Street Talk

Street Talk: A surge-less summer for small business

Thinkin' Dunkin'

November 17, 2012
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Was small business in Michigan really sitting listlessly on the sidelines through the summer of 2012, worrying about the November election?

SBAM thinks so.

“We believe the small business economy, while growing, did not surge this summer partly because of uncertainty about the 2012 election,” said Michael Rogers, vice president of communications for the Small Business Association of Michigan.

However, he added: “Small businesses are still indicating they are optimistic about the future, which we attribute to the ongoing positive effects of business tax reform and the general rebound in Michigan’s economy.”

Rogers based his observations on SBAM’s November 2012 Small Business Barometer survey of more than 1,000 small business owners. The study reportedly shows the entrepreneurial economy was basically in a “static position” compared to the June 2012 survey. Entrepreneurs reported sales, profits and hiring all advancing at about the same levels as in the spring. Similarly, they anticipate sales, profits and hiring over the next six months to be in line with previous expectations.

The survey found that:

  • Forty percent of small business owners said sales had increased over the past six months.
  • Twenty-five percent said profits had increased.
  • Twenty-one percent said they increased their number of employees.

Looking forward:

  • Forty-two percent said they expect sales to increase in the next six months.
  • Thirty-two percent said they expect profits to increase.
  • Twenty-four percent plan to hire more employees.

Rogers’ news release noted that “interestingly, in this time of relatively high unemployment, some small businesses complain about their access to qualified personnel. Ten percent rate it as ‘poor,’ 30 percent as ‘only fair,’ 41 percent as ‘pretty good’ and 12 percent as ‘excellent.’”

“We continue to hear from small business owners that they are flooded with applicants for job openings, but few of the applicants are qualified,” said Rogers.

From Heartwell’s heart

While grbj.com reporter Pat Evans was hanging out at Harmony Brewing Co. (he does cover the craft beer beat, after all), who should he run into but Mayor George Heartwell.

Being the enterprising guy he is, Evans engaged hizzoner in a Q&A about — what else? — beer.

Q: How do you feel about Grand Rapids being Beer City, USA?

A: Yeah, here we are, it’s been two months now since we claimed the title in a hot runoff with Asheville, North Carolina. Grand Rapids, BeerCity USA — and I couldn’t be happier! I mean, look at the culture that has developed here around brewing. I think it’s really quite amazing. It’s a youthful culture, a very vital culture, young people trying things out, trying new recipes, making different beers, and it works.

Q: That youthful vibe is important to a city’s growth, is it not?

A: It absolutely is. I mean, today, cities all over the U.S. are competing to keep or attract bright young people. And young people have the freedom to go where they want to live. So you have to create the kind of environment that attracts the young, talented, educated people. We’ve come a thousand miles in the last decade in that regard.

Q: As a leader of the city, you’re OK with a dozen breweries?

A: Am I OK with it? Of course I am. These are great small businesses. I mean look at Harmony Brewing. They started brewing in the basement and now they have this cool building and a great gathering place for people all over Grand Rapids to be here. I’m cool with it.

Q: Where do you think Grand Rapids is going in terms of breweries affecting the overall economic climate?

A: Well, as they say, most of the breweries we’ve seen in the last four or five years are small businesses. They have their feet on the ground, but they have to stabilize. I think our city can support more breweries, and when you look at great success stories like Founders and how widespread their sales are now, any of these breweries can achieve the same thing. Founders was at this exact stage as Harmony just a decade ago.

Q: When did you start drinking craft beer?

A: I’m not by nature a beer drinker. I like wine — almost my whole adult life I’ve spent as a wine drinker. But with this emerging culture here, I started tasting beers, asking questions and learning about the process of brewing and what makes a good beer. My friend Jim Talen, a county commissioner, has been a coach for me, teaching me what’s good beer and what’s not. I consider myself a novice at this game, but I’m catching up quick.

Q: What’s your favorite beer?

A: Uh-oh. You know, in small quantities, I really like the Founders Porter. It’s rich — a meal in itself. It’s thick, a little sweet. I really like that Founders Porter.

Slam Dunkin’

A new string of 10 Dunkin’ Donuts shops will begin popping up in the Grand Rapids area starting next year. Sack of Donuts LLC got the franchise for Furniture City, which Dunkin’ Donuts’ corporate in Massachusetts announced last week.

Sack of Donuts is led by food-service entrepreneurs Mike and Andy Knapick, who already have nine Jimmy Johns in Kalamazoo and South Bend, and a Bar Louie in South Bend. Their Sack of Donuts partners also are involved in Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Smokey Joe’s franchises in other areas.

Before the donut shops get going up here, however, Sack of Donuts is opening eight new Dunkin’ Donuts shops from Kalamazoo to South Bend. The first, in Kalamazoo, just opened, and two more will open in or near South Bend in late November and after the first of the year.

Mike, 47, lives in Portage. Brother Andy, 37, lives near South Bend.

“We’ve done Jimmy Johns about 10 years now,” said Mike.

The brothers have never had any businesses before in the Grand Rapids area. There were Dunkin’ Donuts around here until a year or two ago when they closed, according to Mike.

“We know what we’re doing. We’re good operators, so we’re going to rock up there,” he said.

The Business Journal asked Mike if he had a photo of himself and Andy, and he laughed.

“We live in the world of shorts and T-shirts,” he explained. “I do have a tie and a suit for funerals and weddings and such,” he added.

When we spoke to Mike by phone, he was in the new Dunkin’ Donuts that will open in two weeks near South Bend. A joyful, noisy commotion in the background was the sudden entrance of Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly, who is acquainted with the Sack of Donuts brothers. Kelly, of course, was GVSU’s football coach until he moved up to CMU and Cincinnati before being blessed with the Notre Dame job.

The Knapick brothers are looking forward to setting up shop in Grand Rapids.

“Grand Rapids is a big market, population wise,” said Mike, much bigger than where they are now in southwest Michigan and northern Indiana, a market with room for Dunkin’ Donuts “with maybe a Baskin Robbins tossed in there.”

Grand Rapids is a “nice, low-hanging apple for us,” said Mike.

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