Small Businesses Poised To Grow, Others Reinvent Themselves

02/26/10 7:50AM By Susan Keese
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Visit Hitting Home: The Struggle Continues

Ingrid and Franklin Chrisco of True North Granola

(Host) We return now to "Hitting Home," our series on how the economy is affecting Vermonters.

Small Businesses are the life blood of the Vermont economy.

But 18 months into a recession that's affected almost everyone, some small businesses are poised to grow - while others will have to reinvent themselves to survive.

VPR's Susan Keese has more.

(Table saw sound)

 (Keese) For 25 years Brattleboro woodworker Greg Goodman has made a comfortable living in a lucrative niche market.

He and his business partner make built-in furniture  for wealthy second-home owners, mostly on Long Island.

(Goodman) "We build kitchens, libraries, these are closet cabinets with veneered panels. They're about seven feet tall. It's a huge house."

(Keese) Goodman moved his family from New York to the Brattleboro area seven years ago.  He set up shop in the Cotton Mill, an old brick factory-turned-office-park.

(Goodman) "We sold our house early in the boom, made a little bit of a profit so that I could get the business started here on a sound foundation."

(Keese) But when the recession hit, a new pattern started. Orders have been coming in, along with down payments. Then the money stops

(Goodman) "As you can see we have a lot of projects underway here, all of them in various stages of completion because each one has a different cash flow story."

(Keese) One piece is on hold because of some pricey handmade hinges Goodman can't pay for up front. So far the client hasn't sent a check.

Goodman's line of credit is almost maxed out. He's been making ends meet by doing odd jobs for some of his neighbors. 

But he's also signed on with an internet marketer who represents Vermont woodworkers. He's planning a small inventory of furniture to sell online, original pieces he could replicate at a somewhat lower price.

(Goodman) "We're in survival mode. We just have to keep the doors open and get through this, as long as it takes."

(Keese) Jeffrey Lewis is executive director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, which owns the building where Goodman rents space.

The BDCC, as it's called, has about 100 small business tenants in two big office complexes.

Lewis says some have closed. Occupancy is down over the last 18 months.

(Lewis) "We are now at a place where a lot of our businesses, the ones who got this far, are seeing that the stock market's going up but they are finding their own cash positions to be very poor. They don't have the resources to buy raw materials and last another six months while revenues return."

(Keese) And Lewis says it could be more than six months.

(Lewis) "There's a wide variety of opinion, not all of it very hopeful."

(Keese) BDCC Senior Director Bruce Gardner says a number of business owners are trying to reinvent themselves, as Goodman is with his online marketing idea.

(Gardner) If they've guessed right then they'll benefit when things turn on.

(Hear water, pans, then granola pouring)

(Keese) Ingrid and Franklin Chrisco think they have guessed right.

(Ingrid) "Voila! True North Delectable Granola!"

(Keese) The couple are both educators. Three years ago they started making high end granola in their kitchen as a sideline. They sold it at the farmers market in Brattleboro.

(Chrisco) "It was startling how much people loved it."

(Keese) Chrisco says their sales have quadrupled since 2006. They now make several different flavors of granola, using lots of local and organic ingredients.

Their product is in half a dozen coops and natural food stores, and they have a healthy mail order business.

Now they're moving in to a newly built commercial kitchen the Cotton Mill building. They're hiring one employee, with an eye to hiring more.

Bruce Gardner of the BDCC says local specialty food producers are one group that's prospered during the downturn. He sees it as a sign that values are changing.

Whenever the recession ends, he says, it's going to be a different world.

For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese.

 

Explore the entire series "Hitting Home: The Struggle Continues"

 

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