|This is the last post of the eight-part “The Business Breakthrough” series, in which small business owners share the biggest regrets, best advice, and hardest lessons of their careers. “The Business Breakthrough” is sponsored by Capital One Spark. See more posts in the series »|
Anthony Buonocore bought Westway Electrical Supply, an Upper Darby, Pa.-based supplier for electricians, at exactly the wrong time. It was 2008, the beginning of the financial crisis, and businesses around the country were pulling back or shutting down.
“I had to make a decision: Either try to hunker down and save cash or spend what little cash was left to grow the business, despite the recession,” Buonocore says.
Rather than stepping back, he invested heavily in a new website and strategy that dramatically boosted the company’s online presence and search ranking.
He was following the best business advice he’d ever gotten: If you’re not growing, you’re dying.
“I received this advice when I was just getting into business, and I had delusions of owning small businesses that ran themselves while I was on the golf course,” Buonocore says. “The truth is that a business’ income streams are constantly at risk.”
There’s nothing like a financial crisis to drive that advice home. Small-business owners don’t have the luxury of getting complacent.
“It is impossible to foresee every possible threat to your revenue streams, and eventually something is going to happen that will reduce or eliminate one of those sources,” Buonocore says. “It’s critical for the business owner to continuously search for new sources of revenue — not just to grow the business, but to hedge against the loss of any old income streams.”
It meant some lean times. Buonocore went without salary for 18 months after buying the company, but it ended up saving the business.
With the improved site, and an emphasis on quick processing and customer service, the company’s online sales are up 38% from when he first took over, and around 250,000 products are available online.
His decision to invest even in hard times also came out of an earlier failure, when he ignored that great piece of advice. Buonocore calls it his “greatest regret in business.”
“The first business that I owned was a laundromat, and my intention was to passively manage the business as an absentee owner,” Buonocore says. “Over the years I slowly lost customers, and because I was not aggressively trying to bring in new customers, the business became less profitable each year. I eventually had to sell the business at a loss.”
If he had chosen to play it safe and rely on the business that had worked in the past, Westway might have gone the same way as that failed laundromat. Instead, the business is thriving.
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