Enterprise: Local companies toughing it out through rough economy

Retired special education teacher and owner of Nature’s pet market, Mark Dunn, realized the public education system was not what it should be in the state, and decided to pursue a life in the pet supply world. Having limits as to what he could do in the education system, and having seen people struggle with their pets’ illnesses, Dunn researched the Nature’s Pet Market franchise, originated in Portland.

Mark Dunn, owner of Nature's Pet Market

“I wanted to do something I’d enjoy and could educate peoples about. It isn’t really a retail job, and I don’t think people would say we are a retail store,” says Dunn, who chooses to sell only corn, soy and wheat-free products. “I enjoy educating people on our products. It’s challenging in a lot of aspects. People are educated on the care for their pets.” But Dunn says it is his mission to educate customers on the differences between pet foods. Dunn wanted to be his own boss while being able to work outside of the house.

After leaving the school district, Dunn finds additional work tutoring students. While driving around town, he noticed how some pets were treated better than the children in certain families. “Some pets, if they could drive, would get the first car in the family,” laughs Dunn.

Having a passion for animals and wanting to open up a shop where he could facilitate adoptions, Dunn began looking around Eugene for locations to open his storefront.

Nature's Pet Market, located at the corner of 29th Avenue and Willamette Street

Initially, he was interested in opening a shop downtown before choosing the store’s location in the Friendly Neighborhood. “No offense to the downtown area, but there isn’t any parking down there, and it isn’t user-friendly. A lot of people avoid downtown like the plague,” says Dunn.

However, opening up a new business in a trying economy proved difficult and required some strategic advertising. “When we first opened, I sent out a bright yellow mail-out. It gave us a lot of recognition at first,” says Dunn. “But on our one-year anniversary, I did the same mail-out and got only one eighth of the return.”

Taking out ads in local papers and providing customers with a coupon did not prove to be worthwhile for Dunn. “One person really liked the coupon. Five people used it, but that one person used it multiple times. She found as many copies of the coupon as she could, and it didn’t have an expiration date,” says Dunn. While coupons and mail-outs have helped, Dunn says the best form of advertising for his company is word-of-mouth.

Nature's Pet Market and its supply of natural pet foods

Despite the negative economy, Dunn saw an opportunity to reach out to a niche market. Knowing how much money people will spend on vet bills, he knew he had an ability to help eliminate those bills.  “The philosophy here is if pets eat our natural foods, they’ll have less health issues. Ultimately, we’ll help reduce the cost for animal care,” says Dunn. “We’ve educated ourselves on health, and this is just an extension of that. I thought, well, what about our pets?”

Friends and family warned him about opening a business in tough economic times, Dunn says, “I knew that this was a business that, if people really care about their pets, they will use. The economy has been tough. But we are doing a little better than I anticipated.” Needing a way to create additional income, Dunn continues to tutor students Monday through Thursday. “I love working with kids. It pays well, but I don’t work with a lot of kids. Usually, my tutoring covers my employees’ [wages] for that day.” Dunn says. Between running the Nature’s Pet Market and tutoring, Dunn typically works 60 hours per week, despite only getting paid for 40 hours of work. He does it happily, knowing he’s making an impact in the community.

Uncommon Scents, located at the corner of Willamette Street and 18th Avenue, is a local business that has been operating for over 34 years. Owner Eva Promen took over the company in 2008. Citing the demand for creativity as fuel for her passion running Uncommon Scents, Promen says, “It is great fun shopping for healthy, fun, unique bath and body care products that meet our customers’ needs.” Promen continues, “I love the business demands of creating a healthy bottom line, as well.”

In a constant battle to keep profit margins up, Promen attempts to balance the increasing

Scent selections behind the counter of Uncommon Scents

costs of products while researching new products that provide a higher profit margin. Promen says, “We survived the recession with increased business, as we have affordable products that people can justify buying for themselves, and as gifts.” Promen adds, “Eugene faced the recession later than other cities, and we are still up 6 percent for the year.” She notes that during the recession, Uncommon Scents was up 8 and 10 percent over the past two years.

Despite her success at Uncommon Scents, Promen doesn’t recommend anyone open a new business in Eugene, unless it is something new that is not offered online. Promen credits her long-term customer base, with which she works hard to keep and continue to build customer loyalty with, as the reason Uncommon Scents has had success during the recession.

Display of all-natural bath and body products

In an attempt to combat the trend to buy products online for sake of convenience, Promen focuses on creating a shopping experience that encourages her customers to take the time to shop at her store front for gifts. “However, smelling fragrances is still not possible through the Internet. Nor are the senses of touch possible, so finding the right scent in fragrance, or candles, and feel, through clothes and hair ornaments, for your life style in a comfortable attractive environment need to be our goal,” says Promen.

A once prosperous car salesperson and business owner, Aaron Goetzinger realized the need to revamp his company to stay ahead of the game. The ex-owner and founder of AJG Auto Sales, Goetzinger adapted to selling vehicles that were more affordable to those struggling with their finances.

Redirecting his business to appeal to a broader clientele has kept his business from going under. “I wasn’t able to sell to retail customers with the amount of sales pressure that I was comfortable administering,” says Goetzinger. He noticed that customers would often visit his dealership and then head to another car lot where they were pressured into purchasing a car. “Often times, the customers would return to my dealership and say they should have purchased a car from me instead,” says Goetzinger.

Realizing the difficulty behind selling cars in a broken economy, Goetzinger reinvented his company. He now has 45 salespeople working under him, and found that profits were greater when he supervised his employees buying and selling vehicles than if he sold them himself. With this knowledge, Goetzinger scrapped his own car dealership and created a new company, Myautolicense.com. Focusing on supervising those who want to try their hand in car sales, Goetzinger says, “I’m currently consulting my employees who are buying and selling full-time. I know the economics of buying low and selling high, so I know how to advise them to buy from one and sell to another.”

Regardless of peoples’ spending habits, whether purchasing a new car, natural pet food, or all-natural bath and body supplies, these business owners have found a way to adapt in a new economic pattern. It’s equally impressive, as Eugene Chamber of Commerce President Dave Hauser says of the chamber’s 1,150 businesses, at least 25 have closed this year as of November 8. Sometimes, it just takes some clever restructuring to continue making a profit.

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