Building a recession-proof business

Mike McCreary//May 10, 2023

Mike McCreary, owner of Lehigh Valley Grand Prix, Go! Axe and HangDog, with daughter Kaden McCreary. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Building a recession-proof business

Mike McCreary//May 10, 2023

I understand the excitement and angst involved with launching a new business. You have a million issues, problems and concerns playing over and over in your head and it’s important to have a plan in place that insulates your business concept from the inevitable external pressures that you will encounter, like an economic recession.

As the owner of Lehigh Valley Grand Prix, Go! Axe, and HangDog, I’ve learned a few things along the way that I’d like to share with fellow entrepreneurs and business owners looking to launch their latest concept. Here are three pieces of advice you should consider when planning for your business launch:   

Recession-proof businesses offer specialized experiences, services or products.  

Providing specialized experiences, services, or products is a key component to creating a recession-proof business. My business model focuses on the truth that people need an escape, a distraction, and are looking for fun outlets that provide those experiences.

Personal experiences influenced my concept development for HangDog. When COVID hit, it changed the dynamic of my life. I spent a lot of time with family, with less distractions, and found myself going outside more. I found a lot of joy in that and wanted to open a business that captured that experience – being outside, being active, enjoying great food and drinks, being with family and friends.

When I decided on launching HangDog, an outdoor ropes course, I wanted it to be more than a destination for climbers. It needed to be a gathering place for family and friends to enjoy each other’s company regardless of whether or not they wanted to climb the course. I didn’t see anything like that within a three hour radius, and that helped solidify my decision to make the concept an entertainment destination instead of solely an outdoor climbing facility.   

Recession-proof businesses have the ability to quickly adapt to unforeseen circumstances. 

External pressures on your business are inevitable. Recessions happen, and even a once-in-a-century pandemic can happen.
It’s important to be resourceful when costs need to be cut, but make sure those decisions don’t impact the quality of the experience or product. At the end of the day, the end-user, the customer, needs to see the value in what you are offering.  

To build a recession-proof business, it’s crucial to invest in your staff and team. Provide assurances and confidence to the people working for you. When Lehigh Valley Grand Prix was shut down during COVID, we reinvested in the company. That’s when we added Go! Axe, rebuilt the track, scrubbed, cleaned and painted the entire facility. All employees were retained thanks to PPP loans.  

When times get tough, it’s not the time to pinch pennies with the people most invested in your success – your valued employees and core team. You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with.   

Cut back on ancillary items that aren’t necessary and don’t impact the experience you provide to customers. Here’s one small example – at Lehigh Valley Grand Prix, we used to hand out full-color printouts for race results. When the recession hit in 2009, we got rid of the color. It didn’t affect the experience at all, but saved on costs.  

Recession-proof businesses offer value to audiences who have been historically ignored.  

Thinking about how all audiences can enjoy my businesses is a big part of what my team does.   

At Go! Axe, we built our axe throwing boards to allow for easier penetration, which is important for younger audiences and anyone who isn’t throwing with power.  

Another example – most outdoor ropes courses aren’t destinations for people who don’t enjoy climbing. For HangDog, we took a business concept and changed the application. Our venue will be a full-blown entertainment destination that features live music, lighting, and top-shelf craft food and beverage options. That makes the concept far more accessible and approachable to a broad audience. You don’t have to love climbing – or even participate in climbing – to have a great time and want to come back.  

Nothing is 100% foolproof. But you can take steps to build a business that can withstand external pressures out of your control. Focus on offering specialized experiences, quickly and smartly adapt to unforeseen circumstances when they inevitably happen, and provide value to audiences who have been historically ignored. By following these three key points, you can set your business up for long-term success, no matter what obstacles stand in your path.