A three-day trip to Pensacola, Fla., in June gave Aaron Clements a little time at the beach with his family and allowed him to take care of business.
Clements, the owner of two local C & C Automotive repair shops, said he left Augusta a half day early to ensure some fun in the sun but spent most of the “mini vacation” looking at equipment for his local small business.
“It was good, and we did enjoy it, but of course, it’s a matter of taking less actual full-enjoyment vacations and more working vacations,” Clements said. “I’m not sure the last time I’ve taken four or five days off in a row. It’s probably been 10 years or more since I’ve done that.
“It does not leave a lot of time to enjoy things like a lot of other people may get to enjoy it, but it has turned out to be beneficial for me to do.”
Such is the plight of other small-business owners.
Results from a recent survey by online marketing company Constant Contact showed that 43 percent of polled small-business owners do not take vacations; another 56 percent feel as if they can never be away from their business, and 55 percent listed “having enough time” as a top business concern.
The survey, which compared personal sacrifices with professional rewards, polled nearly 800 small-business owners across the country.
Tying in work with leisure travel is something of the norm for Clements, who also hosts a radio show in Augusta every Saturday morning.
Clements employs nearly 30 workers at his downtown and west Augusta shops and is highly involved in the day-to-day operations of the business, which has been open since 1977.
Clements said he feels a certain obligation to remain totally accessible to his customers and often fields work calls while driving or out of town.
“My wife is very understanding, and she has grown to live with it,” he said. “She knows it’s just something that has to be done.”
According to another survey conducted by small-business lender OnDeck, of the 57 percent of business owners who planned to vacation last summer, 61 percent spent just a week away from work and 67 percent checked in at the office at least once daily.
Nearly half of surveyed owners considered taking a vacation to be a low priority, and just 47 percent of those in business for 10 years or less indicated they would take a getaway trip.
“One of the stressors and challenges of being a business owner is that it can be, and for a lot of people it is, an all-consuming thing,” said Kyle Jackson, director of the National Federation of Independent Business Georgia chapter. “It’s important to be able to take a step back and to get away from the business, even if it’s for a short period of time, for no other reason than to recharge your batteries.”
In today’s business environment, technology – in the form of smart phones, tablets and Wi-Fi – has made it even more difficult for owners to detach from work.
Vacation for Kim Bragg, like Clements, comes in the form of mixing business with pleasure.
Bragg serves as a broker with her company, Bragg & Associates Real Estate, and said her first real vacation in more than a decade came last June during a 10-day trip to Ireland.
“I took my husband and we left the country,” she said. “That was the first time since our honeymoon 13 years ago that we had taken a real vacation, but we left the country to do it.”
Usually, Bragg’s vacations consist of taking two or three days off and heading out of town for a Georgia Association of Realtors convention. She plans on attending the next one this September in Savannah, Ga.
Bragg is the only broker in her small firm, which includes three paid staffers and seven agents, making her responsible for whatever happens in her absence. The additional tasks of having her own listings and handling property management makes it even more difficult to take time away from the office, she said.
“As wonderful as the Internet and technology has become, you still can’t sell a house without walking through the front door,” Bragg said. “And I can’t walk through a front door if I’m sitting in Savannah.”
The recession also changed vacationing patterns of business leaders, as those small businesses that did survive the economic downturn often had to cut back on staff, Jackson said.
“It meant that business owners were stepping in and filling those roles, working more hours and basically doing more with less,” he said. “It made it that much more difficult to get away and take a vacation. I’m sure there are probably a number of business owners who haven’t had a true vacation for several years now.”
Luanne Hildebrandt said the only time during 2007-2011 that she spent time away from her downtown Augusta deli was on holidays. She now tries to take off 10 to 12 days total, each year.
“I do have some other family involved, too, right now so I have some back up, which for years I didn’t,” she said.
Only having five employees and making everything from scratch, Hildebrandt said that when she takes a break, she usually closes the restaurant and gives her entire staff a break, too.
“I don’t take a vacation every summer, (just) every couple of years or so,” she said.