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Weathering The Storm. Helping Your Small Business Through This Tough Economy.

As independent retailers we are being bombarded with bad news every which way we turn. It’s on the news, in the newspapers and yes, folks, right in our own stores! Many of the articles I have read lately have not addressed the downturn as it has affected our industry. Many small businesses can weather a storm as long as it isn’t too long and stormy. We are being told that this recession is probably going to last a year until we see some changes. A year for some of us may just be too long.

We all need to be pro-active with our businesses. I read an article recently that said the small retailer is “in the driver’s seat” because they can give personalized service that the big chains cannot. Well, that has always been the case – but when you don’t have people coming into your store there isn’t a whole lot of “personal” attention to give! And I have spoken to some store owners who have seen entire days go by when only a few people enter their businesses. You can get as “personalized” as you want, but that isn’t going to pay the rent!
We need to be realistic about what we can do to keep our businesses running. Many retailers have tightened up their spending which has helped sustain them. Some things are simple to do. In our business of publishing, by simply sourcing lighter weight or less expensive printing papers we have been able to contain costs and effectively reduce postage expenses as well. In retail environments you should be clearing out older merchandise to create cash flow. Sale is a word that people ARE responding to and it IS getting them out shopping. By clearing outdated goods, even slightly above cost, you will free up money for restocking with fresh goods and more importantly pay your bills.
Have you switched your phone service to cable? We did this a year ago and our phone bills were cut down 70%! As a national telemarketer it made a huge difference in our bottom line. Other categories you could save money on is to do an insurance review or your business, vehicle and personal policies. We tend to maintain the status quo with these things. I did that also until Allstate decided to cancel one of my home policies because “their statistics showed that the Northeast was due for a major storm!” That was a year ago and when they cancelled one of my three home policies I decided to shop around to change all the policies including my cars and liability insurance. I ended out befriending a little lizard who helped me cut expenses 40% on all of my policies. With no big tsunami on the East coast Allstate calls every now and then to try to get me back. Are they kidding?
Emails are a great way to send messages to your customers about sales, and so are postcards which are currently just 27 cents to mail (a real bargain!) This is a very inexpensive way to update your clients as to sales or specials you are running. Also, with the constant increases and “fuel surcharges” by UPS (what is that all about? Fuel is lowest in 4 years!) – the Post Office has very competitively priced flat rate priority mail that is 4.95 or if you use their click-n-ship online program, just 4.85.
Talk to you your landlord. Let’s face it, there is a great deal of vacant space in the marketplace. If you are seeing that you are falling behind on your rent or having a tough time making it, talk with your landlord. It is better for the landlord to work out a solution with you than have you closing up shop, leaving them with no rent roll and an empty location. Times are tough out there and I am finding that most people in the retailing industry are quite aware of that (albeit some writers touting this is our “opportunity!”) You can also see about going on a budget plan with your utility or heating company. This will balance a budget for you and reduce monthly payment amounts (in most cases).
Get your community behind you. The independent retailer is the backbone of our communities. The downtown areas that we live in, no matter how small a town we live in, are vital to our neighborhoods. We need our local businesses and it is up to all of us to educate the community on the value of having local businesses. Talk with your chamber of commerce or merchants association. If you don’t have one, start one! Now is the time to be proactive to help your business sustain. In East Northport, Long Island, many storefront windows have a sign that says “Support Your Local Merchants..They Support Your Community!” Go to a printer and make up some window signs and give them out or sell them at cost to your fellow storeowners to display. Make a movement and you will keep moving!
There are many ways you can sustain in this economy. It requires you to be crafty and flexible. We must all be diligent working through these tough times as there ARE better days ahead. Having been through two recessions prior to this granddaddy, I have seen many businesses refocus and come out stronger, leaner and meaner. Let’s make YOU one of them. If you have ideas you want to share, please email me at forumpublishing@aol.com