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Focus on basics if struggling

September 29, 2008|Karen E. Klein | Special to The Times

Dear Karen: What tips do you have for small firms struggling in this business climate?

Answer: Zero in on what matters most to your business and do those things that maximize your success. "Recessions leave no room for wasted expenses and diverse organizational effort," said Bill Birnbaum, an author and management consultant based in Sisters, Ore. "In times of economic downturn, all energies must be applied to those few activities that matter most."

Ask your management team what specific activities they think your company needs to do. "Narrowing the list to two or three key activities requires a serious, in-depth discussion among the management team, plus analysis of hard performance data," Birnbaum said.

If a period of heavy concentration on your core tasks pulls your company out of the doldrums, you can expand back into more activities aimed at expanding your company.

Finding suppliers

Dear Karen: How can my business find manufacturers of drinking vessels?

Answer: Think about whether you want to deal directly with suppliers or work with a glassware broker or distributor. Knowledgeable distributors can offer expertise on product sourcing, manufacturer viability, pricing, shipping and other issues that may save you substantial time and effort, said Brian Grabowski, operations director at the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership in Madison.

If you decide to deal directly with manufacturers, you can find listings through the North American Industry Classification System, www.census.gov/ epcd/www/naics.html. Check out glassware manufacturers and identify the criteria that are most important to you, weighing factors such as price, design, quality and delivery.

"Do some research to determine whether the manufacturers have the legal capacity to protect your intellectual property and are financially viable," Grabowski said.

Once your list has narrowed, submit requests for information, narrow the list further and then request price quotes from the leading candidates. Negotiate with the top candidate but keep a backup supplier interested in case the first negotiation breaks down. Get local consulting through a California Manufacturing Extension Partnership center at blue.nist.gov/centers/CA.

Adjust to market

Dear Karen: My business seems stable, but I worry about being caught off-guard. Should I anticipate trouble?

Answer: Especially when businesses are doing well, it's important for entrepreneurs to focus on the future and anticipate needed changes to their business models.

"A business that is not changing may in fact be dying. Right around the corner is the next economic downturn, a new competitive force in your industry, changing attitudes and new consumer tastes and fads," said Carlos Lowenberg, president of Lowenberg Wealth Management Group.

Your profit may be high now because you're not researching international trends and investing in your company. Make sure you are constantly plowing money into predicting how the markets will change and how you should respond.

"I recommend the 60/20/20 method to my clients. Spend 60% of your time and resources on your day-to-day business, 20% on research into global trends, customer tastes and new markets, and 20% on incorporating the new information into your existing business," Lowenberg said.

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Got a question about running or starting a small enterprise? E-mail it to ke.klein@latimes.com or mail it to In Box, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

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