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Oregon District Office
601 SW Second Avenue Suite 950
Portland, OR 97204
United States
Phone: 503-326-2682
Fax: 503-326-2808
Hours of Operation:
Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM

For Tommy Ogawa, Running a Business Runs in the Family

One day, Tommy Ogawa was walking on a street in downtown Portland when a woman asked him, "Are you Tom Ogawa?" He told her that was his father. "Well, I went to school with him, and you walk just like him," she said. "I thought YOU were him!"

The younger Ogawa shares more in common with his family members than just physical attributes. He remembers making french fries with his paternal grandparents, Hank and Yo Ogawa, at their restaurant, The Polar Hut, while he was growing up. He also remembers spending summers working in a  church camp kitchen in McCall, alongside his maternal grandfather, Marvin Trigueiro, a teacher with a culinary background.
 
When Tom Ogawa retired from teaching, he opened Ogawa's Teriyaki Hut. Tommy Ogawa later bought this, expanded its offerings, moved the location, and changed its name to Ogawa's. His sister, Chris Hicks, owns Zenbento's, a restaurant in Boise.
 
"I guess it runs in the family," Tommy Ogawa said of his culinary roots. "There are a lot of headaches in this business, but I love the people. I love meeting new people."
 
In recent weeks, his patrons have included travelers from Great Britain, and California, with the latter telling him the sushi they had at Ogawa's was better than any they have had in California.
 
"I like coming out and meeting people, asking them about their dinners," he said, noting he took this cue from his former employer, Salvador Sanchez, owner of Fiesta Guadalajara.
 
Ogawa recalled how one patron, who saw him sweeping, observed it was very professional to see an owner doing such work. "I just told him when my staff gets real busy, I just do whatever needs to be done." What Ogawa is doing now includes a good bit of catering, which is fine with the Ontario native. "Catering is," he said, "more profitable, because there is less overhead, and because there can be more exact planning and organization with catered orders; there is less guesswork." Earning some especially large catering jobs has been exciting for the entrepreneur, whose clientele extends throughout the region. In addition to catering, Ogawa also teaches sushi-making classes occasionally through TVCC.
 
Of course, his main connection to TVCC, Ogawa said, is the help he has received from the BizCenter. "I learned there's so much stuff I don't know business-wise," he said. "I could never have put together the business plan without Debi DeBord's help. I can't say enough about Debi." Today, Ogawa said, when people tell him they are thinking of starting a business, he quickly refers them to assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration through the TVCC BizCenter. Ogawa asks them, "Where's your business plan? What are your projections; your estimated profit and loss?" Ogawa noted these are some of the many concepts he learned working with the BizCenter staff. Ogawa said DeBord helped him immensely, sharing these concepts without making him feel foolish. "The thing about working with entrepreneurs is they are people who are generally very up and optimistic," said BizCenter office manager Deb Carpenter. "That's the great thing about Debi (DeBord). She is able to tell them everything they need to know without  squelching that enthusiasm."
 
"She went way above and beyond," Ogawa said. "And, all that advice and help was free!"

High-end Jeans Are Looking Good

Surf Cowboy CEO and founder Jeff Shafer moved his family to Camas, Wash., from Santa Monica, California two years ago. He decided to bring his company’s headquarters with him, citing the region’s deep talent pool for design, its proximity to a major port, and its moderate business costs. Surf Cowboy Inc. is best known for its high-end Agave brand jeans for men.

The move required a new building. The $9.7 million business broke ground last month on a 24,000-square-foot headquarters and distribution facility off exit 14 on Interstate-5 in Ridgefield, Wash. The land and construction cost $3 million, funded in part by a U.S. Small Business Administration loan.
 
Jake Agave Jean Co. was founded in 2002 as an all-men’s denim brand and hit it big by gaining distribution at more than 500 stores, including boutiques, select Nordstrom stores and Barneys New York.
 
The jeans retail for between $185 and $225 a pair with celebs like Samuel L. Jackson, Adrien Brody and Bruce Willis wearing the Agave threads. Sales for the line, which targets 25- to 45-year-old-men, more than doubled from $4.6 million in 2006, and the company is on track to earn $12 million in 2008.
 
“Because of their fit, their unique wash and the quality of the denim, we’ve deemed Agave as one of the best price-value products in the market,” said Simon Chan, men’s senior buyer for Mario’s, a high-end Portland clothier which has carried Agave jeans for years.
 
Shafer attributes the company’s strong growth to filling a void in the market. Many affluent men don’t think twice about spending $200 on a sports jacket, shades or shoes, and in recent years that thinking has extended to high-end jeans. “In the beginning, the stores I approached were like, ‘no way,’” Shafer said. “It was an acquired taste, and like any acquired taste once you get spoiled you don’t go back”
 
One year ago, the company ventured into the women’s market, launching a line called Agave Nectar, which recently gained distribution into Bloomingdale’s. Today Agave’s women’s line, which targets 30- to 50-year-old comprises 10 percent of the company’s sales. The company expects to more than double its work force from 10 to 25 within three years, in part because it is bringing in-house its distribution function following the move. Construction at the 2-acre site will be complete by the start of 2009.
 
Shafer wants to turn the Jake Agave Jean Co. parent company — Surf Cowboy Inc. — into a family of apparel brands. He’s launching a new line of premium jeans called Red Scorpion, which will target a demographic between 15 and 25 years old.
 
Shafer also co-founded the men’s apparel company BC Ethic Clothing in 1992. The homage to blue-collar apparel took off, and the company was worth $24 million when he sold his stake in 2001.
 
Despite a tough retail environment, developments in the high-end denim market look good for Shafer’s business. The market for jeans costing more than $75 grew 24 percent in the first quarter of 2008, according to NPD Group, compared to 2 percent for jeans costing less than that. The total jeans market is a $200 billion a year enterprise. The high-end jeans market made up 3 percent of jeans sold in the United States in the first quarter of 2008.

The Queen Bee of Creations

Rebecca Pearcy spent years building her specialty handbag business, Queen Bee Creations. She started her business from the corner of her bedroom while she was in high school. Later she studied at a textile and fabric institute in Philadelphia. Pearcy loves color so much that she uses all the colors of nature in her purses. She started her Queen Bee Creations in Olympia, Washington in 1996 and moved it to Portland in 2002.

For 10 years she did just about everything – from designing bags to producing the items to shipping to bookkeeping. Pearcy worked so many hours to turn her business into a national success that she had no personal life. She was close to giving it up. Luckily, a friend suggested that she talk to a counselor at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Portland Community College and she did.

Some of the most important advice Pearcy heard from counselors was to stop "being the business and instead run the business." Many small business owners try to do it all in hope of saving money.

"It was really encouraging to hear from the counselor that I could run this business and that I needed to hire people and that I should stop worrying about money," said Pearcy. Now, she’s taken SBDC entrepreneurial classes that taught everything from writing a business plan, to hiring employees, to paying business taxes. She also learned from her classmates who talked about their own business challenges and solutions.

The SBDC, located inside the Lloyd Center Mall, is funded by PCC as well as the U.S. Small Business Administration and the state’s Economic and Community Development Department. The mandate: help grow businesses and the economy. The one-on-one counseling is free. "We are all about creating employers," said Tom Lowles, who oversees the local office.

Pearcy loves the image of bees and uses the bee as the logo for her business. Besides color, Pearcy loves fabric. She designs the creations and has 11 employees working in her hive. She is thrilled and amazed that her little bedroom project has turned into a thriving company involving the skills and contributions of so many talented people.

“I had no idea that my business was going to be where it is now,” said Pearcy.

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