Business

Businesses learn survival skills

Starting out sweeping the shop floors 11 years ago for owner Tracy Carli, Nate Murphy has moved up to lead claims estimator at Advantage Collision & Refinishing Center in Yelm.
Starting out sweeping the shop floors 11 years ago for owner Tracy Carli, Nate Murphy has moved up to lead claims estimator at Advantage Collision & Refinishing Center in Yelm. The Olympian

LACEY - South Sound business owners in search of new ideas to weather the weak economy gathered Wednesday in Hawks Prairie at a daylong small-business conference.

Organized by the Thurston County Economic Development Council and South Puget Sound Community College, the event was billed as “South Sound Success” and offered workshops throughout the day that covered financing, hiring employees and strategies for growing a business. The college's Small Business Development Center also co-sponsored the event.

About 120 business owners registered for the event, including Tracy Carli, owner of Advantage Collision & Refinishing Center of Yelm. Carli has owned the business 11 years and was looking for ways to grow her operation, she said.

The recession has resulted in fewer customers, so she’s focused on how to be more efficient and more organized. She also wanted to weigh the benefits of possibly expanding her business, as well as whether she should lease or buy her own space.

“I want to get things tightened up to survive the recession,” Carli said.

Strategies for business growth led about 40 business owners to a workshop presented by Douglas Hammel, an Olympia-based business counselor and consultant. Hammel also is the former director of the community college’s Small Business Development Center.

Hammel highlighted several steps owners can take to grow their businesses, such as involving all employees in problem-solving decisions, the importance of customer service, and basics such as learning accounting and how to use a spreadsheet.

“All of this information stuff is absolutely necessary,” Hammel said.

He also used examples from some of his past clients. He recalled how one business rallied together all 15 employees once the recession hit in the fall of 2008. That decision, and the response they came up with, helped the business continue to grow sales, he said.

“They were solving the recession the week it happened,” Hammel said.

He also said he tells his clients to negotiate lower lease rates during the recession. Although he encountered one landlord who was less receptive than others, in the end they all realized it was more important to have a paying tenant than a vacant building.

Reacting to a changing marketplace helped Tumwater’s Big Toys Inc., a 40-year-old manufacturer of playground equipment.

President and owner Tim Madeley, the keynote speaker at Wednesday’s conference, talked about how the business reversed a downward trend in sales once the business emphasized “green manufacturing,” using renewable and recycled products in its playgrounds. Going “green” also can be more expensive, but it helped differentiate the business from competitors.

“You can’t shout the same message,” Madeley said.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403 rboone@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/bizblog

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