'We refuse'

Rick Miller and Terry Scherwinka put together a rental trailer after painting it at West's Rentals and Sales today in Pendleton.<BR><I>Staff photo by E.J.?Harris</i>

Employees at West's Rentals and Sales in Pendleton see the effects of the recession all around them. Owner Mindi Miller said one of her workers saw his roommate get laid off from Fleetwood Travel Trailers of Oregon, which announced the closure of two RV manufacturing plants in Oregon this week.

"When they see people losing their jobs," Miller said, "it makes our guys thankful that our business is steady. No one wants to lose their jobs."

At West's, Miller described things as "business as usual." And that's partly because of attitude - her business is one of a handful in the area taking the proactive approach of not letting a steady stream of bad economic news dictate how they operate their lives and businesses.

A sign on the door sums it up: "We refuse to participate in the recession."

"I can't give up on our dream," Miller said. "This is our life. I'm too young to retire."

That's not to say Miller has altogether ignored the economic crisis. Last year, she said West's began to "watch our pennies," and that more cautious approach has continued into this year. The shop, which rents and sells heavy equipment, has tried to limit its debt in recent months, Miller said.

The company has done well, with sales remaining steady during the past year, Miller said. She said the idea of "refusing" to succumb to the recession simply means taking a positive attitude to work. It means doing what they do without worrying about what has - or could - happen around them.

The approach has paid off, and West's staff remains intact.

Hermiston's Tom Denchel Ford Country dealership has taken a similar approach to selling cars during the past several months. General Manager James Harvey said staff there stay motivated by remembering everyone is affected by what others do - the dealership staff work together not as 53 people, but 53 families all trying to survive the economy, he said.

For that reason, staff there have focused on the positive side of things, instead of dwelling on the "doom and gloom" of the economy, Harvey said.

"It's just simply being very optimistic and choosing to think the positive rather than the negative," Harvey said.

The approach seems to work for the Hermiston dealer, too, Harvey said. The lot saw one of its best months of 2008 come in December - typically a slow time for car dealers, he said - and that success has continued into the first part of 2009, Harvey said.

Miller said West's can't claim credit for the "refuse" motto. The idea came from a regional meeting with Stihl, of which West's Rentals and Sales is a distributor. Stihl gave similar posters and buttons to many of its other distributors.

Stihl Northwest Branch Manager Dave Bulger said in an e-mail the phrase dates back to 1974, when Stihl launched a similar campaign during an economic downturn then. Bulger said the company brought it back at a dealer meeting last month to provide some encouragement during this recession.

But outdoor equipment dealers' success depends on plenty of other factors besides the economy, he said.

"It's too early in the year to know with certainty what the year will hold for Stihl dealers since outdoor power equipment is largely seasonal in nature, especially in the Pacific Northwest," Bulger said. "Their success is often more dramatically impacted by weather than the economy."

But taking the "refuse" idea to heart has given a morale boost to at least a few local businesses during a tough time. Some might even come out better in the long run, Harvey said.

"I believe that when this whole economic climate shakes out," he said, "there's going to be a whole lot of good businesses left standing and a lot of bad ones that have gone away."

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