Small Talk: Economy makes some company owners rethink vacation

Published June 6, 2009 4:00 pm
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Pam Kassner has already canceled two vacations this year. She just didn't feel comfortable taking time off with business so uncertain.

Kassner, owner of the marketing firm Super Pear Strategies in Pewaukee, Wis., was supposed to go to Florida in February, but had recently lost a big client. A second trip in April was also shelved.

"I was just starting to feel anxious, that it just didn't feel like the right time to go away," Kassner said.

The recession has made many small business owners rethink their vacation plans. Some, like Kassner, want to stay close by so they can keep working with clients and customers. Others, who have seen their revenue fall, don't want to spend money on what seems like an extravagance.

Still, many owners do go ahead and take vacations. Many believe taking a break, especially when it means time with their families, is something they need, and that will actually benefit their businesses. Others don't want the recession to stand in the way of once-in-a-lifetime trips.

David Lewis is leaving his human resources outsourcing firm for a weeklong vacation in the Mediterranean.

"It's my 20th wedding anniversary and there was absolutely no way I was going to miss the opportunity of going away with my wife," said Lewis, president of OperationsInc, based in Stamford, Conn.

Lewis said his company went from about 40 percent revenue increases each of the past three years to flat growth this year. He's not worried about taking a trip because his cell phone and e-mail will allow him "to essentially seamlessly run my business from 6,000 miles away."

But Lewis is concerned about the message his employees might take away from his trip, which might be seen as a luxury. "I have preached and pled the case that times are tight and we need to be as button-down as we can to ride it out," Lewis said.

That's a big reason why he'll be in close touch with his workers. "My biggest fear right now is this will be a far more active trip for me in terms of communication to the office," he said.

Betsy Storm is also taking a vacation, traveling to Spain for 10 days in September with her 26-year-old son, who has never been to Europe. Storm isn't sure she'll have the chance again to share this kind of experience with him.

"I'm feeling like it's a big step to make right now, but my gut told me it was definitely the right thing to do," said Storm, -ho owns the Chicago-based public relations firm Top Drawer Communications.

Storm is preparing her company for the trip, giving clients advance notice so they won't be caught by surprise. That's someone a savvy small business owner does even in the best of times.

"We're just going to work around it," she said of her trip.

Some owners have had to cancel vacations because they need the money to run their companies.

Rachel Imison and her husband are forgoing their usual trip to Britain with their two children to see family. The couple, who own Graphic Imagery Inc., a printing company in South San Francisco, bought a building and a new printing press this year, and they are reducing all their expenses because they have mortgage and loan payments to make.

"When you're a small-business owner, you cut everything back to the bone," Imison said.

She said the recession has hurt business, but also said, "we'll be OK."

"We're getting everything ready for the upturn," she said, explaining that the new printing press, which is digital, is expected to bring in new revenue.

Many owners, even if they have to give up vacations, do make sure they take breaks, understanding that time away from the business gives them a chance to relax and think more clearly when they're in the office.

Chris Goddard and her husband have canceled their vacations for the foreseeable future because of what she calls "the most challenging time for me since I started a P.R. agency" 15 years ago.

Goddard, president of CGPR in Marblehead, Mass., said, "it's important be here and take care of our clients." She also doesn't want to take away resources -- human and financial -- from her company right now.

But Goddard, like many other small-business owners, knows that she needs to take some time away to maintain a work/life balance. So she's closing the office at 2 p.m. on Fridays and making sure she gets in plenty of the sailing and cycling she loves.

"If I didn't get out on the water or do a road bike ride, I would be insane," she said.

Imison said her family also had a break, what she called a compromise trip to Montana in April. It cost them nothing, because they stayed with relatives and used airline miles to pay for their tickets.

Joyce Rosenberg writes about small business for The Associated Press.

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