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Teddi Ritchie liked her job and she liked the company she worked for. She never dreamed that one day she would own it. But when the owners of Semiconductor Circuits Inc. (SCI) planned to close down the electronics manufacturing plant where she had worked for 21 years, Teddi set out to do just that. "I had two choices," she recalls. "I could either look for gainful employment elsewhere, or go through the system and try to buy the company. We had good people, good products, and our customers liked us. If there was ever a place worth saving, this was it."
Making the leap from materials manager to business owner would not be easy. Teddi's experience was in purchasing, not finance, and preparing a business plan for such a huge purchase would require extensive information and up-front analysis. However, Teddi knew her company well. Although she would have to keep her plans confidential, she was eager to give it a try. But time was of the essence. SCI's current owners couldn't wait forever, and Teddi still had her "day job" to think about.
For several weeks, Teddi worked well into the wee hours of the morning developing the business plan that would ultimately save SCI. The formidable task became increasingly frustrating because many of her resources didn't always provide the right answers. About three-quarters of the way through, Teddi realized that she needed to talk to somebody. The question was: who? That’s when Teddi reached out to SCORE.
The first bank Teddi approached was intrigued by her plan, but suggested that she explore getting assistance from the state. Teddi eventually received a bank loan and state-backed financing from a local economic development authority. The deal was closed on a Friday in December 1998. The following Monday, Teddi walked into Semiconductor Circuits as the new owner and CEO.
Teddi's first steps were to make some long-overdue policy changes. She implemented flexible work schedules and production incentive programs, and encouraged more employee involvement in setting operations and management goals. These and other moves resulted in a more engaged workforce and a healthier balance sheet. SCI was projected to make $2.5 million during Ritchie's first year of ownership. After the first nine months, the company was on track to earn $4.2 million, with the promise of even better times to come. Semiconductor Circuits also added five new employees to its payroll in the month's following Ritchie's purchase.
"We're achieving these wonderful results because we're focusing on the business," Teddi explains. "The previous owner had pretty much given up on us because we amounted to only 1 percent of a billion-dollar company. By being more flexible, our employees are motivated to do their best work, which allows us to produce a better product. Now, our old owners are one of our customers."
What's Great About My Mentor?
While scanning the Internet for help, Teddi discovered the U.S. Small Business Administration's (SBA) Web site, which in turn led her to SCORE's homepage. She contacted the local chapter and within a few days received a call from Shep Bartlett, a former owner of a furniture business. Shep met Teddi at the local library and reviewed the still-evolving business plan. "Shep was just the person I'd been looking for," Teddi says. "He understood my objectives and answered all my questions, making sure I understood each topic before we moved on to the next area. With his help, I was ready to present my business plan to the banks."
Teddi doesn't plan to rest on her laurels. She still meets regularly with Shep to discuss business opportunities and ways to keep SCI growing. "He's a great advisor and a wonderful person," she says.
How SCORE Helped
“I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life asking ‘what if.’ I believed in myself and in the ability of my fellow employees to make this dream succeed. But I couldn’t have done it without the help of Shep Bartlett and SCORE.” says Teddi Richie.
When it occurred to actress Jane Labanz that she did not want to spend countless hours at auditions or acting in productions that kept her away from her Manhattan home for extended periods of time, she turned her talent to entrepreneurship to give her the freedom she needed.
To occupy her time while working as a “booth singer” off stage, Labanz began doing calligraphy after admiring the beauty of the art while leafing through a magazine. She soon found herself applying her own expression to the calligraphy she was self-teaching. When production cast members saw her work, they implored her to do their wedding and other one-off invitations.
It then occurred to Labanz that she could turn her talent into a business, giving her another artistic outlet, the income she needed, and the flexibility to choose acting gigs that fit her New York ambitions.
Labanz founded The Delicate Pen, which provides high-end calligraphy products for weddings and other special events. The Delicate Pen’s products have been showcased by Barbara Walters on TV’s “The View,” displayed at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, and featured in numerous bride and wedding magazines, including Martha Stewart Living Wedding and New York Bride.
The Delicate Pen’s sales reached $150,000 in the first year and are now sold in more than 30 stores in the United States, Puerto Rico and Italy. Even though sales and marketing take up increasingly larger chunks of her time, Labanz still manages to do all the product hand-lettering herself. But she is now looking to hire a full-time marketer.
Her newly evolving lifestyle allows Labanz to devote more time to her charitable passions such as participating in benefits for “Broadway Cares” and working for the “Little Seeds” program in South Africa. “Little Seeds” provides holistic childcare instruction to teachers in extremely needy areas where underprivileged children have little more than papier-mâché desks and few, if any, books.
What's Great About My Mentor?
In 1998 Labanz visited the New York SCORE office to learn about entrepreneurship. SCORE mentors helped her create a product line of fine stationery. Armed with a product portfolio and new entrepreneurial skills, Labanz participated in her first trade show at New York’s Jacob Javits Center. It was there that well-known stationer, Kate’s Paperie, discovered The Delicate Pen’s products, and now sells them. Labanz’ products also can be found at Bloomingdale’s and Michael C. Fina & Co.
How SCORE Helped
Of her business artistic outlet Labanz states, “I make music with letters; I dance on paper.” When it comes to advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, she emphatically states, “Go to SCORE!” She herself continues to take advantage of SCORE’s services as she grows her business. Labanz’s other advice is, “Think big but start slow, and pick your passion.”
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In 1999, Emily McHugh needed one more class to finish her master's degree in business at Columbia University. The course—"Managing New Business Ventures"—required her to write a business plan for a new enterprise. While searching for a topic, Emily noticed that most of her classmates used the same black laptop cases for their laptops. On the other hand, Emily had a more stylish case that her sister, Helena, had made for her. "People were always complimenting Helena's bag," Emily recalls. "So, I developed a plan for a company that would make laptop and Palm Pilot cases, and custom logo handbags."
Emily got an "A" in the class and idea for starting a real business with her sister. She was unsure about pursuing it, however, because the real world of business is much different than a class assignment. "But when you wake up in the morning and in the middle of the night, and all you can think about is this business idea, that may be a clue that you should pursue it," Emily says.
Casauri has come a long way from Emily McHugh's class project, and there are still many steps ahead on this entrepreneurial journey. Whenever Emily needs help with a decision, she goes right to her team of small business experts at SCORE. "They are just like an advisory board for us," she says. "You can bounce ideas off them and get tangible feedback. If they didn't know the answer, they always guide me to someone else who does." Casauri relocated to Florida in July 2004 and continues to expand its sales and line of bags.
Casauri continues to grow and thrive, and the savvy business owners take advantage of all resources available to them. In 2010, they received an ARC loan from SBA. They also maintain contact with their SCORE mentors and tap them for advice as needed. In fall 2009, they got e-commerce advice from a SCORE mentor.
Another reason Causari, Inc. has maintained momentum on a growth trajectory is by using broadband, which they see as a crucial element of their business model. “Without broadband, our time was spent in utter frustration and total inefficiency,” adds McHugh. “Broadband access is as basic as electricity and running water. I firmly believe that every small business–make that human being–should have access!!”
What's Great About My Mentor?
As part of her project research, Emily had learned about many SBA programs, including SCORE. She visited Newark, NJ SCORE Chapter and began meeting with Volunteer Mentor Lou Zivi, who counseled her on business start-ups, setting priorities, and obtaining financing. Emily also had several sessions with Dan Frisch, a former accountant, who helped fine-tune her business plan.
A year into her business start-up project, Emily met SCORE Mentor Stephanie Farrar, an instructor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. "It was wonderful to work with someone directly involved with the fashion industry," Emily says. "She offered many ideas on the creative side, and encouraged me to attend seminars and other meetings where she would introduce me to her industry contacts."
As the McHugh sisters began putting the pieces of her new enterprise together, Emily began seeking help on specific business issues from SCORE experts. When a fellow alumnus helped Emily identify an overseas manufacturer, SCORE Mentors Peter Nachburg and David Malka provided help with international trade and shipping issues. For marketing guidance, Emily relied on Mentors Al Pearl and Marvin Solomon. Former attorney Joseph Horowitz reviewed contracts and provided legal advice. And whenever she was at the SCORE office, Marvin Strauss always made time to check up on her progress.
How SCORE Helped
With SCORE's help, Emily and Helena had everything ready to debut their line of designer laptop and palm computer cases in time for the start of the December 2001 holiday shopping season. Their products can be found in several stores and boutiques in New York City, including Bloomindales and Sony Style.
“When I first started my business SCORE helped me in many ways, from preparing my business plan to applying for a loan. Now ten years later, my current SCORE mentor has helped me to clarify and focus on our core value proposition in order to maximize our web presence and better reach our target market online. SCORE provides and adds significant value throughout the entrepreneurial spectrum.” says Emily McHugh.
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