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Tighter budgets have businesses, consumers weighing options

With essentially every ingredient he uses in his business going up, including electricity and minimum wage, Tripp Douglas, owner of Fusion coffee shop in Ridgeland’s The Township at Colony Park, thought the next logical step would be to raise prices.

“Milk has doubled in price in the past year, and the cost of the coffee, cups, sugar and everything else we use has gone up as well,” said Douglas. “So, we thought we’d have no choice, and that we’d have to raise prices.”

But a coffee shop is different from many small businesses, according to Douglas. “People come in and talk, and one of the main topics of conversation these days is the economy. I have overheard too many customers say that instead of four or five lattes a week, they’d have to cut back to two or three. That made us start thinking.”

Douglas and his business partner really tried to think out of the box. “We thought we could sell two or three lattes and charge a nickel more, or we could cut our current prices and sell four or five lattes. It’s a radically different thought process, and maybe a little bit risky, but our main focus here is service, then volume. We may make less per drink, but we’re hoping to sell more drinks to make up the difference.”

Douglas said that their premium drinks will be anywhere from 25¢ to 50¢ lower than other coffee shops in town. “We feel that if we do something to give our customers some relief, they’ll still come in several times a week for their favorite coffee fix.”

Clipping that counts

More than ever, consumers are looking for ways to cut costs and save money. People who never bothered with clipping coupons are doing so now, in an effort to spend less.

Ann Weatherly of Brandon said she’s never bothered with coupons. “It’s just too many little pieces of paper that get lost in the bottom of my purse.”

But she does have the affinity cards from the places she shops regularly, including Brookshires, Kroger and CVS.

“I like to see the grand total first, then have them swipe my card so I can watch the total go down on the cash register monitor,” laughed Weatherly.

Recently, Weatherly discovered a website that features coupons from popular items in grocery stores. Www.shortcuts.com links directly to Weatherly’s Kroger card. “I can choose the coupons I want, and they are downloaded to my card. When I shop at Kroger, I automatically get the discount.”

Service, service, service

Leon Cefalu is one of the owners of Eye Works at Colony Crossing in Madison. “We just had our biggest month ever in Madison,” Cefalu said. “July is typically a big month anyway, because it’s back-to-school month and all the kids are getting their new contacts and glasses. We didn’t offer any specials, because we didn’t need to.”

Cefalu said his business’s main focus is on quality, professional service and experience.

“We are certified opticians with over 25 years’ experience, and we own our own in-house lab where we make the glasses to order. We don’t even try to compete with the Wal-Marts of the world — you can always find something cheaper somewhere else. But we can provide it faster. We’ve found people don’t mind paying a little more if they don’t have a problem with the product. They want to get a good value for the money they spend.”

The local Stanley Steemer franchise, which is managed by Jim Hoover, runs television commercials with its $99 specials.

“That always seems to make our phones ring,” Hoover said, with a laugh. “But the reality is that we haven’t deviated from our standard prices for over three years. Even with the rising cost of gas, we haven’t gone up, and we will not add a surcharge to our prices. Our customers are already feeling the pinch at the pumps, so we aren’t going to add to that.”

According to Hoover, business is better than ever. “Because of the economy, people are cleaning and maintaining what they’ve got rather than replacing it with new things. That’s good for us, because cleaning and maintaining is what we do.”

Hoover is quick to add that customer service is more important than ever in a tough economy. “While we can’t please everyone, our customer satisfaction ratings are very high. We always call the customer following a job to make sure they are pleased.”

At Fitness Lady, general manager Sissy Gory said that profits are being put back into the facility. “We are working to enhance what we already have with new equipment and redecorating to be the best for everybody.”

Gory said the facility offers corporate rates, which provide a big discount to those participating in the program. “But more than anything, we focus on service. That’s our number one priority, especially in this economy. It’s how people will decide if it’s worth spending the money. If we can make them feel comfortable, welcomed and give them a sense of belonging, then they’ll want to enjoy what we have to offer.”

At Kosmos Hair Designers and Day Spa, general manager Jacqueline Jenkins said, “I don’t think a coupon is really going to affect a client’s decision of where to get a haircut or a massage. People, especially in difficult times, still like to take care of themselves and their families. They are more careful about what they want and expect. They aren’t willing to waste their time or their money on anything less than excellence.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer S.J. Anderson at andersonwrites@yahoo.com .

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