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updated: 9/30/2013 4:59 AM

How two businesses beat the recession to prosper today

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You'd think a veterinary ophthalmologist whose patients range from birds to horses -- and include dogs and cats, of course -- might not have survived the recession. But practice owner and board-certified ophthalmologist Denise Lindley reports 2012 was the biggest year yet at Elgin-headquartered Animal Eye Consultants, with income 30 percent above pre-recession levels.

In addition, the practice earlier this year opened a new Elgin office equipped with diagnostic and surgical equipment Lindley says rivals that at Elgin's Advocate Sherman Hospital. The clinic also has offices in Naperville, Crestwood and Chicago.

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You also might wonder about a retail camera store's ability to bounce back, especially given the growth in both digital and cellphone photos. Yet Keith Larson, owner of PJ's Camera & Photo Supply, Glen Ellyn, notes that "The basics of photography haven't changed. People still want to preserve memories."

Larson's intent is to help customers capture and save those memories, regardless of device. With hands-on advice, in-store classes and services that range from unloading exposed film from customer cameras and inserting a fresh roll -- yes, PJ's still sells film -- to providing ink jet supplies, media cards, lighting equipment and lenses to professional photographers, PJ's thrives.

Animal Eye Consultants and PJ's aren't the only businesses to survive the recession and return to prosperity, but many others continue to struggle -- sometimes because blaming the unending recession is easier that tackling solutions. Here's how Larson and Lindley did it.

"We decided we had to buckle down," Lindley says. "We went to a firm six days a week, cut expenses and raised prices."

Most of the practice's patients come through referrals from general veterinary practitioners. Care isn't cheap, and Animal Eye Consultants is a cash business. An office call is $185; eye surgery, when needed, can cost up to $6,000.

Still, whether care is for the family pet or a larger animal, most owners spend the money. Nonetheless, Lindley says, "We saw a lot of people who said, 'I can't afford that.'"

That's one reason the practice began accepting payment through CareCredit from GE Capital, an Orlando, FL, unit of General Electric. Consumers essentially charge their veterinary costs through CareCredit, which forwards qualifying payments to Animal Eye Consultants in two business days. Ultimate payment -- including collections, if necessary -- is between GE Capital and the consumer.

At PJ's, the recession brought home the fact that "Cameras and photos were not a necessity," Larson says. "Gas and groceries were." Add the fact that consumers can "shop the world (to find) the best possible value by clicking their mouse," and many camera stores have disappeared.

PJ's counters with knowledge and service. "People need guidance (when buying a camera)," Larson says. "The tactile experience of holding the camera is important."

So is pricing that, when combined with one-on-one service, helps combat the presumed advantages of Internet shopping.

A long-standing relationship with the extensive photography program at nearby College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, helps as well.

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at JKendall@121MarketingResources.com 2013 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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