October 1, 2012

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What Doesn’t Kill You…

Almost anything can affect the success of a business. Economics, location ...Read More

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What Doesn’t Kill You…

Local Businesses Survive and Thrive Despite Grueling Challenges

Peri Kinder

October 1, 2012

Almost anything can affect the success of a business. Economics, location and adaptability all play a part in whether a company gets through tough times or succumbs to competition and financial woes.

Four local business owners have overcome difficult issues, including bankruptcy, but have come out on top. So how did they succeed where others have failed?

An Industry in Flux
When the Weller family first opened a downtown bookstore in 1929, no one could imagine that in less than 100 years, the internet and e-books could make physical books almost archaic. Now owned by Tony Weller, Weller Book Works has survived cataclysmic changes in the industry including an over-saturation of the market, a decline in hard-copy book readers and the deterioration of the downtown shopping district.

Weller officially took over the family business in 1997 at a time when internet book sales altered the entire book-selling industry. Consumers suddenly had an immediacy they’d never had before and could track prices, purchasing books online at severely discounted prices. And from that moment on, Weller, along with his wife and business partner, Catherine, saw a gradual decline in business. He credits “imperialistic companies” with the devaluation of physical books but hopes people will slowly come to realize the value of the printed word.

“We have corporations and board rooms [engaged in] exploitative practices. It’s harmful to humanity and the planet itself,” Weller says. “But I think the younger generations get it. I think there’s a gentle swing toward local businesses.”

His love and respect for the written word kept him going when desperation prompted a move from the store’s longtime, downtown location on Main Street to a new store located in Trolley Square.

Many factors led up to the move, including inconvenient parking in downtown Salt Lake, fewer downtown shoppers, a long bout of light-rail construction and a tanking economy. Described by Weller as “the hardest retail work you can have,” book sellers are reinventing their roles in the community, even as the internet gradually erodes book-reading habits.

“Books are the packages in which we keep the ideas and the dreams and the stories of people,” Weller says. “With books, you can transcend geographical boundaries, language barriers and temporal circumstances. When I think of the great influences in my life, there are more books than people.”

The move to Trolley Square occurred right after Christmas 2011, following several fiscally tough years and three rounds of layoffs. The store went from employing 35 people down to 15, and renovation costs depleted a fund earmarked for a marketing campaign to promote the new store.

But Weller believes people still need physical books, albeit in a different way in this digital era. The shop specializes in used and rare books, especially first editions which “seem to carry a level of significance that is somehow beyond the words within in.” He hopes locally owned bookstores will eventually be treated as community treasures, selling ideas and thoughts.

“I don’t know where the balance between the physical book and the e-book will reside, but I think that’s the main component and question,” Weller says. “I think there will still be book stores but not as many. We’ve staked our future in the smaller, leaner book store.”

After the Bubble Burst
Woodside Homes started out in 1977 helping people accomplish the American Dream of owning a home. The company eventually became the second-largest privately owned homebuilding company in the country. Then the bottom fell out of the housing market and, in 2008, Woodside Homes declared bankruptcy, owing creditors more than $1 billion.

“Almost every homebuilding company in the country was bankrupt,” Woodside Homes CEO Joel Shine says. “Thousands of homebuilding companies went into bankruptcy and [very few] came out…We had a very astute creditors committee who realized that simply putting up a ‘for sale’ sign and putting up a lot of assets was clearly not the way to optimize their recovery.”

Because the company was cash-flow positive, Shine and Woodside Homes President Pete Evans were able to run the company in a way that enabled them to actually make money. Woodside Homes had divisions all over the country, but it decided to dump many divisions and focus on a smaller playing field, creating a more strategic company.

The goal while working out of bankruptcy was to keep creditors happy and rebuild the stellar reputation it had taken the company decades to earn. A team was put in place that knew a lot about bankruptcy—and how to get out of it.

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