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Monday, August 23,2010

From home-based to Union Street, business flourishes during recession

By Libby Cunningham
In the midst of The Great Recession, it's hard to imagine that some homegrown businesses are able to flourish, especially ones in perennially struggling areas such as Appalachia Ohio.

Knowing this, one might be surprised to learn that Zonez, 306 W. Union St., a business that specializes in promotional material, has seen more than a 200 percent sales increase since opening two years ago, said owner David Kasler.

"At Zonez we offer anything from signs and banners to promotional products that businesses would use as gift items," Kasler said.

The business makes t-shirts, signs and business cards as well as trophies, plaques and awards for customers. It also offers services such as resume building.

In 1987, Kasler opened a home-based business that had a variety of services. Two years ago he changed the name and moved to the present location on West Union Street and turned it into Zonez, he said.

"When we added new services, we decided we needed to come up with one general name," he explained.

The move and the addition of new services, as well as owning the only direct garment center in Athens, helped aid in the doubling of his sales, Kasler said.

"We had no idea (it would be profitable) when we opened two years ago," he said. "To say that we're surprised would be an understatement. The business is growing leaps and bounds. We often can't keep up with the orders we have."

Zonez has brought new technology to the area as well, he said. The sales increases have proved that bringing in the new technology provided a big boost for the company, he said.

"Our niche is really providing any service that a small business would need to operate," he said. "We do printing of invoices and business cards and stationery. We do yard signs. We provide promotional products to give away."

Most of the business that Zonez does promotes local schools. Kasler said that although he has clients who are Ohio University students, his business does not do much work for the university itself.

"We do a great deal of sport and spirit things for the local schools," he said, "(including) a lot of uniforms and a lot of shirts you would wear to a football game to support the teams."

Although the company has yet to offer internships to OU students studying business, Kasler said that's always a possibility.

"We are giving thought to internships in the area of sales," he said. "It is something we have certainly thought about. We haven't talked about it, but it's certainly an interest."

Melissa, Kasler's wife, is also in on the family business at Zonez, she said.

She specializes in resume writing as a service provided by Zonez, which is fitting sine she has been doing resume writing for 20 years, she said.

Even though it may seem like opening a new business such as Zonez is a bad idea during an economic downturn, Melissa said she disagrees.

"When we opened two years ago the economy was tanking," she said. "When you look at the demographic and from a marketing standpoint to open-up a t-shirt business in Athens (during the recession), that's not a smart idea at all."

But that didn't stop the Kaslers from opening their store, she said. "We took a leap of faith, (and) got the equipment," she said. "It gets busier all the time. It gets bigger all the time."

Another key to Zonez success, Melissa said, is the customer service the company provides. "I think people are comfortable here, and we take care of them," she said. "I think that kind of word spreads quickly."

The diversity of the goods and services provided is another factor in the sales increase, she said. "It's not all about shirts. We offer so many things," she added. "People come for one thing and leave with another."

Aside from offering a variety of products, David said there are three rules all businesses should follow to be successful. "You have to offer three things they say you can't get. Very fast turnaround, very competitive pricing, and above all customer service that can't be met by any competitor," he said.


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