Meet the Montgomery Business Association President
By Rikki N. Massand
Supporting other local businesses became a way for Skillman businessman James Danner to give back to the community — especially during the pandemic.
Danner, a Ringoes resident, started his Red Barn Printing in 2015, and he went full-time with it in 2017. The natural progression of his company’s success was to see the business footprint and operations expand in Montgomery Township. But the pandemic caused a shift — both internally for Red Barn and with a new civic leadership role, as an advocate for his local business community.
The Montgomery Business Association (MBA) elected Danner as its president in February, just as the pandemic hit New Jersey hard.
Danner has been involved in the non-profit organization for several years. The MBA is a network of local shops, restaurants, and professional service businesses that came together in 2010 to promote a sense of community.
Members support the town and each other by:
• Keeping money circulating in the local economy;
• Protecting the environment;
• And, sponsoring events such as Fun Fest and the annual “Meet the Mayor” event, which is set for late September at Cherry Valley Country Club. (Fun Fest has been canceled this year because of the pandemic. It typically attracts up to 10,000 people and 130 vendors and has been held annually at the Princeton Airport.)
Like many of the MBA businesses, Red Barn is a small shop and one-man show. Danner was going to hire an employee when the year started. But then Danner experienced the same coronavirus related slowdowns in work orders as other local businesses.
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“In one sense it was lucky that I didn’t go that route,” Danner said. “I don’t have a need to expand at the moment, given this pandemic with shutdowns and layoffs. We’ll work very hard to find solutions on how our local businesses can help customers and each other.”
One way the MBA helps is by alerting local businesses about loan and grant opportunities to keep them afloat during this difficult business climate.
Danner applied for a U.S. Small Business Administration Disaster Assistance Loan in spring. From March 15 through April 30, Red Barn had taken a 58 percent profit loss.
“So far for the year, from January through June, our downward trend for revenue is about 38 percent from 2019,” he said. “I consider myself lucky as customers have not ordered things while knowing they could not pay for them. And having lived through the recession in 2008, I strategized that if it was a new customer and we never did business before, we had to move to a prepaid situation only.
“If I had done business with the person/company before and it was a large project we did take in a large deposit,” he said. “Those were some of my concerns as a business owner and I had to do a few things differently to continue operating, as I had seen outcomes and been through a slowdown before — in effect it is safeguarding both parties in the transaction.”
The strategizing may be contributing to the sense of “luckiness” Danner says he feels. Restaurants, camps, and salons in Montgomery have been hit especially hard, he adds.
The MBA worked with Montgomery Township municipal officials to host an online forum in June to forge a collaboration to help keep businesses in business. Another online forum will be scheduled in September.
Meanwhile, Montgomery businesses continue to have rent due to the landlords each month. Danner recalled a conversation he had to have with his landlord at 30 Vreeland Drive in Skillman in March, “and not having enough flexibility then to cover business expenses.”
Danner said landlords need assistance too, as their tenant occupancy could dwindle or fluctuate with the pandemic.
“Where are the landlords expected to get the money to finance themselves and maintain properties when all their tenants aren’t paying?” Danner asks.
Red Barn Printing (RedBarnPrint.com) is a hybrid operation for immediate project turnarounds. Business cards, brochures, signs, posters, and copy services are mainstay products. Danner says his presses and equipment can turn around any immediate-needs, and he also outsources some larger projects as a print broker.
Evidence of Red Barn products are circulated throughout the Montgomery community. Some ballast the MBA mantra of “Shop Local.” One positive of being a local operation is being able to help and promote his neighbors’ businesses through a tough period. When the opportunity arose, Danner says he was eager to oblige.
Honda of Princeton, located on Route 206 in Skillman, had to close during COVID, but the dealership needed to show that their sales department was operational, Danner said.
“It’s one of the larger businesses in Montgomery,” he said. “But it does not matter how big you are — once everything stops it does not matter how much was saved for a rainy day, it’s difficult to keep up.
“New car sales director Joe Bruno called me and said there’s a project they needed, but the budget to do things was simply not there,” Danner said. “I told him based on our working together in this community, with what they were looking to spend, I’d make this happen, and so I took a cut. I produced what they needed for the money they had available. I made less, but it’s okay.”
Danner also has worked with Massage Envy and Robinson’s Chocolates, both at 1325 Route 206. Red Barn printed flags for them to display to show that their locations are open. “The conversation started with bringing awareness to customers or to show customers safety protocols,” he said.
A new business recently featured in The Montgomery News is The Coder School at 21 Belle Mead-Griggstown Road. Red Barn Printing provided their special graphics in response to the pandemic.
“The Coder School set up their site for proper physical distancing. We printed their floor decals so students and parents can see how far apart to stay,” Danner explained.
Red Barn Printing also got involved in creating COVID safety posters for shops to post in their front windows.
The posters explain the law to patrons: wear a mask or face covering, to physically distance by at least six feet, and gives contact info for the Montgomery Township Health Department.
Developed with the Montgomery Business Task Force with guidance by Committee Member Devra Keenan, the poster is also available for download on the township website.
“Montgomery Township has done a lot to assist its businesses. There are bureaucratic hurdles and issues every town faces now, and Montgomery is in a position to only do so much. But the township is doing all they can to help,” Danner said. ■
This story was made possible by a reporting grant from the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University.