The Agony Of Defeat – Running A Small Business

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This story is a difficult one to share.  It begins at a time when we lived in the small town where my husband was born and raised. We had purchased our first home and had settled into a happy domestic life. My husband was between teaching positions when the local hardware store came up for sale. The owner who was the father of my husband’s childhood friends was going to retire. Neither of his sons wanted to take over ownership, so it seemed natural for my husband and I to look at taking the leap to run our own business. What better way to support the small community that he loved and knew so well? So it was with the enthusiasm and naiveté of youth that we went to the bank to see what financing was available to us.  As you might expect, we had few assets and very little savings. What we found was that we needed to enlist the support of family to raise the required funding to use as a down payment. Knowing what hard workers we were, family quickly rallied armed with their checkbooks to support our first business. With this borrowed down payment in hand, we worked with the owner to establish what we deemed a fair market price for the business and the inventory and forged ahead.

I’ll not drag you through all of the details of setting up the business, but will just say that both of us had a bit of a “knowing doing” gap. At least we were smart enough to enlist the help of a local accountant to do the payroll and keep the books. We also enlisted the help  of one of my husband’s sisters to set up a unique  section of the store to sell specialty furniture and crafts. This last helped us differentiate ourselves and fill in the gaps between appliance sales and service.  The first year in business was not easy.  We discovered we had over valued the inventory and now needed to sell a lot of obsolete items at a very steep discount. This did not set us up for success. It was also around this same time that stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot were starting to make an appearance in the larger adjacent towns. Loyalty to the small town businesses was being severely tested. Why would you shop for your large appliances at a small hardware store when you could just drive 30 miles and have a larger variety to choose from often at a lower price? We had the best service and friendliest staff, but at this time in the economy the price was winning over the service.

Looking back, it is much easier to see with clarity that getting out from under the obsolete inventory was a difficult challenge but the changing times and buying patterns was our real undoing.   We made a valiant effort, but in the end had to close the store. After a “fire” sale, we were barely able to pay back the bank. It was our supportive family that we were not able to reimburse. After a few years of financial struggle we were eventually able to return their investment to them.

This was a hard learned lesson for us both. We came out of it having an even greater respect for the small business owner who must make tough decisions each and every day. We learned that you need to keep your business hat on even when dealing with long time family friends. It also reinforced for us that having a loving and supportive family makes going through tough times easier. In the end, I believe that everything happens for a reason. During the time that we owned the store, I was working and going to school.  While running the business, my husband was able to keep a closer eye on our three teen-aged girls.  So while having to close the store was an agonizing defeat, during the time we had it there were many happy times and benefits as well.  I don’t look back with regret, but with a lot of pride in what we were able to accomplish during this time and how much we learned about running a business.

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