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Associated Press
Kelly Daugherty, co-owner of Smashing Golf & Tennis in North Barrington, Ill., isn’t taking a vacation this summer; there’s too much to do. She isn’t alone among small-business owners.

Work beats vacation this summer

Business owners opt to stay put as demand rises

– Jerome Cleary was on the verge of taking a trip to Hawaii this month when he started getting emails and phone calls from potential clients. He had to choose between new business for his public relations firm and the white sands of Waikiki.

He stayed home and worked.

“Things are supposed to die down during the summer. People go out of town or go on vacation. But suddenly people wanted to get started on projects,” says Cleary, who is in Los Angeles.

Vacations are on hold for many small-business owners this summer as sales show gradual signs of recovery. Many owners don’t want to be away when their business is gaining momentum. And those with startups find it’s hard to tear themselves away when they’re nurturing a very young company.

Cleary last took a vacation in 2008. His business was hurt by the recession because clients who were strapped for cash cut their marketing budgets. But this year, things have been picking up.

He was supposed to leave Aug. 5 for 10 days. Then in late July, a string of emails and phone calls began. There was something different about them. Instead of getting the usual requests for information from would-be clients, Cleary was hearing “how soon can we start?”

“Right now, I don’t see any vacation,” he says. “I’ll have to take long walks with my dog, exercise or see movies.”

Many owners who took a vacation last summer have opted to keep on working this year instead, according to a survey this spring by American Express.

Forty-nine percent of the survey’s participants said they planned to take at least one full week off during the summer. That was down from 54 percent a year ago and from a high of 67 percent in 2006, the year before the recession began.

After five challenging years, Luckett & Farley, an architectural and design firm in Louisville, Ky., has a full pipeline of projects. The firm is so busy that CEO Ed Jerdonek isn’t taking a summer vacation – a big change from the past, when he would take at least one.

“There’s a lot of action taking place, and finally we’re beginning to see some exciting expansion,” Jerdonek says.

Most of the firm’s 80 employees are taking time off. But senior managers including Jerdonek are staying put because they oversee all the projects. Jerdonek says sacrificing time off goes along with being a leader.

“I’ll get a vacation, but it won’t be any time in the near future,” he says.

The owners of Smashing Golf & Tennis can’t take vacations this summer because they’re training new salespeople for the company’s line of active wear for women. They also are getting spring styles ready and have to be around for last-minute orders – this is high season for golfers and tennis players.

“I’m not sure I should leave knowing that the selling time is hitting now,” says co-owner Kelly Daugherty. “We don’t want to lose the opportunity to go to the next level.”

Without a break, Daugherty is constantly on the go, juggling the business in Chicago and taking care of her three children.

“I’ll be honest, I feel like it is taking its toll on my stamina,” she says.

But not all small-business owners are skipping vacation to take advantage of new business. Some are working through the summer because sales are slumping.

Castle Ink’s sales of printer ink and toner cartridges began falling earlier this year when Internet search engine technology changed. Those changes meant that the company fell in the rankings when customers searched for cartridge retailers. The Greenlawn, N.Y., company believes its decreased visibility sent revenue down by a third.

Owner Bill Elward decided to forgo his family’s vacation and spend the summer working on search engine optimization, which helps a company rank higher during a search on Google and other sites. He’s also trying to get more business with schools and companies.

“Trying to focus on all those things has left us with little time for vacation,” says Elward.

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