Sageworks is a research firm that provides financial analysis, industry data, and risk management solutions for private company CFOs, accountants, and bankers. Recently, Mary Ellen Biery — a research specialist at the company — reported on the 10 worst performing industries, in terms of sales. The data was aggregated from thousands of financial statements from small businesses and medium sized companies across the U.S.

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So, who are the top — or should I say bottom — ten?

1. Support activities for mining (-23%)

2. Gasoline stations (-9%)

3. Metalworking machinery manufacturing (-3%)

4. Direct selling establishments (-2%)

5. Machine shops and screw, nut, and bolt manufacturing (-2%)

6. Merchant wholesalers — nondurable goods (-1%)

7. Other fabricated metal product manufacturing (0%)

8. Plastics product manufacturing (0%)

9. Machinery, equipment, and supplies merchant wholesalers (0%)

10. Other general purpose machinery manufacturing (+2%)

Believe it or not, if you are a small business owner whose business is in any of the above industries, I have two pieces of good news for you.

For starters, the top two losers — mining and gas stations — are energy-related. Mining may be making a comeback, based on recent moves by the Trump administration to open up opportunities. Gas stations are always reliable businesses, but the sales decline is purely based on oil prices. Welcome to commodities. If you’re a mining company, keep an eye on what the government is doing. If you’re a gas station, then sell more repair work until oil prices rebound.

Second, as for everyone else, congratulations: The rest of you had at most a 3% decrease in sales and most of you had flat sales This isn’t the worst of news. The economy overall only grew by less than 2% last year, so your numbers are about on par. So it’s not all you. Little consolation I know, but take what you can get, OK?

The big question for you — if you’re in any of the above industries (with the exception of energy) — is how do you navigate your way to increased sales and (hopefully) better profitability in these rough times?

I have three suggestions:

1. Keep Your Overhead Low

Print out your general ledger and read through it carefully. Look for any unnecessary expenses and eliminate them. Pinch pennies. Minimize employment. You’re in a very slow mode, but — particularly in manufacturing and distribution — things are cyclical. If and when the economy turns, you want to be there to benefit, so survival should be your first order of business.

If you’re going to spend, invest in sales resources. Otherwise, conserve cash and question every expense.

2. Partner

Turn to others you like and trust in your industry — competitors and suppliers — and see if any help is needed that you can provide. Don’t limit yourself geographically, as other areas of the country may be doing better than yours. Look at websites that connect companies with government contractors like

Make it a point to attend two or three industry events, walk the floor, and look for other like-minded companies that may need additional resources that your company can provide. There may be some work to spread around. Sure, it won’t be as profitable as the work you find yourself, but it’ll keep the lights on.

3. Finally, Go Back to the Well

Get a list of every current and prior customer that you’ve done business with in the past 10 years. Call them, email them; even better, pitch them for you to visit and make a few brilliant recommendations. Call it free consulting.

Walk around their offices and keep an eye open for opportunities and ways you can help. If these people have done business with you even once before, then they may be interested in doing business with you again. If they’re already currently doing business with you, then what additional products and services can you provide?

Things are slow in these industries, but not disastrously so. This isn’t as bad as the Great Recession. There are still opportunities. Get busy and you will find them.

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7 Responses to "Is Your Small Business in One of the 10 Worst Industries? Here Are Some Ideas"

    • Michael Ayodele, EdD. | February 14, 2018 at 5:51 pm

      I would like to post articles and/or comments on your podcast.

    • | February 18, 2018 at 1:05 pm

      Number one failure of small businesses in America are RESTAURANTS–noting else is even close. Retail, across the board, is the number one annual failure. Just look in your urban neighborhood.

    • Laurel Murphy | January 22, 2019 at 10:47 pm

      Does the category “Direct selling establishments” include online stores or only brick & mortar?

    • Gene Marks | January 23, 2019 at 9:55 am

      Hi Laurel,

      Direct selling refers to selling products directly to the consumer….but in a non-retail environment. …

      That means that when you “direct sell” products you’re doing so through a distributor or sales rep who is then selling on to a consumer.

      It can definitely be done online but it’s definitely not a retail.

      Hope this makes sense?

    • Barbara Ann Fowler | January 23, 2019 at 10:45 am

      Thank you for your offer.

    • Robert | January 29, 2019 at 7:13 pm

      My local experience has been contrarian here in Florida. Internal migration within the south east to the Gulf of Mexico is tremendos.

      The affluent are creating new communities for themselves. The St Joe company is going forward to their Walton/Bay county 20-50 year plan that has already been approved by the state of Florida.

      Since hurricane Michael the counties neighboring Bay have absorbed the influx of new residence. We have electrical workers from southern power driving from Georgia and Alabama, construction workers with Texas plates. Construction is strong and I see booms everywhere.

      Take a look at the billions of tax dollars coming into the pan handle of Florida. Tyndall Air Force Base is getting billions of dollars to build the model for hardened military bases.

      My bread distribution company was up in sales by double digets in Walton county Florida.

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