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RISMEDIA, February 10, 2009-(MCT)-As one man’s trash is another’s treasure, one entrepreneur’s failure is another’s opportunity. I thought of these cliches last week when I noticed an advertisement from Allied Kitchen and Bath in Fort Lauderdale in The Miami Herald. In the ad, Allied was soliciting customers from the failed Expo Design Centers, which owner Home Depot announced plans to shutter two weeks ago. The closing affected the two Expos in our area, one in Davie and one in Miami.

For Bill Feinberg, who owns Allied Kitchen with his brother Joe, the Expo shutdown was one more chance to lure customers to his new 15,000-square-foot showroom on Oakland Park Boulevard. The 25-year-old company is in the uncomfortable position of having just opened its state-of-the-art showroom five months ago, as the credit crunch and recession really started hitting stride.

Business is still pretty good, considering, Feinberg says, but instead of bringing in $10 million in revenue this year, the company is likely to do no more than $7 million. That has meant belt-tightening for the 38-person staff: fewer overtime hours and a hiring freeze, more prudent buying practices and careful pricing of jobs.

Feinberg remains sanguine. “We’re not nearly as busy as we want to be or need to be, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s going to turn around,” he said. “Things are starting to loosen up a bit. Banks are talking to us more. Customers come in and say ‘We’re ready.”

In the past two weeks, in fact, the showroom has been inundated with former Expo customers. Feinberg chuckles remembering that when Expo opened its doors years ago, it stole some of his employees, offering them higher salaries.

The company was a “good competitor,” he says. He even owns Home Depot stock. Ultimately, though, to his mind, a successful home renovation business depends on personal service a big company like Expo just could not provide. “We’re not just remodelers, we’re psychologists, counselors, mediators.”

As Feinberg counsels some of his fellow remodelers in the various trade associations he belongs to, “This is not the time to stop advertising. You’ve got to keep going, you can’t just stop. We have to constantly keep thinking about what to do next to bring people in.”

I’ve written a lot in these pages about the challenges facing local entrepreneurs and worried that they won’t be able to survive what increasingly looks to be a deep and lengthy downturn.

But maybe it’s the smaller, independent shops that actually have the best shot of remaining standing after the corporate giants with their profit targets and their shareholders to please pack it in.

Lisa Gibbs is executive business editor.

Copyright © 2009, The Miami Herald
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.