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Small businesses face big hurdles to survive

One in three fail in first two years, only half make it past five
Jade McDowell

East Oregonian

Published on November 24, 2017 5:12PM

Last changed on November 24, 2017 7:14PM

Cindy Traner, owner of C and R Mercantile Co. in Hermiston, walks through her store Tuesday. After five years in business Traner is shuttering her business and moving on.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Cindy Traner, owner of C and R Mercantile Co. in Hermiston, walks through her store Tuesday. After five years in business Traner is shuttering her business and moving on.

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An empty store front has replaced Crazy Mikes Video on West Highland Avenue in Hermiston.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

An empty store front has replaced Crazy Mikes Video on West Highland Avenue in Hermiston.

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C and R Mercantile Co. is offering twenty-five percent off on all items in the store.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

C and R Mercantile Co. is offering twenty-five percent off on all items in the store.

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Cindy Traner, owner of the C and R Mercantile Co., jokes with longtime customer Cindy Wilson at her store Tuesday in Hermiston.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Cindy Traner, owner of the C and R Mercantile Co., jokes with longtime customer Cindy Wilson at her store Tuesday in Hermiston.

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Cyndie Traner heard a lot of words of support for her business over the years, but words don’t pay the bills.

That’s what she told people who came into the C&R Mercantile in Hermiston for the vintage shop’s going out of business sale this week.

“People come in once a year and say, ‘See, I support your business,’ but you’re not showing me with your actions,” she said. “Actions speak louder than words.”

It’s a theme she said she has heard from other friends who have closed their small businesses over the years — people want the business to stick around as an option, but they don’t spend money there often enough to keep the doors open.

Eventually, some business owners like Traner decide they’re done.

“I lost a lot of time with my husband,” she said. “I lost a lot of money building something for my community that I could have been building up my own home. I just got tired of doing so much for so little in return.”

According to the federal Small Business Administration, about a third of businesses fail within the first two years and only half make it past five. Those odds are what have helped inspire “shop local” and pro-small business movements like Small Business Saturday, which encourages people to shop at a small business the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Traner can name a lot of businesses that have come and gone in the last few years around Hermiston — home deçor shop Indulge, florist Bloomz, barbecue restaurant Sharon’s Sweet Treats and Catering, clothing shop Bare Necessities, craft store Defining Details, UFO Gaming, Crazy Mike’s Video and steakhouses Stockman’s and Stet’s, to name a few.

Often those spaces don’t stay empty for long, however, as a new group of entrepreneurs decide to take a gamble on opening up their dream business. UFO Gaming has been replaced by McLeod’s Bargain Bin, Defining Details is now Two96 Main and the former Indulge space has been taken over by N2N Integrations.

Susan Bower of Eastern Oregon Business Source said as new entrepreneurs decide to take the plunge, they face common challenges but they also share ways to help mitigate those challenges.

One of the biggest problems for new small businesses is having enough capital to get started and then ride through the rocky times. Passion is an important ingredient to success, but Bower said banks and potential investors are also going to want to see a plausible, concrete plan for financial success before they are willing to extend a line of credit.

“Having a business plan is critical, and following that plan is essential,” she said.

There are resources available to teach would-be entrepreneurs those types of skills, including the small business development center at Blue Mountain Community College and workshops by the chamber of commerce.

Business owners also need to have enough money in savings so their business won’t sink in the first few months as they start from scratch and attempt to build a customer base.

“You need some kind of support to get through the low times,” Bower said. “As a business owner you’re the last one to get paid, if you even get paid.”

Bower said entrepreneurs also need trusted advisors, including an accountant and an attorney, and some sort of bookkeeping software to keep their financial information organized. She said many business owners feel like they don’t have the money for those things up front, but she said it’s some of the “best money you can spend early on” to make sure the store or restaurant gets off on the right foot and doesn’t stumble into roadblocks that could devastate the business.

Other problems that can sink a small business are hiring the wrong employees, not marketing enough, poor customer service/product quality, not thinking outside the box or being pushed out by competition from other stores or changes in consumer habits.

Changes in technology were what caused the demise of Crazy Mike’s Video Store, which went out of business in Hermiston at the beginning of the month. Owner Sam Jackson said people just don’t go to video stores to rent movies as much since the advent of streaming services like Netflix and iTunes.

“Busy schedules made streaming more convenient,” she said.

And while the drop in customers ate into revenue, changes in minimum wage and other labor laws were increasing expenses at the same time. In the end, Jackson said, although she had a “great appreciation” for her customers, it was time to acknowledge that brick-and-mortar video stores were becoming a thing of the past.

Sharon Harvey of Sharon’s Sweet Treats said she was sad to close her doors recently, but there just weren’t enough customers through the door.

“We have to support our merchants if we want them to stay, that’s the bottom line,” she said.

Not all small businesses close for financial reasons. “Being your own boss” can sound like a great perk to running a small business when you’re tired of being told what to do, but it’s less attractive when it also means you’re on the hook for every problem and can’t take a vacation because there is no one else to run the store. Sometimes small business owners just decide to move on to greener pastures, whether it’s a promising job offer or spending more time with family.

Shannon Snyder, who ran a small retail shop on Main Street called Defining Details, closed up a little more than a year ago to focus on her photography business and her four children. She said she had “fabulous” customers who supported the retail venture, but she felt like it was time for a change in her work-life balance.

“There were a number of reasons, but the main reason was that being a small business owner is everything on one person, and with children at home that was getting hard,” she said, explaining that she found herself constantly planning and thinking about work while she was home with family. “I needed more head space for home.”

As for the closing of C&R Mercantile, Traner said she plans to spend a few months in Hawaii for an agricultural job, then try and do some sort of home-based business. She expressed frustration that she didn’t get more business from friends, fellow members of the business community, church members and city leaders, but said she was at peace with her decision to close after making a go of it for the last five years.

On Tuesday afternoon a customer wandered into the store and commented it was his first time inside the mercantile.

“You’re about five years too late,” Traner replied.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.







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