Regardless of how long they've been in business, successful entrepreneurs know when to seek advice from the experts.
John Hipple Jr. is a case in point. As a businessman with more than 17 years of experience, John found himself and his business at a crossroads last year.
John and his father founded Joplin-based Sign Designs in 1991. It wasn't their first business venture. A few years earlier they opened The Inside Track, a remote control racing track and retail shop for enthusiastic hobbyists. The business progressed well for a while. However with the arrival of tight economic times in the early '90s, the father-son team decided to cut their projected losses and close The Track.
That decision led them to consider other business options that would take advantage of young John's marketing talents and artistic tendencies. Their thorough search led them to start the sign shop.
For the next 14 years Sign Designs profited. John became president when he bought his dad's share of the business. The new president envisioned changes for his company, which had been operating for several years in a small building converted from an auto garage. John knew his firm needed to expand if he was to achieve his business goals.
"We were looking at a property that would expand our production area from 4,600 to 14,000 square feet," he recalls. "Growth was our target, but how to get there puzzled me. What could I do to make sure I was doing the right thing for my business?"
It was at this critical point in 2007, that John decided to turn to Jim Krudwig, director of the Small Business & Technology Development Center at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin. John had met Krudwig and the staff of the MSSU SBTDC, through their mutual membership on a Joplin Chamber of Commerce committee.
"One night in the office just sitting there and going over the numbers time and again, I thought, 'I'm going to take advantage of this and see what the SBTDC can do,'" remembers John.
"I met out there many times and bugged Jim for several hours. He helped us tremendously," says the sign specialist. "I really don't know if we would have made the move and bought that property and done the things that we did without (the perspective Krudwig provided)."
As a result of the counseling John received from the SBTDC, Sign Designs sought and received a $280,000 loan from a local bank. With the capital the company bought the larger property and purchased more advanced equipment, including a three-dimensional router, new computer software and improved technology for more sophisticated sign construction.
"My immediate goals were to make the place run more efficiently while also getting the right personnel in the right positions, for the long term," the Sign Designs president says. "We have 12 employees now. We're on the cusp of doing $2 million a year in revenue and we moved into a 14,000-square-foot facility."
Business during the past six months has been slower than John anticipated, attributable to the national economic downturn. However, Sign Designs was prepared to meet the challenge.
"I'm quite analytical. I like to see numbers on a sheet. As Jim helped me prepare for the expansion we ran a lot of numbers, looking at good-time projections and bad-time projections," John recalls. "They helped me with the immediate expansion decision, but they also paid later benefits by helping me be a better manager.
"The numbers don't lie. Many businesses have never put a plan together. It helps to project with solid numbers."
John says he's received objective analysis and information from the SBTDC that he calculates was "worth thousands of dollars to me and my business."
"I look forward to seeking them out and utilizing them for other business issues as they arise, such as personnel selection and training. Jim and his staff help us look for resources that are available that we didn't previously know about.
"I can't believe more businesses don't take advantage of the services of the SBTDC."
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This story was featured in the August 2008 newsletter.
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