My Bay Area business survived COVID-19 but might not survive Congress

My Bay Area business survived COVID-19 but might not survive Congress

It’s amazing that my party rental business is going strong nearly a year after COVID-19 almost knocked us out. After getting a Paycheck Protection Program loan and focusing on smaller events, we’re finally getting back to normal as the economy reopens. I thought we were about ready to grow again, but now I’m concerned that Congress is advancing ridiculous legislation that could really hurt our business and many more.

For more than a year, Congress has been investigating big tech companies like Facebook and Google. Now, they are considering aggressively regulating digital platforms — perhaps even breaking them up entirely — and they don’t seem to understand that little companies like ours succeed by standing on these giant companies’ shoulders. Facebook, Google, Yelp and other companies offer digital tools that help small businesses reach more customers and grow. After everything we’ve been through, now is the worst possible time for Congress to regulate the big guys in ways that rebound against us.

With the economy reopening, people are planning birthday parties, graduations and other gatherings they have missed for more than a year. Our business delivers chairs, popcorn machines, helium balloons and other party favorites. There is a lot of competition, so we offer low prices and great service, but first, people have to know about us and be confident that we deliver high-quality products on time, every time. That’s why digital advertising and marketing are game-changers.

Google Ads is one of our secret weapons. When the business first opened, we bought expensive phone book ads that were utterly useless. We turned to Google Ads and increased sales by 900{fd6aea7e6a2888742764af34ead608f2c3373b57bd8a17fe1f4135b900e329d6}. Digital advertising is low-cost and effective. Without digital ads, our business never would have gotten off the ground.

We also do really well with more than 100 reviews on Yelp, and lots of small businesses have Facebook pages. There are so many small business choices with digital advertising and marketing, regardless of whether your business and your customers are local, regional or global.

I am concerned this won’t always be the case if Congress doesn’t understand what it is doing to small businesses. One proposal would prohibit digital platforms from acquiring smaller companies, which is often how big companies add new functions to old products. I want multiple products and tools on one platform so I can have a single password and a consistent experience. This is how Google and Facebook add value and stay affordable.
Another proposal would require platforms to stop using a user’s data when that user leaves the platform. But data is what powers digital advertising. Digital ads will be more expensive and less effective with less user data. That will hurt my business.

You might think politicians would help small businesses by protecting important digital tools, but all I read is that Congress wants to smack the big tech boogeymen and teach them a lesson. The new bills in Congress regulate digital platforms specifically because they connect thousands of businesses to millions of customers. But that’s the reason why my business and so many more love them — because they connect us to customers, which is how we succeed and grow.

I’m grateful our local Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Eric Swalwell understand digital platforms help small businesses and that they voted against these misguided proposals. I wish all of Congress would stop attacking the companies that help us grow and instead start helping small businesses by extending PPP and funding digital training programs. More small businesses online will mean more small businesses are successful.

Our family works hard and we don’t ask for handouts. After immigrating from Mexico, we have created an amazing life. We have survived the COVID-19 pandemic and we’re poised for an exciting future, but this latest threat is nuts. Congress thinks they are only targeting gigantic companies, but they are sorely mistaken. Little companies like mine are going to get whacked if these proposals become laws. That’s just not fair, and I can’t believe that’s what Congress intends.

Feliciano Zavala is the president of Peninsula Party Rentals in Palo Alto and is a member of the Connected Commerce Council, a nonprofit that connects small businesses with access to digital tools.

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