A down economy hits small-business owners as hard, if not harder, than a national chain. Customer traffic sometimes dries up, but the bills still have to be paid, personally and for the business.
Some longtime Northern San Joaquin Valley small businesses have survived long enough to experience the best and worst of the economy. Their managers and owners recently shared their thoughts on how to keep small businesses afloat when the economic cycle spirals down:
Modesto Junk Co.
TYPE OF BUSINESS: Scrap metal and household product recycling
YEAR OPENED: 1920
HOW TO SURVIVE: When times are good, you have to prepare for when times are bad. We've always put some money aside. You never know when things are going to get bad. Regardless of what's going on, you have to respond to customer demands. It's about building a long-term relationship. When you build that relationship, over time, it will end up working out in the right way for the business.
ADVICE FOR SMALL-BUSINESS OWNERS: Things are getting scarier and scarier right now, and you have got to be prepared for anything, because it can come at you from any angle. A few years ago, businesses were dealing with the workers comp stuff. Now it's oil and gas prices. Just be prepared, because you can't always predict what's next.
-- Keith Highiet, administrative assistant
TYPE OF BUSINESS: Full-service jewelry store
YEAR OPENED: 1948
HOW TO SURVIVE: We've had to be consistent with what we do. You keep the merchandise selection up and you keep the quality up. And always take care of the customer. We're conservative in our buying, so we don't leverage ourselves too heavily.
ADVICE FOR SMALL-BUSINESS OWNERS: You have to have a good balance between your finances and your merchandise. My partner is a certified public accountant. He runs the back part, and I take care of the front of the store.
-- Sam Jennings, co-owner
TYPE OF BUSINESS:
Furniture store in Modesto
YEAR OPENED: 1968
HOW TO SURVIVE: Our store is self-sufficient, so we can withstand quite a bit. You have to be a bit conservative all the time. If you love what you do, you can dodge and weave and hold on.
ADVICE FOR SMALL-BUSINESS OWNERS: Keep a happy face and keep on trucking. When sales take a dip, buy smarter, such as buying more from a manufacturer to get a discount, and pass that discount onto customers, whatever it takes. If you enjoy what you do, it really comes through to customers.
-- Rick Walker, co-owner
TYPE OF BUSINESS: Pub and restaurant
YEAR OPENED: 1998
HOW TO SURVIVE: We build a relationship with our clientele. For them, we're a home away from home. They love this place and want to see us stay open. Also, right now, we're tightening our belts. We were hoping to do a lot of big repairs, and we may have to postpone them.
ADVICE FOR SMALL-BUSINESS OWNERS: You have to watch costs closely and make things more efficient. A small-business owner has to expect ups and downs, and know that when business is slow, you have fewer opportunities to impress your customers. So you have to make those opportunities count. One bad experience will be remembered longer than several good ones.
-- Jill Ramsey, general manager
TYPE OF BUSINESS: Bar/nightclub
YEAR OPENED: 1978
EMPLOYEES: 38 to 40
HOW TO SURVIVE: I think the entertainment business is a necessity for people, even in this economy. There's a lot more to it than lower prices. It's about good service and having a good product. And it's having a safe atmosphere that's welcoming.
ADVICE FOR SMALL-BUSINESS OWNERS: Consumers are not going to spend as much right now on things they don't need. So you have to meet consumers at their spending level. Make sure you emphasize service, product and being welcoming. Make those customers want to come back. If you stand out from your competitors, you're going to survive.
-- Guy Phillips, owner