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posted: 5/28/2012 7:24 AM

Two local businesses out-manage the economy

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Let's not debate the state of the economy. Instead, let's discover how two very different local businesses, each dependent on discretionary spending by customers, successfully managed their way out of the mess we recently left.

It's always possible we'll need an example or two to draw upon later.

• Luisa Buehler "used some of my own money" and tapped her bank line of credit to keep her staffing company, The Hire Solution Inc., afloat during the worst of the recession.

"I know that's not how you're supposed to use a line of credit," Buehler says, "but my bank was willing to back me." Even so, "Some things didn't get paid. Me" she says.

• Mark Utendorf's Emerald Lawn Care Inc., "absolutely lost business during the recession." But a commitment to marketing and, especially, to customer service and education means "There wasn't one year when we didn't grow," Utendorf says.

Office support, accounting and inside sales staff collectively are the sweet spot at Oakbrook Terrace-based The Hire Solution which does both temporary and permanent placements. Job requirements have changed, however. "The receptionist still greets visitors," Buehler says as an example, "but now she's also doing a power point" for her boss.

Temp hiring comes back first, Buehler says, although assignments so far remain short term. "Companies don't want to even consider W-2 employees. They're sticking to (temps) and specific timelines -- two to three weeks.

"When companies start keeping temps longer, then hiring them permanently -- that's our litmus test," Buehler says.

"I see improvement. (The economy) isn't recovering at the pace everyone wants, but we're moving in the right direction. The light in the tunnel isn't a train."

Marketing -- direct mail, easily seen yard signs and a website that is as much education as sell -- is one reason Utendorf's Arlington Heights-based lawn, tree and shrub care company grew during the recession. A better reason is Utendorf's unwavering commitment to customers.

"You have to be willing to educate your customers," Utendorf says. "We listen. We're responsive. I'll talk to you for 30 minutes on the phone.

"Yes, that takes a great deal of time," but to Utendorf, time spent with customers is an investment in the business.

Environmental concerns often are part of the conversation. Emerald Lawn Care, for example, will use conventional fertilizer, organic products or a combination on a customer's lawn. The choices are easily explained on the company's website.

"I will absolutely talk to you about your (lawn) application," Utendorf says.

Sometimes there's a cost to the company -- as in grub control. "We could have gone with the standard applications or something environmentally better -- which we determined was the right thing to do."

The resulting higher expense "cost us money in the short-term," Utendorf says. "But people recognize our thought process. They know our persona."

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at 2012 121 Marketing Resources Inc.


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