Adopt-a-Shop is keeping lights on for small businesses

An innovative not-for-profit initiative to help save small businesses struggling due to lockdown has already drawn in more than 70 businesses and raised $50,000 in benefactor support.

Started by Destiny Financial Solutions Founder and property investment expert Margaret Lomas, the Adopt-a-Shop program was established just a few weeks ago, and pairs generous benefactors with struggling businesses to help them in any way they can.

Help may be in the form of rent assistance, payment of fixed expenses or other financial needs.

Home2Home Realty Director Donna Gordin is one of the benefactors for Adopt-a-Shop, providing financial assistance to a cafe in Paddington, NSW.

Ms Gordin was moved to support the initiative because her parents came from a small business background, as well as owning her own franchised agency.

“I’ve had my business now for 16 years and I just remember the fear that I felt when we were told we had to close during the first lockdowns,” Ms Gordin explained.

“You watch what has transpired over the past 18 months. We’ve been relatively unscathed here in Western Australia (WA), but every day we’re looking at the numbers from New South Wales (NSW).

“For me, I just know how it would effect me in a prolonged situation, we’ve only experienced a few days at a time. It just resonated.”

She holds the belief that you “just can’t put a price on kindness”.

“When you’re in a position to do something, just do it. The warm-fuzzy you get out of doing something for nothing is priceless,” she said.

Ms Gordin had read several of Ms Lomas‘ property investment books, so she felt confident the initiative was credible, despite it being new.

How Adopt-a-Shop was established

Ms Lomas had also experienced financial struggles in previous businesses, driving her to find a way to help people through the lockdowns.

“This isn’t a venture. This was just a not-for-profit volunteer idea I suddenly had and needed to pursue,” Ms Lomas said.

“I’ve been in both positions. I’ve been in the position where I’ve just been a small, local business that was impacted by anything that would happen in the economy. I remember months where the only way we were able to pay staff is we had a line of credit against our house, that’s what we used.

“I did all of that while I was raising five children. When this happened, I was slow to the party really. I knew that everybody was in trouble, I knew that a lot of businesses I knew were in trouble. In the back of my mind, I was just wondering how I could help.”

The idea for Adopt-a-Shop came to Margaret from a Neil Jenman tweet about how prosperous companies could help out small businesses. 

“It’s so heart wrenching in all directions. How about if each one of us who are still prosperous ‘looked after’ one who is battling – like coffee shop owners. That would fix the problem instantly. But we’re mostly too selfish. And that’s just as sad,” Mr Jenman wrote in his tweet.

After reading the tweet, Ms Lomas says the idea for Adopt-a-Shop “just popping” into her head.

“It was three Saturdays ago and we always have the weekends off, we’ve been able to do that for quite a long time now. But I just had to go do something,” she said.

“So I ran down to my office and I was gone for three hours, creating a website. From there, I kind of just made it up as I went. The biggest frustration initially was getting it out there.”

Getting the word out

Ms Lomas reached out to Channel Nine, having previously appeared on the Today show as an investment expert.

That was just over a week ago and since then we’ve matched 15 businesses for total support of $50,000. I’ve matched five today and I had a couple yesterday,” Ms Lomas said.

She credited the appearance for this rise in Adopt-a-Shop’s success, with her initial target of $20,000 in support far exceeded.

“Our first match was made the day before we went to air for Today,” she explained, adding she now had a goal of $100,000 in donations.

While Ms Lomas has been grateful for the initial support, she urged more businesses to get involved.

“The thing that will prevent me from getting to the $100,000 now is we don’t have enough benefactors on the books. We need more benefactors,” she said.

“We’ve got plenty of businesses (in need), but not enough benefactors. When we started out, I started with the view of, ‘If I can save one’.  But the more you save, the more you want to save.”

That “warm-fuzzy” feeling

One of the major setbacks Ms Lomas is facing are businesses reaching out and asking “what’s in it for me?”

“There’s nothing, you just feel really good,” Ms Lomas explained.

But luckily she has also seen the support of benefactors like Ms Gordin, who has a history of looking after grassroots campaigns.

“I do these things unconditionally. If we can help one other person get to the other side, it’s absolutely worth it,” Ms Gordin said.

“When I spoke to the lady who is the beneficiary that I’m helping, she was really quite tearful. I initially thought this was going to be a scam but they’re so desperate.

“I think you don’t give, unless it is unconditionally. It has to be an unconditional gift, money that you could go put on black or red, just give it away. My view is, I’m not having a holiday this year, I’m happy to give it to somebody else who can put the money to better use.”

Ms Lomas has also put her own business on the back-burner since she launched Adopt-a-Shop.

“As you can imagine, I’ve got no time for that. I’ve got over 70 businesses waiting for help. Each one of those, I’ve got to really bring them down to a bottom line because they aren’t really sure what they need,” she said.

“So I help to bring them down to those critical expenses that they need, just through lockdown. This isn’t about growing businesses, this isn’t about supporting businesses endlessly, it’s week by week.”

Ms Lomas recalled a recent conversation she had with a business owner, who she had just found a beneficiary match for.

“He was a gentleman, probably in his 50s, he literally cried on the phone and said, ‘Today was basically my last day’,” she said.

“It was so overwhelming that it’s made the bad back (I have) from sitting at my desk for two weeks straight all worth it. Who knows what tomorrow would have been like for him, if we hadn’t got to him in time.”

Supporting those need it most

Benefactors can be matched with a business of their choice or one of the waiting businesses on the Adopt-a-Shop books.

For Ms Gordin, she was happy to “support whoever needed it the most”.

“I didn’t really have a preference. But I loved that she (the cafe owner) had also continued to employ her international staff. They’re the people who don’t qualify for any support or benefit from the government,” Ms Gordin explained.

Ms Lomas added that she had come across many businesses who needed more than what just one benefactor could provide. So far, those offering assistance have been small businesses or individuals.

“Unfortunately, I haven’t had any bigger businesses come on board. It’s all too hard for them, they’ve always got a thousand reasons why they can’t help,” she said.

“Today I had a lady who just gave over $1200 of her savings. She was saying, ‘My business has been impacted, but I’ve got $1200 in the bank, I’m going to give it to another business’.”

However, Ms Lomas lamented that she wasn’t able to help every business, noting she had one person who needed $250,000.

“It’s just not going to happen. It’s unfortunate but we need to save the ones we can save,” Ms Lomas said.

“I don’t want to see the benefactor’s money, when these people are scrapping it up out of their own savings or the little bit of profit they might have, I don’t want to see it go to a company that we couldn’t save anyway.

“I don’t want to get four weeks down the track and find they had to close down because we just couldn’t save them. That feels harsh but I had to make a reasonably narrow focus about what we would cover, who we would cover and how long we would cover them for.

“Even with that narrow focus, we’ve got 70 businesses at least – and they’re just the ones who have heard about it.”

Interstate support for Adopt-a-Shop

Ms Lomas pointed out how inspired she was that many benefactors, including Ms Gordin, were happy to provide assistance interstate.

“The significance of somebody in WA supporting a NSW business was enormous,” Ms Lomas said.

“Before I came up with the idea, I’d been feeling personally incredibly frustrated by what I call ‘the divided states of Australia’. I’ve been particularly annoyed at the premiers having a dig at each other all the time. 

“Nobody has been acting like we’re supposed to here in Australia, we’re supposed to help each other. It’s one place, it’s one beautiful place. All that is happening is we’re being divided straight down the state lines and that really upsets me a lot.

“To find that we’ve got two businesses from WA, two from SA, three from Vic and two from QLD who have jumped in and willingly helped out, without saying, ‘I want the businesses I support to be in my state’, that’s incredible to me.”

Ms Gordin felt it was important as a WA-based business to provide support while the region’s property market is improving.

“For the very first time, WA has had 12 months of good business in the property market. We’ve had 10 really tough years where there were some moments where agents didn’t survive and it was at breaking point,” she said.

“We’ve had 12 months of profit, give it back to the community. Give it back to people that you will make a difference in the lives of and potentially save someone’s life.

“I can’t imagine the challenges of being locked down for week after week, not knowing when you’re going to come back. This virus has gotten even more fearful as time has gone on.

“There are people who are not making it out the other side. If you have that opportunity, just do it. It’s priceless.”

Leadership in the real estate industry

Ms Gordin felt the real estate industry also needed to show leadership.

“In our particular case, we’re paying rent for somebody’s premise.  It’s not just the business owner that we’re saving, we’re potentially saving a landlord,” she said.

“I don’t know the individual circumstances of this particular property but there are many landlords out there that have done it really tough in the last 12 months, particularly in commercial.

“A lot of those landlords are mum-and-dad investors who have got properties in their super fund. We’re not just helping a small business get to the other side, we’re actually assisting the landlords.

“From a real estate industry perspective, that’s really important as well. We’ve all sat on the end of the phone, taking those calls from tenants that can’t pay rent and owners that haven’t been able to pay their mortgages because tenants couldn’t pay.”

Ms Lomas agreed, adding any and all donations made a huge difference.

“We need the help. Don’t think about if you can afford it. When you think about the people who are giving the money, they probably can’t afford it but they’re giving it anyway,” she said.

“Think about it in terms of, ‘If you’re a business and you gave even $10,000, next year you won’t notice that it’s not there. It’s not a big amount, really. Yet to somebody else, it is probably the rest of their life.”

  • To find out more about Adopt-a-Shop, including to register your interest in becoming a benefactor, visit adoptashop.net.

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Jessamy Tredinnick

Jessamy Tredinnick was the news journalist for Elite Agent Magazine from June 2021 - October 2021. For current stories, news alerts or pitches, please email editor@eliteagent.com.au.