Archive for July, 2009

Sour economy isn’t stopping many local entrepreneurs

Friday, July 31st, 2009
Carolina Tanguay of Raymond this week celebrated the opening of Lasting Impressions of Maine & Mainely Primitives, a Maine-made art and crafts store she runs on Route 302 in Windham along with her friend, Shirley Smith of Gorham. Tanguay said opening a new shop in a tough time should not be an obstacle to success. “We’re positive,” she said. “We see the bright side.” (Ben Bragdon photo)

By Ben Bragdon | Posted: Thursday, July 30, 2009 10:25 am | 0 comments

To Carolina Tanguay of Raymond, there are always reasons not to do something.

But those thoughts and attitudes, of a poor economy, of people with less spending money, of a summer shortened by bad weather, did not divert Tanguay, who this week opened a store specializing in Maine-made art and crafts on Route 302 in Windham. Confident in her business model, and in her dedication to do what it takes – paint walls, work long hours, network – to make her store successful.

“We’re positive,” said Tanguay, who with her friend Shirley Smith opened Lasting Impressions of Maine & Mainely Primitives. “We don’t see the dark side. We see the bright side.”

Tanguay and Smith are just two of the people who have bucked the negative notions of a sour economy and opened shop during what many people have called the worst business climate in decades. Many of the new business owners say they’ve had to take the economy into consideration when setting prices or deciding how to spend money. But there are opportunities as well, with low interest rates and rents, and the entrepreneurs feel they can weather the storm, and come out stronger on the other side.

“I think they are realistically looking ahead,” said Barbara Clark, executive director of the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce. Ribbon cuttings, which the Chamber performs for new businesses, are up 25 percent over last year at this time, Clark said.

An established real estate agent and business owner who ran the Frye’s Leap General Store and Cafe on Frye Island for 17 years, Lois O’Connor had been running her real estate business, Sunset Lakes Real Estate, out of her home. But after adding a few new real estate agents to her company, she decided to branch out, poor economy or no. When opening her office last week, she felt she had to be prepared when the market returns to form.

“I had to have an office. With the economy down, I have to grow the business,” O’Connor said. “When the market comes back, I’ll be ready for it.”

When a spot opened up next to Chute’s Cafe, on Route 302 in Casco, the opportunity was too good to pass up. The popular eating establishment would be a draw, she figured.

“The key thing in business on Route 302 is to try to get the traffic to slow down,” O’Connor said.

This way of thinking, to grab opportunity when it comes, regardless of other circumstances, is common in a stagnant business climate, said Mark Delisle, director of the Maine Small Business Development Center, which provides assistance to small business owners and entrepreneurs.

“There are some folks that are really good at looking for opportunities, and every economy has some opportunities,” said Delisle. “A lot of these really big companies were started in down economies////ANY EXAMPLES?///.”

The key, he said, is for business owners to take into account the prevalent economic factors. Capital is likely to be more difficult to obtain. Only smaller loans may be available, and at less desirable terms. Cash flow may not be as high as expected.

“You do want to be really conservative in case your revenue is not as high over the next 16-24 months,” Delisle said.

In the end, what matters most to a fledging business does not change with the economy, he said.

“The fundamentals are the same,” he said. “You have a solid business plan. You have all the right things in your business plan.”

Tourists streaming up and down Route 302 this summer was part of the plan for Buddy Basso, who with his wife, Linda, opened Basso’s Italian Market on Route 302 in Windham six months ago.

But he didn’t envision a start to the summer season that included two weeks of rain, which kept people at home and hurt all tourism-based businesses.

Luckily, Basso’s, which offers a variety of imported Italian foods, plus prepared meals, pizza, sandwiches and wine, has steadily built a solid base of customers who live in the area.

In some ways, the state of the economy helped. The Bassos were able to buy new, rather than used, cooking equipment at low prices because other eateries had closed and needed to sell. They also took the economy into account when setting prices.

“We kept prices down,” said Basso. “We tried to keep things in line with what was going on.”

Basso’s also offers products that aren’t offered elsewhere in Windham. In fact, Basso said, he often spends his days explaining the various Italian meats and cheeses to customers.

“I think it’s the variety that helps,” he said.

It is close to the strategy employed by Tanguay and Smith, who will sell only Maine-made gifts, from small craft items to paintings and other works of art. Tanguay has now found the right spot, after being at two other locations in Windham, including next to C.N. Brown for the holiday season. And she thinks they have the right products.

“The thing is to find your niche,” said Tanguay, who before a hiatus ran a similar store in the Maine Mall. “We have all Maine products from all Maine people.”