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Wednesday, Mar 22, 2023

Hard Year Brought Lessons in Surviving Downturn

It’s our last issue of the year. My usual time to reflect on what’s been going on business-wise in the past 12 months and how we’ve covered it here at the Business Journal. Many would say it has been an absolutely horrible year for business in general. Yes, there have been bright spots, but mostly carnage, they would say. Most businesses have just been struggling and praying to stay even. Yes, that’s been true for many, but not all. Our next issue on Jan. 4 will highlight those industries and companies that have been able to ride it out and in certain cases thrive in recent months. I think you’ll find that many of these companies just kept their eye on the ball harder than others. Others were lucky. Others took advantage of the downturn itself. I’ve come up with a list of things that we’ll remember about 2009 – at least in terms of the local business economy. • Access to Capital Has Been the Great Equalizer. Companies that were over-leveraged and probably shouldn’t had been given their last loan have received a rude awakening. And it’s probably for the best. Many had been living on borrowed time as well as borrowed money. It had to end. Some didn’t survive. Some did. Many business owners are saying that if there is any good to come out of this downturn it’s that they’ve learned about borrowing. • L.A. Is No Different Than Anywhere Else. Before the chamber of commerce gets on my back, let me clarify that. I mean, that the L.A.-area consumer is at the mercy of economic swings like anybody else. They lose jobs. They look for bargains when times are tight. You can’t believe all the higher-end shoppers I’m seeing at the 99 Cents Stores these days. They don’t appreciate being taken for a ride on price because they live in Woodland Hills. Location had become such a big thing here that businesses relied on charging more in the pricier or “trendier” areas. They can’t do as much of that anymore. There has been more of a consumer driven economy this year. Businesses have had to adjust. The good ones have adjusted. They figured out both the terms “competition” and “demand.” • It’s The Little Things. It’s the business owners and managers that noticed the little things that did better. They may have noticed a subtle change in their customers’ or clients’ habits and then they played to it to the business’ benefit. Or they may have actually took the time to talk to their customers or survey them to find out what they needed that they weren’t currently getting. • Finding the Niche. Being the best in the business no matter how narrow has been key, it seems. Often this took some marketing. As I’ve been saying all along, no one knows that you’re best until you tell them. You can even get away with this for a little while with a bad product or service. But only for a little while. At the Business Journal this past year, I believe we’ve tried to get at what made the more successful businesses successful. I believe that we didn’t dwell on the negative. But we did cover the bad stuff because it was everywhere. A good newspaper needs to cover what it sees (and what everyone else may have seen, too.) We’ve tried to analyze, interpret and distill what has been going on. We can do more of this and I vow that we will try to do more of it in 2010. (Just as long as everyone calls the year “Twenty Ten” and not “Two Thousand and Ten.” Let’s get over that awkward phrasing from this past decade. It just seems like we never got into the 2000s!) Seriously, I know there will be a lot to interpret next year – whether it’s a better year or more of the same. All indications are that it will be marginally better but there will still be layoffs and some sectors and businesses will struggle. So hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I think we probably should prepare for a transition year. Have a good year. Business Journal Editor Jason Schaff can be reached at (818) 316-3125 or at editor@sfvbj.com.

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