Longtime restaurant owner Ernie Calderón recently slowed the flow of free chips and salsa at his local Mexican eatery, Vega’s Café. He noticed that refills often are neglected when diners’ entrées are served, and told his employees to slow down when dishes are nearly ready.
“I tell them, ‘You don’t have to ignore the customer, but just put on a deaf ear once in a while,’” he says, laughing.
Calderón and wife Celia have been in the restaurant business since 1978, and have lived through both booms and busts as the proprietors of Vega’s. For this particular bust, the couple has been forced to deploy new strategies to keep its business afloat. The restaurant closes an hour earlier now, employees who have left have not been replaced, and the Calderóns’ son and daughter-in-law often pitch in on busy nights.
Most businesses throughout the Valley have faced some sort of financial belt-tightening, and though many employers have turned to layoffs to save money, others have sought more creative ways to make ends meet.
Euphoria Salons owner Donna Catalfamo says the chain of six salons she manages has a loyal clientele base, but when the recession began, customers began cutting back on the frequency of their visits. So Catalfamo has trimmed her staff’s hours and negotiated lower rents with the salons’ landlords to avoid layoffs. The end result is a seventh Euphoria location at Town Square.
“I expect to start recovery from the recession in approximately the next year or so, and we’ll be positioning ourselves when the economy comes back to have better locations,” Catalfamo says.
One industry that has been affected heavily is architecture. Carpenter Sellers Del Gatto Architects has turned to diversification and expansion to survive the recession. Rick Sellers, founding principal and vice president of the 24-year-old firm, says the recession of the ’90s taught him that firms with specialties were hurt by downturns, while architects with a broad range of projects were more successful. “The private sector is dead,” he says. So the firm has taken on more public works projects for UNLV and the Bureau of Land Management, simplified its designs and incorporated sustainable practices to adapt to the economy.
Most businesses can cut back without affecting quality, but Dr. Julio Garcia of Las Vegas Cosmetic Surgery says he has few money-saving options.
“There are certainly very serious limitations in the health-care field about trying to cut back costs, because there’s really not much you can do and not directly affect the patient,” Garcia says.
He has turned to product suppliers for deals and discounts he can pass on to patients at his cash-only practice. Distributors of fillers such as Restylane and Juvederm have created loyalty programs through which patients who purchase a certain amount of product receive coupons for future services. Garcia may not see any savings from the programs, but he is able to retain patients, which has been his main focus throughout the recession.
“[Loyalty programs] don’t affect the doctor who’s delivering the product, so the patient gets the benefit,” Garcia says. “Then the company gets the benefit of keeping patient loyalty, and the doctor gets the benefit of keeping the practice going.”