds and show the benefits of locally built drums from locally felled lumber, and using modern tools to create completely unique pieces.”

But Brown’s love of the drum, particularly the West African Djembe, which he describes as “extremely powerful and very dynamic,” clearly shined through in his creations, as the Djembe has become his most popular product. Drummers can also find everything from the Nigerian style Ashiko to Native American Powwow drums at Rhythm House Drums.

Native American Powwow

Brown fully admits that it was his musicality and genuine affinity for drumming, not his business acumen, that truly helped Rhythm House Drums become what it is today. “I’m not a businessman – I didn’t have goals other than to build kick ass drums.”

Rather, it was his love and passion for percussion that was the driving force behind his business. “Hand drumming in itself isn’t a huge business – narrowing that down to a specific style of hand drumming means that you better be doing this because you love it, not to get rich.”

With the Djembe now conquered, Brown has his sights set on a specialty Conga. “After lots of research, I have finally started to develop, design and hand craft my own stainless steel hardware for Conga drums. I believe this will be a game changer for me as it opens up a whole new market.”

As Brown perfects his Conga craft, and with the dream of moving to a larger storefront that would serve as a studio where locals could come hang out and play music, it looks like the beat will go on for quite sometime for Rhythm House Drums.

Mini Conga Quinto & Ashiko

There are many complex policy issues that have a major impact on the small business community. Each week, we’re going to help break one of those issues down so small business owners can stay in the know and remain aware of their stake in these national issues. This week’s Issue Q&A is on family medical leave.

Q: What is family medical leave insurance?

A: Family medical leave insurance is a program that provides employees with a portion of their wages for a limited number of weeks when the employee has a serious illness, a new baby to care for or a seriously ill family member in need of care.

Q: What should small businesses be aware of when it comes to family medical leave?

A: The Family and Medical Leave Act, a law signed over 20 years ago allowing eligible employees of covered employees to take a limited amount of unpaid, job-protected leave is supported by more than 80% of entrepreneurs, according to our scientific opinion polling. Currently, there are proposals to set up publicly-administered family and medical leave insurance pools at the state and national level.

Q: Are there any differences between the national FAMILY act and the proposals being considered at the state level?

States like Connecticut, Colorado and New York are considering proposals that would create state-administered insurance programs funded entirely by modest employee payroll contributions. Our polling found that a majority of business owners support these types of insurance pools.

Q: Why do these types of policies matter to small businesses?

A: The hard work and vitality of small business employees are crucial to a business’ success. It makes good business sense to take care of employees in order to retain a loyal, talented and healthy workforce, and to attract the top talent around. In fact, 68% of small businesses already have either a formal or informal policy in place when it comes to family medical leave. These policies afford employees a set amount of time they can take off for a serious illness or if they need to care for a newborn or loved one, without having to worry about losing their job. Additionally, nearly 40% of small business owners already offer full or partial pay to employees for this leave.

Small Business Majority CEO John Arensmeyer

Originally published on The Huffington Post

The level of inaction in Washington is stunning.

The relief among pundits, news hounds and politicians was palpable when insiders announced last week that Congress is expected to pass a temporary funding bill to keep the government open past the end of the month.

Don’t get me wrong. We all are happy to avoid another government shutdown. But, when did the bar dip this low? How is it possible that agreeing to keep the government running for a few more weeks is treated as a victory of governance when our economy is limping along?

After enduring a paralytic Congress more concerned about re-election than governing the nation for years, small businesses have had enough.

Enough to the lip service they get about being the “backbone of the American economy” when it isn’t followed up with meaningful action to help the economy improve.

Enough to the lip service that in reality hijacks small businesses’ good name to support policies that only help big companies.

Enough to the lip service that does nothing but check a political box on a campaign trail.

Small business owners — people who work hard, hire workers and make the difficult decisions needed to stay in business everyday — are tired of being pandered to. They are tired of empty words. They want action.

So this week Small Business Majority is releasing its Economic Agenda for America’s Future — a set of policy recommendations that will ensure an environment where entrepreneurs, and our economy, can thrive. In addition to long-term recommendations, the Agenda also includes things Washington, not just Congress, can do right now, over the next few months, that will go a long way toward bolstering small businesses.

And because small businesses are not simply the backbone of the economy, but are its very foundation, Washington moving on just one or two of these policies will help small businesses succeed and our economy more fully recover.

The recommendations range from action on taxes, infrastructure and healthcare to immigration and exports that are all tied to creating opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Why? Because small businesses make up 99 percent of the businesses in this country. They employ half of America’s private sector workforce. And, they create jobs.

Small businesses have been doing their part — outperforming big business on the job creation front every month for the past year. But, they can do more if Washington will only step up and take a role in helping fuel this engine for growth.

For example, over the next couple of months, Washington can create greater opportunity for entrepreneurs on several fronts, including:

  • The president can take executive action to allow more legal immigrants into the United States to ensure small businesses have access to skilled workers, at both the high- and low-skill level.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission can release final rules for crowdfunding (after having spent more than two years deliberating on them) to provide small businesses more opportunities to get capital and investment in the growth of their businesses.
  • Health and Human Services can make sure the online small business insurance marketplaces work on Nov. 15 (after being delayed for a year) so small business owners and their employees have greater access to affordable coverage.
  • Congress can pass a long-term reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, not just an extension of a few months, to ensure small businesses (for whom nearly 90 percent of its transactions were for in 2013) have the ability to compete for customers in the global market.

And, the list of things Washington can do to help small business over the next two years is even greater.

An August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 71 percent of respondents blame Washington’s inaction for what they view as a lingering sluggish economy. That’s shameful.

Our political leaders need to stop just paying lip service to America. They need to stop trying to convince Americans that the real work has to wait until after the next election, and then the next election.

We can rebuild our economy to the height it was before the Great Recession. And, it begins with helping small business thrive.

There are many complex policy issues that have a major impact on the small business community. Each week, we’re going to help break one of those issues down so small business owners can stay in the know and remain aware of their stake in these national issues. This week’s Issue Q&A is on youth unemployment.

Q: Why is youth unemployment a small business concern?

A: Nearly five years have passed since the end of the Great Recession, yet 6.7 million young Americans are unemployed – a staggering number that negatively affects economic demand and hurts small businesses. Additionally, small employers are struggling to fill job vacancies that are crucial to both their individual success and our overall economic growth. In fact, 40% of American employers cite lack of skills as the No. 1 reason for entry-level vacancies.

Q: How can small businesses help alleviate the youth unemployment problem?

A: Small employers are in a unique position to create professional opportunities for young people to help bridge the gap between youth who are out of school and out of work, and small businesses who are having difficulties filling those entry-level positions with qualified workers. Small businesses have an advantage in matching young people ready and willing to work with employers who need their help to build and secure their business future and a stronger economy.

Q: What sorts of opportunities can small businesses provide unemployed youth?

A: There are many steps small businesses can take to help train the workers of today to become the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. Small employers can increase the number of opportunity youth hires within their company, expand full or part-time internship or apprenticeship programs, adopt or expand mentoring programs for local youth and partner with nonprofit training providers to create new mentoring, job-shadowing or recruiting programs.

Q: Where can I learn more about taking action on youth unemployment?

A: Small Business Majority launched a sign-on campaign where small employers can pledge to provide some sort of opportunity for our nation’s unemployed youth. This opportunity youth pledge can be found on There you can pledge your support, learn more about the issue of youth unemployment, find out ways you can provide opportunities to young Americans and read testimonials from small business owners who have already committed to help train and support our nation’s youth.

Small business owner Zach Davis

With more than 6.7 million young Americans out of school and unemployed, it’s safe to say that youth unemployment is no small matter. With so many eager and talented young workers ripe for the picking, it’s a waste to turn our backs on our nation’s youth when creating jobs and opportunities for them will bolster our economy.

In particular, small businesses are at a unique advantage in mentoring and training the young workers of today to become the entrepreneurs of tomorrow, and small business owner Zach Davis is dedicated to doing just that.

Davis is the owner of The Penny Ice Creamery and Assembly restaurant in Santa Cruz, CA, and makes it his mission to provide entry-level jobs and training for youth.

“As an employer of a lot of young people (high school/high school grads, community college students, UC Santa Cruz students), I’m very aware and interested in the employment issues they face,” Davis said. “People occasionally express skepticism about the value of entry level service jobs, and I always make a point to mention to folks how important first jobs are in providing valuable experience and building a resume.”

Davis understands how stacked the hiring process and job market is when it comes to young workers. “Employers overwhelmingly look for people with experience, and especially when jobs are tight, people with no job experience on their resume get squeezed out.”

Studies have shown that there are tremendous consequences for young workers who struggle to secure their first jobs, having a dramatic effect on an individual’s lifetime earning potential. This is yet another reason why Davis is dedicated to providing opportunities to our nation’s youth.

“I’m very glad to be in a position of being able to offer people that first step, not to mention that I think we do a great job of training and then giving a lot of responsibility to our employees. This is something that I think is very true of small business; that small business owners often ask more of their employees because they may lack the structure and overhead that larger business have built.”

Davis sees the potential and benefits for small businesses to mentor and train young workers, which is why he signed Small Business Majority’s commitment to youth opportunity pledge, which urges other small business owners to commit to taking action to remedy the rampant problem of youth unemployment and help train the workers of tomorrow.

Because of the way small businesses operate, Davis believes that other small business owners can take action and provide similar opportunities to make a true dent in the youth unemployment issue.

To learn more about providing opportunities for unemployed youth or to pledge your support, visit