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Paul Burri: The Unprofessionalism of Small-Town Businesses

Well-managed companies can survive in even the worst of times

When I drive through the small town of Paradise in Northern California, I see far too many vacant stores and buildings. It makes me sad to see so many because it tells me that these are probably businesses that failed for one reason or another, and I think a lot of those failures could have been prevented with a little timely advice and mentoring by an experienced consultant. More on that later.

Yes, I know that we are still struggling through a major recession and that it has affected a lot of businesses. But as far as I’m concerned, a recession can be an opportunity in disguise.

I remember giving a talk to a bunch of local businesspeople, and my opening remark was, “I have bad news and good news. The bad news is that we’re in a recession. The good news is that we’re in a recession.”

How can being in a recession be good news? First, a little personal history. I founded a business in 1990 and sold it in 2007. The business was doing quite well and growing nicely in 2001 when the United States suffered the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. That event triggered the recession of 2002, during which many businesses failed and thousands were laid off. But for my company, 2002 was a profitable year and we continued to grow by 15 percent.

Here’s the way I see it. If your business is a well-managed, efficient operation, you will prosper and grow even during difficult times. At the very worst, you will survive. Better yet, during those same difficult times any of your competitors who are weaker, less efficient or less well-run will succumb, and when it’s all over you will have a larger share of whatever market you are in. That’s the good news of being in a recession.

My recent business experiences in Paradise have been disappointing and unsatisfactory. Businesspeople made promises they couldn’t keep. They neglected to call me back when they said they would. Paperwork that was promised to be in the mail that same day was not mailed until I called to find out what had happened to it after waiting for three days. Appointments were not kept, or the person arrived late with not even an “I’m sorry,” much less a call to say he was running late.

Businesses seem to have the attitude that next week is soon enough, or if not, the week after that or two weeks after that will be OK, too. Repairs were not completed efficiently or as promised. Necessary repair parts were not ordered in a timely fashion (as promised), and then when it was discovered that those parts were out of stock, the business did a poor job of following up to be sure the parts would be delivered as promised so as to keep promises made to a customer. I could go on and on.

This inefficiency and unprofessionalism was not limited to just one company but several. Most of my business experience has been in the Los Angeles area. Competition is fierce down there. Maybe that’s what kept us on our toes; if you weren’t efficient and competitive, you probably wouldn’t make it. And maybe that’s why small towns such as Paradise have so many vacant buildings. They have lost the “edge” that makes them more efficient, more business like, better managed and more competitive.

Too bad. If they were, it would be a win-win for them and for their customers.

P.S. SCORE.org is a national organization managed by the Small Business Administration that offers free, confidential business counseling and mentoring to businesses in every phase of the business cycle, from startup to harvesting. SCORE has offices in every major city across the United States. The author recommends the local Chico SCORE office to any small Paradise business that thinks a “tune-up” might be a good idea.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer, guerrilla marketer and iconoclast. He is available to local organizations for speaking engagements and to local businesses for business consulting and/or mentoring. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous Paul Burri columns. Follow Paul Burri on Twitter: @BronxPaul.

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