Four Seasons Total Landscaping gave us all a lighthearted lesson in 2020 | US small business
F.For many US small businesses, 2020 was not a fun or fun year at all. It’s hard, in a year where a pandemic caused the deaths of more than 300,000 people, destroyed jobs for more than 12 million people, and ruined countless restaurants and other small businesses in the fitness, art, travel, and retail industries, to find a sense of humor.
But last year, a small company gave us all a laugh. The small company is Four Seasons Total Landscaping in my hometown of Philadelphia, of all places.
Four Seasons Total Landscaping became a global story when President Trump’s campaign announced a surprise press conference – on the day the election results for Pennsylvania and other states were released – in their parking lot on State Road in the northeast of the city. The announcement confused supporters and opponents alike. The press conference, like so many others in this administration, was a confused, rambling affair. Nobody knew if this was actually planned or just a mix-up with the Four Seasons Hotel near Broad Street. Nobody could find out if Trump even knew what was going on. It happened anyway. And the whole thing was very funny.
It was funny because of the pictures: Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani was fighting for his boss’s political life surrounded by other small businesses typical of State Road – a sex shop and a crematorium – and of course with the Four Seasons Total Landscaping sign in the foreground. It was funny because it was absurd and surprising and curious. It was funny because nobody admitted that this was a mistake. Was it? It was funny because the incident happened in a city where Trump recently warned that “bad things are happening”. For him, apparently.
But the real reason this story was so funny is Marie Siravo, the owner of Four Seasons Total Landscaping. She and her team were not partial to what had happened. It was an entirely American lesson in business. Siravo saw the humor. She also saw the dollar signs.
She did her best to stay out of politics and doubled the unprecedented exposure her small business received. Siravo updated their website immediately. She posted a politically smart Facebook message that any veteran PR professional would be proud of. She sold funny shirts that read “Make America Rake Again” and “Lawn and Order” and embossed phrases like “In Sod We Trust” on other promotional items. She took part in the quickly organized Fraud Street Run, which attracted 2,100 participants and started from her parking lot. She hugged the crowd and the people who stop by to this day for a quick picture of the political history. “We don’t make political statements,” she told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We run with it and enjoy it. It’s like a magic carpet ride. “
Four Seasons Total Landscaping is the definition of the typical American small business. The media likes to glorify these tech-savvy, venture-capital-backed entrepreneurs who are starting the next big thing in Silicon Valley and Austin. But there are 30 million small businesses in this country. Most, like Siravos, are family owned and operated. They usually offer a not sexy but necessary service … like landscaping. Much like Siravo, they typically employ fewer than 30 full-time workers and are usually located on the state highways of their home towns. You know these businesses. These aren’t companies Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, and James Corden would be talking about. Or profiled by the BBC. Or on The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live. Or written about it here in the Guardian.
But this company was. And that’s funny too.
So Siravo – like so many smart entrepreneurs who find their way through the changing dynamics of 2020 – turned around. She converted her conference room into a fulfillment center, not for landscaping, but to assemble and sell more than 35,000 T-shirts, sweaters, and face masks, generating more than $ 1.3 million in sales to clients like Jake Tapper, Mike Myers and Emma scored Watson. She appeared on TV and other media outlets because like a smart small business owner, she wouldn’t miss a good PR opportunity. “You know, a lot of companies don’t do snow, irrigation, or planning,” she reminded us in an interview. “So that’s where ‘totally’ came from.”
I did not know that. Now i do. This is funny.
The whole story is funny because it came at a very uncomfortable time. Everyone was nervous. Everyone was fed up with the pandemic, worried about the elections, and generally stressed out about the future. And then we heard about that weird presidential press conference at a landscaping company on State Road that sounded too much like the five-star hotel in town, and … we laughed. We read about this small business owner’s lighthearted, entrepreneurial response and giggled. We admired their courage, selfless humor, and ingenuity.
It was a fun story and we were reminded that we all – Democrats and Republicans – can appreciate a fun story. More importantly, we were reminded of how much we, as Americans, value our country’s small business owners.