Psst: How to survive in business

What's it take to thrive and survive in today's economy? Asheville and, indeed, most of Western North Carolina, has a growing reputation as a good fit for business, whether quirky or traditional, large or small. But the past two years have presented challenges for even the most stalwart of them, with many closing their doors, others making big changes, and a few even thriving. Xpress quizzed local business owners to offer what works for them and what might work for others. Here are a few of their replies.

Business by the book: Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar owners Donna and Thomas Wright. Opening during the recession, Thomas says, "requires a great amount of stupid ambition." Photos by Jonathan Welch

"My top tip would be to make sure that you have enough resources and financial capital to pull off your business plan, and to not take on more than you can handle, because that causes undue stress." Michael Figura, MOSAIC Community Lifestyle Realty

"I believe in diversity. Hiring a diverse workforce. Offering a variety of services. Having a diverse clientele. When one market segment is not firing, maybe others will be. But the trick is not overextending yourself so that you're a mile wide but only an inch deep. Also, hire good people who share your values and then trust them to do what you hired them to do. Last, passion. You gotta believe in what you are doing (at least I do)." Andy Brown, president of Equinox Environmental

"Just do what you feel is right," Peter Pollay "… and always be looking at ways to improve upon an already good idea." Martha Pollay, Posana Café

"Timing is crucial in social media. The visibility of content depends largely on when you post it. Post your most interesting and engaging content in the morning by 9:30 a.m., on weekdays, to get maximum exposure." Justin Belleme, AshevilleNow.com

"Research within social media to develop a meaningful following. Use Twitter hashtags as a way to track your interactions and interests." Wendy Lou, Creative Imp Works

Letting us eat cake: Short Street Cakes owner Jodi Rhoden evolved her home-based business into a bakery and store in West Asheville.

"Forget the old marketing rules when self-promoting your small business in social media. To find success, you should interact instead of simply broadcasting your message." Kelby Carr, Carr Creations

"Today's businesses need to have a comprehensive online presence. That means a video outlet, such as YouTube, an updater, such as Twitter, a photo uploader, such as Flickr, social-media accounts, such as Facebook or MySpace, and a blog, such as Blogger, TypePad or WordPress." Gary Charles, GSocialMedia.

"Find ways to network that offset isolation of home office." Carol Gearheart, @Gearhart Editing: Home office

"I am in a group called INTO with LaZoom, Brews Cruise, etc. My company is the Adventure Collective www.advguides.com. Good local story of small biz banding together last year." Chuck Lee: www.advguides.com

"I have had to rethink, recreate and relaunch my services. I began the process of relaunching this month in preparation for Tourist season. I believe I have hit the nail on the head this time." Kathleen Krupar, Health Enhancement Inc. Massage Therapy & Life/Relationship Coaching

"We are drawing on the support of our local community that is inspired by the expanding popularity of the local/regional food movement.The products that we carry are ones that are historically in demand during economic downturns; Heirloom/Open-Pollinated/Non hybrid seeds." Peter Waskiewicz, Sow True Seed

"I've also learned that modern retail isn't only about brick and mortar storefronts and the quicker an entrepreneur adapts to the internet environment the better for their survival and growth.  Today, customers expect to easily research products, compare prices and securely shop online." Shelley Johnston, Shelley's Family Jewels

"The first thing that shot to my mind was 'kindness.' Be easy. Be kind and inviting. And be okay with not exactly receiving the same. Sometimes customers are shy and protective. Let them be and you be okay with it and don't contribute to making it worse." Kerryn Davis, common housefly (a kitchen emporium)

In focus: The staff of fine-art photo business Castell Photography. From left, Heidi Gruner, owner Brie Castell, and Miranda Maynard.

"Never forfeit quality to increase quantity; if you don't provide exceptional service, you will lose the respect of your customers. We are lucky enough to have clients that appreciate our services enough that despite tough economic times, they still leave room in their budget to bring their dogs to daycare." Jill Lydic, You Work, I'll Play Dog Daycare and Training

"You need unique product(s) and great service. You need to stay focused. You can either have a business or have a life, at least for the first 10 years you're in business." Valerie Taylor, Paul Taylor Custom Sandals, Belts and Buckles

"My studio is run on a sliding-scale basis and I believe that has helped us to make it through these tough economic times.  People are always thanking me for that, and we get new students all the time who can't afford other studios." Cat Matlock, founder, West Asheville Yoga

Seriously comical: Darren Williams, owner of Comic Envy, says that the key to building his customer base — aside from maintaining the right inventory — is being friendly.

"To make a product truly useful for your target audience, not only do you need to talk to them, you also need to become them. At the bottom line, we were not guessing at how potential clients might view our product; we were viewing the product through their eyes and in the framework of their real daily lives." Ross & Dale Markley, MarkleyWorks

"Buying local: As small business owners, we know how important it is to support other small businesses. That's why we showcase the work of nearly 25 local and regional craftspeople, artists, and clothing and accessory designers in our boutique. Supporting our community: We're a big booster of local charities — from special fund-raising events we organize throughout the year to Wink staff doing volunteer work. In the past, we've worked with ABCCM, MANNA FoodBank, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Asheville Area Arts Council and The Big Crafty, and donated more than $15,000 in goods and services to many other charitable events. Customer appreciation: Of course we love our customers, and we look for ways to show more love throughout the year — from fun customer appreciation evenings like Curls Night Out and Blow Out to Go Out, to featuring our clients in our advertising and on our Web site. Wink is marking its fifth anniversary this month, and we're really proud of the business we've built." Christine DiBenedetto, owner, Wink Heads and Threads

"I've been in business over nine years and the most important tip I have is to read The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. Whether you are considering starting a business, already have a small business, or have a large corporation, the book provides unparalleled advice and guidance on how to succeed in business. Truly a book that changes lives." Melissa Zenz
KidBean.com, Vegan Family Superstore

"Getting to know your community and all of the ways your business fits into it. Also, being open to the ideas of others.  We've been amazed at the creative ideas of other business owners about ways in which we can do business together. Staying small until your business gets big. We've tried to pinch pennies and stay as compact as possible until demand requires us to grow. That way, we're not putting out some much financially just to stay open. Consistency is huge as well as marketing. I feel a common mistake of new business owners is to think that everybody knows about them and understands what they offer. Take LaZoom for example, we drive a 40-foot purple bus around town five days a week, and still, people in the area say they haven't heard of us or don't understand what we offer on the bus. If your business presence is simply a business card, you better make sure there are thousands out there." Jen Lauzon, LaZoom Tour Company

The full treatment: Privai Academy, a spa-training school, has found success with both its courses and its product line. Pictured here, from left, are co-owner Christina Stratton, program director Gloria Coppola and co-owner Ilana Craig Alberico.

"Some critics claim that paying a living wage puts a strain on small businesses' ability to meet payroll and even leads to businesses shutting down. However, there is significant proof that paying a living wage actually is key to the sustainability of businesses and in the long-run even reduces costs for businesses.  Paying a living wage is a key to the long-term success of businesses in Western North Carolina. It's time to move out of the dominant paradigm of paying the lowest possible wage and as Ford and dozens of employers in our community have already, invest in our workforce."  Mark A. Hebbard, Living Wage Certification Program Coordinator

"Building an environment of trustworthy, hardworking, wonderful people to establish consistency in what we serve and how we serve it has allowed us to both survive and thrive.  The amazing coffee we serve and the underlying message of trade integrity would never truly get through to the community if our baristas were anything less than fantastic.  This town is savvy enough to support places that hold integrity in what products they offer and how they treat their community of customers.  I believe we do both." Jay Weatherly, owner/operator, Dripolator Coffeehouse

Send your business news, tips and rumors to business@mountainx.com.

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