Want to start a business in Pinal County? Come knock on Central’s SBDC door first

By Tom Di Camillo, Media Relations Officer

CASA GRANDE, Ariz. – Entrepreneurs looking to start a business tend to comb professional advice magazines, attend expensive seminars filled with promises, or knock directly on the doors of those endless alphabet agencies touting federal, state and local funding.

The red tape is harder to cut than a deadbolt lock.

But Jim Rhodes, the director of Central Arizona College’s Small Business Development Center, has his own wrecking crew that kicks in doors to opportunity.

If you want to start a business in Pinal County, Central Arizona College’s Corporate Center is the place to begin.

“Much has been written about the pitfalls of starting your own business,” Rhodes explained. “Most articles begin with how many and why businesses fail. But you need to look at the successes to understand what people did right.”

And what successful entrepreneurs do right is provide something that fills a need backed by an assurance of customer service.

“There is no substitute for quality of product or service including customer service,” Rhodes explained. “Quality must be part of the vision and the execution. Some companies lack the current concept of quality, thinking quality means only minimizing product defects.”

Making sure the product is good is paramount, according to Rhodes, but there is no substitute for what has become mandatory good customer service.

“Servicing product quality may have worked in metric measurements but it isn’t sufficient from the customer perspective. Customers expect perfect delivery of products and services. Their evaluation is based on the whole experience. Quality of both product and service is important because customers take personal aggravation and time wasted into account. Business owners absolutely must recognize this.”

Rhodes has produced multiple success stories through Central’s SBDC program, including Fred Tucker, owner of Tucker Contracting who turned an investment of less than $50,000 and a used pick-up truck into gross revenues of $300,000 in less than two years. A year later, he realized more than half-million dollars.

“The successful entrepreneur sets goals for every aspect of the business,” Rhodes stated. “If the owner can't clearly articulate a vision and specific goals, how can employees expect to put the pieces in the right spots? Even in a one-person operation, it is important to prioritize business activities to ensure that the right things are being done at the right time. Planning also allows business owners to measure the effectiveness of their efforts.”

Central Arizona College SBDC success stories are numerous throughout Pinal County and the region.

Jan Gradle dreamt of better pediatric medical care in her Apache Junction area. As she has watched that dream coming true, her revenues have climbed exponentially to more than $850,000 in just two years.

After the mechanical requirements of licenses and permits, what are the common threads in these and other successful ventures – commitment, confidence and discipline, according to Rhodes.

“Successful entrepreneurs are committed to their dreams and to the business opportunities hiding within,” he said. “They also understand that commitment and sacrifice will be required of their families as well.”

Successful small business owners are disciplined and can visualize their success in the written plan. Deviating from its execution is not an option.

“Small business owners are confident of their abilities to be successful,” Rhodes said. “They see setbacks as opportunities to learn more about themselves and their business operations. Their confidence is infectious as those around them believe in their vision and plan as well. Even on a down day, the entrepreneur knows that the elasticity in their commitment will pull them back to the top.”

According to facts cited by Rhodes, owners spend six to 10 months researching and preparing before they began actual operations, with 90 percent of those individuals asking for some type of professional advice and help from lawyers, accountants or some type of SBDC program.

“If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right,” Rhodes said. “Almost 70 percent of small business owners took business courses prior to start-up, while more than half of them expected to be patient or had modest expectations of success.”

While Rhodes emphasizes the successes, he makes his entrepreneurs wary of the pratfalls.

“Inadequate planning, especially financial planning, will doom a business,” Rhodes said. “But poor management, poor communication and lack of accountability will absolutely kill it.”

Other common denominators in sinking business ventures include a lack of experience, especially in the industry an entrepreneur is trying to tap, and not enough funding to continue operations.

“You would be surprised as the number of owners who deny that their business is in trouble,” he added.

But despite the inherent risks of owning and operating a business, small businesses are considered the spine of the American economy by the United States Small Business Administration

“In Arizona, a small business is defined as having fewer than 200 employees,” Rhodes said. “Of all the businesses in the United States, it is estimated that more than 99 percent – about 24 million - are small.”

The Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy nationally indicates small businesses:

  • Create 75 percent of all new jobs
  • Employ 52 percent of the business workforce
  • Produce 51 percent of our nation’s private sector gross domestic product (GDP)
  • Generate 96 percent of all the U.S. exported goods and services
  • Include seven million women and minority-owned firms
  • Provide about 67 percent of “first job” opportunities
  • Produce more than half of the innovations in products

“In Arizona it is estimated that there are more than 250,000 small businesses employing 51 percent of the state’s private sector non-farm employees,” Rhodes said.

And that is how Rhodes and Central Arizona College’s SBDC has found its own niche in the community.

“Once we discovered the need, we hatched a business plan, secured the financing, followed the roadmap, and created our own blueprint at Central Arizona College to help other potential entrepreneurs,” he explained.

Rhodes has put together a stellar team to help burgeoning entrepreneurs throughout the county. His diverse background includes experience in public and business administration, sales management, and new business development.

Rhodes has taught leadership and senior management courses at several Detroit-area colleges and universities, and has guest lectured at numerous management training facilities and leadership development symposia over the years.

Kathy Chance is Central’s SBDC counselor who conducts How to Start or Buy a Business seminars in Pinal County.

“Her responsibility is to help entrepreneurs understand what it takes to start and operate a successful small business,” Rhodes said. “She has 19 years of experience assisting entrepreneurs that will help business owners overcome the challenges and pitfalls, locate sources of assistance and information, identify networking opportunities, and establish important relationships.”

As a business analyst, Dan Shaffer assists start-up and existing businesses in all functional areas including business planning, strategic marketing, quality management and financing.

For more than 20 years, Shaffer has owned and managed a successful S-corporation involved in international product sourcing, contract manufacturing and economic development consulting. His clients have included major U.S. corporations, municipalities, Indian nations, Arizona State University and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“Dan has taught small business management at Arizona State University and has personally prepared many business plans and feasibility studies for his clients,” Rhodes said.

Jim Hunt is Central’s counselor in the northern area of the county who brings a variety of business and educational experiences to the position.

“Jim has a diversified background that includes business ownership, sales management, business consultation, and teaching in high schools and colleges,” Rhodes said.

Recently retired from Northwest Missouri State University, Hunt served as the institution’s director of the small business development center while also teaching entrepreneurship classes for seven years.

--CENTRAL ARIZONA--


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