Credit crunch forces small businesses to get creative

August 17, 2011

United National Consumer Suppliers, a Ft. Lauderdale, Florida broker of clothing, toys and other merchandise for discount stores such as Marshalls, has been seeing more suppliers ask to be paid up front amid worries over the uncertain economy.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, said CFO Todd Hartstone, who in exchange for complying can often garner deeper pre-payment discounts.

“We’re going to monopolize on that opportunity,” said Hartstone, whose business has been putting up good sales numbers as consumers seek more bargains from discount stores. “Fortunately having a little cash strength puts you in a position where you can drive the purchase.”

During a downturn, successful entrepreneurs work to create their own financing infrastructure by improving trade terms with suppliers and vendors, said Jeff Stibel, CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp, which studies credit ratings of small businesses.

“They’re becoming a proxy for credit and debt,” he said. “What they’re trying to do is build stronger relationships.”

Nick McKay, president of EnviroScent, a maker of room freshening products sold at retailers such as Lowe’s and Michaels, agreed.

He said his Atlanta-based company has many suppliers that offer EnviroScent extended payment terms, the result of longstanding relationships built on trust.

“We pay on time and have for a long time,” he said. “We have used that as a means to help finance the growth we’ve been able to deliver.”

The flexibility may give him in a leg up during uncertain periods such as today’s economy, allowing the company to continue to put cash into R&D and new product rollouts while competitors are pinching pennies.

“If the economy does tighten at the consumer level as a result of the turbulence in the broader market… we may see this method of financing help us more frequently than we have in the last couple of years,” McKay said.

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