Small businesses open and close everyday in America. In fact, according to statistics provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration, about 552,600 new employer firms opened for business and 660,900 closed in 2009. To gain insight about what works in small businesses, I talked with three separate small business owners in the Catskill Mountain region to find out the best business advice they received when starting their businesses and what they had to share with others interested in opening their own enterprises. After hearing their words of advice, it’s no surprise why these dedicated small business owners make their businesses succeed every day in a small town with an even smaller economy.
Andrew Flach, owner of Hatherleigh Press, a Hobart, New York-based publishing company that has been around since 1961, offers this business advice to individuals starting a small business. “Trust your instincts. People may not understand your idea at first, but once you create it, they will see. Be passionate and persevere.”
This point was reiterated by Aree Bray, owner of The Kaaterskill House in Stamford, New York. Aree and Sally Bray are relatively new to the small business scene. Their quaint coffee and sandwich shop is a newly renovated century-old home that has been in business since October 2008.
“The best business advice we received before starting The Kaaterskill House really came in the form of a cautionary statement,” says long-time Stamford resident, Aree Bray. “We were told by an experienced acquaintance that our small business would only be successful with a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and extremely long hours on our part. There would be no substitutes.”
When asked how this advice helped most in establishing his small business, Bray replied, “That same person also warned that any pay-off was most likely to come a very long time after our start. Knowing this upfront, gave us hope that we were doing the right thing by not giving up. It’s been clear from the beginning that if we didn’t continue to work this hard, it would have been over awhile ago.”
Fellow small business owner and Stamford resident, George Curbelo, who is better known as Master C by his students at the Mountain Martial Arts Academy, also shares his business advice. “In September 1993, I officially started The Mountain Martial Arts Academy, and although I had over 20 years of experience and 5 years of teaching under my belt, I had a white belt in business. It was the words of the consultant I hired to help me organize my business that helped me most. I learned three important concepts: have basic systems to run and evaluate your business, diversify, and give more to your clients than what they are paying for.”
According to Curbelo, the systems help “organize the business structure and give important statistics that help to know when to adjust to strengthen weaknesses and improve on the business’ strengths” and adding profit centers – like a pro-shop, additional classes and special events – helps “bring additional money into the business.”
Andrew Flach also stresses the need for diversification and not being afraid to try new things to encourage business growth. “See failure as an opportunity. Trial and error, and experimentation are all part of the creative process.” He also suggests, “Start small, but nevertheless, start. Create samples, examples, testers, whatever you need. Start transacting. Have a cart before a store, a stand before a shop. You will gain customers and confidence.”
Aree and Sally Bray have also implemented these same strategies with The Kaaterskill House. In the past two years, the business has grown from simply serving beverages at the coffee bar, to now offering a dining room with sandwiches and appetizers on the menu, and hosting free game nights and live entertainment for the community on the weekends.
George Curbelo makes an excellent point with what he credits as the greatest key to success and business growth for The Mountain Martial Arts Academy. He stresses going that extra step to show customers you value them by giving back more than merely what you are paid to give. “It’s how I would like to be treated. Everyone wants to get their money’s worth and more! And I am always evaluating the benefits of the services we provide to make sure they outweigh the costs of the services.”
Regardless of location, type of service, and available resources, the solid business advice offered by these three small business owners applies to anyone starting their own small company: work hard, persevere, diversify, and show customers you value them.
First-hand interviews with:
Andrew Flach, owner of Hatherleigh Press in Hobart, NY
Aree and Sally Bray, owners of The Kaaterskill House in Stamford, NY
George Curbelo, owner of Mountain Martial Arts Academy in Stamford, NY
Frequently Asked Questions provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration