The economy is brutal, but their business booms

"That tells me that in a bad economy, people are looking for a bargain," he says.

Bargain furniture

At a time when traditional furniture stores are struggling or closing because of the housing crisis, an unconventional furnishings store called Home Decor Liquidators is growing.

Founder Hilbert Margol says sales last year were up 12%. In addition, the company opened five new stores last year in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Upstate New York, for a total of 12 stores across the country.

The family-owned company sells furniture, lighting, beds and other furnishings that factories can't unload right now. Home Decor advertises three rooms of furniture — a dining room set, living room set and a bedroom set — for $999.

Home Decor, which advertises on TV, in newspapers and on the Internet, also sells mattresses, flooring, lamps and carpets in its showrooms.

"We definitely plan to continue expanding," Margol says.

A small-business helper

New York City-based Rosalind Resnick, a former journalist, is CEO of Axxess Business Consulting, a consultant to small businesses. She and her team help entrepreneurs with good ideas write business plans, find investors and successfully launch businesses.

In the fall, as investment money for new businesses was drying up and her consulting business slowed, she started writing Beating the Bailout Blues: How to Stay Sane When the Markets Are Driving You Crazy. The newly published book tells businesses in 10 steps how to survive a recession. Among Resnick's advice: Don't stop advertising or talking to your customers.

"It's important for entrepreneurs to keep their wits about them when the marketplace is going down in flames," she says. "Businesses that are lean, mean and flexible will survive this."

Comfort food

Skinner Baking, which does no advertising, attributes its success to old-fashioned values, quality control and its ability to make decisions and changes quickly.

Its plant in downtown Omaha, which employs about 300 people, produces pastries sold in supermarkets nationwide, including Kroger, Winn-Dixie, Price Chopper and Hy-Vee.

The company can profitably sell a $3.50 coffeecake or a $3.99 Danish ring at a supermarket because Skinner is a family-owned firm that controls its production, prices and quality without having to answer to corporate executives or Wall Street.

The recipe seems to be working. In December, Skinner sold nearly 16 million pastries, up from 13 million in December 2007.

That wasn't easy. Last year, the cost of everything that goes into a coffeecake went up, just as food prices at supermarkets were rising. Nevertheless, "Our ingredients were not touched," says Andrew Greenberg, Skinner's marketing director. "Instead, we found ways to reduce our processing costs."

After a few meetings among managers and bakery workers, the company decided to cut costs by grouping pastry orders to maximize the use of ovens and reduce the time the equipment sits idle.

Plant manager Tom Urzendowski, 54, who has worked there 40 years, says Skinner insists on Old World ingredients and techniques employed by generations of mothers and grandmothers in their own kitchens. The 100-layer, yeasty dough is allowed to ferment and rise overnight — not just an hour or so — to make it extra fluffy and tasty.

"Times are tough," Skinner Vice President Keaton says. "But we don't skimp."

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