What's a little laundry between friends?
So reads the website of Robinson's Cleaners, a third-generation business owned and run by Kit Price and Casey Smith. With five locations in the Columbia-Jefferson City metro area, including an automated, 24/7 location in Columbia for the time-squeezed professional; government contracts; expert restoration of fire- and water-damaged items; laundromats; wholesale leather and suede cleaning; and laundry-cleaning services for insurance companies, Price and Smith try very hard to be everyone's friend.
Price and Smith are also brother and sister. As anyone who has ever had either knows, getting along is often not part of the equation.
Doesn't being siblings create some problems?
The pair, clad in T-shirts and shorts on a cool late September day — laundry and cleaning are a hot business, after all — don't even glance at each other before answering.
"No," says Smith. "Well, any partnership creates issues. But we solved that long ago. We clearly defined our roles in the business."
Price operates the business' finances, personnel and other management issues; Smith leans toward the mechanical side of things.
Read this complete story with additional photos.
The contracts got rolling when Mary Love, MO PTAC specialist for the Rolla/Springfield area, decided to cold-call the Ridewell Corporation, makers of truck and trailer suspension systems sold around the globe and found in large vehicles from Mercedes, Mack and Blue Bird trucks to mammoth military transports. The 45-year-old firm, located just north of Springfield, has about 200 employees, more than 70 patents and multimillion dollar annual revenues.
Bruce Barton, director of engineering for Ridewell, was intrigued. So much so that he attended a training session on doing business with the government at Missouri State University in Springfield.
"That was the starting point," says Barton. "I had always thought doing business with the government was daunting!"
He was better prepared after attending the seminar but "Mary was really the key component," he says. "She got us excited and confident enough to do this." (Check the column to the lower right for the next seminar near you.)
"PTAC and these contracts have been very good for us. We are quite pleased. It (government contracting) is very competitive. It's not high-margin, but it's still good business."
- Bruce Barton, director of engineering for Ridewell Corporation
Love says that's what she's there for. "My job is to facilitate sales from Missouri manufacturers, and an established, responsible firm like Ridewell — it just seemed a natural for government contracts."
She was right.
Barton says it took a few months to navigate the complexities of contracting, adding that the learning curve included finding out that the federal government already had Ridewell products listed in its catalogs. Other contractors had been supplying Ridewell suspension parts to the government at increased prices — until Barton and his team stepped in, selling directly to the government and saving the taxpayer money in the process.
And that can be a very big thing.
Often overlooked by small businesses, federal, state and local government contracts are a rich source of sales of everything imaginable from software and dry cleaning to construction and missile components.
The PTAC program was authorized by Congress in 1985 to expand the number of businesses in the government's marketplace. Run by the Department of Defense's Defense Logistics Agency, the program is administered by local partners in every state. The PTAC program has been available in Missouri since 1993 through a partnership with the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Centers and University of Missouri Extension.
Eight PTAC locations are staffed with counselors experienced in government contracting and provide a wide range of services including classes and seminars; individual counseling; and easy access to bid opportunities, contract specifications, procurement histories and all other information necessary to successfully compete for government contracts. Many counselors also have backgrounds in government and acquisitions and all receive ongoing training to keep pace with continually evolving contracting procedures and policies
MO PTAC also offers a variety of services to help with the government contracting process. Among the most popular is an electronic bid-matching service, through which a business is notified when a government agency seeks to purchase a product or service a company provides.
If you decide to bid, MO PTAC can help you with the solicitation package. The PTAC team will work with you in preparing your bid, interpreting the regulations and assisting you with the appropriate certifications.
Small disadvantaged, veteran- and women-owned firms are particularly encouraged to apply for government contracts.
MO PTAC also offers low-cost training sessions on winning government contracts; to find the next session, visit missouribusiness.net/ptac/events.asp.
The Missouri Technology Corporation (MTC) has announced the opening of funding for the Missouri TechLaunch, High-Tech Industrial Expansion and Missouri Building Entrepreneurial Capacity programs.
Individual grants will vary according to the program, but will not exceed $100,000 for TechLaunch, $3 million for High-Tech Industrial Expansion and $500,000 for the Missouri Building Entrepreneurial Capacity programs.
Applications are due November 1. Visit missouritechnology.com for more information.
MTC is a public-private partnership created by the Missouri General Assembly to promote entrepreneurship and foster the growth of new and emerging high-tech companies. MTC is particularly focused on 21st century bioscience industries that can build on Missouri's rich history in agriculture.
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the traditional beginning of the Christmas shopping season, when Americans get up at 3 a.m. to wait outside mega-stores for bargains.
And Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, is when millions of Americans surreptitiously shop at work on high-speed internet they may not have at home.
Add to these shopping bonanzas Small Business Saturday, Nov. 24, which falls between the two days, when Americans are encouraged to shop the small businesses in their community.
Last year, more than 100 million people were a part of Small Business Saturday, according to shopsmall.com.
Also last year, President Obama took his daughters Sasha and Malia to Kramerbooks, a bookstore a few blocks from the White House, emerging with an armful of books.
This is what the president said in a statement last year:
So encourage everyone you know to walk down Main Street or go to the mall and patronize your one-of-a-kind businesses. Let's all do our part to support our small businesses as they continue to strengthen the economy and create jobs.
Small Business Saturday was created by American Express in 2010 as a counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which emphasize big-box retail and e-commerce sales, respectively.
For more on Small Business Saturday, visit facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday.
As you prepare for the holiday season, you might want to keep mobile shopping on your wish list: almost 90 percent of mobile users report either regularly or occasionally researching products on a smartphone or tablet, according to a study by Prosper Mobile Insights.
The study says about two-thirds of these individuals regularly or occasionally make purchases on a mobile device. The products they are most likely to buy are:
- Apparel, purchased by 30 percent of survey respondents
- Entertainment such as CDs, DVDs and books, 23 percent
- Ringtones or other media for devices, 20 percent
- Small-ticket electronics, 20 percent
- Beauty products, 15 percent
- Big-ticket electronics, 10 percent
- Home décor, 9 percent
- Appliances, 8.9 percent
Apparel (40 percent) is the most popular research category on mobile devices, followed by big-ticket electronics (39 percent) and small electronics (38 percent).
To compete with big e-commerce sites like Amazon.com, which offer all of the above, make sure your site is secure, easy to use and offers a range of payment options to suit all kinds of consumers.
Research is quite clear: Mobile shopping is growing quickly and likely to grow further.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has extended the drought state of emergency declared in July to help Missouri livestock producers and farmers complete water projects approved under the program.
According to the governor's office, more than 5,800 projects have been approved under the emergency cost-share program since late July to drill new wells, deepen existing wells or undertake other projects to deliver water to animals and crops.
More than 11,000 applications were submitted in just two weeks this summer, of which more than 5,800 were approved.
More information is available from the Governor's news release.
In November and December, more than four million American businesses will receive 2012 Economic Census forms.
What is an economic census?
Like the better known demographic census, this census tries to paint a comprehensive portrait, but not of Americans — of American business from the national to the local level every five years. Timely and accurate data are vital to shape federal and state business policy — and ultimately affect your business — so if you receive a questionnaire, fill it out and return it.
Responses to the questionnaire must be returned by Feb. 12, 2013.
For more information, contact the Economic Census outreach staff at 1-877-790-1876 or email@example.com.
The Small Business Administration administers two unique programs for small business to acquire federal government contracts, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Eleven federal agencies participate in the SBIR program, and five departments participate in the STTR program, together awarding $2 billion to small high-tech businesses.
One of these departments is NASA.
Now NASA is seeking proposals for its SBIR and STTR programs to create the new technologies that will send the agency to Mars and beyond. The deadline for the two program solicitations is Nov. 29, and selections will be announced in late February 2013.
According to NASA, previous rounds of small business programs have resulted in components for air-traffic control systems, the International Space Station and the Curiosity rover now busy exploring the Red Planet.
The highly competitive SBIR and STTR programs are based on a three-phase award system:
Phase 1, a feasibility study to evaluate the scientific and technical merits of a proposal
Phase 2, which expands on the results of Phase 1
Phase 3, commercialization
All successful small businesses seem to have an edge. They have found a way to distinguish themselves, to rise above the commercial fray, to put the "wow" into their business.
In our often manic, hyperconnected world, it's no longer enough to offer a quality product or service. You need to surprise and delight customers, not simply satisfy them. By creating these benefits, you'll create a memorable buying experience, strengthen your competitive advantage and boost customer loyalty.
Consider the following ideas to put the "wow" into your offerings:
Surprise and delight. People love special treatment. Look for ways your business can go that extra mile by doing something really special for your customers. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money or involve expensive gifts. Here are some examples:
- A hair salon invited its clients to return anytime within a few days of their visit for free touch-up work.
- An automobile dealership achieved record minivan sales by simply letting prospective buyers take the vehicles home for the weekend.
- An accounting firm offered audit insurance as part of its bookkeeping package, promising to deal with the IRS on behalf of any clients flagged for an audit.
Going green over the holidays can be fun, good for the environment and save you some green.
- Use LED Christmas lights. LED (light emitting diode) Christmas lights use 10 percent of the energy of typical incandescent Christmas lights and are safer than typical lights because they do not generate heat. They are also inexpensive and beautiful, and using LED lights to decorate the office or a display window could save a business up to 90 percent on holiday lighting costs.
- Put lights on a timer. Setting a timer to turn off lights after hours or when the sun comes up is a simple and effective way to cut down on holiday electric bills.
A small University of Missouri program continues to make a big impact on business bottom lines. Over the past five summers, the Pollution Prevention (P2) program and its interns have found more than $1 million in savings through energy and environmental efficiencies. The program has identified opportunities for solid and hazardous waste reduction, water conservation, energy efficiency, storm water management and greenhouse gas measurements.
P2, a partnership between MO SBTDC and the MU College of Engineering, teaches students pollution prevention principals, practices and tools through an online applied engineering course offered to engineering students across the state through MU Direct. The best students are matched with businesses and municipalities for a summer job in which the interns identify and measure environmental improvements and cost reductions. It's a win-win: Students work full-time on location and gain invaluable experience, earning $15 per hour toward college expenses; companies get a comprehensive engineering analysis of energy and environmental solutions for less than $7,000.
Case study: American Commercial Lines
"Hiring a P2 intern was definitely worth the upfront cost," says Dave Evans, manager of American Commercial Lines' (ACL) St. Louis terminal. ACL hired a P2 intern to develop a solution for on-site storm water problems in 2011. That experience led to the decision to hire another intern to do an energy efficiency study this past summer. Aziz Kadric, a civil engineering student from the UMSL/Washington University Joint Engineering Program, completed the work.
"Basically, Aziz took the initiative to do everything for the project on his own, and he's been tenacious," says Evans. "One of these days Aziz will run a company. His work speaks for itself."
The Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Centers and Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Centers offer a variety of outstanding educational opportunities throughout the year. Here are highlights of some upcoming events.
The SBA, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and National Small Business Association invite you to an Export Matchmaker Trade Fair & Conference to be held Oct. 22 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Conference Center, 411 Locust Street, St. Louis.
This free event, geared toward small business manufacturers, distributors or suppliers interested in exporting or export intermediaries who source domestic products, features numerous workshops with successful exporters and promises to show that exporting can be as easy as domestic sales.
Larry Dill, international trade specialist, University of Missouri Extension SBTDC, St. Louis, will moderate a workshop on where and how to get exporting help.
The event includes a continental breakfast from 9:15 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Join us for the 10th annual Manufacturing Summit, presented by CPA and business consulting firm Rubin Brown, to be held Wednesday, Oct. 24 from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Board Room of Kansas City's historic Union Station, 30 West Pershing Road. This summit is for CEOs, CFOs, HR managers, supply chain managers and any other manufacturing official interested in growing your business through innovation, workforce solutions and global strategy.
The fee of $65 includes breakfast and lunch. For more information or to register, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 816-374-5469.
The Quality Coach!® in association with Missouri University of Science & Technology and East Central College, Center for Workforce Development proudly present the Learn it, Live it, Leader-Shop™ for senior and mid-level managers, to be held at the Small Business & Technology Development Center, Innovation Technology Park, 900 Innovation Drive, Suite 200, Rolla, Mo., from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Sept. 26. The center is across the street from Phelps County Regional Medical Center.
Whether you are a seasoned manager or new to management, this workshop will help you navigate the sometimes treacherous path of leading and managing. The coaching team will provide participants with practical principles and best practices in an environment where leaders learn from one another.
Fee is $155 per participant; $145 if three or more individuals from the same entity attend.
Learn it, Live it, Leader-shop™ is a series of events:
- Quality Communication - Oct. 24
- Leading Meetings that Matter - Nov. 28
- The Science of Delegation - Dec. 5
For more information contact Robert Davis at 573-341-6272 or email email@example.com.
Westinghouse Electric Company and Ameren Missouri proudly present the 2012 Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Supplier Summit, to be held Oct. 30 at the Renaissance St. Louis Grand Hotel-Marriott, 800 Washington Ave., St. Louis, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The summit will be preceded by a welcome reception in the hotel Oct. 29 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The event will introduce SMR to all interested Missouri manufacturers or service providers of engineering, manufacturing, steel products, fabrication, machining, electrical equipment and metals and electrical wholesale products.
Speakers will present an overview of vendor requirements and host breakout sessions on components and other issues; discuss supply chain, value creation, state and local development incentive programs, the current regulatory environment and workforce development; and assess this promising new generation of nuclear power plants' economic impact on Missouri.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced this spring that Westinghouse and Ameren Missouri will try for a share of a $452 million federal grant to develop modular nuclear reactors.
These small reactors, with an electric output of less than 500 megawatts, are manufactured then brought to a site fully constructed. This allows for lower on-site construction costs, increased containment efficiency and heightened nuclear materials security.
The conference is a must for those interested in learning about and benefitting from this promising technology.
To register, go to nexstartalliance.com/NewsEvents.aspx. The password is SMRSummit2012.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City cordially invites you to the regional Grow Your Own Conference, to be held Oct. 30 and 31 in Kearney, Neb.
The registration fee of $50 includes a continental breakfast, lunch buffet, dinner and a Tuesday evening reception.
For more information, please contact Glenna York at 402-221-5589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
MO SBTDC is pleased to bring the Angel Resource Institute's Angel Investing Basics for the Startup Community training to the Holiday Inn Executive Center, Columbia, Mo., from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 31 and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov 1.
The seminar will provide an overview of the angel investing process. Comprised of a balance of expert presentations, panel discussions and small group case studies, it is designed to be highly interactive and features several opportunities to network between participants and speakers, including a luncheon.
The Angel Investing Basics for the Startup Community curriculum is targeted toward regional economic developers in organizations such as SBTDCs, chambers of commerce, business incubators and university technology transfer offices. It focuses on understanding the dynamics of angel groups and investors by examining equity funding, valuation, due diligence and deal structuring.
Register for this event online. The fee is $125, which includes breakfast and lunch on November 1.
The IRS presents "Business Law 101: Legal Considerations for Starting a Business" from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 5 and Dec. 4 on the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus, 4747 Troost Avenue, Suite 213, Kansas City.
The workshop, part of UMKC's Entrepreneurial Legal Services Clinic, will focus on limited liability corporations (LLCs): what they are, why you may want to become an LLC and how to achieve LLC status. The discussion will also include implications for federal taxes and filing.
The IRS will also provide small business materials and publications.
There is no fee for attending this workshop.
The workshop is free. For more information, please contact Judy Sharp, UMKC Entrepreneurial Legal Services Clinic, at 816-235-6341 or email@example.com.
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Association of Small Business Development Centers.
Representing America's SBDC Network
Funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.
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