How can businesses survive in a sluggish economy that seems to encourage bankruptcy and other easy way outs? Downtown businesses in Clio, Mich. offer their thoughts on how to make it past the tough times. Their advice is pretty simple and loaded with common sense: satisfy your customers and offer them a quality service that’ll make them keep coming back. If you do that, chances are they’ll tell their family and friends.
Wal-Mart: the culprit for the demise of Mom and Pop in Clio?
Part 4 of 4: Local businesses offer advice on surviving in current economic climate
By Richard Zowie
In a time when some downtown businesses close their doors due to lack of customers and sales, some Clio businesses are actually having success. Some even say that Wal-Mart seems to be helping them bring in more customers. Sue Siavoshnia, who manages Silvio’s Italian Restaurant and Lounge on 138 West Vienna Street, said she’s seen a steadiness in the four years she’s been managing the place.
Longtime business owners in Clio say entrepreneurial savvy is needed to stay afloat. Photo by Richard Zowie.
“Maybe I came in during a time when it was slowing down, but I haven’t noticed a lot of changes,” said Siavoshnia, whose father began the restaurant 30 years ago. “We have had some customers say they were out shopping today and came in here to get some lunch, so I do know it’s bringing a little bit of traffic through town and a little business for us,” she added.
Michael Singleton, owner of the Whistle Stop Café at 182 West Vienna Street, echoed some of Siavoshnia’s feelings and said that with the increased traffic flow that Wal-mart brings, the result is more customers coming into his restaurant.
“There are a lot of specialized businesses downtown, so I don’t think they’ll be affected by Wal-Mart,” he said.
And while Wal-Mart has an in-store Subway restaurant, Singleton isn’t worried about the competition.
“We offer a lot of different things that you can’t get at Subway,” he added. “We cater to our customers. If they want something that’s not on our menu but we have the ingredients to do it, we’ll make it for them. You have to give the customers what they want—good service and good quality food.”
For the past 15 years, Mike Switalski has been the owner and manager of Mid-Michigan Sportswear. His business focuses on sports clothing, screen printing and monogramming. He said that sometimes business gets tough because of an economy where people have a hard time finding jobs and, as a result, have less money to spend.
“I’ve seen it better,” Switalski said. “We’re surviving and keeping our head above water. Everything that comes through the door helps, and we try to give the best service we can. Once you’re known and established, people return. That’s good on our end.”
And how does Wal-Mart figure in with the challenges his business might face?
Photo by Richard Zowie
“Wal-Mart has not affected my business whatsoever,” he said. “They can’t offer the service that I do here. Everybody has their own way of marketing their businesses. You have to stay on top of the modern technology. Give good service with good quality. You also have to be there every day and if you’re not there, you’ll lose your job or business. You also have to be dependable and meet with consumer or public.”
Switalski said that he tries to support local businesses whenever he can.
“When it comes to groceries, I go to a grocery store,” he said. “When it comes to Wal-Mart, if it’s something I need and it’s close by to my home, I might stop by there. Other than that, I deal with the business people in downtown Clio.”
How a business can stay afloat when a Wal-Mart comes to town depends on the business, said Jan Barlow, owner of Jan’s Cleaners and president of the Clio Chamber of Commerce. Barlow, who’s been in the dry cleaning business for 25 years, said she’s found that businesses that sell the same products sold by Wal-Mart usually try to make the necessary adjustments and develop their own market share.
Barlow, who said that her comments don’t necessarily reflect the chamber of commerce, commended Wal-Mart for the support it has shown to the Clio community.
“When Wal-Mart came into town, they wanted to be a part of the community and they gave a lot of money to this community to support the projects that are going on here,” she said. “They’re very supportive of events. If someone has a fundraising activity, they definitely want to be asked to participate.
Barlow added that with a vast majority of businesses going under within their first five years of operation, businesses need to be flexible in order to survive. And sometimes offering a great product won’t guarantee success. Barlow noted how much she enjoyed the ribs from Porky’s Hogg Trough, which has since closed. For other businesses, the failure can be attributed to would-be customers simply not liking its name.
“Businesses today have to stay competitive, and they have to constantly be ready to embrace the new technology,” she said. “I think that is the key component. If you are not being computerized, if you are not on the Internet and if you’re not embracing the new software technology, then you’re going to get lost.
“I think Wal-Mart is in the process of trying to reinvent itself,” Barlow added. “Businesses can’t stay the same, and I think Wal-Mart is being a very good citizen for their industry by trying to stay on top of what needs to happen next.”
With Wal-Mart’s presence in Clio, becoming flexible with the times and doing whatever is necessary to keep the customers coming appear to be the two things area businesses need to do to remain part of downtown Clio’s future.