EDITORIAL: Does La Verne Have an ED Problem?

February 15, 2011
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Cartridge World offered great savings on ink and toner purchases, and owners Stephen and Susan tried to do business by the book, but their efforts still don't seem to be enough to save their start-up franchise.

Cartridge World offered great savings on ink and toner purchases, and owners Stephen and Susan tried to do business by the book, but their efforts still don't seem to be enough to save their start-up franchise.

 October 19, 2010 wasn’t a notable date in history, as far as I can tell, except to one La Verne family. That was the day Susan and Stephen opened Cartridge World, a franchise that offers people savings of up to 40% on their ink and toner cartridges. “It was a dream come true,” Susan said. “Owning a store here where we live and where our children go to school meant everything to us.” It seemed like a can’t-miss business model. These days, just about everybody owns at least one printer that devours ink and toner.

Last week, they announced they would be closing their shop at the end of February. Not enough sales. Not enough business. Not enough people who cared about a local business making it?

Some of the fault with the store’s closing before it hardly opened clearly lies with Susan and Stephen. They should have more thoroughly researched the existing need for their products and the depth of support offered by their franchisor in the event they didn’t get off to a roaring start. They were banking on businesses and the local school district to purchase supplies from them, but subsequently found, after they opened their doors, many already were locked into contracts with vendors. Walk-up business, from people like you and me, hasn’t been enough to sustain their dream or their monthly overhead.

It probably wasn’t the best time to open a new business, either. Ink and toner are not the sexiest problems to hawk during the holidays when people are thinking more about Halloween masks, turkeys and turtledoves. Then the rains came, and after the New Year, people were probably more concerned with paying down their credit cards than with buying new ink and toner cartridges. You can always pull them out, vigorously shake them (trying not to look too much like a fool) and re-insert them to make the toner last a few days longer (It works).

It’s not that Susan and Stephen didn’t try to make a go of it. The credulous couple invested (burned through) $150,000 of their own money, and believed so heartedly that they would be embraced by the community that they signed a five-year lease with their landlord. I never saw two people work so hard, Susan making sales calls and Stephen trying to master Cartridge World’s point-of-purchase system. Good people, they paid everyone first. As far as I know, they don’t owe anyone anything.

But, perhaps we owe them something. Maybe we owe them an explanation. The problem is I can’t offer a good one.

I can’t explain why the odds continue to be so stacked against storefront businesses? For their purchases, many consumers — and who can blame them — flock to internet sites, including ones where you can buyer toner and ink, where they pay absolutely no sales taxes. That playing field certainly needs to be leveled. Meanwhile, storefronts face myriad taxes, licenses, rules, regulations and ordinances and are even heavily restricted as to where, when and what kind of signage they can display to promote their businesses – not exactly the kind of headwind you need to face when you’re a business owner trying to pay your large commercial lease each month.

Second, I can’t explain why the city (not just our city), which is in such desperate need of sales tax revenues, doesn’t have some kind of rainy-day fund (and it rained and rained in December) to tide businesses over during their critical start-up period. We have a planning commission. Well, why not an economic development (ED) commission?

Commissioners could dole out small grants or loans based on the merit of each appeal for “bridge” funding. Once established, such an economic development body could encourage people who are thinking about going to business for themselves to consult with them before investing. I know there are all sorts of alphabet soup-style government agencies, like the SBA, that try to help, but we need an organization or agency invested in the success of our small businesses right here in town.

We have to decide whether La Verne is a good place to do business – and back that up with more than lip service and ribbon-cuttings – or if it’s a graveyard for businesses to come to die. I’m not talking about the huge retail chains with deep pockets. I’m talking about the mom-and-pop storefront owners who occasionally need a little financial help and meaningful ED guidance to realize their dream.

In the meantime, if you can, stop by Cartridge World, I’m sure owners Susan and Stephen would greatly appreciate it. We may be a small town, but we can do a lot to show we care. They still have plenty of stock, and who knows, miracles happen.

Cartridge World is located in the Target Shopping Center at 2400 Foothill Blvd. Their number is (909) 596-0700.

If you have an alternative opinion or suggestion, LaVerneOnline would love to hear it.

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