Local entrepreneurs agree that launching a new business during a down economy is tough. Small business owners are finding that in order to survive, it's essential to provide a service or merchandise that's different, necessary or priced right.
Musician Bonnie Radecki Reidel, of Hanover Park, for instance, believes she is doing just that. The business owner recently expanded her home-based musical instrument repair business to a storefront in Palatine.
Fix This Musical Instrument Repair focuses on fixing brass and woodwinds, including flutes, clarinets, trumpets and saxophones. The business also sells used instruments and accessories and handles consignment sales.
"I'm filling a niche in the repair market," said the business owner, who also cleans instruments.
Entrepreneur Steve Shannon says he is also filling a niche in launching his new business, Custom Crafted Wood.
Shannon, who recently lost his sales job, is using his woodworking hobby to operate a small business making custom urns.
Shannon is working with funeral homes and pet crematoriums, where he says the concept is going over well. The craftsman has made furniture and other wood pieces as a hobby for years. A friend who works as a funeral director saw his work and suggested the idea for the custom urns.
"I always enjoyed woodworking, but never found the right niche, until now," Shannon said.
Finding a niche gives the business owner an edge, retail experts agree.
An Algonquin man, who has an eye for fashion and a desire for efficiency, also believes his new customizable sandal is a product unique to the market.
Rishi Bhati recently launched a new customized sandal called Plattoes. The concept involves attaching interchangeable uppers, or ribbons, to the sole of the shoe through a variety of rings.
The ribbon is tied and twisted through the rings on the sole of the shoe and is then tied around the ankle.
The idea behind the sandal is to help women customize their style, said the owner, who came up with the idea with his wife Priti.
The couple says the concept's appeal is enhanced because the sandal can also save shoppers money.
"Instead of buying five pairs of shoes, you can have one that can be reused with many different looks," Rishi said.
Retail experts say that saving the consumer money is a key element for entrepreneurs looking to survive through an economic downturn.
Owners of Interior Express Outlet in Bensenville say the weakening economy is helping their business thrive as shoppers are looking for discounts now more than ever before. The business offers reduced prices on modern contemporary furniture. The outlet is filled with furniture purchased from the same manufactures that area upscale furniture stores utilize.
Co-owner Chuck Tanner says he sees an increase in luxury cars pulling into his parking lot at 794 Golf Lane.
"My guess is that everyone still wants really nice furniture, but they don't want to pay full price for it," he said.
Tanner owns the company with Haowei Shen, who grew up in the furniture industry in China. The two saw an opportunity for low-priced furniture, and their company has exploded, growing about 3,000 percent from 2005 to 2008, when it was included on Inc. Magazine's list of fastest growing companies.
It was after this growth spurt that the owners decided to open the outlet store, which they operate in the middle of their 130,000-square-foot warehouse.
Another business that is thriving in Libertyville is also designed to save the consumer money and offers a product that is in demand.
Renew Family Consignment is a shop featuring name brand clothing for children as well as other things families want, from baseball cleats and patten leather shoes to musical instruments.
Tricia Regan and Erin Heard own the business that highlights merchandise that is marked about 50 percent of the original retail price.
North Face fleece jackets, Under Armor shirts and Coach purses are commonly found at the shop that has hundreds of individual consignors who earn 40 percent of what the items sell for in the shop.
The store with its hardwood floors looks more like a boutique than a resale shop.
The owners, Libertyville residents who met several years ago through their children, say the economy has changed they way shoppers feel about resale.
With more and more shoppers looking for value and a quality product, the entrepreneurs say they opened their business at the right time.
"The green trend of consignment shopping is sweeping the nation and is one part of the retail industry that has seen sizable growth in the new economic environment," Regan said.