Big Bear Inc. Succeeds With SCORE Mentor
If the small business world had a dictionary, Buffalo's Greg Edwards would almost certainly be pictured under the definition of "overnight success." In less than one year, his firm, Big Bear Inc., became one of western New York's leading manufacturers of embroidered apparel and promotional items. Greg serves several distributors and major accounts across the U.S., and was selected to produce T-shirts when Buffalo hosted the World Veterans Athletics Championships in the summer of 1995.
Like most start-up businesses, Greg started from scratch. After a 10-year career in sales, plus experience working for another local embroidery firm, he knew there was a strong market waiting to be tapped. In early 1995, he had identified his opportunities, resource needs, and even an attractive location: a former automobile radiator manufacturing plant that was being converted into an "incubator" for small businesses. But because this was his first attempt at running a business on his own, Greg sought advice from his local SCORE chapter.
Edwards fully understood the value of listening to SCORE’s advice after Big Bear's first year. Sales were increasing dramatically, yet the small company was running out of cash. "I didn't think it was possible to do that," he says. "Fortunately, we were able to make adjustments and get back on track rather quickly. But you can bet that when my accountant or advisors tell me something now, I pay attention."
Things are really humming at Big Bear Inc. now. Sales have grown from $60,000 in the first year to about $1 million in 1998, and the company's products are used by many of the nation's largest corporations. An article in a local newspaper cited Big Bear as a model for other potential business start-ups. The Buffalo SCORE Chapter agreed with that assessment, and named Edwards as its first "Client of the Year" in 1996.
"Greg was off to a good start," recalls his SCORE mentor, Robert Fogelsonger, who had started and managed his own successful lumber firm. "He had already prepared an excellent business plan. All he needed was some general business advice to make sure nothing had been overlooked." Greg and Robert discussed a variety of issues during their session, including marketing and sales, financing, manufacturing, and other start-up issues. When he left the SCORE mentoring center that day, Greg felt confident that he was ready to flip the proverbial switch, start the embroidery machines and bring Big Bear Inc. to life. With his business plan, Greg applied for and received a $150,000 SBA-guaranteed loan to purchase embroidery equipment. With so much working in his favor, what could go wrong?
"It's easy to be blinded by your own enthusiasm when you have what seems to be a good idea," Edwards says. "You're tempted to brush off any negative or cautionary observations because you're sure they won't happen. But to truly succeed, you must solicit advice from experienced business people like SCORE and then listen to it."
"I appreciate all the help SCORE has given me," Edwards says. "They are a great resource for any business owner just starting out. They offer a wealth of experience and ideas, all for no charge."