The following stories describe how SCORE counselors assisted clients to achieve success in their ventures. Please let us know if we may include your story.
Veteran Enlists SCORE to Realize His Restaurant Dream. As a Marine, Darryl Alexander understands the importance of discipline and commitment. So when he began planning his transition to civilian life, he had no qualms about investing the time and effort necessary to fulfill his lifelong dream of owning a barbecue restaurant that would transplant the spirit and taste of his native Memphis to his adopted home of southern Arizona.
When Darryl learned about SCORE’s free business mentoring services, he eagerly shared his idea with Phoenix SCORE Counselor Jim Batz, drawing on some “hip pocket” notes that Darryl considered the foundation of his business plan.
“Jim felt my passion and sincerity, but he was very frank in telling me that I was way off-base,” Darryl recalls. “He started ‘red-inking’ my notes and asking questions that I couldn’t answer.”
Undaunted, Darryl used Jim’s critique as inspiration. “I left his office thinking that if I was going to make this dream come true, now was the time to do it, and do it right,” he says.
“SCORE Counselor Jim Batz has truly been a wonderful mentor. One of the things he stressed early on was defining the mission of my business, and considering every possible influence, threat and opportunity. Now, I understand what he was talking about.”
—Darryl Alexander, owner, Memphis Best BBQ
Darryl stayed in touch with Jim while taking a 10-week course in business planning at a local community college. Because their office appointments were limited to an hour, Jim gave Darryl his home phone number to call whenever he had a question. “Jim was no longer just a counselor, but a teacher as well,” Darryl says. “He continually kept me focused on developing a sound strategy.”
Darryl then spent the next several months literally “camped out” at his computer developing and fine-tuning his business plan. Following Jim’s advice, he researched everything from equipment costs, payroll and insurance costs to product and price comparisons of Arizona’s other barbecue restaurants. Darryl also found an ideal business location in Buckeye, a fast-growing community with a historic downtown district that seemed ready-made for a good barbecue restaurant.
When he showed his business plan to Jim, Darryl could tell his teacher was impressed. “He simply said, ‘What else do you need from me? You’re ready,’” Darryl recalls proudly. Equally wowed was the bank, which quickly approved Darryl’s application for a $250,000 SBA-backed loan to complement his savings.
But most heartening to Darryl has been the response of his mealtime and catering customers, who have helped Memphis Best BBQ exceed its first-year revenue projections. “I think the biggest thing is that people see me here working as hard as anyone else,” he says. “The quality I put into the restaurant transfers to the quality of the food, and they’re happy to tell others about it.”
One of Darryl’s first customers was Jim Batz, who was visibly proud of his client’s accomplishment. “I’m going to put Jim’s picture up in my restaurant because he has truly been a wonderful mentor,” Darryl says. “One of the things he stressed early on was defining the mission of my business, and considering every possible influence, threat and opportunity. Now, I understand what he was talking about. I’m so happy that I can give the people of Buckeye a place to relax, enjoy the scenery, listen to some blues, and eat good Memphis barbecue.”
Award-Winning Clothing Entrepreneur Gets a Timely Boost from SCORE. A fleece jacket is ideal for staying warm during Eugene, Oregon’s cool, damp months. University of Oregon student Scott Jones couldn’t afford to buy such a jacket, so he did the next best thing—he learned how to make one himself. Encouraged by the comments of friends, he began making more jackets, first as a hobby, then as a small solo business he subsequently named Beyond Fleece.
Scott continued the business after graduation and taking a new job as Oregon’s crew coach. Despite the tremendous demands on his time, he developed patterns that enabled him to offer a broader line of custom-made products and earn a small profit.
With Beyond Fleece attracting more attention locally and from its new Web site, Scott realized that he needed to take a more professional approach to managing the business. “I was barely making ends meet and did not have the money to invest in counseling,” he recalls. “Fortunately, there was SCORE—an organization that could provide the help I needed for no charge.”
“The people at SCORE were very smart, very helpful and willing to share their experience. They made it possible for me to move the business forward.”
—Scott Jones, Owner, Beyond Fleece
Working with several volunteer counselors at SCORE’s Eugene Chapter, Scott fine-tuned his business plan and assembled additional information needed to apply for an SBA-backed loan. He also learned the fundamentals of bookkeeping, business taxes and how to identify and reach new markets for his products via traditional media and the Internet. “Instead of telling me what to do, they brainstormed with me,” Scott says. “We would discuss what I wanted to, and evaluate alternate approaches. That helped me learn much more, and develop my expertise as a business owner.”
After an extended trip to Europe followed by a move to California in 2001, Scott felt that Beyond Fleece had reached a crossroads. The time-consuming business offered little in the way of financial security. That’s when a phone call from Backpacker magazine literally changed his life. A self-described “hard to fit” staff member had raved about her custom-made Beyond Fleece jacket, leading to a glowing review in the high-visibility publication.
The upsurge in orders enabled Scott to relocate Beyond Fleece back to his beloved Eugene, hire his first employees and step up production and product offerings. Subsequent reviews and Backpacker’s coveted “Editor’s Choice” award for 2002 have built further momentum for the business, including a 2,500-square-foot warehouse/production facility and 13 employees. Scott’s accomplishments as a business owner were recognized in April 2003, when he was named the SBA’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
Scott credits the trust of his customers and confidence of his friends in helping him turn what started out as a hobby into a worthwhile enterprise. He also appreciates the role SCORE played during a critical stage in the evolution of Beyond Fleece. “The people at SCORE were very smart, very helpful and willing to share their experience,” he says. “They made it possible for me to move the business forward.”
SCORE Provides Recipe for a Storyteller’s Successful Start-up. Fairy tales are all about happy endings. Thanks to SCORE, Ariane Smith is writing a happy beginning to her dream of building a business that blends her experience as a children’s entertainer and storyteller with her fascination with fairy tales and culinary arts.
Ariane’s idea was simple, yet innovative—encourage healthy attitudes toward food among children by creating fun interactive stories called Enchanted Thyme, capped with healthy recipes that families could prepare together. After exploring different avenues to develop her idea, she decided to bring Enchanted Thyme to life as a series of children’s novels.
But while Ariane could apply more than 20 years of successful children’s storytelling experience to her idea, turning it into a viable business was a different matter.
While attending an SBA seminar in Manhattan in early 2007, Ariane learned about SCORE and its free small business counseling services. She began meeting with New York City SCORE Counselor Abe Silverstein, a veteran of developing successful small businesses.
“Abe was a perfect fit for me. He helped me with my business plan, which led to an incredible loan with a great interest rate. Starting and running a small business is not easy, especially these days. It’s nice to have someone like Abe there to be a mentor and a friend.”
—Ariane Smith, owner, Enchanted Thyme Entertainment
“Abe was a perfect fit for me,” Ariane says. “He calibrated my approach, telling me when I was thinking too big, and when I needed to think bigger.”
In assessing start-up financing options, Abe recommended that Ariane pursue a small business loan rather than seeking out investors. “That allowed me to follow my own vision starting out, rather than having to answer to other people,” Ariane says. “Abe helped me with my business plan, which led to an incredible loan with a great interest rate.”
Despite the uniqueness of Ariane’s idea, Enchanted Thyme still faced the formidable challenge of achieving visibility in a highly competitive book market. Rather than rely solely on bookstores, Ariane decided to market the book through grocery stores where she would also offer interactive shows and culinary workshops.
Because her first Enchanted Thyme book had not yet been published, Abe recommended that Ariane wait until she could present a more solid pitch. She followed his advice and, with book proofs in hand, began approaching nearby ShopRite grocery stores. “Three of them gave me the chance to do performances, which were very successful,” Ariane says.
ShopRite customers weren’t the only ones who were impressed. The chain’s regional management agreed to sponsor Ariane at the FoodNetwork New York City Wine and Food Festival, enabling her to add high production value to her show at a high-profile venue. ShopRite is also considering having Ariane perform at other stores in metropolitan New York and beyond.
“Once again, it went back to Abe encouraging me to take a calibrated approach,” Ariane says, adding that her SCORE counselor is also an important source of moral support. “Whenever I’d be discouraged or have doubts, Abe was always there with encouragement and support. It’s incredible to have someone of his caliber truly believe in what I’m doing.”
As word of Enchanted Thyme has spread, Ariane is busy giving more performances at stores and libraries in New York City and the surrounding area. She’s also at work on her second book, and working on animated shorts featuring Enchanted Thyme characters that kids can download to their iPods or cellphones. “They can watch the short with their parents while grocery shopping, and pick up the ingredients for the recipe,” she says.
Ariane also continues to work with Abe, who frequently checks on her progress and provide a sounding board for ideas. “That he calls so regularly means the world to me,” she says. “Starting and running a small business is not easy, especially these days. It’s nice to have someone like Abe there to be a mentor and a friend.”