Business bright spots

Even in gloomy economy, some firms shine

Even in gloomy economy, some firms shine

September 14, 2008|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU
(Page 2 of 2)

In addition to newspaper advertising, Diller said he's now trying direct mailing as part of his marketing plan. He said another company's recent promotion using college-ruled paper was an inspiration.

He said his wife handwrote the message - "the handwritten is definitely the most crucial thing" - and the couple bought "stacks of college-ruled paper and ran them through our printer," and then mailed out 1,200 advertisements.

Another key is customer service, he said. "We try to treat them better," he said of customers. "I've had people call as late as 9:30, 10 o'clock at night and I'm still here and I answer, and they just totally freak out. I mean, they're expecting an answering machine."

'We've just had to be creative'

Jeff Hull, 35, said he and his wife, Beth, 32, have no regrets about their decision to greatly expand BJ's Custom Creations operation last year.


"I never second-guess anything I do. ... Once I started the construction, I saw the economy change, (but) I make it happen for me," Hull said. "That means I have to pick up the pace and make it happen."

With the support of his parents, he said, the couple opened their embroidery and screen printing business in 900 square feet of space near Hagerstown in 1995. Five years later, they built a 10,000-square-foot building on Sweeney Drive in Hagerstown Industrial Park, where they are now.

Last year came the 15,000-square-foot addition, the cost of which Hull declined to disclose.

"I was running full capacity, and now I can get product out more quickly," he said. And, he said, he's kept his employment at about 50.

Still, things have been tough.

"Even with the addition, I got to be honest with you, the economy has affected us," he said. "Our sales has taken a decline like everybody else's. We've just had to be creative and work with our customers and listen to them."

He said the volume of what he sells is about the same as a year ago, but there are fewer high-end purchases. Overall, he said, "we might be 10 percent off in dollar volume."

Most of BJ's customers are other companies, community organizations and sports teams wanting logos stitched or printed onto clothing and other promotional products.

As the economy has tightened, Hull said, customers' buying patterns have changed. "As their budgets have changed, I've had to change with them so they can still promote their business. As opposed to buying golf shirts that cost 'X', they might spend 'X minus 5'" on a different type of logo product, he said.

"My business is the business of promoting other people's businesses. It's very important to me to help them keep these businesses going," he said. "I can't push that enough, that the success of business depends on how you treat your customers."

Couple feel pinch, but sales are up

Belinda and Eric Callear started their Bee's Creations business out of the basement of their Boonsboro home about five years ago, selling their crafts at area shows.

Three years ago, they saw an opportunity in a vacant 2,700-square-foot storefront along Sharpsburg Pike and took it. This month, they acted on another opportunity: about 900 square feet of space next door that now they are also renting.

Through it all, said the Callears, who are each 35, they've avoided loans and worked long hours, helped, too, by Eric's jobs, first as a restaurant manager and now as a school bus driver.

Even amid the weak economy, they said, they're seeing the business begin to pay off.

"I don't want to come off as 'I'm doing great,'" said Belinda Callear. "Are we feeling (the tough economy)? Oh, yeah."

But, she estimated, their sales are up "maybe 5 to 15 percent" this year over last.

Indeed, a reason for some of that actually may be the economy.

The Callears said a lot of the interest in their curtains, handcrafted furniture and other home decor products is coming from people who haven't been able to sell their houses.

"Without a doubt, in today's economy, people put their houses up for sale and then, they say, 'You know what? We're going to take it off the market and fix it up, redecorate,'" Eric Callear said.

"I think a lot of people are doing that," Belinda Callear added. "Curtains and just little things to make the house look brand new again."

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