Sherpa Stone, a small company based in Santa Fe, could have closed its doors and gone out of business after the economic downturn began a few years ago.
But the small, 9-year-old business, which specializes in the creation and installation of stone, granite, sandstone and marble countertops, shower surrounds and other items, hunkered down and survived.
The business is owned by Ngima Sherpa, who is a master stone fabricator, and his business partner, Patricia Garcia, who keeps the books, runs the business and does the marketing for the enterprise.
Sherpa Stone, which flourished during the run-up in the Santa Fe area's housing prices in the middle of the decade, fell on hard times when the real-estate bubble burst in 2007. Companies like Sherpa Stone, whose business centered on home beautification, had a tough time.
"When folks decide not to buy a new house, they usually fix the things they have," Garcia said. "Then it's the kitchen and the bath. And more and more they don't hire builders."
Sherpa's sales "dropped drastically," she said. "We were down 70 percent in 2010. And we were probably down 50 percent in 2011."
Following the drop, Sherpa Stone cut its workforce to a handful of people, relying on the company's ability to hire temporary help when a job came along, Garcia said.
At least Santa Fe's minimum wage, which stands at $10.29 per hour as determined by a city ordinance, wasn't a concern for Sherpa Stone.
"The minimum wage was not a problem for us," Garcia said. "We've always paid above the minimum wage. Our difficulty is that we have to maintain highly trained staff members who are not readily replaceable."
Added Sherpa, "We haven't done any hiring for two years."
Sherpa Stone also keeps its labor costs low by asking clients to be more patient with the company. "It used to take us two, three, four days" to complete a job, she said. "Now it takes 10 days."
Taking longer to complete a job has its advantages, including the fact that it gives the business the opportunity to build a relationship with clients, Sherpa said, meaning "we can exactly figure out what they want," which results in increased customer satisfaction.
To save space and money, Garcia and Sherpa considered consolidating their shop on Clark Road with their showroom on Fox Road, but decided against it.
"It was a matter of keeping things fresh and alive," Garcia said. "Otherwise it would have been like starting over" when the business was in one small space.
"The bad economic times have also caused Sherpa Stone to do more marketing than it has done in the past," she said.
"We're actually spending money on marketing," Garcia said. "Before 2009, we didn't even have our name in the phone book. Now we have signal and a Web presence, and we actually do advertise in Los Alamos."
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