Be nice, return phone calls, open the doors, welcome change, value and reward good employees. In a roundtable discussion Sept. 11, 26 Teller County business owners shared ideas on how to improve the bottom line.
All agreed that adapting to change is the key to survival.
“Now that things are coming back around we’re seeing new opportunities, finding the right ways to take advantage of those and trying to enhance our company within its industry,” said Tanner Coy of Tweeds Fine Furnishings.
Andy Jacobson, owner of Andy’s Plumbing, said he gets discouraged by customers who take the easier, shorter route to saving money, rather than adopting a long-range view.
“We’re trying to open their eyes to a little more quality, instead of buying something that only lasts three months,” he said.
In a small town, the successful business becomes part of the culture. “We want to remain a community bank, know everybody by a first-name basis,” said Drew Austin, mortgage professional at Peoples National Bank.
“Our customers like the coffee, the cookies. We try to stay away from that big-bank mentality.”
Austin, who is new to Woodland Park, commented on the roundtable sponsored by the Greater Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce. “You don’t have chambers like this in the city; that’s been a big eye-opener for a new person in town,” he said.
Dean Buysee, who with his wife, Kathy, owns the Edgewood Inn, expressed concern about the frequent closures of U.S. 24 because of the recent heavy rainstorms.
After adding an area for wedding receptions and family reunions, the Buysses are crossing their fingers about the weather.
On the other hand, the couple is enjoying another aspect of the road closures, welcoming guests who decide to make a holiday out of the inconvenience.
When it comes to satisfying the customer, the owners of Ace Electric respond to all requests for service. “We go anywhere, to the top of Pikes Peak or anywhere in the winter time, even if driveways are straight up,” said Lisa Baker, who with her husband, Mark, owns the business.
As she has in the past, Jan Cummer, owner of Vintage Vines, Staircase Gallery and Curves, repeats her mantra of be open, be open.
“Every Monday I hear ‘you’re the only one open,’” she said. “I don’t know what it is about Mondays, restaurants close; even if you just get one person who comes in and looks, they’re in your store.”
Cummer, too, has adapted to customer demand, adding new clothes, accessories and wine tastings, along with the consignment items. “The store is not the same as it was two years ago – you have to listen to what people are asking for and accommodate that,” she said.
Keep up with technological changes and take the blinders off, said Jerry Musselman, an advisor with SCORE for clients in El Paso and Teller counties. “I have two clients who want to open a liquor store. There’s a good possibility that grocery stores are going to be able to sell hard liquor,” he said. “We try to caution our clients to be aware of what’s going on around them. As well, find a unique corner that only you offer.”
Jeff Peck follows that advice. “I do wildfire-mitigation assessment,” said Peck, who recently opened a home-inspection business.
No matter what technology brings to commerce, the old-fashioned way of advertising is still around.
“I’m amazed at how many people don’t have business cards” said Lenore Hotchkiss. realtor.
Along with working across cultural lines, with clients in China as well as the United States, Susan Wong, partner in a graphic-design business, said she continually learns something new from the artists who work for the company.
In a discussion among the owners about how difficult it is to find good help, Musselman added another thought. “Part of the problem, I think, is that everybody is trying to get more for less,” he said, referring to the employer who runs a business short-handed.
On a twist of what Jacobson said about buying quality products, Musselman highlighted the value of quality employees. “We’ve proven time and again that, if you’re going to pay an employee $8 an hour, more than likely they’re going to walk,” he said.
While it’s okay to initially pay a low wage, Musselman advises giving the good employee incremental raises. “It’s cheaper to have one $20 employee than it is one $10 employee. That person is representing you and it’s worth it.”
While it may run the costs up, Musselman said, in the long run, good employees are vital to the success of a business. “They’re going to generate more business. So we’re trying to change that mentality, get away from the cost of the employee.”