Can you start a nationwide company from a small town in rural Oklahoma? You can if you follow the lead of Sherrie Schatz and Sheree Lewis, owners of Schatz Publishing Group in Blackwell, Oklahoma.
"We wouldn't have been able to do it without the SBA," said Sherrie Schatz, co-owner. "The 8(a) program has given us a chance to show what we can do."
Schatz Publishing Group started in 1991 as a publisher of agricultural magazines focusing on niche markets such as alligator farming, butterfly farming, and raising poison ivy for profit. Realizing the company had reached a plateau, they began seeking new opportunities in federal contracting. After some trial and error, they were awarded their first contract in August 2000 – a contract they still have.
"After we started working on that first contract, we realized that was the ticket," Sheree Lewis, co-owner said. "The opportunities are all there in black and white. The government states what they want, you do it and they pay you."
Schatz Publishing Group recently graduated from the 8(a) program after nine years. The 8(a) Business Development Program helps small, disadvantaged businesses compete in the marketplace. The program helps thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs to gain a foothold in government contracting. Schatz Publishing Group now has 24 employees and an office in Washington, D.C. The company is a certified HUBZone, Veteran-owned, and women-owned small business.
An SBA Loan helped the company manage one of its early contracts.
"One of our contracts had a printing component and a postage component and the postage added up to nearly $100,000," said Lewis. "So we went to the bank and got an SBA loan to cover the postage until we were paid to help us complete the contract. The interest rate was good and it covered everything we needed. Plus it allowed us, when we were bidding on jobs, to prove that we had the financial ability to carry out contracts."
The two rural entrepreneurs also took advantage of every opportunity to learn more about running a small business.
"For the first few years we went to every class SBA offered," Lewis said. "That's like untapped gold."
Lewis says being in rural Oklahoma has never been a hindrance, thanks to a couple of key factors.
"There are customers in several states that we've never met," Lewis said. "Anyone can do this. I'm telling you, if Sherrie and I can do it, anyone can do it. We started out with a trailer house as our office, and moved to a new building due to growth. This company has brought millions of dollars into Oklahoma because of the Internet and tenacity."
"Because we were able to get into this niche, we can offer health benefits to our employees, we built a new building five years ago, and just last year we opened an office in Washington, D.C. Sometimes our clients like working with someone outside of D.C. We're easy to work with, we get the job done and we treat them like they are our only customer."