Moving a business is risky

Getting a business started and to a point where it is profitable is challenging and takes time. And, even after becoming profitable most small businesses remain in a fragile state – creating a delicate balance between success and failure. Owners can understandably be reluctant to making changes for fear of tipping this balance toward failure. For most businesses however, change is necessary to stay competitive in an ever evolving market. It’s easier and and safer to make small incremental changes to a business but occasionally a big change like moving a business is required for survival.

Moving a business

Moving a business

In 2009 we had to make the decision to move one of our stores or close it. The store, located on Clayton Street in heart of downtown Athens, GA opened in 1984 and was always one of our most profitable stores but, over the last few years sales were declining. We spent time and resources reworking merchandise and advertising but sales didn’t respond as we hoped.

The recession, which had just started, made it difficult in determining if the lack of sales were to due the recession or a change in demographics of the downtown shopper. After a lot of sleepless nights and lists of pros and and cons we decided that moving was going to provide the best long term options. Now, with the decision behind us we had find a way to move the business without tipping the delicate balance and going out of business. Continue reading

From Desperation comes Zen

It was just after Christmas of 2010 when our web provider upgraded to new and faster servers. The new servers caused problems with our online shopping cart because of compatibility issues. For the past 5 years we had been using a shared shopping cart software offered by our web provider called MIVA. It was a cumbersome program and limited in many ways but, since it was shared it was affordable.

Deep down inside, though,I knew we would eventually have to make changes to our website if we wanted continued growth. So over the past several years I had been half heartily exploring other web options, but postponed making any changes because of time, expense and the indecision of how to proceed. The compatibility issue between the server and software could not be resolved and our catalog went down.

Zencart

Zen Cart

Even though I was pretty upset over losing our web catalog; I was more upset for procrastinating and not making changes I knew eventually had to be made. Now, our shopping cart was down and I was forced to do research and make a decision under the pressure of time.

To make matters worse, cash flow was down to a trickle and we had no money to invest into a new website. Then, from this state of desperation I discovered Zen – Zen-Cart that is. Zen_Cart is an open source shopping cart software that can be configured to your specific needs. With this open source software I was able to setup a new catalog with all of our products in two weeks.

After making the change to zen_cart, web sales have been on the increase – up 15% in 2011 over 2010, and that’s with the site being down for 6 weeks and up 48% in 2012. I’m sold on Zen-cart and would recommend it to anyone wanting to create an online presence. See my post on open source software.

Never as planned

In 1987, two years after we renovated the business we purchased in 1985, sales had grown so fast that we outgrew our facilities. At the time we were cutting mats, glass and assembling custom frame orders in a 350 square foot space located in the back of our showroom. The showroom was  about 500 square feet and we had another 200 square feet that was split for a restroom and office space. We were also renting a small, 400 square foot warehouse where we stored, cut and built the actual frames. The warehouse was very primitive no restroom, phone or air conditioner.

We had received a contract a year earlier with a local hospital to provide framed art for the whole facility  The pieces of art were large and the only way we could get them framed without interrupting regular production was to come in early or stay late. This was fine for a year but in the second year when the hospital orders picked up, it became a lot more difficult to keep that schedule. We decided we needed a bigger warehouse – so we started searching. We couldn’t find anything we liked with the location, size or price that was good for us – so we started to look for a property to buy. Prime retail properties was too expensive, but we found a small tract of land about 3/4 of a mile from a main road that was in our price range – $35,000 for just under an acre. Continue reading

Stepping back to clear your mind

It was October 2008 and Pam and I were uneasy about going on this vacation to Martha’s Vineyard but, it had been planned months in advance and would be difficult to cancel. We were uneasy because for the last 4 months sales were declining and we were starting to realize that maybe we weren’t going to escape the wrath of the recession.

But, we went anyway and the time away from the business was good for clearing our minds and strategizing a plan. We had a fabulous week and got back rested, energized and ready to put our plan in action.

The first thing we did, upon our return, was to call a meeting with our 3 core employees. Continue reading

Approaching Storm

Early in my career as a retail store owner, I discovered the importance of making periodic changes to our business to keep customers interested and coming back. Small things like new paint, carpet, fixtures and new signage can do a lot for increasing sales.

In 1985, when my wife, Pam, and I purchased the House of 10,000 Picture Frames from Pam’s dad the very first thing we did was to borrow $12,000.00 from the bank to fix up the store. It wasn’t a lot of money but it allowed us to paint, get new carpet, a new sales counter and other fixtures. Sales jumped 65% from the previous year after the remodeling.So after 15 years in business customers were rediscovering our business. Continue reading