As I have already mentioned here more times than I can keep track of, we’re still in the throes of nasty economic downturn — certainly the worst we’ve seen in many, many years. And despite everyone’s hope for a rosier future, the near-term picture is still pretty bleak. According to government statistics, private payrolls rose by only 33,000 in May and 83,000 in June – not enough to sustain a recovery, and average wages and hours worked have both declined slightly. On top of all that, credit is still tight — especially for small businesses. And if small businesses aren’t able to secure the loans they need to fund their own expansions, then like ripples on a pond, the negative impacts move outward through the nation, touching countless other businesses along the way.
Hoping to minimize the negative impact of tight credit on their own bottom lines, some companies are beginning to explore novel approaches to strengthening their customers’ financial positions. One such company is Sam’s Club, the big-box warehouse unit of retail giant Wal-Mart. This past May, Sam’s Club began testing a loan program in conjunction with Superior Financial Group, which will manage the loans. Sam’s Club customers nationwide will soon be able to apply for an SBA-backed loan in any amount between $5,000 and $25,000. While Sam’s Club customers benefit by having access to a new potential source of funding, along with a $100 discount on their application fees and lower interest rates, Sam’s Club benefits from the spending that is expected to flow back into the retailer’s stores as customers use some or all of their loan proceeds to buy supplies and capital equipment.
At least that’s the plan.
Whether or not programs like the one Sam’s Club is offering become more common in the future will depend on if the expected benefits materialize. If they do, then maybe — just maybe — the economy may finally begin to make its way out of the financial doldrums, and back into the jet stream of fast and sustained growth. If not, then it may be more of the same for many months to come.