Connecting The Dots Of The Recession

Rick Hess, financial family tree
Composites One salesman Rick Hess, who is earning 40 percent less than he did last year. (EN Bowers piece)

As marine industry sales are drying up, it isn't just the boat owner in Tampa and the boat builder and cushion makers in Homosassa that are running aground. The business supplying the fiberglass found on boat hulls, Chicago-based Composites One, is also being left high and dry, reports CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

"I think it's a very scary time for a lot of people," said Leon Garoufalis, the president of Composites One. "It's a very challenging time, without question."

For the first time in the company's 70 year history it has been forced to lay off employees, 100 over the last 6 months. It's not just about slumping boat sales. Manufacturers of RVs, big rigs and automobiles are all buying less fiberglass these days. The suburban Chicago headquarters expects to see its 2009 sales total at least $150 million less than last year.

That means beleaguered salesmen like Rick Hess of Burlington, Wis. are spending their days dialing for dollars and coming up empty.

Hess works on commission. He and wife Gerri wonder how they hang on to the life they've built with Rick earning 40 percent less than he did last year. They won't tell us how much that is, but imagine suddenly losing 40 cents on every dollar of pay.

"How in the heck do you deal with that?" Bowers asked.

"It's tough," Hess said. "Every day you just try to look for new opportunities in sales and try to grow your sales the best you can. A lot of arguing at home at night and it doesn't make it easy."

"Now we really have to sit down and discuss it," Gerri Hess said. "I don't just go and buy something like I used to."

And when the Hess' scale back, other businesses get scaled back too.

This summer they will learn to maintain their own pool - and they've had to drop their longtime landscaper Steve Peters.

"Everybody got spoiled," Peters said. "It was so busy."

Not anymore. Peters has seen sales of 1.8 million in a good year drop to less than a million now - which means he's making commission on $800,000 fewer dollars.

"My wife always yells at me every spring, 'Don't worry, the calls will come in,'" Peters said. "But this year they are not coming in like they used to."

Which means his family's not going out like they used to.

"We're cutting back on going out to dinner and stuff like that," Peters said.

When the Peters family doesn't eat out, it cuts into profits at his family's favorite restaurant - Twin Oaks Country Inn in nearby Wilmot, Wis.

"I think that slowly we've gotten squeezed out of what is available in the discretionary spending," said Richard Knox, the restaurant owner.

Knox and his wife Gina know they fall near the bottom of the discretionary income waterfall. They used to serve 160 folks on a busy night, but now they are lucky if they get 100 - even on the weekend. They say this is the scariest time in their restaurant's 18 years. They've resorted to offering coupons and even Friday fish fries in attempt to entice new customers. Still the dining room is largely empty.

"People are drinking less, they're eating less, they are ordering less, they are going out less," Knox said. "Everyone has less."

Knox uses fresh basil but is cutting back on other fresh herbs, he's not ordering as many steaks, and not nearly as much wine.

"Instead of a case, two cases, three cases of something, it's a bottle, two bottles," Gina Knox said.

It is leaving a lot of empty space on his wine cellar shelves, and fewer bottles of wine sold ... means California wineries profits are dying on the vine.