Starting a small business can be daunting, especially for a first-time entrepreneur. Turning a great idea into reality takes endless drive and commitment, but those qualities alone are not enough to assure success. Tasks like budgeting, hiring and marketing may not sound exciting, but the better — and more realistic — the planning, the more likely the road to prosperity.
Getting help with those important details can take at least some of the drama out of a startup and free up time that can be devoted to other tasks. Some local business owners found that aid at the Small Business Development Center, and are glad they did.
Working with the SDDC was a great experience, said Ivan Davidowitz, owner of Arch Comfort in Kingston. We used them to help launch our business.
Davidowitz wasn't new to the business world, but he had no experience in retail.
We were already well on our way to opening the specialty shoe store when he was referred to the SBDC, but needed a business plan to get bank financing.
It wasn't just that we went in and had one meeting, Davidowitz said. They walked us through it; they coached us, and when they were done a bank said yes.
Chastity and Mike Krakosky had no business experience, but were customers of consignment shops where they brought their three boys' used clothes to sell. They liked the concept but not some of the stores, which tended to be messy.
We want to be more like a department store than a consignment store, only accepting good quality, lightly used items and keeping the shop clean and neat, Mike Krakosky said Thursday while taking care of the children at home.
When he saw a for rent sign in a storefront at 1841 Wyoming Ave. in Exeter in late June, it was time to get serious. Chastity asked state Rep. Phyllis Mundy's staff about small business support and she was referred to the SBDC at Wilkes University.
That's a prime source of leads, said Ed Kowalczyk, assistant director at the Wilkes SBDC office.
We don't have a large marketing budget; in fact it's pretty much zero, Kowalczyk said. So they get the word out on their services to banks, business organizations and legislators' offices, so we have a strong referral base.
Kowalczyk also keeps the office and its work visible by sending a steady stream of media announcements about openings.
SBDC support runs from the very basic First Step class most new entrepreneurs are required to attend, to budgeting and even evaluations of potential energy savings.
The local office is one of 18 in Pennsylvania affiliated with colleges and universities. The Wilkes center's three full-time and three part-time business consultants serve Luzerne, Carbon, Columbia, Sullivan and Schuylkill counties. All services are free, with the SBDC system in Pennsylvania financially supported by the federal Small Business Administration, the state Department of Community and Economic Development and Wilkes.
We have three different bosses, Kowalczyk joked.
They also are measured on reaching goals established by the SBA, which include helping get 35 new businesses started each year, sales growth by clients and the number of jobs created or retained. While those are routinely met or passed, Kowalczyk said, another measure, helping clients obtain $5 million a year in financing, has been tougher to hit, because we try to get them to not borrow so much.
The university affiliation helps both clients and students. Ruth Hughes, director of the center, teaches at Wilkes; The advantage is we bring students in to help clients, Kowalczyk said, working on marketing plans, business strategy or even helping to identify potential energy savings. The students get the benefit of the experience.
Clients can be either startups or existing small businesses that fit guidelines established by the SBA. The largest business Kowalczyk has worked with is a manufacturer that does about $1.5 million in annual sales and has 15 employees. The smallest are mom and pops, like the Krakoskys' Lolliposh Clothing & Gifts, he said.
Some of the most recent existing business clients have been former startups that were damaged in last year's flooding, such as Janet's Total Appearance Salon in Shickshinny and Sugar Artists Emporium in Plains Township.
Kowalczyk, 39, got firsthand business experience when he and his brother started a landscaping service in Dupont. He's still doing well, he said about the business, Mark's Landscaping.
He started working part time at the SBDC office while a student at Wilkes in the mid-1990s and was hired full time in 1997 after earning his MBA.
For now, Kowalczyk is happy to trade the prospect of higher pay in the private sector for the satisfaction of helping others.
The best part is you're out there helping people who need it; they have dreams they want to pursue, he said.
Mike Krakosky says the SBDC helped him and Chastity follow their dreams.
If not for that seminar and the materials I think we would have had a rougher time starting up. It was actually more helpful than I thought it was going to be, he said.
Still, Kowalczyk says the temptation to follow in clients' footsteps is real. I examined a couple of ideas; I just haven't taken that jump yet. One day I'll do it, he said.
That will put him in company with Tom Healey, who helped Arch Comfort get its start in 2010. After many years as a senior business consultant, he left the SBDC in August to open Big T's Coney Island Deli on South Main Street in Wilkes-Barre.
There are Small Business Development Centers at Wilkes University and at the University of Scranton. All services are free of charge.
To reach the Wilkes center, call 570-408-4340 or visit www.wilkes.edu/sbdc.
To reach the Sranton center, call 570-941-7588 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org