Is this a good time to start a business in Springfield? Here's what the experts say. – News-Leader

Jody and Elizabeth Chainey were thinking about retirement when they caught wind of a retail space available on Commercial Street and they got other ideas.
Last month, the husband and wife opened Beyond Bliss Desserts and More in north Springfield, serving up cakes, cookies, gluten-free smoothies, sandwiches and more ⁠— with vegan frozen yogurt coming soon.
“It has really been a learning curve to work social media, marketing and everything,” Jody Chainey said. “But in almost two weeks now, we have learned so much not only from the community on Commercial Street but from our family and friends.
“We got people behind us.”
Opening a business can be a daunting task in any economy, but the COVID-19 pandemic created several new challenges for entrepreneurs. The last two years have been marred by shutdowns, surges of new variants, supply chain interruptions, inflation and worker shortages.
As we near two full years of pandemic life, there are signs of hope. With cases of the omicron variant on the downswing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently lowered Greene County to a “medium” risk of COVID-19 transmission — easing the agency’s masking recommendation for the county. As pandemic life recedes, many people are asking themselves if now is a good time to chase their dreams and start a business.
The News-Leader reached out to several industry experts with that question. The response was overwhelmingly “yes” — if you’ve done your research and you’re ready to put the work in.
While now may be a better time to start a business than April 2020, no one is saying it will be easy.
Even earlier this year, several businesses in the Springfield area were forced to close down temporarily due to COVID-19 related issues. The restaurant and entertainment industries have been among the hardest hit.
Still, some local restaurants — like K Fried Chicken and Taqueria Cachanilla Mexicali — have taken off after opening locations in the last six months. Similarly, Primetime and the Blue Room Comedy Club are succeeding in the downtown Springfield nightlife scene.
More: Springfield businesses try to lure workers with higher wages, bonuses, second chances
One of the first steps for most new businesses is finding a location, and there are plenty of options in Springfield, according to commercial realtor A.J. Chamberlain with Murney Associates.
Chamberlain said now is “absolutely” a good time to start a business locally.
“There’s retail shops, storefronts and strip mall locations that are sitting empty, so things are really cheap and there’s a lot of programs and SBA (Small Business Administration) loans that make it a lot simpler than ever to get going,” Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain explained the surplus of available commercial property is leading to lower prices for buying and renting.
Dana Frederick, a professor at Missouri State University, said the shopping habits of Americans have changed. After the pandemic hit and many people were stuck at home or fearful of going out in public, the amount of purchases people made online spiked.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of retail sales made online was at 11 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019. That number climbed to nearly 16 percent by mid-2020, before dipping slightly over the last couple of years.
Fredrick said that if people are interested in starting a business now, eCommerce might be the way to go.
“You have to understand niche, location, customer base,” Federick said. “Is everything going to work? No, that’s why businesses fail all the time, because you have to open up something for the customer and not yourself.”
According to Business.org, 92 percent of small business owners reported that the cost of supplies or services needed to run their business has increased since the pandemic started.
For some business owners, the increased costs have led to them raising prices for customers. Others have closed their doors altogether. 
More: These notable Springfield-area restaurants closed their doors in 2021
Matt Morrow, president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, said opening a business has always been difficult, even before the pandemic. But it’s not impossible with a proper plan.
“There are never guarantees when starting a new business,” Morrow said. “In fact, the failure rate is very high always.
“If you have a good sense of the market, a good business plan and the right support, structural support around you, this could be a really good time to start a business.” 
Many business owners have been confronted with a lack of available workers as there has been a reluctance by some to return to the workforce after they stepped away during the pandemic. As a result, many companies have raised wages and offered bonuses to try to attract qualified help.
Meanwhile, big national companies like Amazon and Costco have entered the local economy, paying wages higher than many small businesses can afford.
Morrow said that can be daunting for some small business owners, but there are perks to working for a local company instead of a global brand with thousands of employees.
“I think different sizes of employers offer different pros and cons for people who want to work there, that’s actually nothing new here,” Morrow said. “The key is you always want a good, diverse local economy and a good mix of small, medium and large size businesses. And once you have that, you’ll have a lot of options for people.” 
Mike Jalili, a veteran entrepreneur who is involved in several successful businesses like Flame Steakhouse and Wine Bar, said Springfieldians have done a good job of supporting local businesses the last two years and he believes that will continue into 2022.
Jalili said that for anyone wanting to open a business now, the outcome depends largely on how hard you are willing to work.
“Whether it’s a good time or not it’s all about whether you want to put the time into it, work hard, love it and enjoy it and you know what you’re doing and know it’s going to do well,” Jalili said. “I think with right chemistry, yes it’s a good time to open up a business, but you have to do your homework and be passionate about it and work hard.”
Ralph Green is a business reporter with the Springfield News-Leader. Contact him at RAGreen@gannett.com, by phone: (417-536-4061) or on Twitter at RalphGreenNL

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