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Small biz experts share success tips with BSEC entrepreneurs

It’s a good day when budding entrepreneurs get to hear words of wisdom from one established and successful smallpanel1.small business person. It’s a great day when they can get advice from a panel of proven experts. As part of the Beaver Street Enterprise Center’s (BSEC) seventh anniversary celebration, held through June, small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs were invited to hear the success stories of five who have “made” it.

The five were: Brock Fazzini, Fazzini’s Coffee & Tea; Dea Sims, Promo Depot; Brian Barquilla, Advantage: The Resource for Small Business; Grace Huxtable-Mount, The Learning Experience; and Nadine Gramling, Bryson’s on the Avenue.

The panel was moderated by Karen Brune Mathis, managing editor of the Daily Record.

 

Mathis: What is the greatest challenge you face as a small business owner?

Fazzini: Because of our business model, in which we partner with nonprofit agencies and give back to the community, finding people who share my vision of community has been a big challenge.

Sims: Until I sold my company to Acosta Sales in 2008, I found that making sure my personal goals and life were met was a big challenge. It’s easy to get swallowed up by the business of running a business.

Barquilla: Our biggest challenge has been to recruit the right people into the business. I want people who share the same vision and passion for my business as I do. Another challenge is learning how to sell a vision, because until you are producing something, the vision is all you have to sell.

Huxtable-Mount: My biggest challenge has been achieving a balance between being a business owner and having a personal life as well as hiring the right people.

Gramling: It’s all about people. In my prior life, I was CEO of a $110 million steel company. Now I’m starting over; I invested in a small consignment shop, and I have never had such a challenge! This was a new business for me. I found you have to pay the price to succeed. I also found that the vision and passion for the business has to come from the person who owns the company. It took me a couple of years to understand that. Now I have a passion for this business; it’s the reason I’m doing what I am doing. I will say, though, that it has been a big challenge to clean toilets again!

 

Mathis: How to you translate your passion and vision into running a business?

Sims: If you are going into a business just for the money, you should rethink your motivation. Do what you enjoy. Running a business is not a 40-hour-a-week job. When I started my company, sleep was a luxury.

Barquilla: I was introspective to find out what motivated me, and I discovered that starting companies is what drives me. So, I focus on that strength and have the end in mind. If you don’t have passion, you won’t be successful. In the beginning, passion may be all you have!

 

Mathis: How important is it to know your financials?

Gramling: When I first started my small business, I did not pay enough attention to the numbers. Then I was told that I had an expensive hobby. That made me think! The store gave me an identity, but you have to know if you are earning a profit or losing. I think it is essential that you understand the numbers; get at least one mentor—or more; and hire good employees. Develop a business plan and dream. But base your dream on reality.

 

Mathis: How important is marketing for a small business?

Sims: You need to market, but you have to do it thoughtfully. Step back and think about your ideal customer. What does he look like? Where do you find him? How many customers do you need? How far will your customer travel to get what you offer? How will you deliver your product to this customer? Then, as you get customers, keep a database of them and prospects. Market to the database.

Barquilla: It’s important to know your customers intimately and to be where they are. Engage with them. There are many ways to market;know your customers to figure out how to market to what they need.

 

Mathis: Should you expect to break even the first year in business?

Huxtable-Mount: Don’t expect to break even the first year. You can hope for it, but don’t expect it.

Barquilla: It’s unrealistic to break even the first year. If you take in extra cash, take more risks to grow faster. Invest in your business.

Fazzini: More commonly, it takes two years before you start making money.

 

Mathis: What advice do you have for those starting out now?

Barquilla: We started Advantage at a low point in the economy. People said we were crazy. But I found you can’t listen to the nay-sayers. Run your own life. Take the leap and don’t be afraid to fail. The key is being confident in what you are doing and maybe just arrogant enough not to listen to the people who tell you “no.”

Huxtable-Mount: Being confident is the key. I selected a business I felt confident to be in and it is working.

Gramling: What it all gets back to is what we have talked about: Develop your vision; you’re your passion; and work hard.

 

SIDEBAR

Who’s who on the entrepreneurial panel

Brock Fazzini, is founder and CEO of Fazzini’s Coffee & Tea, a company that partners with nonprofit organizations to sell corporate coffee service and returns a portion of profits back to the nonprofit organization. The company also donates a portion of profits to plant trees in Africa and Central America.

Dea Simms is the former founder and CEO or Promo Depot, a promotions company she started in a home office in 1996. By 2001, the company was recognized as the fastest growing promotions company in the country. She sold the business to Acosta Sales in 2008 and became its vice president of sales. She now describes herself as “retired and rethinking.”

Brian Barquilla is founder and publisher of the Advantage: the Resource for Small Business. He is also the chief facilitator of Executive Advantage, a professional- and business-development group for Jacksonville-area CEOs.

Grace Huxtable-Mount is co-owner, with her husband, of The Learning Experience Child Development Center, as well as Huxtable Education Group.

Nadine Gramling is the former CEO of Southeastern Metals Manufacturing Company, Inc. She is currently the owner of two Bryson’s on the Avenue upscale furniture consignment stores.


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