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Grilling Up New Ideas for a WOSB, Rural Manufacturing Company

Situation

  • Oscarware, Inc. is a family-owned manufacturing business, founded in 1989 by the wife and husband team of Debra and Reg Dudley.
  • Sensing the anything-can-be-grilled trend, they invented a new product they called “grill topper,” making it possible to cook a variety of meals on an outdoor grill.
  • The original grill topper product transformed the traditional backyard barbeque menu from hamburgers and hotdogs to fish, vegetables, pizza and more as grillers became more creative.
  • In 2001, three major national accounts filed for bankruptcy, creating a severe cash crunch.
  • Two years later, Debra’s husband of twenty-four years had two strokes. In 2005, Reg passed away suddenly from a heart attack.
  • Reg had manufacturing technical knowledge as well as how the equipment and machines worked. Now Debra had to quickly learn the manufacturing side of the business.
  • Insufficient cash flow made alternative sources of financing a premium cost, resulting in difficulties in sustaining and growing the business.
  • Determined and scared, she spent tireless hours trying to stabilize the business and create growth opportunities. 

How the SBA helped

  • In 2007, a major chain store placed an order for grill toppers in 10,000 of its store shelves. Debra had to find working capital and better manage growth.
  • She contacted the area Small Business Development Center (SBDC), an SBA resource partner that provides no-fee, high quality business coaching.
  • The SBDC has provided Debra with extensive counseling, including marketing, product placement, financial forecasting and product development through an affiliated engineering school.
  • Since then, Oscarware has obtained national contracts with big box and grocery stores, home improvement and agriculture outlets, drugstore chains, camping stores and more. “The SBDC has been invaluable to our success.”
  • She and her SBDC consultant developed a strong business plan that enabled the company to obtain several commercial bank loans and two SBA 7(a) loans.
  • When COVID-19 struck, Debra applied for a Paycheck Protection Program First Draw. “The process went smoothly. We are grateful to German American Bank and SBA. This kept our employees working.”

Successful Impact/Outcome

  • The two SBA 7(a) loans and PPP allowed the company to stabilize and grow while creating more manufacturing jobs in rural Bonnieville.
  • The Oscarware team continues to develop new topper products, now offering a full line of disposable and gourmet porcelain coated steel toppers, woks and griddles.
  • Debra stated that seasonal fluctuations used to force her to temporarily lay off employees. Because of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, she has no longer has to do that.  
  • Oscarware has provided good-paying rural jobs to citizens of Bonnieville and the region, even during the pandemic. Debra said, “Sales actually increased. Hiring during COVID-19 was tough. We had challenges but worked through it. We’ve been very fortunate.”
  • With assistance from the SBA State Trade Expansion Program (STEP), the company now exports product around the world. The SBA, U.S. Department of Commerce and SBDC have all played a critical role.
  • Both domestic and export sales continue to grow, improving cash flow and liquidity and net worth.
  • The two SBA loans are now paid in full and the PPP is forgiven. Oscarware has grown to 34 employees.
  • Debra Dudley was the 2017 SBA Kentucky Small Business Person of the Year. She competed nationally for the award and finished as SBA National First Runner-Up.
  • Throughout the years, Oscarware has received numerous other state, regional and national awards.   
  • Debra shares the company’s prosperity, making generous donations that support education and civic causes for those who are less fortunate. She also donates her time to many area nonprofits.
  • With the help of the SBA and SBDC, Debra Dudley and Jeff Dudley, Vice President and son, guided the company from financial crisis into healthy, profitable growth.
  • Unfortunately, Jeff passed away unexpectedly a few years ago. Daughter Kelly Dudley Busick joined the company and has assumed the VP role. Debra stated, “It’s been so tough losing Reg and Jeff. But Kelly has stepped in and done a phenomenal job for us.”
Company Name: 
Oscarware Inc.
Location: 
Bonnieville, KY
File Attachments: 
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