Small Business Entrepreneurs Triumph After Layoffs

Chen said he and his partners likely will not draw a salary for another year. Much of the capital needed to start the business – about $30,000 – came from his severance package from Bear Stearns.

He and his partners, he says, will likely break even in a year and won't begin drawing a salary for another year after that.

Chen says he already feels more fulfilled in a few months at GreenSoul than he did in his two years of work at Bear Stearns.

All entrepreneurs know they're taking a risk. Most small businesses are more likely to fail than succeed, but Chen believes his company fills a niche that no other company is filling.

Solutions to new problems are "food and oxygen" for entrepreneurs, said Success magazine's Hardy.

"Entrepreneurs look for problems to solve. Fortunately, there are tons of new problems that didn't exist two years ago," said Hardy.

When Craig Cadarette lost his job, he looked around his Tennessee neighborhood for a problem that needed fixing.

For four years Cadarette was a shift supervisor at the ALCOA aluminum plant in a Tennessee town so entwined with the factory there it was named Alcoa, Tenn.

Cadarette oversaw 65 people working at the factory's 82 giant smelters, producing one million pounds of aluminum daily.

But when the bottom fell out of the aluminum market, and prices fell from $1.45 a pound to 60 cents, everyone including Cadarette saw the writing on the wall.

"We knew there were going to be layoffs, but there were rumors that supervisors might keep their jobs. The layoffs just kept growing, increasing like a snowball. April 1 was the day we were officially laid off and plant shut down," he said.

With partner, Terry McWilliams, a laid-off ALCOA line supervisor, Cadarette looked around town for a problem he thought his new business could fix.

Driving through the neighborhoods around Knoxville, the problem was staring him in the face on nearly every block he passed.

Hundreds of homes around Knoxville had been foreclosed upon and owners had left them in shambles. In order for real estate agents to put the bank-owned properties back on the market they needed to be cleaned and repaired.

Recession Proof Small Companies

That spelled opportunity for Cadarette and McWilliams, the new owners of All American Real-Estate Clean-Out & Services Inc.

"There are no jobs here. We wanted to find something that would be recession proof. So we started a business that would clean out foreclosed homes so they could go back on the market," Cadarette said.

Cadarette invested his severance, $10,000, to start the company by buying a power washer, carpet cleaning equipment and printing promotional fliers.

The former supervisor has mixed feelings about a business that profits in places where others have lost so much.

"I never wanted to take advantage of someone losing their home. It kind of sucks, but someone has to go in there and do it."

The plan, he says, is to grow the business to a point where he can hire some of former colleagues.

"I hope we can get to the point where we can hire some of people who worked with us. Lots of people we worked with know more than about aluminum – they're roofers and carpenters and have a lot of useful skills," he said.

It is still too early to tell just how many new businesses the recession has spurred, but according to Todd McCracken president of the National Small Business Association, downturns are "traditionally times of growth for small businesses."

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