Wednesday, March 11, 1998
Freedom is big reward
of small business

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Brought together by the guy who does their taxes, seven small business owners talked over a lunch of soup, salads and sandwiches about the high price of freedom.

To a person, each would gladly buy freedom at twice the price they're paying for it now.

It means that much to them to own their own business and be their own boss.

A discussion about freedom wasn't originally on the agenda of this week's ''Lunch With Cliff,'' the weekly sitdown on my tab where I join a regular lunch group to hear what's on people's minds. CP:Ben Buerger

My host this week was an accountant, Ben Buerger. He invited some of the clients with whom he regularly lunches to the Blarney Stone in Anderson Township. As we settled into the shamrock-bedecked restaurant with the bright green roof, lunch began with a brief gripe session. Everyone took a turn saying how they were fed up trying to find good employees.

''A lot of workers forget,'' said Tina Hare, owner with her husband, Ken, of the Ink Well printers in Withamsville, ''that only in the dictionary does 'success' come before 'work.' ''

Winsy Johnson, an attorney, pumped her fist in the air. Pete DeLois, whose firm installs play sets and basketball backstops, clapped. Others nodded in silent agreement.

With that off their chests, everyone started studying the menu.

Ben uses these midday meals to boost the business owners' spirits. As their accountant, he knows how they're doing financially. And he keeps an eye on them as they try to make their way in the world. He knows how many hours they put into their businesses, how many Saturdays and Sundays they spend at work. And he knows why they persist.

''You never hear these people talking about making more money,'' Ben said. ''They talk about their workers, keeping the good ones. They talk about keeping their customers happy. They work long hours. But they wouldn't have it any other way. They're having fun.''

''That's why I went into business for myself,'' said Mike Haumesser of M.L. Johnson Co. His Mount Carmel firm represents manufacturers of high-tech, industrial-strength measuring devices.

''I don't want to work for a big company,'' he added. ''I've been there. It's no fun.''

One of Mike's competitors, Tom Keane of Cherry Grove-based CKM Industrial Sales, sat at his elbow.

''I do this for the love of the game,'' Tom admitted as he dug into a Cajun chicken salad.

''That's why everybody here runs their own small business,'' he said, using his fork as a pointer to aim at the faces around the table. ''We love what we do.''

From time to time, however, Ben says his clients can get discouraged by the pressures of the workplace and distracted by the demands of their workload. They need to be reminded of why they went into business for themselves. They need to take stock of the values Ben admires in them. That's why he schedules these lunches.

Ben hears their complaints. But, like any good accountant, he reads between the lines. He listens to what the owners think are the ''trials and tribulations of running a small business.'' But in them, he hears stories of the risks they willingly take ''to make sure their employees have a paycheck every week.''

He sees them face challenges in a world increasingly dominated by big business. And he watches them succeed through family pride.

Tina Hare unknowingly put this lunch into perspective with the reasons why people own small businesses. After mentioning that she opened her printing company 10 years ago, she casually added that small family businesses are in her blood.

Her grandfather came to America in 1903 from Palermo, Sicily, to open a butcher shop and fruit market.

''He came here to do what he wanted, to worship, to own a business. He came here for freedom.''

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.