Small Business Survival in a Small Town

It takes a lot to be a successful small business in today’s society. Fighting through the clutter of advertising. Fighting the offerings of big box stores. Fighting for customers. Fighting simply to be known.

Within the first year of operation, 25 percent of startup businesses fail. Within four years, its 50 percent. At ten years, 70 percent.

So, how is it that many small businesses find sustained success?

Mackenthun’s Meats & Deli in St. Bonifacius, population 2300, is a growing small business, with a relatively small local customer base to pull from.

“It’s challenging to get people to drive out to visit your store,” said owner operator Cathy Mackenthun. “If I had to rely on St. Bonifacius to make this place run, it wouldn’t happen. It’s definitely a destination store.

“The idea with most people is bigger is better. It’s a misconception I think.”

Mackenthun gets help fighting that misconception with free business consultations from the University of St. Thomas Small Business Development Center. Since 2003 she’s worked with SBDC independent contractor Dick Enrooth, who’s helped her with hiring, marketing and general business strategy. He shares tips with her that can apply to decision making in most small businesses.

“First you have to have a good product, a good service or something that’s needed or people perceive to be something they want,” said Enrooth. Then come the questions.

“Who really is your client base, what is your customer profile and how does that tie in with the revenue you need to generate to succeed? If it’s not locally based, then you start geographically going out 5, 10, 15 miles or more. What’s your competition the further you go out? How do you create your niche? What makes you unique, unusual, and interesting enough for the customer base to go out of their way to go there?”

Since she bought the store in 1981, Mackenthun has made changes to position it as a destination that people travel to, just for her products.

“Our name has been so established over the years that word of mouth by far is our best means of advertising,” she said. “You run a sale and its gets to be an annual thing. People just know. You don’t have to put it out there anymore. They just come in. Longevity has helped.”

Enrooth added that small businesses must continue to reinvent themselves, something Mackenthun’s Meats has done many times over the years.

“When people create a niche for themselves or pattern themselves after someone else, they sustain themselves a long period of time,” said Enrooth. “Some people burn out, so they sell it or liquidate it. Most aren’t successful and a lot of those we never hear about.”

If your small business needs advice on sales, planning, marketing, pricing, financing or expansion, contact the SBDC at or (651) 962-4500 to see if its free consultation services can work for you.