Thursday, March 26, 2009

Amid a Lingering Recession, Small Businesses Face New Challenges -

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Wayne Sosin, the president of Worksman Cycels in Ozone Park, Queens, is one of the small business owners The New York Times has been tracking during the recession. Rob Bennett for The New York Times

A butcher and a restaurant owner receive breaks on their rent as their sales continue to dwindle. A bicycle maker shifts to building more food vending carts to sell to people who have lost their jobs. To combat a post-holiday drop in bookings, a tour operator hires a manager of online marketing.

For a group of small businesses The New York Times has been tracking since October, the persistent recession keeps presenting new challenges. But on the brink of spring, a more hopeful tone was repeatedly struck in recent interviews conducted by Patrick McGeehan, Brent McDonald and Erik Olsen. (One of the businesses, a Saab auto dealer in Rochelle Park, N.J., declined to participate this month.)

Wayne Sosin

Wayne Sosin, 55, the president of Worksman Cycles in Ozone Park, Queens, is trying to shift his company’s product line away from the heavy-duty tricycles it sells to automakers and other big industrial companies. With a trimmed-down staff, Worksman is making more food vending carts for entrepreneurs and delivery bicycles for couriers and restaurants.

We’ve seen a big decline in demand for our product beginning in October, coming off a phenomenal 2008. It all came to a sort of disappointing stop as the economy crashed, because a lot of our customers are the big industrial customers like Chrysler and Ford and G.M. So, certainly, they’re not buying any industrial tricycles from us in this market, nor are their suppliers.

We haven’t gotten the final numbers for February, but I’d say January and February were down about 30 percent in our industrial cycle sales, while the rest of our business is pretty much holding its own. Definitely back in November-December, we had to make adjustments in our employment level and the hours that we work. So it’s been hard. We don’t like to see people working less hours. There’s been no overtime, and there’s been some people laid off.

We’ve seen relatively flat sales in our recreational adult trikes and recreational bicycles. And our food vending cart business has actually seen strong demand. You can get into a business that is relatively inexpensive to start — as little as $3,000 for a cart.

Everybody can picture, back in the Depression, Apple Annie standing on the street and selling her apples. In a way, that might be an extension of what’s happening today. The food vending cart offers someone the opportunity to go out and be entrepreneurial and make a living. So for us, the hot-dog cart might become for us the symbol of this current recession.

The new Yankee Stadium will be outfitted with a lot of our hot-dog carts. It’s great to get an order like that at this time. And certainly, it came at a good time for us. The initial order was for a dozen hot-dog carts, but we think there’s going to be more to follow.

If anyone was asking me what numbers we’re expecting, it would not be a reasonable forecast. I can’t really know at this point. I know we’re going to be down. If we’re not down, it would be a miracle. It’s just a matter of are we going to be down 10 percent or 30 percent.

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