A battle for business: firms cut workforce and streamline operations in a harsh economy.

Author:Hughes, Alan
Position:Business News - Brief Article

Donna Lewis is another business owner struggling not to fall victim to a hostile economy. Sales at her Home Sweet Harlem Cafe in New York, which opened in July 2000, averaged about $18,000 monthly from its opening through August 2001. In September and October, the eatery averaged less than $14,400 per month. This left Lewis concerned about the future of her business.

Lewis' cafe has virtually no fat to trim in response to the lower revenues, so she asked her nine employees to voluntarily reduce their hours by about 25%. Eight out of nine accepted. As the only full-time worker now, Lewis is forced to pick up the slack, putting in long hours to keep her business afloat. "I'm working 60 to 70 hours a week," Lewis says. "But I'm going to do what I have to to make this cafe work."

Lewis is not alone. Layoffs, streamlining operations, and other cost cutting measures are the norm these days as businesses contemplate their futures. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Education Foundation revealed on October 15 that small-business optimism tumbled five points in September to 96.3 compared with August.

Even the BE 100s, the nation's largest black-owned businesses, are restructuring. David Steward, CEO of World Wide Technology Inc. (No. 1 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $802 million in sales), says the key to staying afloat during difficult times is operating efficiently. Steward says his business has been investing in supply-chain management systems and Web tools designed to keep costs down. "If you're doing it in tough and challenging times, that's what you should be doing during good times," he says. World Wide Technology provides an electronic environment designed to help commercial and government customers build out and upgrade their information technology infrastructures. While Steward says there have been few layoffs at his firm, he's reducing head count through attrition.

David Stephens, president of Stephens...

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