Small Businesses Thrive in Tough Times

Survival in current economy shows strength

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images/Blend Images

    Sabah Toma is surrounded by large metal and plastic signs in his San Diego warehouse.  "Mr. Neon" is the name of his business, and it pretty well explains what the Iraqi native has been doing for the past 25 years. 

    "You have to be very honest, very ethical," Toma said, explaining why he's been successful.

    But in tough economic times, can a six-person company selling signs really keep afloat?

    "We are going to break a record," Toma said. "We are almost going to double what we grossed last year."

    Toma says his company is growing because of the demise of other sign-making businesses, although the economy has forced the company to lower their prices.

    But it's not just competitors who have faced difficult times. Some of his customers have also had to call it quits.

    "They call, either them or the landlord.and say, 'Remove the sign,' Toma said. "Very sad."

    At the same time, a small business in downtown San Diego also manages to stay alive, a company that doesn't sell signs but hats.

    The Hat Works store has been in downtown San Diego since 1922.  It has seen economies rise and fall over the decades. Today, the store is owned by Martin and Estella Seidl, and it is actually doing better than last year.

    "Sometimes we have a bad day," Estella Seidl said. "Then it picks up again, and we're fine."

    Estella says the secret of their success is that people are as important as product. The Mexico native says she or her husband are at the store every day and people come to expect the personal service.

    "We have people that come here and just talk," Seidl said with a laugh. "Sometimes we have to do therapy." 

    But usually they buy a hat and then come back later and buy another.

    Both business owners -- the sign and hat stores -- admit that things would be better if the economy picked up.  But they say you have to be able to survive in good and bad times.