The economic downturn that began in 2008 has continued to hurt businesses at every level.
Few, if any, have made it through completely unscathed.
Small businesses have closed their doors left and right — all the empty commercial space is evidence of that.
One man who isn’t losing sleep wondering what will happen to his small business is Dennis Vance, owner of The Mandolin Store at 12213 W. Bell Road in Surprise.
“The economic downturn hasn’t had any effect on our business,” he said. “People think I’m lying when I say that but it’s true. Our biggest problem is buying product, not selling it.”
Vance runs The Mandolin Store with his wife, Kathy, and store manager Brian Farmer.
“We’ve been doing this for about eight years now,” Vance said. “We started out in southern Ohio, then moved to Wickenburg and had our store there for about four years. We’ve been in Surprise almost a year now.”
Why open a store specializing in mandolin sales and repairs in the first place?
“I was a district manager for Ace Hardware at the time,” Vance said. “And really, it started with me wanting to upgrade my own mandolin.”
Vance set out to get some work done on his mandolin and, unsatisfied with what he found in the area, the idea struck him.
“I grew up on bluegrass and old-time country and I thought there was a niche there to take advantage of,” he said.
In short, it was Small Business 101: identify a need and fill it.
“We’re a passion business,” he said. “If somebody wants to buy a nice mandolin they are going to buy one.”
And who else are they going to buy it from? The Mandolin Store is not just the only game in Surprise — it is one of the few mandolin stores anywhere, period.
“We’re the biggest seller of mandolins in the world,” Farmer said. “We work with several vendors and they’ve all told us we are their No. 1 client.”
Vance said the advice he would offer to prospective small business owners is to do what he did. Do not think small, necessarily, but think specific. Try to be a jack-of-all-trades, he said, and you run a much greater risk of failure.
“A niche business is always better,” he said. “You don’t have any competition.”
Using his business as an example, Vance said he could have opened a broader music store, sold guitars and drums, perhaps.
“There are lots of places to go if you want to buy guitars,” he said. “In fact, there are several just in Surprise. But there are very few options if you want to buy a mandolin.”
Vance said that has resulted in a clientele that spans the globe.
“We’ve had customers come here from Canada,” he said. “We had someone from Northern California recently and he’s coming back again soon. When we were in Ohio, we had someone fly in from Abu Dhabi.”
It helps to be knowledgeable and passionate about the product or service you plan to offer, he said, but it has to be about business first.
“A lot of people don’t understand what it means to be an entrepreneur and that’s why so many fail,” he said. “I didn’t start this business because I am a musician. I am, but that’s not why I started the business. Most people who open music stores do it because they love music and that’s not enough.”
Vance said once the hobby becomes your livelihood, your perspective has to change.
“The mistake I see a lot of people make is they go into business because they’re really good at something,” he said. “Maybe they bake cakes, great cakes, and people tell them they should start a business. And they do. But once the shop opens they spend all their time doing what they’re good at — baking cakes — instead of actually running the business.”
Vance said that is the most important advice he can offer.
“You can be passionate about what you do but once it becomes your business it has to be a business before it is your pleasure,” he said.
To run a successful small business requires the right personality, he said, and a tireless work ethic.
“You have to be motivated. You have to be a self-starter. The truth is, that’s not right for everybody.”