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2024 Small Business Outlook: Rich and Leah Callahan

Owners, 14 Mill Market

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Callahans’ 2024 Projection: We’re going to have a little bit of struggling still with labor and just trying to figure out what unfolds with the economy, as far as small businesses. We’re in a good position overall. Community growth for small businesses has an opportunity as people want to support them.

You two became first-time small-business co-owners with the launch of Nixa food hall and entertainment venue 14 Mill Market. What were your key takeaways in the process?
Rich: Be very familiar with what the city is wanting. Have meetings with not only the mayor but the city planners and whoever is going to have to be involved. Try to understand all of the little punches in the gut you’re going to get along the way. If you work with them ahead of time, you’re going to have a lot less of that. I’m not going to say it’s going to go away. That was the big thing for us was trying to work with them and try to work within our budget.
Leah: I would also say to future small-business developers that the cost to operate a business today is even far more than we projected originally when we were going through our planning phases. I’m just not sure there is a good understanding by the public of what it costs anymore to operate this type of business. Even down to the cost of utilities, taxes and music licenses – all of these things are just far more expensive than anticipated.

What are the biggest opportunities and challenges facing small businesses?
Rich: Trying to control your labor and your costs of goods sold. Wages, we try to keep great people, so we did a different model for our bar staff where we are paying more than probably some of these other places just to have the great bar staff and food hall crew. More people are wanting to support small businesses now for those experience-type businesses. They like getting the experience of somebody that’s local, somebody that’s pouring into their community. The opportunity there is to grow on that.
Leah: It’s been a blessing for us to build a venue that can be so multipurpose. That is key for people building – to consider out-of-the-box opportunities. We did not expect right after opening to have so many immediate opportunities from other small-business owners to feature their business. That’s been really exciting, and it creates a really good partnership.

The latest MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index report said 54% of small businesses that have searched for new talent in 2023 say it’s hard to find candidates with the experience they need for the job. Has that also been a struggle for you?
Rich: Not for us, no. The bar is the talent for us. We’re not hiring cooks. But we do have highly skilled bartenders. We’re actually getting a lot of them to apply. In order to do that, it has to go back to what kind of environment that you’re creating for people to want to work. If you’re creating an environment that is family friendly, that’s fun and they feel they’re a part of, people will search you out. I feel that at the food hall, we have a lot of people that just want to work for us right now because of the excitement of it and they heard it was a good place to work.
Leah: For people that talk about issues with staffing and recruiting talent, we would both say you need to look inwardly at the way you are operating a business and your management style as well, because that is so crucial.

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