Knowing Your Place in the Past Can Help Assure Your Place in the Future: How SBA Resource Partners Helped EyeSeeMe LLC Turn Their Vision into Reality
When she was a young child, Pamela Blair was spellbound by the stories her father, Shadrock Porter, would weave of the leaders and peoples of the ancient great kingdoms of Africa. Thanks to sage planning advice from St. Louis-area SBA resource partners, she’s joining her husband, Jeffrey, in an effort to bring tales of African heroes and great African Americans to children in the community.
The family-owned business, EyeSeeMe, provides books, games, puzzles, posters and music to highlight positive images to children of Biblical and African American heroes. The couple launched its web site in April 2012, and is becoming a steady presence at vendor fairs and school fundraising events.
While Pamela was proud of the history of her ancestors, and eagerly shared those stories with her curious children, she found the knowledge of their African past wasn’t well understood by their school friends. Pamela would visit classrooms, and was astonished that there were no pictures on display of African American inventors or other history makers. Students learned nothing of historic role models or heroic characters of the Bible they could follow as role models; without such role models children had no basis to discover their own ambition to succeed, especially in the classroom.
That lack of positive African American stories for children convinced her to join with her husband to create a prototype of tabletop family game based on a timeline from the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, through rulers of the Ottoman Empire, to scientists and inventors of modern times. As her children played the game, their school performance improved enough to attract the notice of their teachers who invited the couple to share their game with other students in their classes.
“One teen friend of my children watched the television miniseries Roots, and was ashamed that the legacy of slavery defined him,” Pamela said. She invited him and other children to start playing the new game, and soon enough, the other students repeated the academic performance of her children, as they saw their place in history and as valued members of society.
The potential of their game could do more than inspire a generation of young people; it could help launch a unique new business.
The couple first visited the Kirkwood SCORE office and worked with patent attorney, Robert Lewis, to copyright their product; next, they sat in on a marketing seminar and learned of the help available from the Grace Hill Women’s Business Center. Pamela signed up for the center’s Business Development Class, where she learned the basics: accounting, pricing, developing a business plan, and putting together a web site to promote their fast-growing line of educational merchandise. She continues to obtain advice from Grace Hill Counselor Tracey Jeffries.
With the help of SBA resource partners as a foundation, the couple wants to open a storefront for EyeSeeMe next year to conduct workshops as well as offer products for sale. They’re working on a mobile app for their new Inventors game, secular and Biblical product lines, and their vision for the company sees educational animation bits, computer games, even movies in the future. With the excellent reception and results in the African American community, they hope to offer the same for Hispanic children and other groups.
Moreover, the couple seeks to start a foundation to include after-school programs, parenting classes, and further education on history and culture from parents, teachers, and the community to build brighter futures for area children.
“We see our products in every household, and EyeSeeMe becoming a name in diversity education,” Pamela said. “It’s important for children to say to themselves, ‘I matter,’ and ‘I’m a part of the history of this country and the world,’ and to understand that we all bring things to the table.”
While EyeSeeMe is small now, their vision will take them as far as it will take the children who learn from their products. After all, when you don’t limit yourself, your opportunities are limitless.
To contact EyeSeeMe, visit http://EyeSeeMe.com/ or call 888-509-3998. Pamela and Jeffrey are currently operating out of their home, so any correspondence should be addressed to EyeSeeMe LLC, PO Box 220622, St. Louis, MO, 63122.
To find out more about the Grace Hill Women’s Business Center, visit http://www.gracehill.org/content/GraceHillWomensBusinessCenter.php, call 314-584-6840, or visit 2125 Bissell, St. Louis, MO, 63107. To contact SCORE, visit http://stlouis.score.org/ or call the main SCORE number at 314-539-6600 extension 242.
SBA’s St. Louis District Office can be reached at 314-539-6600 or at http://www.sba.gov/mo/stlouis.
In our fifties, many of us count down the years until we can retire. We join AARP. We start thinking about the money we should have put aside over the years and look at how we can put aside a little more. We see our children leave home. We start thinking about things we’ve put off that we’d like to do before we get too old. Often we look at what we’re going to leave our children as a legacy. John House was 56 years old and considering all of this and more when he started JHS Specialties, LLC, a green product industrial supply sales company, in July 2011.
House medically retired from the Army as a 71L, Clerk-Typist; an 11B, Infantryman; and 05C, SCUBA Diver. He had lost the sight in his right eye and developed bad knees but had other work experience as a police officer, a salesperson and volunteering as a SCUBA trainer for Rescue and Recovery workers. Because his wife has a lifelong debilitating disease, together their medical expenses total about $7000 a month…but House was one who hoped to leave a legacy to his children.
He sat down with his kids to see if they wanted to run a company he would start. They were interested, so he set forth to find out how to start and manage one. House met with Greg Tucker from the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Center (SBTDC) in Hillsboro, Missouri, and found not only an adviser, but his cheering section, and “an occasional kick in the pants along the way” as he started a specialty company to sell commercial and industrial supplies from his home in Valles Mines, Missouri.
His immediate challenge was getting money to buy product, which he found from his lender, who extended a $10,000 line of credit. His customers were good about paying their bills since they knew he was a small business owner and he averaged a 15-day turnaround on his invoices. He bought new product with the money that came in and went out and sold, and sold, and sold.
“It was surprising to me since I’ve worked in sales and taught sales, that it was tough to get used to doing it on my own. It was hard to get going some days. I was 56 years old, walking in cold and opening new accounts. People asked, ‘Are you going to be around to come back?’ because of my age. That was hard to hear,” he said.
He also found 12 hour days, six days a week to be challenging. “You just don’t have the same energy you had in your 20s and you just don’t recover as well. Many a time I called Greg because I was losing faith in myself. He talked me down.”
John feels his strengths are his Army experience, his time as a police officer on the streets in a car and previous construction sales. “What better way to learn customer service?” he asks.
His wife gives him great business advice as a former sales analyst for Rubbermaid and he has learned to run his ideas by a group of three small business owner friends to get wise counsel.
Most of the commercial and industrial supplies House sells are American-made. “One of the reasons I’m doing this is to sell American-made products. I got tired of walking into stores and seeing foreign products. I’m proud of my country and want to help bring buying USA back,” he says. He also works with suppliers to create green products such as solvents, penetrants, lubricants, and cleaning products that actually work as well as non-green versions.
His sales strategy is to go in and make a friend. He tries to solve existing customer problems and feels that he should always “under-promise and over-deliver.”
He feels his customers are his partners. “Anyone who owns their own business to avoid having a boss has the wrong idea. When you own your own business, all of your clients and potential clients are your bosses.”
His strategy has clearly been successful so far. In just over a year, his business has outgrown the basement and House just moved into a leased space. He now employs two employees- one full-time and one temporary. He wants to hire more salespeople, but is running into a time crunch since it takes time to train them.
Recently, House has developed some anxiety leading to lost sleep. Now he has overhead. He also wants to start a company website for his sales, but he’s aware that will be a huge endeavor and believes he has to find the right person to set it up and manage it.
“Growing a company is hard,” he has realized.
House offers this advice to prospective business owners, “Go to the SBTDC, to SBA. The government is there to help you. Use them. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Make sure you’re willing to work 12-14 hours per day and six or seven days a week. If you want to leave a legacy to your kids, make sure it’s what they want. Sit down and talk to them.”
While he sometimes questions why he’s doing this at his age, he promises himself he will retire when he gets his business where he wants it.
“Whatever age you start a business, you should analyze what you want to do and ask yourself if this is what you want to spend your time doing.” he says.
John still finds time to volunteer with at-risk kids to teach them Tae Kwon Do, but says the business has taken a heavy toll on his social life and free time. He believes the sacrifice will be worth it.
So, even when we’re more gray on top or have forgotten our original color, our bodies have changed shape and size and won’t do what they once did, and we don’t have the energy we had in our 20s; there is hope for anyone over 50 who wants to start a business. And, there are programs to help those willing to take on the next adventure.
JHS Specialties, LLC, can be reached at 636-937-7474 or by emailing John House at email@example.com. Look for his website in the future.
The Hillsboro SBTDC can be reached at Jefferson County Extension Center, 301 3rd Street, P.O. Box 497, Hillsboro, MO, 63050, or by calling 636-797-5480, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Other Missouri SBTDC offices can found at http://www.missouribusiness.net/sbtdc/centers.asp. SBA’s St. Louis District Office can be reached by calling 314-539-6600 or at http://www.sba.gov/mo/stlouis.
All of us are occasionally blessed to run across people at just the right time in our lives to create a positive and sometimes life-changing impact. It might be a teacher, professor, coach, clergy member, or workplace mentor. Perhaps surprisingly it is often a counselor with one of SBA’s resource partners. That's what happened to Robin Boyce of the Hastings Group while she attended a business development class at Grace Hill Women’s Business Center.
Boyce was working for a radio station, bringing in more than $690,000 in yearly revenue to the station but she wasn’t getting much in return. After 30 years of experience in broadcast journalism, sales, marketing, and public relations within the ever-changing and uncertain media world, she began to wonder, “Why don’t I work for myself and keep the profits?” She founded The Hastings Group in 2008, naming it for her grandmother, who was her biggest career supporter.
As she got into the nuts and bolts of business ownership Boyce realized that being an expert in public relations did not always translate in knowledge about owning a business. A business-owner friend recommended she take a business development class at Grace Hill Women’s Business Center. She saw an ad for the class in the St. Louis American and felt it was a sign she should enroll in the class. In her 2009 class she learned how to write a business plan, basic bookkeeping and tax skills, technology usage, market research, positioning, banking and loan information, and how to portray the uniqueness of her business in comparison to similar businesses. Arthur Porter of Grace Hill Women’s Business Center made a huge impact on how Boyce saw herself and her business. He created in her a thirst for more business knowledge, motivating her to get her MBA at Lindenwood University in June 2011.
Today, Boyce is slowly and steadily growing her business. She considers herself a hybrid entrepreneur, still working a full-time job and the equivalent of another one at The Hastings Group. In her own business world, she loves helping people see the value of their businesses and finding skills in themselves they didn’t know were there. She specializes in helping people position their businesses and offers advice on why business strategies aren’t working or where and when to open a brick and mortar store. She advises customers to have a one or two line company statement in the forefront of their minds because they never know when they might run into the next potential client. She’ll also coach clients on how to promote their businesses to others personally — how to dress, what to say, and how to say it. She advises owners to get to know their business neighbors since they are often sources of referrals. She works extensively with social media as she feels it is an important marketing tool, especially for small businesses. She assists with e-blasts, press releases, radio or TV spots, newspaper ads, and tweets. With these offerings, Boyce has snagged some major clients, including the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, 2K Technologies, and RESSI Research and Development Solutions.
Boyce believes in giving back to the community as a board member of GITANA Productions, an organization within the African-American community which works to break down cross-cultural barriers by bringing global art and dance groups to St. Louis, and as a mentor to other small business owners.
Boyce describes The Hastings Group as a multi-level marketing, advertising, and public relations firm which develops manager and sales force abilities to better sell products and services to consumers. She says what makes her company special is that they listen to clients and to the market. Although the economy has been a challenge, Boyce says she'll continue to steadily grow her business and continue helping her clients.
A fan of SBA microloan provider Justine Petersen and the St. Louis Development Council, Boyce has worked with both organizations. She feels St. Louis is a great place to incubate a small business--pointing out all the city, county, state, and federal resources that are available. Robin Boyce hopes she will be the right person at the right time to inspire others. Boyce has had some of those special people come into her life at the right time, and she’d love the opportunity to pass the torch. She enjoys the excitement of others when they have an “aha" moment.
”The Hastings Group can be reached at email@example.com. The Grace Hill Women’s Business Center (they assist men, too) is located at 2125 Bissell, St. Louis, MO, 63107. They can be reached by calling 314-584-6840, or visit their website at http://www.gracehill.org/content/GraceHillWomensBusinessCenter.php. For more information on SBA programs and resource partners, please visit the St. Louis District Office at 1222 Spruce Street, Suite 10.103, St. Louis, MO, 63103. You may also call 314-539-6600 or visit the website at www.sba.gov/mo/stlouis.