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Businesses can flourish even in the toughest economic times

Although rising costs are hurting consumers and small business owners, some businesses are growing and going strong. A tough economy is a boon for discount and bargain businesses, for food stores and home entertainment as consumers go out less and for employment agencies as employers and job seekers need more help.

The Orange Peel in Jackson’s Fondren area sells used ladies’ clothing on consignment and is doing well. “My store is somewhat different from most stores because of what we do,” said owner Kristin Tubb. “It seems like when the dollar is low, second-hand stores do much better, not only for the customers coming in but for the consigner bringing their things in to sell. It’s a great way for people to make a little extra cash for gas or for Christmas.”

The store is making 10 to 12 appointments every day with consigners bringing in items, and they’re having a problem fitting everyone in.

“Most consignment businesses take things in on certain days and times. We book people Monday through Saturday,” Tubb said. “We try to only see four or five consigners in one day. We do this so everyone has a chance to make some money without having their clothes hidden in the racks or having clutter, which I hate.”

Along with the economy, circumstances are fueling the rise in business for VIP Grand Caterers. The Jackson-based business has contracts to do disaster relief work in Texas following the destruction of Hurricane Ike.

“We’re doing it through FEMA, the Marshall Camp and some private groups,” says Laurie McCarthy, director of business development. “When a hurricane hits, everybody needs help. Our goal is to give victims an hour of normalcy when they come to eat with us.”

The business has mobile kitchens, generators and a mobile water supply. It was founded in 1973 by Mildred Brown and is now owned by her son, Richard Brown. At the Marshall Camp, the company will feed National Guard troops and policemen, which McCarthy says carries some tough restrictions for getting in her workers.

VIP began relief work in 2005 when it spent seven months in Pass Christian following Hurricane Katrina. There, as it is doing in Texas, VIP hires local people to put money back into the economy. It also has a pool of 120 regular employees.

McCarthy says VIP is not seeing a downturn in other types of catering, either. “During periods of economic stress, corporations increase their meetings and events,” she said. “The social market goes down, but we haven’t seen that yet. We’re still doing a lot of weddings. We’re booked for weddings well into 2009 and also outside catering at different locations.”

Tim Dillard, owner of Express Employment Professionals, says the economy is not hurting his business. “Express’ philosophy is to increase the sales force at times like this and get out there and help companies,” he said. “If there are layoffs, companies will tend to turn to us.”

The sales staff of Working Solutions always calls on clients, but now they are calling on them even more, says president Rob Thornton. “We decided to expand our outreach as the economy changes,” he said. “We’re getting into different networks and trying to pull in a higher level of job candidates.”

In Vicksburg, Hadad’s owner Eddie Buckner is seeing an increase in the sale of fishing and hunting gear. “We have overlapping fishing and hunting seasons this year and that’s been real good for business,” he said. “I did $30,000 more in August than I did one year ago. I think people are staying closer to home and spending money locally.”

There are also small businesses doing the right things to hang on to loyal customers and bring in new ones. That’s the case for The Treehouse, a ladies’ boutique in Jackson’s Fondren area where owner Jude Muse does everything with customers in mind.

“Customer service is the number one priority,” she says. “I spend a lot of time on the floor to set an example for my staff. I have a great staff and do lots of training.”

While attending market recently, she heard horror stories about lagging sales from boutique owners in other parts of the country. She believes business owners must stay focused on what they do best and set themselves apart to survive tough times.

“I used to get upset when I heard of new competition opening,” Muse said, “but I stick with what I know best and keep customer service first. I think the community is supportive of local businesses, too.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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