SCORE Mentors Victorian Fireplace Shop
Karen Duke was looking for answers. Her family’s Richmond, VA, business, Victorian Fireplace Shop, had a steady stream of customers, but at the end of the year, the company’s bottom line had very little to show for it. In addition, a decision to expand their business to include Internet orders had been more successful than they had anticipated, and they were struggling to handle the influx of new business.
Karen had been in the fireplace business for nearly 25 years, including more than 10 at the Victorian Fireplace Shop, but she felt like the business was not getting anywhere. “We had sold more than ever, but there was no money in the bank,” Karen says. “It was very frustrating to be doing the same thing for so many years and not learn the secret to how to make it work.”
Karen’s daughter, who was a business student at a local university, heard about SCORE from a professor in one of her classes and thought they could help. Together, they outlined what help they thought they needed, and then contacted the Richmond SCORE chapter for assistance.
Karen plans to continue working to make the business more efficient, and plans to look for ways to expand their Internet operations. “I am looking at what we can do additionally in terms of marketing and streamlining processes. We want to do more online,” Karen says.
Karen met with mentors Steve Shapiro and Hugh Greene. Steve, an accountant, saw that the company would benefit from more rigorous bookkeeping. Hugh helped Karen break the business down, analyze individual aspects and understand how they fit together to improve the overall business.
Hugh also encouraged Karen to rethink what their business focus was. Karen’s husband Mike spent most of his time in the field doing installation work. But the growth of business they were getting from internet orders, including customers from as far away as California, New York and Pennsylvania, meant that bringing Mike down off customers’ rooftops and inside to help with sales would make more sense. Today, while they maintain the retail operation—80 percent of which is now generated through their Web site—they also manage equipment manufacturing, and serve as a supplier to other retail businesses.
“Hugh was patient, understanding and inspirational in making us analyze what we needed to stop doing and what we needed to develop.” Karen says. “Our sales went up nicely, and we hired some more employees. We work smarter now.”
Despite her extensive experience, Karen feels that what she discovered working with SCORE had a greater impact than anything else she had encountered. “I’ve been in this business for almost 25 years, but I feel my greatest business learning has come from working with SCORE.” Karen says. “I highly recommend them to any business, old or new.”
Karen says, “SCORE helped to teach us some of the rules of the game and to make us do some things that we hadn’t done before because we didn’t realize the relevance an importance.”