Small business, small problems

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Greg at Village Auto Werks

Greg Wood of Village Auto Werks. Photo by Andrew Mayo.

Despite the barrage of talk about recession, massive bailouts, and staggering unemployment numbers, local Raleigh businesses seem to have quite a rosy outlook. Not booming, not collapsing, but cozy.

Pam Wood of Raleigh’s Village Auto Werks isn’t letting the economic pit intimidate her. Her business, and other similarly-minded businesses have such a close connection to the community that supports them that they haven’t seen much of a change in the last year.

While big business may call on legions of analysts and accountants, Wood’s said her first action to plan for what lies ahead was, “I called my mother.” They’ve cut back on inventory, but little else. Advertising? They give customers free t-shirts and maintain a good reputation with their clients and their community.

“You can’t buy advertising like that,” Wood said, speaking of a recent article featuring their business. Many Raleigh businesses rely solely on word-of-mouth advertising, and maintaining a good standing in the community is a priority.

Village Auto Werks recently relocated from their Cameron Village location to a new garage in Boylan Heights, where they share the space with Bill Harris, who also runs a well-respected garage. While remaining exclusive businesses, they share customers. “Whatever we can’t do, he does. Whatever he can’t do, we do,” Wood said. Even with the initial confusion from moving a business, longtime customers have found their new location and continue to bring their cars there.

The auto repair industry is remaining a necessity as people are tending to maintain the old instead of buying new. Ed Gaddy of Raleigh’s Cycle Logic has been relying on repairs in his shop as well. After a surge in business last summer, which he attributes to the rising gas prices, he has seen a dip in customers. He has already built his business in a way that will get him through, running a bare-bones repair shop.

Ricky Davis of City Market Produce

Ricky Davis of City Market Produce. Photo by Andrew Mayo.

Gaddy’s enthusiasm for bicycles helped built his relationship with local cyclists. A woman walks in to Cycle Logic with her son looking for new tires for his mountain bike. He pulls out the specific tire from a rack and describes its benefits down to the pattern of tread, while talking with the woman about their shared interest in flying. He doesn’t advertise, has minimal employees, and has been running his business steadily since 1974.

The produce stand at City Market has been in business since 1913. They have seen a 25 percent decrease in recent sales, but they are not hurting. Ricky Davis, one of the market’s owners, says he has sees the same customers shopping weekly and does not worry about losing business.

Around the corner, Vic’s Italian Restaurant has a similar story. A 25 percent decrease, but a consistent and loyal clientele. Mario Longo, the owner of Vic’s has cut down on his staff and inventory in preparation. He has no doubts about his businesses success: “We’re gonna make it through – cut a little here, cut a little there – we’re here to stay”

Greg at Village Auto Werks

Greg Wood of Village Auto Werks. Photo by Andrew Mayo.

Transportation and food are necessities, but some luxury businesses in Raleigh are also doing well. Dawn Bender of The Glam Lounge, a local salon, said “people are still coming in, but waiting an extra week between appointments”. Even so, their business has picked up recently. Across town at the Rather Unique barber shop, owner Chris Gillette has seen a similar pattern: “instead of coming in every week, people are coming every two weeks”.

Rich Kilby, owner of Raleigh’s Barefoot Press has seen an increase in orders in the last few months. He attributes this growth to new businesses opening in town and to established businesses looking to reach new clientele. And while he is busy marketing for local businesses, his car is being repaired at Pam Wood’s shop right down the road.

Raleigh has been recognized in the current slump as being a “recession proof” city, according to a recent Bizjournal study. The paper also recently ranked Raleigh as being the “best place to start a small business”.

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