Some economists believe the United States is already in a recession and some do not. If the economists who spoke at the recent International Builders' Show I attended are any indication, nobody wants to admit it even if it's true.

The truth is sometimes economists don't always know for sure that a recession is here, until it's over. There is one thing they agreed on we are in a very serious economic slowdown.

Well, I could have told them that. I hear about it from all sectors, big and small and I've seen it in my own husband's business.

There's no question that the economy is hurting. The real questions are: how much is it hurting, who is it hurting, how long it will last and how can small shop owners survive it?

Surviving smart

For our cover story,  Bella Custom Cabinets, located in Itasca, Ill., survival has been about the work it's found through its relationship with designers and architects. Maybe it doesn't make the shop invulnerable to recession, but it keeps a steady stream of work coming in from multiple sources.

Jeff Gascho of  Dovetail Designs, in Toms River, N.J., on the other hand, has developed a solid niche market in home theaters and high-end residential millwork that appears almost recession proof. He's also been careful not to grow and expand too quickly, avoiding the huge debt that can come with such growth.

Finally, Dan Perrin of  Perrin Woodworking Inc., located in Charleston, S.C., has found a lot of satisfaction in doing cabinetry and restoration work for older homes. It's work that not everyone can do or wants to do. He's careful not to buy more equipment than he needs so he can avoid debt, precisely to avoid the headaches that come with economic or business slowdowns.

Things will get better

For some of us, though, it's about surviving to work another day. I've been through a number of recessions and most of the time it really is about waiting it out. I guarantee you things will get better.

The bottom line is that once you've gone through this kind of economic upheaval, you'll probably have learned the importance of diversification, of increasing the number of customers you have and of not putting all your eggs in one basket.

You can start now by looking at new possibilities for your shop, new markets you can deliver to. You can work to cut your costs to the minimum. But be careful not to cut something that could make all the difference to your shop. The truth is sometimes you need to spend money to make money, so some marketing may be in order now.

But even if you're diversified or are trying to diversify and expand your markets and don't have a lot of debt, it can still be a really scary time. All I can say is good luck and hang on.

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