Retail Trade

earthbath

In 1995 when “green” was far from mainstream, Paul Armstrong saw potential in a fledgling pet shampoo company started by three of his buddies in San Francisco. Paul believed bringing totally natural grooming products, sold under the brand “earthbath,” to pet lovers everywhere offered a new market opportunity. He purchased earthbath for a few thousand dollars and, with zero knowledge of the pet industry, set out to learn and grow the business.

In the ensuing years since launch, earthbath has become a household name among conscientious animal lovers everywhere. More than 45 earthbath shampoos, wipes, spritzes, and grooming foams are made from totally natural human-grade ingredients and pure essential oils that do not harm the planet. The products are pH-balanced for sensitive pet skin and contain no animal ingredients or harmful chemicals or toxins. Paul is so serious about the quality of the company’s products that he personally tests each one on himself and offers customers an unconditional satisfaction guarantee with every sale.

earthbath comes widely recommended by veterinarians, groomers and pet hospitals, and is the official shampoo of the San Francisco Zoo. The company has reached several million dollars in annual sales and is sold in thousands of pet stores and via online merchants in 12 countries. In 2010, the company acquired SheaPet, a line of cruelty-free and environmentally conscious products that feature Fair Trade organic shea butter and the highest quality botanical ingredients. In light of the company’s rapid growth and market leadership, Paul continues to run earthbath like a small business, where employees are treated like family and bring their dogs to work.

Earthwhile Endeavors Inc., Founded 1995
www.earthbath.com
Bob Boesch, Lead SCORE Counselor
 

Owner/Founder
Paul Armstrong
My Location
San Francisco CA 94141
United States
Revenue
Several Million
Year Company Formed
1995
My Successes

The company has reached several million dollars in annual sales and is sold in thousands of pet stores and via online merchants in 12 countries. In 2010, the company acquired SheaPet, a line of cruelty-free and environmentally conscious products that feature Fair Trade organic shea butter and the highest quality botanical ingredients. 

What's Great About My Mentor?

Facing unique challenges and barriers to success in the pet industry, Paul immediately turned to SCORE counselors – accomplished executives, professionals and business owners who mentor and advise existing businesses and startups as a nonprofit partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

 

How SCORE Helped

Working together for almost a decade, Paul and his SCORE lead counselor, Bob Boesch, honed manufacturing and production, inventory management and warehousing, marketing and pricing, distribution, financing, exporting, and administration in building a trusted brand. “SCORE advisers have always been easily accessible and many times instrumental in helping me to see through a challenge that I could not otherwise unlock,” said Paul. "Paul has been an enthusiastic and interested client to work with over the years,” says Boesch. “ It is gratifying for me to witness the success he has made with earthbath  

Closets by Design Orlando

Ron Lichwala and Bob Qualters, both senior managers with Fortune 500 companies, had similar quandaries. Each lived in Florida, and each commuted long distances on a regular basis: Lichwala to Washington, D.C., and Qualters to Dallas. Both had extensive experience in sales, marketing and operations management in high-technology manufacturing industries, and neither wanted to relocate out of state.

For two years Ron and Bob discussed options. In 2002, they got serious about making a change. The booming home construction market in Central Florida held strong appeal. The home organizing industry was growing quickly, and mid-Florida was not fully serviced by that type of business. 

The pair purchased a Closets by Design franchise in 2003. To learn more about Closets by Design Orlando, visit orlando.closetsbydesign.com.

Owner/Founder
Ron Lichwala and Bob Qualters
My Location
Orlando FL
United States
Employees
30
Year Company Formed
2003
My Successes

Through careful marketing, hard work and implementing a strategy of providing a quality product at a reasonable price, the pair sold and installed more than 1,500 organizational systems in 2005. The franchise now has more than 30 employees, and the prognosis for strong future revenue is excellent. “We are now receiving many referral leads from satisfied clients,” Qualters says. (Qualters later left the company in 2010.)

“The team that we put together – SCORE, our accountant, and lawyer – was instrumental to our business," Qualters says. "When we made our decision to purchase the franchise and get to work, we had already identified areas of concern and had a business plan in place to ensure our success. We were confident, and I think that helps when starting a business, particularly in an industry that was somewhat new to us."

What's Great About My Mentor?

Mentor Stan Becker played “devil’s advocate” during his discussions with Lichwala and Qualters. “Stan put our feet to the fire asking: Do you really want to be in this business? Are you really confident about what you are planning?” Qualters says. “And, of course, the really big question: Can you be successful operating a Closets By Design franchise in Central Florida?”

How SCORE Helped

The Orlando team first sought help from the U.S. Small Business Administration at the University of Central Florida. Then they heard about SCORE, where they were put in touch with Orlando SCORE Mentor Stan Becker.

Through several discussions with Stan, Ron and Bob solidified their plans. They decided to purchase an existing business rather than start from scratch. After they narrowed the field to three or four options, Stan helped with due-diligence reviews and provided accounting expertise that enabled them to read between the lines on the balance sheets. In the end, they focused on a local Closets by Design franchise.

Stan consulted with Ron and Bob through the negotiation with the franchisor and provided valuable insight based on his vast experience. He also advised them on how to promote their business through zoned advertising in areas with higher incomes, and suggested they make direct contact with custom builders.

"SCORE really helped us get started on the right path," Qualters says. "I think our relationship with SCORE is going to pay off in a big way.”

Curzon Hill Antiques

When Sarah received her degree from Mt. Holyoke College in 1993, she faced a dilemma common to many liberal arts majors—finding a job in a world dominated by high-tech industries. She eventually joined a computer consulting firm and worked in Lisbon, Portugal for 18 months. When she returned to the United States, she consider ways to capitalize on her experiences and education exploring the world of antiques during her travels.

Hill's shop, Curzon Hill Antiques, is now a staple of the Alexandria, Virginia main-street shopping scene. Since 1993, Hill has sold vintage and antique fine linens, European porcelain, holiday decor and books. In 1997, she started offering cleaning, repair, and preservation services for antique lovers in the Washington, D.C. area. 

Hill works alongside her mother, Betty, and her daughter, Charlotte. Most recently, they added a new division to their business called Needles & Hooks, through which they stock traditional rug-hooking supplies. 

To learn more about Curzon Hill Antiques, visit www.linenconnection.com.

 

Owner/Founder
Sarah Hill
My Location
Alexandria VA
United States
Year Company Formed
1993
My Successes

Hill's quick success paired with media attention led to her expand her business to specialize in linen care and preservation. Along with her SCORE mentors, Hill has been able to make wise decisions for the long-term health of her business. 

When Hill was considering a retail location for her business, she had her eye on a building that had been empty for some time. “One site that seemed very promising had been vacant for two years,” Hill recalls. “Mr. Rosen sensed that something was wrong and suggested that I first find out why it had been on the market so long. It turned out that the landlord didn’t have a good reputation. I found a much better location near the heart of Old Town while that other space has stayed unoccupied.”

How SCORE Helped

Sarah’s grandfather, who had owned a successful advertising and printing business in Omaha, suggested that she contact the local chapter of SCORE. After attending seminars on start-ups and developing business plans, Sarah began working with mentor Eugene Rosen, a former small business coordinator for NASA. Rosen helped Sarah understand the nuances of cash flow, advertising, and expenses, as well as preparing and analyzing financial reports.

As Hill’s business has grown, so too has the value of SCORE’s expertise. Along with Rosen, Hill started working with mentor Herb Robinson, who formerly owned five dress shops in the metropolitan Washington area.

"Mr. Robinson has brought some great insights into specialty retail markets," Hill says. "Both he and Mr. Rosen have been wonderful about staying in touch and taking a personal interest in my business. Now, I’m doing something that I’d always dreamed about, but wasn’t always sure could really happen. I’m really having the time of my life."

Big Bear Inc. Succeeds With SCORE Mentor

After a 10-year career in sales, plus experience working for another local embroidery firm, Greg Edwards knew there was an untapped market he could serve. He started Big Bear Inc. at a former automobile radiator manufacturing plant that was being converted into a small business incubator, and began to offer embroidery and screen-printing services.

In less than one year, Big Bear 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. In 2009, Big Bear started offering tackle-twill, applique, and heat press options to its services.

But he didn't reach these achievements alone. Edwards sought advice from his local SCORE chapter while planning and opening his shop. 

To learn more about Big Bear, Inc., visit nybear.com.

Owner/Founder
Greg Edwards
My Location
Buffalo NY
United States
Employees
17
Year Company Formed
1995
My Successes

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." Sales grew from $60,000 in Big Bear's first year to about $1 million in 1998. 

What's Great About My Mentor?

"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."

How SCORE Helped

"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 first 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. 

Haggar Collars Receives Free Help From SCORE

Success Stories - Hagar Collars

Haggar CollarsHagar Collars, the idea of Els Bowen, was created because of the Bowen's experiences with their pet bird, Hagar. Hagar started plucking his neck, so the Bowens took him to their veterinarian to see what could be done to remedy the problem. The veterinarian placed a "Victorian collar" on Hagar's neck. The collar lasted approximately 15 seconds before Hagar ripped it to shreds. The vet then suggested the plucking could be remedied by utilizing PVC to create a neck brace. Looking for a better solution, the Bowens found, after numerous alterations and adjustments, a softer and lighter foam material. They tried it on Hagar, and it worked.

After that success, the Bowens thought why not make this collar for other animals? Millions of pets have had some type of surgery or irritated area that requires them to wear the "Victorian Collar" with less than satisfactory results. Tests were then made on the family dog and several friends' pets. Everyone was satisfied including the pets! The collars completely met their needs. Samples were then given to hundreds of veterinarians. Those that tried the collar were very satisfied, especially with the ease of use and the animal's acceptance of the collar.

Els Bowen did not know what was involved with starting a business so she purchased a book on "How to Start a Business in Texas" and SCORE was listed as a FREE resource. She sat down with Lyman Bowe of SCORE and explained the product and the need for assistance to move the product to market. Lyman identified some key questions about the product and the business environment including manufacturing, distribution options (wholesale, retail, distributor), office, and warehouse needs. These questions, as well as many others, were solved with the aid of a completed business plan. A source for manufacture of the product has been found, marketing activities are underway, and revenue from sales of the product is now being realized.

Els worked with three individuals from SCORE and the Small Business Development Center staff in Plano: Lyman Bowe, Monty Edwards and Larry Hamilton. Her comments sum up her feelings about the help received: "I know the people from SCORE and the SBDC are sincere. They volunteer their services and have nothing to financially gain or lose by offering their advice. My husband and I realize we have a long way to go before we reach the American dream. There will be many obstacles to overcome, but with the assistance of SCORE and the SBDC we plan to keep those obstacles to a minimum. Our ultimate goal for this company is to establish a reputation and product that will be accepted worldwide and to pursue this business full time."

 

Stitch Succeeds with advice from SCORE Mentor

Holly Aiken, entrepreneurial small business owner of STITCH, a handbag shop located at 20 E. Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh was guided to success by a SCORE mentor.

Owner/Founder
Holly Aiken
My Location
20 E. Hargett St.
Raleigh NC
United States
My Successes

Raleigh, NC

Holly Aiken, entrepreneurial small business owner of STITCH, a handbag shop located at 20 E. Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh was guided to success by a SCORE mentor.

Aiken, 35, a graduate of North Carolina State College of Art and Design said, "I started out making handbags for friends and slowly my designs became popular. I decided to do it full time. I didn't really know how to start a business. My mom mentioned SCORE and I made an appointment about 18 months ago. I didn't have a solid plan or money for growth."

Lou Martin, a retired project manager, worked with Aiken. She brought a whole bunch of 'stuff' with her not knowing what was required.

Martin interviewed Aiken ascertaining her need for a formal business plan and a small line of credit.

Manufacturing the handbags from a small space when she began her venture, Aiken's success has allowed her to relocate to downtown Raleigh where she achieves more local exposure. Her handbags are now sold on-line and at small boutiques around the United States.

"Being able to get advice, asking a variety of questions and having a person like Lou to help, has been an amazing experience. Not having to worry about paying for it gave me peace of mind. But having someone say, 'Yes, you're on the right track,' was the best," concluded Aiken."

SC Lowcountry SCORE Client of the Year 2008

The Journey Starts With The Marines

After one year at Florida State University, Jonathan wanted to try something new, so he joined the Marines. Four years later, transferred to Beaufort, South Carolina, he met his wife while serving as a marksmanship instructor.

His deployment to Iraq left a three-month pregnant wife at home. "It was a difficult time. I had to lead my section during pretty volatile situations, and was nervous about my first child being born. I had to remember, "I am missing out on a big thing back home, but I need to keep my mind here right now." I learned early on to make sure that we got each other home alive first. You can worry about other stuff later."

His decorated battalion went into the siege of Fallujah in 2004-05 with Jonathan serving as a heavy-machine-gun section leader. "We were tapped to be one of the first ones to start puttin" rounds into the city."

 

My Location
Port Royal SC
United States
Year Company Formed
2007
My Successes

While he and his men worked to clear the way for door-to-door searches, a grenade went off in front of him and embedded shrapnel in his thigh. A week later, a sniper bullet sliced open the skin on his arm. In both situations, he stayed until the job was done, and received two purple hearts as a result. Jonathan"s Kilo Company (3rd battalion, 5th Marines) received a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a "Combat V" Device for valor in Combat. While he fought, his wife gave birth to their son.

With the conclusion of his tour in Iraq, Jonathan talked with his wife about what to do next. Jonathan remembered that when they were in South Carolina, there was a demand for a Surf and Skate retail store.

They spent seven months communicating back and forth-often late at night-before anything materialized, delving into all areas of business and planning.  I really needed that guidance and mentorship. That's where SCORE came in. Sometimes it"s still hard for me to believe that I have my own business."

Killer Peaks, LLC

One of the key features of Jonathan"s business plan was to take his enterprise into the community. He puts together events and clinics for both new and experienced skaters within a city-owned skate park not far from Killer Peaks.

"It occurred to me that there are a lot of kids who might want to skate here, but would be intimidated when they first try. We show them that the sport is more than what they might think. It is a form of individual expression."

What's Great About My Mentor?

It hasn"t always been easy. Jonathan decided early on to drop the surfing merchandise to focus solely on skateboarding. Their website reads: "It didn"t take long for us to lose interest in the surf side of the house because our ethics would not permit us to sell mass-produced China-crap boards and that"s where things were going in our area. On the flip side, the skate scene here is 100% legit."

In addition to appeasing purists, Jonathan found that some of the merchandise he wanted to sell didn"t play to his strengths. He sheepishly admits that when starting up, he added several thousand dollars worth of bikinis to his inventory. "I am not real good at selling female swimwear. I should have known my own personality-not the kind of guy that a girl would feel comfortable buying a bikini from. It"s better to take what you know and invest in it, rather than spreading yourself thin in other areas that may look lucrative."

With an attitude that befits one of the Few and the Proud, Jonathan Bekemeyer keeps pushing forward with new plans and aspirations. He intends to utilize any number of contacts and open his own skate park; with careful planning and SCORE behind him, this ex-Marine will no doubt continue to push boundaries.

How SCORE Helped

"I remembered that when we were in South Carolina, there was demand for a Surf and Skate retail store, but I was intimidated by the idea because I had no business background. I got in contact with SCORE, and while skeptical at first, they were willing to give me 100% of their time, and became instrumental in showing me that this really was a possibility by helping me draft a business plan."

"Not only did I have no understanding of business, but I had no concept of accounting either. I can say without a shadow of doubt that this business would have never come into existence without SCORE. I really needed that guidance and mentorship. Sometimes it"s still hard for me to believe that I have my own business."

Education

Jonathan's Journey

  • 1996 - Graduates from high school in his hometown in Florida
  • 1997 - After an unsuccessful year at Florida State University, joins the Marines, starting as a tow-gunner then becoming a machine gunner
  • 2001 - Lives in Beaufort, SC, serving as a Marine marksmanship instructor and meets his wife
  • 2004 - Transfers to Camp Pendleton, then deployed to Iraq
  • 2005 - Receives medals and an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps
  • 2005 - Meets with SCORE counselors to develope a small business
  • April 1, 2006 - Killer Peaks Opens For Business

Outstanding Veteran-owned Business Award 2009

 

Jonathan Bekemeyer’s transition from pounding rounds of ammunition in the city of Fallujah to putting on skate clinics for Beaufort skaters straddles two worlds that couldn’t be more different. The success of his skate shop is even more intriguing when considering that the 31-year-old South Carolinian began the venture without any business training or knowledge.

After one year at Florida State University, Jonathan wanted to try something new, so he joined the Marines. Four years later, transferred to Beaufort, S.C., he met his wife while serving as a marksmanship instructor. His deployment to Iraq left a three-month pregnant wife at home. “It was a difficult time. I had to lead my section during pretty volatile situations, and was nervous about my first child being born," he says. "I had to remember, I am missing out on a big thing back home, but I need to keep my mind here right now. I learned early on to make sure that we got each other home alive first. You can worry about other stuff later.”

His decorated battalion went into the siege of Fallujah in 2004-05 with Jonathan serving as a heavy-machine-gun section leader. “We were tapped to be one of the first ones to start puttin’ rounds into the city,” he says. While he and his men worked to clear the way for door-to-door searches, a grenade went off in front of him and embedded shrapnel in his thigh. A week later, a sniper bullet sliced open the skin on his arm. In both situations, he stayed until the job was done, and received two purple hearts as a result. Jonathan’s Kilo Company (3rd battalion, 5th Marines) received a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a "Combat V" Device for valor in Combat. While he fought, his wife gave birth to their son.

"Not only did I have no understanding of business, but I had no concept of accounting either. I can say without a shadow of doubt that this business would have never come into existence without SCORE. I really needed that guidance and mentorship. Sometimes it’s still hard for me to believe that I have my own business."

—Jonathan Bekemeyer, owner, Killer Peaks

With the conclusion of his tour in Iraq, Jonathan talked with his wife about what to do next. “I remembered that when we were in South Carolina, there was demand for a Surf and Skate retail store, but I was intimidated by the idea because I had no business background," he says. "I got in contact with South Carolina Lowcountry SCORE, and they were willing to give me 100 percent of their time, and became instrumental in showing me that this really was a possibility by helping me draft a business plan.”

They spent seven months communicating back and forth—often late at night—before anything materialized, delving into all areas of business and planning. “Not only did I have no understanding of business, but I had no concept of accounting either," he says. "I can say without a shadow of doubt that this business would have never come into existence without SCORE. I really needed that guidance and mentorship. Sometimes it’s still hard for me to believe that I have my own business.”

One of the key features of Jonathan’s business plan was to take his enterprise into the community. He puts together events and clinics for both new and experienced skaters within a city-owned skate park not far from Killer Peaks. It occurred to me that there are a lot of kids who might want to skate here, but would be intimidated when they first try," he says. "We show them that the sport is more than what they might think. It is a form of individual expression.”

 

Owner/Founder
Steve Arnot
My Successes

 

 

 

With the conclusion of his tour in Iraq, Jonathan talked with his wife about what to do next. “I remembered that when we were in South Carolina, there was demand for a Surf and Skate retail store, but I was intimidated by the idea because I had no business background," he says. "I got in contact with South Carolina Lowcountry SCORE, and they were willing to give me 100 percent of their time, and became instrumental in showing me that this really was a possibility by helping me draft a business plan.”

They spent seven months communicating back and forth—often late at night—before anything materialized, delving into all areas of business and planning. “Not only did I have no understanding of business, but I had no concept of accounting either," he says. "I can say without a shadow of doubt that this business would have never come into existence without SCORE. I really needed that guidance and mentorship. Sometimes it’s still hard for me to believe that I have my own business.”

One of the key features of Jonathan’s business plan was to take his enterprise into the community. He puts together events and clinics for both new and experienced skaters within a city-owned skate park not far from Killer Peaks. It occurred to me that there are a lot of kids who might want to skate here, but would be intimidated when they first try," he says. "We show them that the sport is more than what they might think. It is a form of individual expression.”

 

What's Great About My Mentor?

One of the key features of Jonathan’s business plan was to take his enterprise into the community. He puts together events and clinics for both new and experienced skaters within a city-owned skate park not far from Killer Peaks. It occurred to me that there are a lot of kids who might want to skate here, but would be intimidated when they first try," he says. "We show them that the sport is more than what they might think. It is a form of individual expression.”

How SCORE Helped

It hasn’t always been easy. Jonathan decided early on to drop the surfing merchandise to focus solely on skateboarding. In addition to appeasing purists, Jonathan found that some of the merchandise he wanted to sell didn’t play to his strengths. He sheepishly admits that when starting up, he added several thousand dollars worth of bikinis to his inventory. “I am not real good at selling female swimwear," he says. "It’s better to take what you know and invest in it, rather than spreading yourself thin in other areas that may look lucrative.”

With an attitude that befits one of the Few and the Proud, Jonathan Bekemeyer keeps pushing forward with new plans and aspirations. He intends to utilize any number of contacts and open his own skate park; with careful planning and SCORE, this ex-Marine will no doubt continue to push boundaries.

Tom and Sally's Handmade Chocolates

After spending years climbing the corporate ladder in Manhattan; Tom and Sally Fegley made the decision to take control of their lives and begin their own business. After planning their handmade chocolate venture for over a year, the couple quit their jobs in January 1989 and were open for business that April. Tom and Sally’s Handmade Chocolates experienced great success in their first six years. They were named the Vermont Small Business of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. They were featured on NBC’s Today show and were written up in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Entrepreneur, Bon Appetit and Mademoiselle.

Then in 1995 the business began experiencing problems; gross sales were up, but net income continued to fall, and Tom and Sally’s started losing money. This is the point when they turned to SCORE for help. After meeting with SCORE mentor Christopher Brown, sharing some financial information, and changing some pricing methods, Tom and Sally’s Handmade Chocolates experienced the sweeter side of small business ownership and eventually merged with Hauser Foods in an effort to expand their retail reach. 

Owner/Founder
Tom and Sally Fegley
My Location
Brattleboro VT
United States
My Successes

After meeting with SCORE mentors to assess and modify their financial situation Tom and Sally’s not only avoided bankruptcy but became profitable enough to successfully merge with Rhode Island’s  Hauser Foods and can now be found in retail locations throughout Connecticut. 

What's Great About My Mentor?

"Christopher taught us to look at pricing from different perspectives and conduct extensive analysis into the time and costs associated with our products," says Sally Fegley. "Had we continued on our path for another couple of years, we would've gone bankrupt. He really saved our business.” Sally calls her SCORE mentor Christopher, "a very special person." Christopher came into the business and listened to the two owners, who as a married couple in a business partnership didn't always make it easy. "He was very respectful of us and brought a lot of maturity to the situation," Sally says.

How SCORE Helped

SCORE mentor Christopher Brown studied years of the Fengley’s financial statements and information and made some very important observations. He made them aware that Tom and Sally’s was not pricing many products properly.  Sally Fegley says "You can't be an expert at everything, but you are expected to be." She equates her SCORE mentor Brown to having a "grandparent" in the business, except without the emotional ties. "SCORE mentors have no vested interest—their full purpose is to help you succeed."

Absolute CNC Machining, LLC Participates in SCORE Workshops

Tom Hodge came about his passion for tooling and machining from his father, Don Hodge, who worked for General Motors as a tool-maker for 37 years. After high school, Tom enrolled in the Project STEP II program at Sinclair Community College where he completed the Computer Aided Manufacturing course and earned his certificate in Tooling and Manufacturing. He then applied his adopted trade locally where he learned plastic and aluminum die-cast mold manufacturing, and specialized in welding and machining fixture design and manufacturing.

Owner/Founder
Tom Hodge
My Location
Germantown OH
United States
Employees
2
Year Company Formed
2009
My Successes

In 1997, Tom joined the General Motors assembly plant in Moraine and was accepted into the four year tool-making apprentice program. Upon completing his apprenticeship, he became a certified Journeyman Toolmaker.

For the next eight years, he honed his skills in computer numerical controlled (CNC) programming, tool-path efficiency analysis, CNC setup and operation, and other aspects of the tooling and machining field. He developed a particular interest and skill in engraving and other creative work. He established a solid reputation as a highly proficient toolmaker and developed numerous contacts in the field.

In June 2008, GM announced that the Moraine plant would be closing by year-end. Tom had the option of applying for a transfer within GM or taking a buyout. "I didn’t trust the fact that they would have any jobs for me. I feel that now I’m in a position to rely on myself," Tom says. So he decided to take the buyout and try to start his own machining business.

Immediately after the Moraine plant shutdown, Tom began setting up his business. He leased a 1,500 square foot workshop in Germantown, which he can expand as his business grows. He purchased several used machines, the key one being a Milacron CNC Vertical Milling Machine, using part of his buyout funds. From January through April, Tom worked long hours seven days a week setting up his shop and becoming familiar with his machines.

Despite the fact that many of his contacts were anxious to give him machining jobs, Tom wanted to be absolutely sure that he was ready to provide excellent quality and service before accepting work. His father, Don, retired and living in Wilmington, Ohio, made the trek to Germantown several days a week to work with Tom in setting up the shop. Beginning in May, Tom began taking machining jobs, including several small jobs for parts for farm equipment and the startup is going well.

With Dick’s help, Tom developed a marketing kit that he is using as he calls on companies he has known over the years that use outside machining services. He is in the process of developing a web site as a key marketing tool. He has registered with FedBizOpps, which enables him to bid on federal contracts.

Tom is a very excited entrepreneur, and is gaining confidence in his ability to successfully grow his business. He recently hired his first two employees. "My vision is to have 10 to 12 employees within five years," he says.

What's Great About My Mentor?

Realizing that he had excellent tooling and machining skills, but little in the way of business skills, Tom came to Dayton SCORE in October 2008 looking for help in learning all he could about starting and operating his business. He was teamed up with mentor Dick King, who had a very successful small manufacturing business in the area for 23 years.

Dick took Tom under his wing and spent immeasurable time with him. He had Tom take two Dayton SCORE workshops: Business Planning for the Small Company and Marketing for the Small Business. Dick taught him to think like a businessman. They worked on Tom’s organizing skills and on how to present himself in business situations.

Dick worked with Tom to develop a business plan; design graphics for a logo and letterhead; form a Limited Liability Company and create an appropriate name for the business, Absolute CNC Machining, LLC; and set up his recordkeeping on QuickBooks. "I couldn’t possibly pay Dick back for what he has done for me. He was always available to me,” Tom says. “We often talked late into the night and on weekends. And I have learned so much from him. I am very fortunate to have him as my mentor."

Click here to check out Tom Hodge and Mentor Dick King as featured on NBC Nightly News!

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