"I decided to work more. So I'm the delivery driver now. I multi-task while driving, leaving catalogs and cookies around to advertise," Renee Kim says of the changes she's made to keep her Cookies By Design business in Long Beach going despite the economic woes.
Despite the economic times, some small businesses are still making dough.
Cookies By Design owner Renee Kim is doing just that.
The cookie-making franchise started in 1983 and has about 170 locations nationwide. Sales are forcing some of its Southern California stores to close, Kim said, adding "I consider myself lucky to still be open."
And although Kim, who bought the existing Long Beach business in May of 2005, has been affected by the economy, she focuses on her passion, food and her career independence.
"I definitely wanted to do something with food and this was an opportunity for me to get my feet wet," she said. "I really wanted more independence. I wanted to be my own boss."
And she wanted more control over her outcome.
"A lot of times when you work for big companies, and you can work really hard, it doesn't mean anything to your bottom line." she said. "This way I feel that if I work really hard I can have better control of my destiny in my own business."
Although the effects of the economy are evident with a 20 to 25 percent drop in business in 2008, the store continues to specialize in cookies for all occasions, from birthdays to wedding and Christmas and Easter.
"I wanted to grow my business 20 percent every year and from 2006 to 2007 I had about a 30 percent increase, but in 2008 it went down," Kim said. "I'm kind of holding steady this year. My food cost has risen and I work about double what I used to work in terms of hours."
Kim is doing all she can to help cut costs, including negotiating the temporary lowering of her rent and some of her bills.
"Toward the end of 2007 a lot of my mortgage businesses weren't coming around. I use to have a mortgage company that would order from me every month and give me a stack of orders to send for deals that they'd closed," Kim said. "Toward the end of 2007, I think they folded, and I didn't hear from them. So the housing market also affects my shop."
Because sales are down, Kim is down to three part-time employees and has had to take on more of the work herself.
"I decided to work more. So I'm the delivery driver now. I multi-task while driving, leaving catalogs and cookies around to advertise."
She is also doing the marketing and payroll, and she's the manager, assembler, decorator and baker.
"I have a very flexible staff. I've cut some hours, but for the most part I've started cross training my staff so they can all do everything," she said.
"Sometimes I think, 'Oh, this is so tough,' but I get people to say if you're not closing your doors you're doing good, so I try to think positively."
Kim advises small business owners to go the extra mile to stay afloat.
"I would tell small business owners to do what I've done. Get your staff efficient, you pick up the slack and do some of the work, and figure out how you can cut costs," she said.
Good advice, according to Alberto Alvarado, Los Angeles Small Business Administration district director.
"I would encourage small businesses to maintain a balanced view of the economy," he said. "What goes down usually comes up and vice versa. Try to keep costs under control."
And, experts say, seek the help of professionals.
"There are a lot of support services out there for businesses and a lot of them (business owners) are unaware of them," said Jack Kyser, founding economist of the Kyser Center for Economic Research at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. "There are people who can provide funding."
The Recovery Act provided the Small Business Administration with $730 million for its lending, investment and other programs to allow them to help more businesses in need, Alvarado said.
"For those businesses in a tight spot, I recommend that they contact the Small Business Administration and its network of technical assistance providers of seven Small Business Development Centers, four chapters of the Service Corps of Retired Executives and five Women's Business Centers," Alvarado said.
"All of our existing programs are open for business. We are financing businesses, providing technical assistance and training, and helping with government contracting assistance, and we are doing so every day."
According to Kyser, there will eventually be a economic turnaround.
"There will be a recovery," he said. "You're starting to see a positive sign here and a positive sign there."
Until then, owners need to go the extra mile to maintain a relationship with faithful customers who will return after the crisis, said Kyser.
"Owners need to manage their business cautiously," he said. "They need to coddle their customers, find out who their best customers are."
"Take care of your best customers and keep looking for business opportunities," he said.
Businesses seeking help finding services available to them can call L.A. County Economic Development Corp. Regional Manager Barbara Levine at 310-466-5197.
For information on the SBA's loan program visit www.sba.gov.
For information on Cookies By Design Long Beach call 562-961-9161.