tv Your Business MSNBC December 21, 2013 2:30am-3:01am PST
will 2014 be a great year or a difficult one for america's small businesses? economy watchers and main street give us their perspectives. and the owner of a massachusetts landscaping company bridges his seasonal gap financially by investing in a christmas decoration franchise. a special year-end wrap-upcoming up next on "your business." ♪
>> announcer: small businesses are revitalizing the economy and american express open is here to help. that's why we're proud to present "your business" on msnbc. hi there everyone. i'm j.j. ramberg and well come to this very special year end edition of your business. it's been a busy year for all of us and for all of you in retail, you're still in the heart of the craziness. we've got ideas on how to make the most of the rest of 2013 as well on what's coming ahead in 2014. for all of the entrepreneurs out there with seasonal companies, this story is for you. running a business only part of the year means you have to think differently than your year-round colleagues. after all, how many people go to summer camp in january or shovel
snow in june? if you have too much downtime on your hands when your main operation isn't running, you may want to think about investing in a seasonal franchise. it is the number one best investment we made for our company. >> year after year, arnie arsenal was having the same problem. he had to pay 12 months worth of bills while doing only about nine months worth of work. >> it's very difficult to become a stronger company where you're shutting down from the beginning of december to the beginning of march. >> with high costs and no money coming in, running landscaping company a arrest nault and sons in spencer, massachusetts, was a bit nerve racking. >> i guess what hit home for myself was i ended up getting married and starting my own family and found that it was very difficult for us. >> that's why arnie found a holiday solution to his annual dilemma. the company invested in a franchise. christmas decor was an ideal way
to cover his seasonal gap. >> you start decorating around the beginning of december and you'll fill in at least that time period and a little bit of takedown. we should be able to fill another four to six weeks of work. >> brandon steechs is the president of christmas decor. >> we operate a business in the winter time. we go out to customers' homes, design displays, install them, maintain them and take them down it at the end of the year. >> he understood arnie's had dilemma. >> train all these individuals. it's not easy for them personally to be laid off year to year. sometimes you actually lose them because they find a full-time job that was weekly. >> christmas decor was started in 1986 in hopes of making the decision to run year-round easier for seasonal business owners. >> we were a landscape company and we've grown to a size where we had to make the hard decisions in the winter time.
there was a real need for the service and something people were willing to pay good money for. >> while anyone can be an owner, operations like this are the best fit. >> they have the setup. they have trucks, trailers and mostly the equipment they need. they have employees used to working outdoors. >> wasn't a lot of investment on our side. >> one of the reasons arnie has stayed with the company is the amount of support he gets from the home office in texas. >> if you have an issue, whether a question from a client, a product that they may be requesting or things like that, you're able to pick up the phone, reach out to christmas decor and the answers are taken care of. >> owners and installation crews are required to take part in seminars about safety. everybody is trained. we will not start holiday decorating season until they've gone through a in-house training which they gave to us to offer to our crews on an annual basis. >> christmas decor makes an early investment with things like lights to make sure the owners have access to the
supplies they'll need. >> we make the investment so that the franchisees don't have to. >> purchasing decorations is part of the agreement. owners pay royalties and invited to other events. >> it's a 5% royalty and one percent add fund we use for branding, addm of website, public relations programs. >> yes, this is a seenal franchise but it's grown in unexpected ways. some decorations are now going up months before christmas. >> for the last five years, we've been starting the first part of october. this year we actually went a little bit into september. >> when we got into this, we expected it to be this business model you could pull off the shelf and operate during the fall. but the client wants to engage earlier. >> as a result, two things have happened. arnie has a sales rep dedicated solely to the franchise. >> we didn't realize we'd be selling this business year round. we didn't know there would be interest year round. the bills are paid easier.
we don't wonder where the finances are coming from. >> and ep usually has to hire more help in the fall even though the number of crews no longer fluctuate. >> we use the employees on the landscaping year round and we'll work them into the christmas part of the business. we'll use the other help to help us in the fall cleanups and closing up the landscaping side of the business. >> christmas decor may have taken on a more prominent role in arnie's business but he says the original landscaping name still gets top billing. >> we are 15, 16 years later with the christmas decor brand and a lot of people recognize our company. by associating the brand christmas decor with the logo on all of our vehicles and our trailers, they now understand that they're working with a quality company. >> brandon says that's the way it should be. he believes the success of christmas decor is in co-branding with entrepreneurs like arnie who know their communities best. >> as much as it's a benefit to
brand with christmas decor, it's a tremendous benefit for christmas decor to brand with these businesses that have been around for generations in some cases. this year, we traveled the country visiting coffee shops and bookstores and barber shops on main street to try and get a real sense much how these small businesses are doing. we found again and again that main street is still the emotional heart and soul of many small communities across the country despite an uncertain economy. it's been a true eye-opener for me and our producers. we've met so many resourceful business owners and we wanted to share with you some of the lessons we've learned. this year we hit the road to visit main street businesses in small towns across the country. we wanted to see for ourselves how things are going. >> are you feeling optimistic about this company? your ability to shift and keep it alive? >> we have to. survival of the fittest.
if we don't adapt and change, we ain't going to survive. >> business is always spotty. it's a seasonal tourist town. during the summer and the fall, we do very, very well. during the winter, it gets very, very slow and the spring is kind of all depends whether it's raining or not. >> did it make you nervous at all walking around and seeing a lot of storefronts boarded up, vacancies? >> oh, definitely. we were nervous anyway to open up a store. i've never been in this kind much industry. so i was definitely nervous but optimistic that it would do well. i feel like natchez needed this. >> for many, main street isn't easy street. nevertheless, we found an unshakable optimism in every town we visited. we also found that the biggest issues confronting main street business owners were largely the same as those faced by small businesses everywhere else. and number one was the economy. >> we're hoping this year we're going to turn that corner a little bit. so as things might be getting
better east and west coast, that's astein for us that hopefully help is on the way. >> people are holding on to their money longer. not making reservations as far in advance as they used to. >> the margins are very thin. >> it's been a struggle but one i think we're winning. number two was competition from national chains, malls and the internet. >> the big box companies hurt main street. >> the mall is competition for me. taking people away. >> the one thing we have that the mall doesn't is tremendous amounts of charge. you can shop in our quaint shops and actually stop and get an amazing meal owned by somebody local who is cook wg local food. it's a much more pleasant experience. >> for many, it's this small town main street lifestyle that keeps them in the business. >> i think there's a feeling of taking care of each other and not just look for the cheapest thing i can find. >> a bookstore is kind of the quintessential kind of store that has disappeared from main
streets across america. how have you survived? >> i think it's basically because i get here early in the morning and i work and stay here until late at night. that's how it works. >> everyone on main street is famous in their own way. so i think that's what's neat about being a business owner what might be drowned out if you were running a franchise in a big city that wasn't really yours. >> this secret we found to the towns most successful comes when the businesses coordinate individual efforts into marketing the whole community as a single consumer destination. >> we needed an organizer, which i love to organize. that was fine with me. we've gotten over $1.3 million that we've put back into our downtown and we redid sidewalks, put in pedestrian waiting, welcome banners and signage. >> each of the merchants has a responsibility to try and help make the whole of nigh yak better too, get nigh yak the brando owe if there's another
coffee shop down the street, that's not competition for me. >> believe it or not, if someone can't find something here, i tell them to go to the jewelry store down the block. i want it to stay in town. why shouldn't they be able to find it in another shop in town? >> 2013 was a tumultuous year for many small business owners. they had to deal with government uncertainty -- confusion over the new health care law. as we look forward, there does seem to be hope. the national federation of independent business optimism index was up in november 9/10 of a point. they provided a seasonal adjusted increase in november. could this be a trend for 2014? we have the founder and ceo of the advocacy group, the small business majority. daniel pink was an aide to rice and a proclaimed business thinker and best selling author. his latest is "to sell is human.
the surprising truth about moving others" and the change agent of marketing is on the set with me. jeffrey haze let, the head of the hayes let group and speaks to and advises small business owners. great to see all of you. >> good to be here, j.j. >> jeffrey, i'm going to ask you because you talk to so many small business people every day. do you feel like there is a sense of optimism that people are excited about next year or is there trepidation? >> i won't use the word excited but you can tell the mood started to shift which is really nice. i think people are getting over the issues happening in washington. i'm sure others talk about that. they're getting into an optimistic mood. i won't say enthusiastic, but optimistic. people are tweeting me back and writing me on social media, starting to look at hiring more people and do other things. they're getting ready for the plans for 2014 and starting to implement that. >> john, what are you hearing? >> we're hearing exactly the same thing. you know, i would say that's correct. not enthusiasm but optimism.
i do think that small business owners and we're hearing this, are pretty disgusted with the dysfunction in washington. the shutdown obviously was a terrible thing. the billions of dollars of lost revenue. businesses not only directly affected by it but indirectly affected by it. it's been a slow bleed taking money out of the hands of consumers. they're pleased to see some bipartisan step in the right direction to turn that around. >> right. do you feel also daniel, the people that you're talking to that people are willing to invest in nair companies right now, to hire people, to boost up inventory? >> i think there's still a wait and seep attitude right now. the big issue is -- it's all about demand. businesses need customers. it's not clear whether consumers who represent most of the spending power in the economy are fully back at the table. they've paid off a lot of debts. but i hate to be the cloud in the silver lining here, but i
think it's -- it's cautious optimism with heavy emphasis on the cautious. >> i want to take this, daniel. if you are a small business owner, what now should you be waiting for, what signs to look for now it's time to invest in my business, now i feel good about things? >> again, you got to look for demand. you have to make sure customers are come not guilty there. i would continue, if you're a small business owner, i would continue to be focused on cost. make sure you're not overspending. but i would look to make investments that actually yield some form of innovation. yield some form of higher productivity. >> do you think the environment for small business owners, what do you think that will be? >> i think it's going to be very good. at the same time, we have to go back to what john said about congress. people are fed up with this. this is the biggest national treasure, natural resource that we have. the free enterprise system. these guys are squandering it away. i think small business owners are saying to elected representatives, we're not messing with this anymore. stop messing with this.
because you mess with our business. it affects everything down the line, whether interest rates, all the way down to the loaning. we're starting to see banks, even my own small business are starting to let loose the purse strings a little bit more which is nice. >> john, do you think that the reactions to washington were real, that they were real downsides for most small business owners or psychological which then turns real? >> i think it's both. i think when the shutdown and the sequester obviously that affects certain businesses more than others, it then has an indirect ripple effect. but it does create, as the other guests are saying, it creates this i don't say crisis in confidence but a sense of, wow, we're not really sure the government is there to keep this growth going. >> so i just have two more quick questions. daniel, when we talk about what happens in the future or next year, how people are feeling, especially for retail businesses how they do in this month is going to really affect their
outlook for next year, how is retail doing right now for small businesses? >> again, i think it's a mix of -- i think it's a mix of good and bad right now. i think many cases, we overstate how urgent the christmas and holiday season is for retailers. obviously, very important. but we end up focusing too much on that. if we look toward 2014, as we were talking about washington, i also think that small business owners need to take a very close look at what's happening in state capitals and cities. a lot of the big policy changes, particularly on minimum wage are not coming only from washington. they're coming from mayors and governors, particularly on the minimum wage. that's going to make small business owners forced in their policy deliberations to look more widely at different levels of government as well. >> yep. >> when you look at the retail side of in, j.j., business is up a little bit on the retail side. but mostly online. it's up as much as 30%. in fact, if you look at amazon, up 35%.
e-bay up 25% over the holiday season and the average order is up to $187 online, that's telling small businesses, get online. don't just rely on that foot traffic. make sure that you're out there and getting online so your customers can buy from you. >> we'll end it with one nice thing you said. an open door for small businesses. lending is easy. >> it's better. it's better. not as good as it used to be. >> maybe it never will be for a long time. thank you guys very much for giving us insight into what's coming next year. appreciate it. >> don't go away. we have a lot more information to help your small business. we'll find out how to target demographics that may be social media challenged. jean chats ki says the end of the year is time for small business owners to get the retirement plan in order. if i can impart one lesson to a
new business owner, it would be one thing i've learned is my philosophy is real simple american express open forum is an on-line community, that helps our members connect and share ideas to make smart business decisions. if you mess up, fess up. be your partners best partner. we built it for our members, but it's open for everyone. there's not one way to do something. no details too small. american express open forum. this is what membership is. this is what membership does. just like your business plan, your retirement plan should not be left to chance. if you don't have one yet, you are not alone. according to the american college survey, more than 70% of small business owners that they talk to had no written plans for
what happens when they're ready to kick back and stop working. if you're one of those people, listen up. jean chatzky is an award winning personal finance journalist and for nbc's "today" show. she's here to talk about where to put money now to enjoy it later. nice to see you. >> you too. >> i think this is particularly tricky for small business owners. you're putting profits back into your business. >> so many of the small business owners that i talk to say, well, my business is my retirement plan, which is doubly dangerous. it's like put you go all of your monday any company stock. if something happens to that company, your job is on the line but so is your future. >> how do you figure out how much you need and then should you be putting that much into it or should some of that go to growing your company? >> okay. so it's a step by step process. first thing you want to do is just either sit down with a financial adviser or hit the internet. there are many calculators out
there that can help you run the numbers on your own retirement. i have one at my website, just my name. >> jean chatzky.com? >> yep. >> every financial institution has one. you plug in how much you earn, when you plan to retire, how much you've saved already. what you're expecting to get from social security. and it spits out a number that says this is how much you should be saving every single month if you want to have enough money to last until you're 85 or 90. that's where you have to start. until you have that information, you don't know what to do. we have to opt ourselves in. that's a challenge. >> once you know how much you need, where do you put that money? >> the nice thing about being a small business owner, there are actually more choices than there are nor employees. there's the regular old ira or roth ira, which if you're doing nothing and you want to start small, that's a fine thing to do. then there's a menu of options starting with a simple. a plan that matches employee
contributions if you've got employees. you want to incentivize them to put mostly their own money into the plan. they can kick up to $12,000 a year. you match some of it as the employer under about 3%. >> next on the list is a sep ira which works basically just like a regular ira except you can put more money into it. this is better for somebody who really is funding for themselves and for their wives or their spouses. and essentially you can kick in up to $51,000 a year. if you haven't done anything yet this year, this is a plan that you can set up before your filing deadline next year and fund for this year. >> for simple, the limits are lower, right? >> for simple, the limits are lower. finally, there's a solo 401k. with the simple, the employees make the contribution. with the s.e.p., the employer makes the contribution. with a solo 401(k) both make the
contribution. if you're a business owner, you can make a contribution for yourself as the employer and for yourself as the employee. the other thing to keep in mind is that the other reason that 401(k)'s work is because we automate contributions into them. >> right. >> it comes out of your pay, you don't have to think about it. which ever plan you go with, put the contributions on autopilot so that you don't have to do it over and over and over again. >> don't have to make that decision every month saying should i be doing this or not? >> right. >> this was great. i think at the very least, we took from this that everyone has to be thinking about it. >> everyone. >> thanks so much, jean. >> sure. tis the season to show how thankful you are for all the work your employees do. here now are five noncash perks to let your team know that you're grateful courtesy of ink.com. one, help with the commute. if you're in an urban area where employees take public transportation to work, offer some assistance with the cost.
two, invite the kids to work. during the holiday break or on snow days, tell employees they can bring kids to the office and provide an on-site baby-sitter. three, offer a fitness program. you can host a lunchtime yoga class, bike rides or provide discounted gym memberships so that your employees know you care about their health. four, give to a charity they choose. make a small donation to each nonprofit employee suggests or let them vote on one organization to send a more sizable gift to. >> and five, provide time for personal projects. one day a month or a few days out of year, give your employees time off to volunteer or do community service. it's time to answer some of your business questions. daniel and jeffrey join us once again. the first one is about keeping potential clients interested. >> recently we became a channel partner of a large international
brand. and my question is, i want to know how do we not scare off potential clients who see that large brand name as possibly being a very large ticket price item? >> any ideas? >> well, first of all, stop selling on price. it should be a positive the fact that you're a small business and you've got this channel partner who is big. it means you're a really great company and they should be relying on that. so go out there and sell the benefits of that and i don't think you'll scare them off at all. >> daniel, i think if you have existing clients, you proved to them you're going to give them the same service and products, right? >> sure. i think jeffrey makes a great point. what i would do is i would look for analogies, look for ways it's worked before. what sounds representative of this particular issue is a personal computer, where it had intel inside. your brandon the surface but it's powered by something else. if you have a small business and
powered by some other kind of larger enterprise, then it's the best of both worlds. the next question we have is an e-mail from colleen. she writes, i invented a rotating curved shower rod that's doing okay on the internet and in catalogs. i want to get into retail and need sales reps to help. how do i find the right people/company? i suggest she go back on to our website. we just did a story on this. daniel, i'll start with you on this. finding sales reps is very hard or rather finding good sales reps is very hard. >> it's very much a challenge. i want to suggest actually not starting there. what i want to suggest to this small entrepreneur is get your customers. get your strok strongest, most dedicated customers to go into retailers and for your product. that's a way to stir demand. the other thing to try, start small. approach a couple of small retailers and offer your product at very, very good terms. maybe even on consignment and try to spark things that way. >> the women who we profiled,
elizabeth fehr owe who sold a piece of jewelry. she said she did the initial ones herself. she knew the story best. >> very important. if you can't sell it yourself, how can you have somebody else stel? the other thing, go into the retail business, ask them the best retail seller. they'll find someone who handles more than one product and that will be a great person to tie it to. this is where they fail. they don't do their homework and go into the stores. go into ten of them. back when i used to work at kodak, i would put on the blue shirts and work at best buy to see what customers would say about the products. that's a great way to find people that way. >> finally, we have a question about reaching your target demographic. >> our demographic single people between 40 and 60. social media is not reaching out to those people. my question is what other traditional ways that we can work within social media or
around it to attract those folks. >> the exact opposite question that we get. >> she should be using it. those people are there. she's not going to the right places to find them. friends beget friends. crowd sourcing, not so much. friend sourcing is. that's where you want to go. the other place, more traditional, hang out where they're at. find friends together, ask for referrals, go back to the old way of doing things. that's what social media is, that same kind much friend sourcing, it's just online. >> exactly. any suggestions of how to reach people -- maybe there are a lot of 40 and 50-year-olds who are on social media but not the people she's trying to reach. >> i think there's a great great strategy that a lot of small business rs using. more bang for the buck than twitter and facebook. which is an e-mail newsletter. get a bunch of people to send out a newsletter. you get people who opt in who say i want to hear from you at regular intervals. you serve them very, very well.
you build a list that's very -- that can end up being powerful. using technologies like, say, mail chip, you can get excellent analytics on who is opening the e-mail, who is clicking on what. again, despite the rise of social media, a lot of us use e-mail a lot. that's a very, very effective tool for having a conversation with customers. >> so true. especially for the demographic. for younger people -- >> they're into texting and other things. e-mail does work. ask your friends. go get your friends. >> have referrals. >> exactly. jeffrey and daniel. thank you guys both so much. it was great to see you. really appreciate it. >> thanks, j.j. thank you so much for joining me today. our viewers write us all the time asking where they can review segments they saw on the show. well, all you have to do is go to our website. it is open forum.com/your business. you'll find all of today's segments, old segments, plus more information to help your business grow. you can also follow us on
twitter. it's @msnbc your biz. 2013 was a great year for us and 2014 is going to be exciting and interesting. we'll be reporting on two very different but controversial trends, including how small businesses are taking to the air with drone technology and marijuana sales become legal in colorado and washington next year. find out how entrepreneurs in those states are getting ready to take advantage of that new marketplace. until then, i'm j.j. ramberg and remember, we make your business our business. if i can impart one lesson to a new business owner, it would be one thing i've learned is my philosophy is real simple american express open forum is an on-line community, that helps our members connect and share ideas to make smart business decisions. if you mess up, fess up.
be your partners best partner. we built it for our members, but it's open for everyone. there's not one way to do something. no details too small. american express open forum. this is what membership is. this is what membership does. in june, a man named dimitri isakoff stood on a street corner in his hometown and held up a sign that said this. being gay and loving gays is normal. beating gays and killing gays is criminal. that is all the sign said. the sign did not look like we're showing on the screen though. in real life, it looked more like this. a ha. because he is russian. and the place where he held up the sign was a street corner in the central russian city of khazan. about 500 miles east of moscow. yesterday, a