Standing at the counter of his new popcorn store, Bob Treska fiddles with the cash register as a series of beeps and clicks signal its failure to comply with his commands.
“We’re learning. If we don’t get it, we have my wife’s phone number,” Treska said.
The 54-year-old is new to business, but after 30 years of making popcorn for family and friends, Treska has put $20,000 just into the equipment for his new shop, Angelicious Popcorn, which officially opened Monday at 6495 Pecos Road.
He doesn’t know if the economic climate is right, and he’s not even sure how he’ll market his product. That’s OK, he says. He’s ready to test the waters.
Treska might be diving into a pool of business owners who aren’t optimistic about sales, hiring new employees or the local and national economies.
More than 32 percent of business owners expected sales to fall in the fourth quarter this year, according to a survey conducted by the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNLV. Expectations for hiring also were dim. More than 56 percent didn’t expect to hire anyone new, and 21 percent expected to see a decline in employees, the survey said.
That’s not stopping Treska, who deals poker four days a week at the MGM Grand. He’ll keep costs at his shop down by doing a lot of the work himself and keeping two employees, including his son-in-law. Treska admits that he’s not the most accomplished of business minds. Nonetheless, he’s jumped into a world of small business that has struggled to find solid footing amid rampant uncertainty about the economy.
Stephen Brown, director of CBER, said the flagging Nevada economy and still-sluggish real estate market have been key factors in the uncertainty many small business owners have. Questions about what changes may come out of Washington have many waiting to proceed.
“They think there is a lot of uncertainty with policy in Washington. They don’t know what their costs will be with Obamacare,” he said. “If taxes go up a lot, I think businesses will have to rethink things.”
The outlook in the CBER survey for next quarter is cynical. More than 47 percent of respondents said they expected economic conditions in Southern Nevada to stay the same, and more than 60 percent believed sales numbers would go down or would not change at all.
But not everyone thinks business owners should be skeptical.
Michael Bindrup, a business development adviser for the Nevada Small Business Development Center, said the climate has improved from 2011, and the coming health care law shouldn’t scare business owners from hiring.
Businesses with 25 or fewer full-time-equivalent employees who have average wages of $50,000 or less can get tax credits to mitigate government health care costs, according to the White House website.
Bindrup said the bigger concern should be the housing market. Traditionally, small business owners have financed their companies with loans on their homes, and the lockdown on credit has kept some from starting, or expanding, small businesses.
“I’m a firm believer that business will do what business has to do,” he said. “I think a lot of businesses have been in holding patterns, waiting for certain parts of the economy to improve.”
He expects many owners to continue that holding pattern until the real estate market improves, but there are advantages to the lagging economy for businesses that do have funds. The weakened economy has weeded out many companies that did not, or could not, change their business model, allowing those with available money to take control of vacant spaces in the market.
Treska is hoping he can leap into portions of that vacant market and take a chunk of the business that unsuccessful companies have left behind.
Until he finalizes his marketing strategy, he’s hoping donations of his product to charities will help spread the word about Angelicious.
With a long spoon, he spreads a batch of blueberry-flavored popcorn — one of his more than 20 recipes — over a table that shoots warm air from underneath, like an air-hockey table.
As he stoops over the popcorn, the earpiece for his phone perched in his ear, he says, “I’m not much of a businessman, but I make great popcorn.”