This morning I had a conversation with another local business owner about the current state of affairs in each of our businesses. The talk was spurred by their worries, and by a little business meeting I attended last night.
See, things are slow right now. Only a few short weeks ago I was a printing fool, and now, for the past week and a half it’s been pretty dull. Feast or famine. Nothing in between….. Ah, the plight of the small business owner.
For my friend, the question of “what can I do about it” kept popping up. “Am I doing something wrong? Where are the people? Where are the customers? What can turn the tide?” Well, to be honest, it’s not just that one business. In talking with other business owners we’ve noticed a marked drop in traffic over the past month. And when I say marked, I mean MARKED! Where did everybody go…….?
We love this place, and other comments that really bite sometimes
A little over a month ago I had a person through the gallery who had visited a year ago. I recognized his face and he reintroduced himself. In town visiting from New England, as he had last year. He was extremely enthused to see me. What he said was along the following line…..
It’s so good to see you’re still open. I visited last year and we talked for a while when I was in the gallery. You’d given me some great advice on my photography. I switched cameras, started shooting in RAW and I’m now using some of the products you recommended. I was hoping you guys would still be open when I returned this year!
The conversation went on. Many compliments on the gallery, my photography, etc. And then it was time for him to go. You know what he said? “I didn’t buy anything last year, and I won’t be getting anything this year. Money, you know?”
I got a little riled up internally. I wanted to say, “You know, if you’re glad to see I’m still in business one year later, and want to see me in business a year from now, maybe a purchase, even a small one would help…….”
Honestly, you wouldn’t believe the number of times per week we hear, “This is the coolest gallery in town…..I love everything here…..you guys do great work……great selection of artists…..on and on.” Compliments are wonderful, but at the end of the day the local Fry’s can’t cash them in for the soy milk I buy. It’s just a fact, a business needs income or it goes away. Pretty simple folks.
The reality of a brick and mortar hometown shop
Having a store front means a lot of things. Visibility, presence in your community, a place where people can see your product first hand, and so many more good things. It also means high over head, going with the ebb and flow of tourist traffic, having events on the square completely overwhelm parking and people’s attention…..and the list goes on.
What I think folks forget often when visiting the gallery is that someone is paying for the wall space. Who exactly? Myself and my business partner. And by displaying other people’s works we cut down on our own usage of the space. See, we each pay 50% of the rent here, but neither of us utilizes 50% of the space. We yield that space in exchange for commissions on sales of the artists’ works. That means less room for the print facilities, framing area, stretching area, and space for our own pieces.
The end result? The print work and workshops I run pay for the overhead of the space we’re in. What I spend each month for my location exceeds my former mortgage, electric, cable, and phone bill back in New England……that puts things in perspective for me. Honestly, I could run the printing and workshops out of a warehouse space, find myself lower rent, and actually funnel some money back to myself….that would be nice! 😉
So, what do you do? Well, reassess. For me that means breaking down where my income comes from, and where my expenses are coming from. And I’ve been doing that a lot lately and will continue to do so over the next few weeks as I consider an opportunity that’s presented itself.
Act now…..a business owner you know might be at a cross road
So, for readers everywhere I have the following advice. If you’ve got a favorite small business that you enjoy visiting, drop by soon and make a purchase. Even if it’s something small. If you don’t, that small business might not be around next time you choose to stop in. We small business owners don’t have deep pockets like big corporations and we can’t print money at will like the Feds. 2 slow weeks can be enough to kill some small businesses, believe me (I’m saying this after 2 extremely slow weeks).
Hopefully, in my case, I’ll see a turn around soon. Lots of workshops planned, new photography in mind, new techniques….the positives go on and on. At the same time though, in my case, I’m now considering a job back in the corporate world. And with each quiet day it becomes more tempting. For me, I’ll reach a conclusion by May 23rd, and I’ll be getting a phone call the next day. What would happen in the case of my business? Well, I’d hire someone to cover my days here, I’d finish out my lease, and most likely the print business would go by the wayside. After growing the business for 1.5 years I sure hope that I can find a way…..a lot of hard effort has gone into giving this thing legs. At the same time….well, gotta pay the bills you know. And I know I’m not alone in this, so many small business owners are in the same boat with me.