Shave and a Haircut and Some Community Involvement for You, Mister? How Grace Hill Women’s Business Center and an SBA Microloan Made a (Revised) Dream Come True
When Carla Reid signed up for Grace Hill Women’s Business Centers’ Business Development Class she really had no intention of opening a business—ever. With her background and passion in social services, her goal was to open a non-profit entity to offer men in the community employment training and computer skills classes to help them find work. Maybe in the distant future she could build a reputation and get client referrals from area agencies. But after a friend mentioned the business development class, she was curious and signed up.
Thanks to the class, and help from the SBA Microloan program, she’s turned her dream to help her clients into a for-profit business.
Carla’s space in south St. Louis features hardwood floors and trendy exposed brick walls, soft jazz music and sports on the TV. Make no mistake, it’s a place where a guy can be a guy, while getting sweetly pampered. Elevated Men’s Salon’s offers haircuts, shaves, manicures, pedicures, facials and more. Conversation flows freely, not just about the Rams or the Cardinals; they come for a chance to learn about local organizations that need their help. They leave their chair not just looking sharp, but with a pamphlet in their palm and a promise to do their part in the community.
The idea to tie together social entrepreneurship and for-profit business was planted by Arthur Porter, a former Facilitator with Grace Hill, who taught Carla’s class. With funds tight for area non-profits, he suggested she try to find a way to work with the same clientele in a for-profit business.
“A light bulb lit up,” Carla said. She got excellent advice from her classmates, who served as both support group and sounding board as she moved forward.
Carla also got help from Eddie Davis, her Business Development Counselor at Grace Hill. Eddie assisted Carla in writing her business plan and helped Carla get a $9,000 SBA microloan, thanks to Justine Peterson, an organization which gives people opportunities to create new futures for themselves and their families by helping them become and stay homeowners, start and run successful businesses, access education, begin and manage personal savings programs. She’s also poured money into her business from her regular job as a Disaster Case Manager with a local charitable organization.
She opened the doors to Elevated Men’s Salon May 12, 2012, and hopes to turn her first profit in March 2013.
She’s not a barber and sometimes doesn’t speak the same language as her four independent contractors, but she’s got three barbers for that. She’s also picked up a stylist/manager who styles hair for women in an area of the shop with a separate entrance for them as the women don’t want the men to see them when they’re not at their best.
Carla takes care of shop business in the evenings and on Saturday—doing the books, keeping up the website, working with social media, chatting with clients, sweeping, holding a set of clippers, whatever needs doing.
“Despite all the challenges, I feel the business is already a success,” Carla said. “I’m impacting the community in a positive way by getting men more engaged.”
Having grown up with a loving father in her life, and now a single mother whose child has an uninvolved male parent, Carla understands how crucial male role models are. She requires her employees to participate in at least two charity events per year. They’ve participated in Community Cuts for Kids with other stylists and barbers and continue to work with Big Brother/Big Sisters and stay involved with the Vashon-Jeff-Vander-Lou Initiative which facilitates development and improvement in the quality of life for neighborhoods in the City of St. Louis, MO. Carla works with her alderwoman on local projects to improve their neighborhood.
She’s also inspiring her employees to look beyond her salon; one barber is in business school, two of them aspire to have salons of their own, and another wants to open a tattoo parlor. Carla has pushed herself, too--she is working to overcome her fear of public speaking and has spoken on a panel on women’s business ownership and plans to take the Public Speaking Workshop at Grace Hill.
Carla hopes eventually to move to a larger space that would allow for a masseuse and to open other locations. She wants the experience to be something men look forward to and enjoy (and feel they deserve) just as women enjoy a “spa day”. But if none of that happens and even if she closed the shop tomorrow, “I would consider my business a success because I have found a way to inspire and empower men,” she said. Some clients make a point of coming into the shop just to talk to her and thank her for the experience.
She’s getting referrals, too. Women are referring their significant others and family members and sending their men in for a little pampering. As a result, she’s made her community a better place than she found it.
“I would never be here without Grace Hill, SBA, and Justine Petersen,” she said. “Live your dream.”
Elevated Men’s Salon, LLC, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. They are located at 2758 Lafayette Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri, 63104. They can be reached at 314-664-6746, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on their website at http://www.elevatedman.net/contact.html.
Grace Hill Women’s Business Center is located at 2125 Bissell, St. Louis, Missouri, 63107. They can be reached at 314-584-6840. If you’re interested in the next Business Development Class, contact Falencia Moore at email@example.com. Their website address is http://www.gracehill.org/content/GraceHillWomensBusinessCenter.php. If you’re interested in an SBA microloan through Justine Petersen or any of their other services, their website is http://www.justinepetersen.org/ or you may call 314-533-2411.
SBA’s St. Louis District Office can be reached at 314-539-6600 or at http://www.sba.gov/mo/stlouis.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com. 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.