Entrepreneurs find help at business development center
blog by The Buffalo State Record • September 26, 2011 @ 11:31pm
When a husband-and-wife team wanted to start their own retro clothing boutique in Tonawanda, they turned to their alma mater, Buffalo State.
“One of the first things that we did was, we went to the Small Business Development Center,” said Andrew Davis. Andrew and Julie Ann Davis opened Cats Like Us in 2009, with a business plan created with the help of the center, and their business has been growing ever since.
The Small Business Development Center at Buffalo State was founded in 1984, as part of a network of 24 similar centers across the state.
Buffalo State has the largest of these centers, serving over 1,000 clients from Erie and Wyoming counties every year.
The center is part of the college’s School of the Professions.
“It all lines up here in Buffalo,” said Director Susan McCartney.
The urban location and help from the college allows the center to see more clients and hire unique specialists that cannot be found at any of the other locations in the network.
Most of the aspiring entrepreneurs come to the center for free one-on-one business counseling.
While some business owners only come to the Small Business Development Center looking for quick advice, McCartney and the other advisers encourage their clients to build up long-term relationships.
“What we try to do is get people to write a business plan so they can take their business to the next level,” said Bill Trieshober, an adviser at the center.
Trieshober said there is no typical client. Everyone has unique challenges.
“We’re like the business doctors,” McCartney said. “We want people to get in shape all the time.”
The Davises first had their idea for a store of their own four or five years ago, but didn’t take the steps to make it a reality until more recently. Julie Anne had years of experience working in retail, while Andrew worked in graphic design. Both had a passion for the clothing and culture of the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s.
With the plan they created through the help of the Small Business Development Center, they got a loan from the first bank they approached.
“They don’t have anything invested in it at all except to help you,” Davis said of the center.
They now have a store at 67 Main Street, Tonawanda, as well as an online clothing store at www.catslikeus.com.
The economic downturn of recent years has only increased the interest in the Small Business Development Center’s services. People who lose their jobs elsewhere often feel the need to become their own boss, McCartney said.
“Recessions are the friend of entrepreneurial activity,” she said.
The center does its best to measure its impact on the local economy, although sometimes this is tough to do, McCartney said.
“The real impact is probably six months to a year out,” she said.
Statistics from the center estimate that the businesses they’ve helped have invested over $130 million into the economy and saved over 7,000 jobs.
Buffalo’s Small Business Development Center has the highest evaluations of any of the centers in the state.
There are still challenges for business owners. Even though Cats Like Us is coming close to meeting its sales goals, Andrew Davis said he needed to take a second job in order to support the store. Web sales have grown slower than expected, passing in-store sales for the first time this year. Davis said he hopes they continue to improve.
“There’s a much larger market online than in Western NY,” he said.
Trieshober said that many entrepreneurs do not realize the challenges they will face being their own bosses.
“Being in business is no longer an eight to five job,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to invest the time.” He advises his clients that they will likely have to spend 12 hours every day working.
The key, he said, is focus. Business owners should find a specific specialty, and expand from there.
“Walt Disney never created Disney World, he drew a mouse,” he said.
Despite the challenges, there is still plenty to be said for starting your own business, Andrew Davis said.
“There’s money to be made out there,” he said.
Buffalo State Record News Editor