Turn It Up a Notch

When more money starts pouring into the economy, is it time to pour more money into your business?

Andy Cohen and Thomas Dickey see the same reports about the economic recovery, and both share an owner's perspective. But they have reached radically different conclusions about what it means for their businesses.

Cohen's company, Ticketcity.com, is spending $1 million to develop and deploy new software that will "defragment" the secondary market for sports and entertainment tickets online, where he competes furiously with three other companies. "I'm an eternal optimist," says the 37-year-old president and CEO of the Austin, Texas-based company, which raked in $11 million in sales in 2001. "But I believe if you give 100 percent, work hard and give good service, good things are going to happen."

For entrepreneurs, economic recovery can be as daunting as a recession.

Dickey acted more conservatively. Although he foresees a recovery for his Canton, Ohio-based company, Heinemann Saw Co., which reconditions saw blades for steel companies, Dickey, 65, just can't bring himself to make a purchase of $250,000 for computer-controlled, productivity-boosting grinding equipment. "I don't think any small-business owner would be inclined to do so, given the conditions," he says. Though his company projects sales of over $3 million for 2002, "We'll continue to have a cautious outlook for some time," Dickey says.

It's not exactly A Tale of Two Cities, but Cohen and Dickey's contrasting approaches underscore the fact that, for entrepreneurs, economic recovery can be as daunting as a recession. Torn between optimism about improving conditions and painful memories of the downturn that now appears to have ended, independent business owners are at a point of reckoning. Do you go on with making significant investments in your company? Or do you continue to hold back with uncertainty about the strength of the recovery and, perhaps, by other factors specific to your markets?

"I'm reading in the papers that the recession is over, the sun is coming out, music is playing in the background and everyone's happy again," says J.P. Frenza, a small-business specialist for IBM Corp. "But most owners say it's still very tight, whether they serve business-to-business customers or consumers. They're conservative with their spending, and everyone is in a hold-the-line mode."

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This article was originally published in the July 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Turn It Up a Notch.

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