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Sixteen years ago, owner Cathy Roberts started a custom manufacturing business in her basement in mid-coast Maine. Over the years Pieceworks, Inc.’s services have grown to include manufacturing, assembling, packaging, shipping, and research and development. As Cathy explains to prospective clients, "Our company tailors our services to meet your needs."
In essence, Piecworks, Inc. functions as a ghost in the manufacturing chain, working behind the scenes to fill production gaps for companies and businesses, often serving an integral role in helping growing businesses reach the next level.
Since its humble beginnings, Cathy’s company has moved into its own factory and now boasts a workforce of up to 10 staff who fulfill a critical role in the manufacturing process. Each new contract requires innovation and creativity, which energizes Cathy and her staff to meet challenges that stretch their problem solving skills and creative abilities.
However, with a depressed economy and a drop in larger manufacturing clients, Cathy felt the business needed new direction so a year ago she began meeting with Betty Gensel, Women’s Business Center business counselor. Cathy credits business counseling with helping her redefine the company’s market niche by targeting home-based and microbusinesses that are experiencing growth pains and may lack capacity for and expertise in larger scale production.
In addition to business counseling, Cathy regularly attends the Women's Business Center monthly networking meetings held in Augusta and Farmington. Some of the connections she has made there with other women-owned businesses have led to increased visibility and new clientele. One such client is Judy Tollefson, owner of Judy’s Colors. After speaking with Cathy, Judy found that by outsourcing packaging and shipping of her knitting kits to Pieceworks Inc., she could return to her passion of working with colors designing knitting patterns, and promoting her e-commerce business.
"In general, I have found that some business owners may be nervous at first about having someone else produce their product so I explain our process and the built-in quality control measures," Cathy explains. "Once we both agree it is the right fit, it becomes clear to the owner that by outsourcing, they have more time and energy to create and research new products and markets and work 'on'; instead of 'in'; their business. That's a win-win because it allows business owners to concentrate more fully on the reason that led them to establish their businesses in the first place."
Thanks in part to business counseling, Cathy is now intentionally diversified and flexible to reflect the needs of new, growing, and internet companies for a shift in manufacturing, while she keeps up contracts with her initial customer base of larger manufacturing concerns.
"Cathy Roberts is a good example of a savvy business woman who knows how to respond intentionally to a market niche," business counselor Betty Gensel points out. "Plus she realizes the importance of constant networking, coupled with the need to offer insourcing, which is the growing trend to keep and return manufacturing to the USA."
Heather Beal Anderson has been a success story from the start: a young hardworking, ambitious Downeast high school graduate who earned a master’s degree in physical therapy in 2000 and then moved back to the area to work as a physical therapist for an established practice.
With 10 years experience and a large client list, Heather knew she was ready to take the leap and open her own practice. However, with her usual foresight, she first met with the Downeast Business Counselor Ruth Cash-Smith in November 2009 to begin business planning. Always a quick study, Heather excelled at writing a business plan, mastering the mighty cash flow projection every lender requires, and building relationships with referral sources.
With a small start-up loan, Heather opened Coastal Physical Therapy Services, LLC in Harrington, Maine, on September 8, 2010 in a leased space. As predicted, her legion of dedicated patients sought her out and new patients kept coming—in large part due to Heather’s philosophy of providing care that centers around the patient becoming an active participant in his/her own care and wellness.
During the early stages of her business, Heather sought intermittent business counseling, plus cultivated great relationships with her banker and her accountant.
In addition to a running a busy practice during her first year in operation, this mother and wife still carved out time to pursue her doctorate in physical therapy, and write a monthly health column for a regional newspaper. And when an opportunity presented itself, Heather jumped to take over ownership of a gym and fitness center located on the premises where she rents, thereby creating a second auxiliary business.
On the second anniversary of launching her own business, Dr. Heather Beal Anderson boasts a positive cash flow, 2 full-time and 5 part-time employees, and a growth plan to purchase her own building within the next few years.
“I have to say I’m glad I listened to my business counselor and got a business loan,” Heather says. “It’s nice to have a cushion when times get a bit unnerving. I’m proud that I’m right on track financially and, overall, I will say I’ve had a pretty cushy two years. I find that by staying focused on growing my business, I achieve my goals a lot faster.”
In 2003 Michael Cote purchased the assets of AM Cannery, a business that was in the process of closing down and through hard work, dedication and tremendous enthusiasm for his business transformed it into not only a successful business, but one that is recognized worldwide and serves to represent the State of Maine. In the nine years Mike has owned Look’s Gourmet Food Company he has succeeded in rebranding and revitalizing the business. Through his creative vision he succeeded in rebranding and marketing his company’s traditional Maine products while developing new products to meet changing market demands retaining the jobs that would have been lost had the cannery closed and creating new jobs in Down East Maine.
Mike is a true “Mainer” born and raised in Auburn, Maine where he learned his strong work ethic from his parents who provided for Mike and his three siblings by working in the textile mills and shoe factories. He began working himself while still in school and while attending Maine Maritime Academy Mike realized the financial stress associated with two children in college was too much for the family to sustain so after one year he left school to enter the work force full time. His acumen for business and sales was quickly realized when he bought a Pepperidge Farm bakery distributorship in Western Maine that had a history of not being successful yet managed to double sales volume in the first year and based on that success the company encourages him to sell the distributorship and join them as a District sales manager. He quickly moved up through the ranks to the position of Regional Vice President and was recognized as “The Mechanic” because of his ability to fix things. Mike not only recognized, but addressed a multitude of missed opportunities for distribution and developed a strategy to successfully address those deficits and was promoted to the position of VP of National Alternate Channels where his reputation as a hard-worker with a can-do attitude brought him to the attention of the CEO of Odwalla who offered him a new opportunity as their Sr. VP of National Sales. He was so successful in that role Odwalla was targeted for acquisition by Coca-Cola.
Mike identified his next challenge in 2003 and chose to purchase the assets of a historic Down East seafood processing operation that had been family run for 85 years. He was able to save a business that had been unable to adapt to the changing marketplace. Through his hard work and extensive business knowledge with the assistance of Union Trust Company and the SBA Mike was able to turn that business around and in eight years has re-designed a company that was destined to go the way of the dinosaur into a vibrant and well-recognized brand with The Bar Harbor line of foods sold nationally in over 30% of the US grocery stores and in natural and specialty venues like Whole Foods Markets. On top of all of this, Mike still manages to find time to offer his assistance to others through his position as the current chairperson of the Maine Food Producers Alliance. He has also served on the Distributors Council of the Natural and Specialty Food Trade and on the board of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council. He was recently appointed to serve on the Regulatory Fairness Board for the State of Maine. And not one to let US borders hold him back, Mike will soon be traveling to El Salvador to assist the Business Council for Peace in analyzing small business candidates and how that organization can best serve their target audience of fast growing entrepreneurs in post-conflict countries. Mike’s story should serve as an inspiration to entrepreneurs everywhere, but especially here in Maine where through hard work, determination, and innovation he has built a brand that is recognized worldwide while keeping jobs in Down East Maine.