The View From Your Recession: Checking Back In

A reader writes:

You published my tale back in mid 2009, so in keeping with the flow of your blog, here's an update:

The freefall of late 2008 & early-mid 2009 seems to have abated. My company went from $10m+ in sales in 2008 to < $2m in sales in 2009. We went from 14 full-time employees in mid-2008, to simply myself, with two former full-time employees working part-time hours, under-the-table, while receiving unemployment benefits. The two PT employees each sent out well north of 200 resumes in 2009—my operations manager received 2-3 different interviews, but all of them were basically for entry-level warehouse type help at ridiculously low wages. My receptionist received a few tepid responses, one interview, but neither of them received any job offers.

Former employees are not faring much better: out of 14, only one has moved onward & upward over the past 18 months. Two took positions that title-wise were a step ahead, however their compensation & actual responsibilities are well below what they were used to under our company. Three have not found any jobs at all and are doing some consulting/brokerage/part-time work to get by. Another is semi-retired, basically a full-time homemaker. The rest have struggled—finding positions, only to lose them as their new companies cut back in 2008-2009.

However, we all feel that the bottom has been reached; our previous customers bought little of our product in the first six months of 2009, as they shed their inventories, and only in the later half of 2009 did we see any interest in moving forward/new orders.

Unfortunately it was too little/too late: my company basically ceased to exist in mid-summer 2009, with the only productive work being accounts receivable collection & asset sales for the secured creditors. The unsecured creditors all have lost out—about $4m total; everyone from big companies like Fedex, Amex, Bank of America, down to the mom & pop businesses that I really, really wish we could have paid, but were prohibited from doing so by the secured creditors. Interestingly enough the unsecured creditors seem to have (mostly) called off the wolves—most of the professional collection calls this past three-four months were of the "just checking in to see if there is any chance you have pulled out of the tailspin" variety. Haven't had a hardcore collection call since mid-2009. Most of our previous customers seem to have pulled thru the downturn as well; a few failed, but most were able to weather the storm to some degree.

Personally things are okay. I'm still going to have to pay the piper at some point in the future & declare bankruptcy due to all the residual corporate debt I personally guaranteed, but that is nowhere near as scary as it was a year ago. One of the secured creditors has contracted with me to help him produce & market some of the products that we previously represented, so a new company has begun. A new contract employee is on board as national sales manager. The two part-time previous employees are still working under-the-table, but full-time isn't too far off. My semi-retired homemaker is going to start working part-time next month. Our customers are taking meetings, making promises & ordering products. The phone is beginning to ring again.

I don't want to say that hope is flying through the air, but there is a sense of optimism that wasn't there last fall, much less last spring/summer. While I don't think we are completely out of the woods yet, I think we are going to be ok. I'm beginning to be able to sleep again.