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Sonoma County experts: Think smart, not small, in business

  • Goldsmith Urbano Mogollan works on creating a new piece of jewelry at E.R. Sawyer Jewelers, in Santa Rosa on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

During the recession, downtown Santa Rosa jeweler Doug Van Dyke watched his cash flow decline, prompting him to add less costly merchandise to his jewelry cases.

"We were clearly able to see we had to adjust our price point," said Van Dyke, who owns E.R. Sawyer Jeweler on Fourth Street with his wife, Ame. To be successful, the couple said, the change required that a customer who previously had spent $2,500 on a purchase would still feel comfortable and satisfied buying a gift for $1,000.

Such efforts helped the net revenues at the 135-year-old business grow by double digits each year since 2009, said Van Dyke, the fourth generation of his family to own the store.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom In Santa Rosa

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Experts say the Van Dykes' financial watchfulness and their ability to adapt are two key traits of successful small business owners.

Today's owners also need to develop a deep knowledge of their market, including their products, customers and competition. And they must be able to devise business plans that can properly guide their efforts.

Monday kicks off National Small Business Week, a recognition that half of America's workforce either owns or works for a small business. Two of every three new jobs are created by such companies, which for many companies can employ up to 500 workers, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

What sets small business owners apart is their willingness to work long hours in exchange for the chance to direct their own labors and to reap the rewards of any success.

"They have a passion around what it is they want to do," said Sherrill Stockton, a senior vice president and SBA program manager at Santa Rosa's Exchange Bank.

But some needed skills don't come naturally, experts said. For many owners, the biggest challenge involves learning to use key financial measurements to manage their businesses.

"People get into business because they're good at something. Most often, it's not finance," said Michael Downey, senior vice president of business services at Redwood Credit Union in Santa Rosa. The credit union's business members include the Van Dykes.


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