Folks needing that hard-to-find tire for their four-wheel drive vehicle know they have a friend to do the work at Hardcore 4x4—thanks to SBA financing.
What customers get there is service from somebody who turned his obsession into a successful business.
Cory and Heather Schmidt (above) started the St. Paul, Neb., company in 2008, building a garage to specialize in four-wheel drive work, lift kits and modifications. The business was a natural fit for Cory, who, at age 17, owned four-wheelers and spent his spare time "lifting them, customizing them," he said. "So when we had the opportunity to turn my hobby into a career, we did it. If you don't love your job, your job probably isn't right for you."
And this job is a perfect fit for him. Schmidt loves "taking a customer's car that's average and turning it into something extraordinary, and making it stand out in a crowd."
Would even take vacation time to work on his Blazer
After Cory graduated high school, he joined the Air Force as a firefighter. At times, the schedule was grueling, exchanging 24 long hours on duty with 24 hours of free time.
Free time to tinker with a '74 Chevy Blazer he picked up while stationed there.
"On my off days, I worked at an auto parts store to supplement buying auto parts for my Blazer," Schmidt said. "I got an employee discount."
The base enjoyed an auto hobby shop where a young airman could rent a shop stall and tools and lose himself in customizing work.
"Some guys took vacation to travel and see the sights," Schmidt said. "I took vacation just to work on my Blazer."
Getting help from NBDC and a Patriot Express loan
Four years of Air Force duty behind him, Schmidt returned to Nebraska, eventually able to open his own shop. Schmidt’s father-in-law helped him start by renting out part of his tire business building for an auto repair shop, in due course, Schmidt and his wife sought to expand the company beyond repair work to take over the tire business.
To do this, he needed financing for equipment, including $30,000 for an alignment rack, plus lifts and jacks, some fixture purchases and shop supplies–and some working capital. The Schmidts got help to put their expansion plan on paper from Cliff Mosteller at the Nebraska Business Development Center in Omaha, and sat down with Dave Richardson at Equitable Bank in nearby Grand Island for the loan. Richardson accepted a second lien on the small business’ building and used equipment as collateral; thanks to Cory’s service in the Air Force as a firefighter, Hardcore 4x4 was approved Oct. 21, 2010, for a $80,000 Patriot Express loan.
“The loan made our business possible,” Cory added. “Without the SBA we could not have done it.”
Last year, Hardcore 4x4 made just under $400,000 in sales. And with two full-time shop guys, plus Schmidt doing the work and two front office people keeping it all straight,
"We're on track to top that this year," he added.
Keeping the customers happy and back on the road
That line of credit was crucial to serve their friends and neighbors in this farm community. Often, Schmidt will hop in his truck and head off down a dusty country road to meet a customer on a farm with a blown tire.
"Farmers like to charge things, it's the way they do business," he said. "But there were times when we'd have $30-40,000 on the books that people owed us. And it might be a month or two before we get paid"
And Hardcore 4x4's vendors needed to be paid right away.
"There are other businesses in a farm community who say 'we're not going to let you charge' and they've lost business because of that," Schmidt said. "So we let our customers charge to keep them happy."
Hardcore 4x4 has built a network with other retailers in the area who sometimes refer customers to their garage. One customer referred to the shop by another dealer posted on an internet forum how within a couple of hours of a quick call, Heather had scoured her suppliers and found discontinued tires for his 4x4—even at a slight discount from the manufacturer’s price, with no shipping charge.
One customer, who happened to be an Army veteran, posted on the company's Facebook page how he was grateful for the "amazing price" Hardcore 4x4 offered for his Chevy Blazer work
"A lot of our business doesn't just involve the four-wheel drive stuff," Schmidt said. Over the Memorial Day weekend, he wasn't out grilling. Because other shops in town were closed, he was responding to calls from people broke down on the highway.
"You know, I enjoy doing that work because I can picture myself broken down on the road and I know I'd want it to get fixed and get back on the road myself. I figure I owe it to them. You have to sacrifice some personal things to do that, but with my wife working here, I can do that because she understands."
Taking out the four-wheelers for a ride
Don't think it's all work for the Schmidts at Hardcore 4x4. What's the point in lifting and customizing a four-wheeler if you don't have some fun with it?
There's an annual rally event in the shallow Platte River in nearby Central City -- yes, that's in the river -- but the summer floods which plagued Nebraska in 2011 made the stream too deep to take Jeeps out for a spin.
There's no denying 4x4 folks their fun, so soon enough the Schmidts started getting calls from their friends who knew they had a place on the Middle Loup River outside of town.
"They asked me, 'do you mind if we tell other people?' So we got phone call after phone call, and by word of mouth it turned out to be quite the big deal," he said. "It's just for people to have a good time. It's neat to see kids, families, wives and husbands out at a big family event. They like to use their four-wheel drive to go around and have a good time. It's an opportunity for people with the same interest to enjoy same hobby or sport."
Serving customers like that is what keeps him in business.
“In a nutshell,” he said, “we go out of our way to make customer feel they're our only concern at that time," Schmidt said. "We greet them at the door, we treat them as long lost friend, we take that extra time to give them our personal time. You know, it’s nice to grow, but our priority is to keep that relationship going with our customers.”
Since the deal with Hardcore 4x4, Equitable Bank has been approved for 10 more Express loans for a total volume of $628,200. That includes a subsequent Patriot Express loan to Hardcore 4x4 for a line of credit approved Jan. 12, 2012.
For their friends and neighbors, they're the perfect solution for a good night's sleep. Never mind the work they do also can improve health and save lives.
Since 2006, Western Sleep Medicine, the SBA's Nebraska 3rd Congressional District Small Business of the Year for 2012, has provided polysomnographic services to aid physicians in identifying and treating sleep disorders in hundreds of patients.
The business was nominated for the honor by Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC) Scottsbluff Director Ingrid Battershell.
The SBA Nebraska District Office names one outstanding small business to represent each of the state’s three congressional districts based on staying power; growth in number of employees; an increase in sales and unit volume; current and past financial performance; innovativeness of product or service offered; response to adversity; and, contributions to community-oriented projects.
Fast growth fit a critical need
With exceptional patient care as its foundation, Western Sleep Medicine’s net income grew from just below $300,000 in 2007 to more than $1.2 million by 2010, and now employs 17 people.
Now with nine laboratories in western Nebraska, eastern Wyoming and southwest South Dakota, including two independent sleep labs, and partnerships with seven critical access hospitals in the region, Mark Schultz (pictured above), a Registered Polysomnographic Technologist (RPSGT), and co-owner Dr. Gerald Amundsen offer the experience of years of clinical and administrative experience to improve the health of patients of all ages through the identification and treatment of sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea. Estimates say one in three who suffer from hypertension also have obstructive sleep apnea; treating apnea also has proven to lessen the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and mood disorders.
Amundsen is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and is a board certified family physician.
Schultz completed a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wyoming and master’s degree from the University of Louisville, achieving national recognition for rural arts development and earning a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts Locals Program before returning to Scottsbluff in 1994.
Mark Schultz (left) chats with Scottsbluff KHUB-AM news director Kevin Mooney (right) about his selection as the 3rd Congressional District Small Business of the Year for 2012.
Suffering from severe apnea himself, Schultz consulted Michael Kearns, who helped diagnose Schultz’s condition. The two developed a good friendship as professional colleagues in the sleep lab at Regional West Medical Center.
Schultz’ successful treatment of his apnea with an auto titrating continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device inspired him to visit Ingrid Battershell, Scottsbluff director of the Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC) to put together a business plan for an independent sleep lab in Scottsbluff. The goal of Schultz, and his partners, Kearns and Amundsen, was to reduce the four-to-six week turnaround time for sleep services and to perform sleep diagnostics and therapy in a single visit to a sleep lab, saving patients time and money.
In Oct. 2006, Dr. Norman K. Imes of Oklahoma City, Okla., a pioneer in the field of sleep medicine, joined Western Sleep Medicine as medical director.
Branched out to sell equipment
Seeing the need for high-quality follow up services for sleep apnea treatment, the partners formed Western CPAP Supply to purchase and sell equipment for sleep disorder treatment. Both companies secured licensing from the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services in 2007; two years later, both were accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Healthcare.
In 2011, after playing an important role in business growth but suffering from declining health, Kearns sold his share of the business to Schultz and Amundsen. NBDC again proved to be an excellent resource by providing cash flow projections and a business valuation to aid the sale to his partners. Before he passed away, Kearns continued to provide exceptional patient care by mentoring sleep technologists, scoring sleep studies and managing the company staff.
With a desire to help their friends and neighbors in the three-state region, Western Sleep Medicine offers presentations on sleep health to the general public, corporate and government employers and students. Programs include information on sleep disorders, safety, productivity and good sleep habits.
Their Lincoln area neighbors can breathe easier, drink cleaner water and enjoy savings on their energy bills thanks to their hard work.
But Midlands Recycling is too busy to take credit for a cleaner capital city in the Cornhusker State. In 2011 alone, the company sorted and bailed 14,400 tons of paper material, recycling efforts which saved more than 100,000 trees and enough water to supply almost 700 families for a year. They also saved more than 47,000 cubic yards of landfill, which has helped the city extend the capacity of its current landfill beyond its 25-year lifespan.
Midlands Recycling, just south of Lincoln’s historic Haymarket District, was purchased by Palmer and Sons, a family-owned firm in the refuse business for more than a quarter-century. Palmer had rented the operation over the previous year or so before they used the proceeds from an SBA 504 loan approved Sept. 2010 with the help of the Nebraska Economic Development Corp. (NEDCO) and Farmers & Merchants Bank to purchase outright the 45,000-square foot facility; since they took over in May 2009 in the teeth of the recession they've doubled the company's revenues. Another SBA loan approved December 2011 offered the business a line of credit.
“When we got into the market, the business went through a crash and only slowly rebounded,” said Executive Vice President Micah Palmer (pictured above with stacked bales of shredded paper).
But that’s wasn’t the worst part. As Palmer and his family first took over the recycling facility, they found “a disaster,” he said. More than 3,000 tons of trash was stacked five bales high all over the property, and 32 semi-trucks were left loaded with even more bales. So for the first four months, they spent long days, often from 3 a.m. to 8 p.m., just cleaning out the stuff left behind.
The family overcame that early start and the business since has grown from seven to 19 employees. Micah’s brother Kelsey runs Midlands Recycling, while another brother, Colby, runs the family’s Palmer and Sons Refuse business. Their mother also works for the company.
“I pretty much work 50-60 hours a week and even though I’ve been running the plant for three years now, and I’m still learning. But with two young kids and wife, I’m always looking for that balance,” Palmer added. “We strive to keep our guys to 40 hours a week, because we’ve found any more than that and productivity suffers.”
Workers at Midlands Recycling sort trash on a conveyor belt.
And make no mistake, it’s tough work, especially for the employees standing long hours at a conveyor belt wearing thick gloves up to their forearms sorting out glass, cans and plastic from cardboard and paper to be bailed and trucked to an area processing plant. Those bales of plastic can be interesting; a dramatic change in temperature, such as the Lincoln area saw this spring, and they can expand and burst, creating a fresh mess.
The company has provided their small business customers across Lincoln and nearby Omaha with 200 recycling bins, collecting more than 30 tons of cardboard per week, much of which eventually becomes manila folders, new boxes, insulation and product packaging.
"If you've bought a case of Corona or Dos Equis beer, the cardboard came from here in Lincoln," Palmer said with a smile.
Palmer added the glass bottles they collect are turned into countertops, and plastic becomes playground slides and castles for kids; cans go off to Anheuser-Busch to be re-used. They even recycle the heavy wooden pallets used to move bales on to the trucks; Midlands Recycling sends those over to another Lincoln small business, Arbor Industries, to be made into new pallets.
He said the company also collects grass clippings, leaves and other yard waste stuffed in 96-gallon toters from about 500 residential curbside customers, which the company turns over to an organic farmer in the area for use as a natural fertilizer. Recycling this yard waste alone has saved 21 percent of landfill space.
That’s important for a city and surrounding Lancaster County which went through a battle in the 1980s to put a landfill at its present site, “something nobody wants to go through again,” said Mike Palmer, the family patriarch and owner of Palmer and Sons. There hasn’t been another landfill site in the area since, so extending the expected 25-year life of the present fill through recycling efforts has been crucial.
“Our customers wanted that service from us, and wanted an opportunity to slow the flow to the landfill,” the older Palmer added.
Another service their customers needed was solved when Palmer and Sons started Shredding Solutions in 2001 to handle the fast-growing demand to shred important documents, thwarting identity thieves, and recycling the remaining detritus.
“But shredders make paper messy and difficult to recycle,” Palmer said, pointing to the concrete floor of the Midlands Recycling facility, covered in tiny bits of trash.
Palmer shows the hands-on display in the Education Trailer.
Then there's the company’s effort to reach out to a younger generation, encouraging recycling by city school kids. Along with the Midlands Recycling business, Palmer and Sons got in their purchase a huge semi-trailer originally outfitted with a grant by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality stuffed with hands-on exhibits, video monitors and displays designed to teach kids the impact their actions have on the environment and the importance of recycling.
Students not only are educated to recycle, but the hope for Midlands Recycling “is that they'll grow up to be future customers.”
Midlands Recycling also invites local Boy Scout troops to tour the plant and learn the next step in their own community recycling efforts. They also work with Lincoln public schools to collect donated aluminum cans to purchase text books, and teamed with area recyclers on an effort to raise money for the school's general fund. The business also has sponsored a golfing event to help raise money for veteran scholarships.
The partnership Midlands Recycling has with Lincoln-based Journal Star Recycling, the first curbside program ever operated by a newspaper, improved collections by 25 percent and no small amount of landfill space alone. Thanks to a little help from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, the company replaced 18-gallon containers with bigger 65- and 95-gallon carts to homeowners. The curbside carts are dumped into a truck using a machine arm, which can handle then hauled back to Midlands Recycling for bailing and processing.
"It's not that we feel we're saving the Earth here, what we do is beneficial, obviously," Palmer said. "People get wrapped up that recycling is a necessity, but there are some things that don't make sense economically to recycle. Styrofoam for example costs more and takes up more in resources to recycle than to manufacture because it's so easy and cheap to make. So recycling has to make sense as a business and it has to make sense for society.”
The National Restaurant Association reported in 2011 that 65 percent of restaurant operators have recycling programs in place, and that 60 percent of consumers prefer restaurants that recycle. In fact, more than half of diners say they would even pay more to eat at place with a recycling effort.
“There’s definitely a market for recycling,” Palmer added. “And it's a profitable business for us, too."