Economic Development News
|New Diverse Businesses Opening on Treasure Coast Despite Economic Challenges|
|Published Monday, September 28, 2009 7:00 am|
James Oliva and his partner Katie Wacha finished writing their business plan when the global economy took a turn for the worse last year.
Just as the stock market began its downward spiral and Treasure Coast residents started tightening their budgets, the duo started renovating a historical Jensen Beach waterfront home to open the Inn at Tilton Place, a "green" bed and breakfast at 3350 N.E. Indian River Drive.
"We had planned on opening even before the recession," said Oliva, whose environmentally conscious business opened in late August with a small business loan from Port St. Lucie-based First Peoples Bank. "We've turned our dream into a business."
It may seem counter-intuitive to start a new business in the current economic climate, but several Treasure Coast entrepreneurs are taking their chances despite slowed consumer spending the public's general doom and gloom sentiments.
DEBORAH SILVER firstname.lastname@example.org Noelle Doucet of Palm City feeds Jolie, a 10-year-old poodle, her supper after being hired to care for Jolie twice a day by the poodle's Palm City owner. Doucet opened her own business called My Pet's Nanny after her housecleaning business took a nosedive after the economy went bust. "This is really taking off," said Doucet, who started about four months ago. "I'm busy every weekend."
George Greenstein, a volunteer counselor at Treasure Coast SCORE, a nonprofit, small-business counseling agency, said his office has experienced an increase in laid-off workers seeking advice to open a small business since the recession started last year.
"We are seeing more laid off people come in," Greenstein said. "After they come in, they decide if going into business is a good thing for them. If they don't have a passion for what they are doing or doing it out of desperation without the commitment, it's not going to work."
Greenstein said it's difficult to quantify the exact amount of traffic and e-mails requesting assistance this year and last.
"It takes special people to be successful at running a small business," he said. "You need a hard passion for it and strong commitment because you do all the work. You go from being an employee at a 9-to-5 job, where you can go home and relax, to being a business owner, on 24/7. You're always thinking about the business and working on problems with customers or supplier issues or trying to collect bills."
That commitment didn't stop Noelle Doucet from opening My Pet's Nanny four months ago, a pet-sitting and pet-walking service in Palm City.
"It cost me about $200 to open my business, and I did everything on my own," Doucet said about creating her Web site, and getting magnetic advertising for her car, an occupational license and business cards. "I made over $1,800 last month."
Doucet had always been in business for herself, cleaning homes and contracting out her services with other local cleaning companies. But as the economy declined, so did her client's need for a house cleaner.
"When you're paying someone $300, $400 a month to clean your house and you feel the crunch of the economy, it's easy to say, 'Why not let the cleaning girl go?' " Doucet said. "I've picked up 75 percent of the income that I lost."
Jack Burns, assistant director of Indian River State College's Small Business Development Center in Stuart, said because of layoffs and diminishing job prospects, more Treasure Coast residents have considered opening a small business for financial stability and security. But despite knock-out business plans and the best intentions, some entrepreneurs are still finding it difficult to get small business loans.
"It can be a tough struggle," Burns said. "It's like anything else. Is there demand for their product? Do they have a better mousetrap or better location than the competition?"
That's precisely why Swathi Rao, opened Triveni, a tranquil day spa and salon across from the Indian River Medical Center, with her own savings. As a mobile IT consultant, Rao initially moved to Vero Beach to direct the conversion of medical records into electronic files at her mother's office. After the project began, being close to family and planting roots in Indian River County became an attractive idea to Rao.
"I think every entrepreneurial effort is a risk. But you have to believe in yourself, and your business model, surrounding yourself with good people, both as employees and as advisors is essential," said Rao, owner of Triveni, which has eight employees and is at 985 37th Place in Vero Beach. "After that your focus is on providing good value to your clients and that is constant, irrespective of the general economic conditions."
Rao, who sometimes misses the big-city lifestyle, contemplated taking out an SBA loan, but soon changed her mind after looking over the documents.
"There was just so much paperwork involved and so many steps to go through," said Rao. "And they don't give you a loan if you don't have a track record, so it's like a Catch-22."
Mandy Green and her aunt Dale van der Lugt recently opened Sentiment, Where the Thought Does Count, a new gift boutique at 205 Orange Ave. in downtown Fort Pierce. The duo also decided an SBA loan wasn't for them.
"I quit my job as a paralegal ... and she (van der Lugt) had just put her papers in to retire," said Green, who spent five years in the profession. "This was God's timing."
Van der Lugt, who retired from a big-box retailer, and Green are hoping for a busy holiday season.
"Business is as we expected, we're not disappointed," said Green, who opened in August. "We're steady and that's a good thing in this economy."
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