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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
There are many trite but true expressions about dealing with adverse situations—“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” “A diamond was once a lump of coal that was put under pressure,” and “Necessity is the mother of invention,” are a few that spring to mind. Many famous people have quotes on adversity—you can find web sites devoted to these quotes. Gloria Carter-Hicks of Hicks-Carter-Hicks, LLC, (H-C-H) exemplifies the best of these expressions. Driven, passionate, dedicated, and honorable could all be used to describe the owner, CEO, and president of this management consulting firm. She started her own business in 1999 when the company for which she was working transferred her job function to Chicago. St. Louis was home and she wanted to stay so she made her lemonade from that lemon. At that point, she had 16 years of experience in business—sales, operations, and human resources experience in retail, food service, financial services, and she even worked in city government. Carter-Hicks grew up with parents who owned a small grocery store, so she learned how to be a small business owner from them. If Carter-Hicks doesn’t know an industry or job herself, she knows someone who does.
While her firm offers services in training, management consulting, executive coaching, and surveying employees, she has a special affinity and love for diversity management and inclusion training. In her “free time” she serves on the Minority Business Enterprise Input Committee and board of the St. Louis Minority Supplier Development Council, is on the St. Louis Workforce Development Board, and does volunteer work coaching minority and women-owned small business enterprises. As a female, minority, small business owner, she understands how perceptions can hurt or help a business. She coaches business owners on overcoming negative perceptions—especially those relating to small businesses or minority businesses. For example, some feel small businesses would not have the resources to complete a contract or job, and are hesitant to award contract business. She shows business owners how to capitalize on strategic partnerships and the multiplicative force of these partnerships. Hicks-Carter-Hicks is currently licensed to work in Missouri, Ohio and Maryland, with a long-term goal of opening an office in Maryland.
Carter-Hicks feels diversity is good for businesses and knowing how to work with diverse employees and clients will benefit business bottom lines. We live in a diverse society and we all bring different experiences and viewpoints which can enhance business profitability. Diverse work forces can create a synergy which engenders ideas and solutions that might not otherwise be forthcoming. She feels the opportunity for fairness and to be included is crucial and that businesses should “appreciate, respect, leverage, and value diversity.”
Customer service is H-C-H’s greatest strength according to Carter-Hicks. She will “do the unimaginable to make customers happy” and her goal is “customer satisfaction as opposed to customer service.” She works extremely long hours including the occasional all-nighter, but she doesn’t feel like it’s work. She loves her business, loves her clients, and loves what she does. She also inherited a strong work ethic from her parents so she expects to work for what she wants.
While Carter-Hicks advises other companies she’s also had help along the way. She knew many of the business basics—she understood numbers, politics, and the game of business and had learned about costing, markets, profits, overhead, sales per square foot, and other concepts those new to business might not know, she also knew there were areas where she needed help. As a small business owner, you need more than passion and a dream. You need to be able to pay yourself and others. You need to be able to pay your bills. You need to follow all applicable laws and regulations. She attended SCORE start-up classes prior to opening her business. She attended SBA’s Owner/Manager Boot Camp in 2005. She is State of Missouri certified as a Woman Business Owner and is currently in SBA’s 8(a) government contracting program. (She still uses the basic model of a business plan that she received in the 8(a) program.) She attended the e200 Emerging Leaders program in 2011, which she found especially invaluable for the connections she formed with other small business owners in the area. She also took out an SBAExpress Loan in 2004 for $44,000 which has since been paid in full. She feels it is “more important to work on your business than to work in your business.” This is a principle many new to small business ownership may lose sight of or never grasp without guidance. Working smart is more important than working hard—especially if working hard takes you in the wrong direction.
This strategy works for Carter-Hicks. She and her firm have been profiled in St. Louis Small Business Monthly and the St. Louis American. She has clients who write rave reviews—clients like the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the Greater Cincinnati Water Works, MOHELA, Westfield Insurance and others. She has also received numerous awards. Most importantly, she continues to garner new clients—many by referral. Her emphasis on customer service insures she tailors her services to client needs, which ultimately is more cost effective. She can customize surveys, focus groups, training, coaching, and consulting services. This saves money and employee time. She can even help a client turn those challenges that they encounter into genuine opportunities. So not only does Carter-Hicks embody those trite but true expressions about turning adversities into advantages, she helps her clients do exactly that, too.
H-C-H is located at Two CityPlace Drive, Suite 200, St. Louis, MO, 63141, and can be contacted at http://www.h-c-h.com/ or 314-260-7587. SBA’s St. Louis District Office is located at 1222 Spruce Street, Suite 10.103, St. Louis, MO, 63103, and more information can be obtained at www.sba.gov/mo/stlouis or by calling 314-539-6600. SCORE can be reached by contacting your local SBA office or at http://www.score.org/.
How on earth does a classically trained pianist from South Korea become a world class chef in Columbia, Missouri? Jina Yoo’s story is as interesting as her food. As a child, Jina showed incredible talent as a musician. From the age of six, her career path was laid out for her, and it had nothing to do with cooking—she wasn’t even allowed in the kitchen for fear she would cut or burn her fingers and reduce her practice time. At the age of six Jina practiced three hours a day and that expanded to eleven hours a day as a teen. Jina was extremely talented and hard-working, but she was never passionate about music. She graduated with a major in pipe organ and was accepted into graduate school at Indiana University. At a recital where she made several errors, she had an epiphany that her future was not in music. She told her professor she was leaving music. Her professor wished her luck and didn’t seem overly upset, which surprised Jina.
Fast forward a few years to a young homemaker and mother in Columbia, Missouri. Jina didn’t have a green card. She cooked as a volunteer for the local Korean church, serving up to 150 people at a time and loving it. Her friends and family urged her to open a restaurant. After eight years of dreaming, Jina consulted Virginia Wilson at the Small Business & Technology Development Center. (SBTDC) in Columbia and wrote her first business plan. She took out an SBA guaranteed 504 loan for $312,500 and along with $100,000 of her own money, opened Jina Yoo’s Asian Bistro in July 2007. She gained an immediate following and she now employs 13 full and part time workers in her restaurant, and is still seeking advice from Virginia and the SBTDC.
Jina’s path hasn’t been without obstacles. When she started the restaurant, her English was so poor that her employees couldn’t understand her. She left her husband in 2009 and only had $300 in her business account; she had no personal bank account. She spent half of that on a few essentials at Walmart—a shower curtain liner and shower rod, a towel, shampoo, sheets (no blanket), and a cheap pillow. She once caught her chef outside smoking pot with her high school employees and fired them on the spot half an hour into the evening service. Another time her chef walked out with all of her employees and she ran the restaurant—cooking and serving—for the entire weekend. He expected her to beg him to come back but she never gave him that satisfaction. The economic downturn has hurt her business as it has most restaurants—hers is an upscale restaurant and people have less disposable income for eating out. The catering side of her restaurant helped keep it afloat during these difficult times, along with her faithful patrons.
Jina runs her business according to a few simple rules. First, she pays her food and liquor vendors. She purchases her ingredients then creates her dishes so she can buy more. Second, she pays her employees “on time”. The prevailing wage in Columbia isn’t that high, and she knows it’s not a lot of money, but her employees are counting on that money to pay their bills. A couple of times she despaired that the checks might bounce. Once she even borrowed money from her cousin in Las Vegas to make payroll. Third, she never owes sales tax. Her counselor, Ms. Wilson, made sure that she understood from the beginning “that never was her money,” so she remits it right away. Fourth, she pays her SBA guaranteed loan on time—she couldn’t have opened her restaurant without the loan and is deeply appreciative. Finally, she works hard—14 to 16 hours most days. Her labor costs stay lower because she can jump in and do any job in the restaurant, lending a hand wherever needed. She keeps extra shoes and a chef’s jacket in her office. She does not open for lunch on Saturday and Sunday, but she opens back up in the evening. She likes to go peruse the cookbooks and magazines at Barnes and Noble for inspiration on weekends; it’s her way of relaxing and refreshing herself.
Jina epitomizes the American dream. She demonstrates that hard work, dedication, and perseverance can still yield remarkable results even during tough economic times. She credits much of her success to her grandmother who told her to love what she does and success will follow. Her grandmother also told her not to be stagnant like a pond but to flow like a river. Sometimes she’d be stretched thin, but eventually she’d meet up with the ever-changing ocean. (That same wise grandmother faked an illness a while back to get Jina to take a break and come visit her in Korea.)
Jina is highly competitive, at least in part because of her musical training. She has always thrived instead of merely surviving, and refuses to accept failure. She’s a creative perfectionist, energetic, and easily bored—she cooks off-menu items on Sundays and caters to diet restrictions with advance notice (she needs time to purchase special ingredients). She teaches her chefs to impress themselves instead of trying to impress her—she feels that makes them more creative and better chefs. She loves her restaurant, her employees, and her customers. Her customers have been her moral support as she’s operated her restaurant so far away from her family and her native country. Jina cares for her employees and tries to hire and retain employees who love what they do. While she was never trained as a chef herself, Jina has encouraged two of her workers to attend chef training. Jina considers her office manager indispensable at keeping things on track, since she freely admits she’s a creator, not an organizer. She’s just as happy to leave that side of the job to someone better suited to it. Jina is very self-aware of her strengths and weaknesses and very open about the difficulties she has encountered.
She is active in the Rotary Club—she joined at the suggestion of a customer. She donates to the annual auction the highly coveted “Dinner Party at Jina’s” for six as well as hosting fundraisers at the restaurant with part of the proceeds going to charity.
So, how exactly does a classically trained musician become a successful chef and restaurant owner? She sees the two as closely aligned. Jina views cooking as being similar to creating a song or symphony. The main ingredient is the melody or theme. The other ingredients are harmonious additions to the main ingredient—they should never overpower the theme, but should make it even more beautiful by supporting the main themed ingredient. It seems to be working. She was recently one of 22 businesses featured in the Missouri SBTDC/MO PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Centers) Client Showcase. Jina is also invited to participate in the first Master Chef Korea competition on Korean television. She heard there were over 5,000 applicants for the show and she’s one of 100 finalists. Jina is looking into opening a restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri within the next year, too. While she’s nervous and excited about both endeavors, she also has a lot of confidence. Whenever she travels she tries new restaurants and she’s never tasted anything similar to what she serves at her restaurant—more of a Korean fusion than traditional Korean food. She likes to pull in flavors from other cuisines such as rosemary and cumin to augment the traditional Korean ingredients.
If you’re in Columbia, Missouri visit Jina Yoo’s Asian Bistro at 2200 Forum Boulevard, Suite 109, Columbia, MO, 65203. You’ll see Shrimp Bad Hair Day, Burning Lips Endamame, Gorilla in the Kitchen, and Wanna Share, along with more traditionally titled dishes on the menu. You can also call 573-446-5462 or visit the web site at http://www.jinayoos.com/ for more information. (Be prepared to salivate at the delicious and beautiful food displayed—Jina can’t escape being an artist even though the medium has changed!)