Family pulls together to make tough economy work for them

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By Alice Du Pont

Tough economic times have caused a lot of people to tighten their belts, look for ways to save money or seek ways to make more money. When gas prices went sky high and real estate hit rock bottom, Gay Steffen, owner of Shopper Express and Printing in Quincy, looked inward.

Steffen, a licensed real estate agent, said she saw trouble coming in the real estate market about three years ago. Her husband, Marvin Steffen, was operations manager at Quincy Farms for 28 years, was also seeing signs of a downturn in that business.

"We knew the good times were not going to last forever so we started saving for the hard times," she said.

Steffen spent most of her time selling real estate while the market was good. She hung on to the Shopper and hired Heather Tyus for the day-to-day operations of her business. But when gas prices hovered around $4.80 per gallon it was no longer profitable for Tyus to drive from Tallahassee, Steffen started spending more time at the store. With not as much real estate work, Steffen decided not to hire anyone. She enlisted the help of her mother, M.E. Howell, who had recently retired after spending over 39 years as a cashier at Sykes Fine Foods.

"The up side is that Mama knows everybody in town and she was able to come in when I had to be out. Then my daughter, Bailey, was in school at FSU and I was giving her money anyway so she comes in when her class schedule permits," she said.

Bailey's typing skills came in handy because at the same time the printing business was taking off and more businesses and individuals were discovering that Shopper Express had expanded to include all kinds of printing from business cards, funeral and church programs, to 10-foot banners.

When Quincy Farms announced the closing of its doors, Marvin was out of a job after 28 years with the company. Getting laid off never comes at good time, but Marvin was bouyed by the prospect of working beside his wife and family. Steffen said the business was really beginning to grow and there was a slot perfect for Marvin to step into.

The extra hands made it possible for Steffen to go out and market the expanded offerings while Marvin, M.E. and Bailey kept all the balls in the air.

"We try not to tell any customer no. We offer high quality color printing, faxing, letterhead, envelopes and other services. We were able to do this, in a way, because the economic downturn forced us to expand, which made it good for the entire family," Steffen said.

The Steffens easily spend 50 to 60 hours per week at the business, even with the extra help.

Howell said working about two days per week is a win-win situation. She gets out of the house, helps her daughter and son-in-law with the business, and the extra money comes in handy because the price of just about everything has skyrocketed and her Social Security checks seem to dwindle.

Marvin might be going back to Quincy Farms as an independent contractor if the sale of the company goes smoothly. But he and a friend have started a business venture in a rented space a few steps from the back door of the Shopper Express.

"It's great because he can work on his projects and when I have to leave he can just step in," Steffen said.

The Steffens have felt the sting of the recession but the current economic picture doesn't seem so dark.

"We were taught to work hard and it's times like these that the work ethic comes out and the whole family works together for the good of everyone," Steffen said.