Beulah Hester has an unusual story of personal and business triumph over unbelievable challenges. At the age of seven, she was badly burned on her back and right arm, so she began throwing a ball with her father as therapy for the burns. She later became very good at softball and was a star athlete in recreational leagues in high school. After high school, she had a job at a local sewing factory. Ms. Hester rapidly progressed in the business and became a supervisor at the factory, learning skills from an Italian tailor.
At the age of 37, Ms. Hester was married and had three young children at the time. The youngest child was born with severe health problems, so to better care for her family she decided to leave the factory and open an alterations business in 1985. The business grew rapidly and did very well. In 1994, Ms. Hester did work for the owner of the National Softball Association (NSA), which led to an opportunity to patent a ball bag and produce that item for the NSA. Business with the NSA grew, and the following year, Ms. Hester decided to also do embroidery work for the general public, which created a new revenue stream. The company developed an internet presence in 1997, landed a major contract with the Kentucky High School Athletic Association the following year, and received a great deal of recognition and PR during this period.
From 1998 through 2006, Ms. Hester battled many personal tragedies and business challenges, but the business survived and adapted. In 2007, the company developed a relationship with an Amish manufacturer, and that manufacturer gradually began producing more products for Ms. Hester. That led to an expansion in the factory and number of employees in 2010, and the company continues to grow and prosper. “SBA, the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED), an SBA micro-lender in eastern Kentucky, the SBDC and other small business service providers all helped me to survive through some very turbulent times,” said Ms. Hester. She went on to say, “Today the company is doing well, but we are never too big to fail. I will continue to access the loan programs and technical assistance in order to succeed.”
SBA Assistance: Custom Officials Wear, LLC received two microloans through MACED, as well as technical assistance from that micro-lender and the Eastern Kentucky University SBDC in Richmond, KY.
Number of employees: Currently, all employment is handled by the manufacturer, an Amish company, the spin-off website distribution company and related companies. She has indirectly helped to create about 63 jobs as well as other professional services.
Staying power: The company has survived despite many personal and business challenges, as listed below. Few independent small businesses, particularly rural manufacturers, have been able to survive in this global market, particularly in an economy as challenging as the one from 2008 – 2011, but Ms. Hester always reached out to MACED and the SBDC for technical assistance and advice. The key to the ongoing success of the business is the continued development of new products based on the needs of her customers and incorporating new technology into the business. Through a microloan, Ms. Hester has recently purchased software to digitize her patterns. The company has also exported product to about 50 countries around the world.
Response to adversity or problems: In 1989, Ms. Hester’s husband was diagnosed with brain cancer. He passed away three years later. Also, Ms. Hester’s youngest daughter was born with severe asthma and a mild case of cerebral palsy. In 2004, that daughter died from the effects of chronic asthma. Ms. Hester also lost both her father and mother due to very tragic circumstances in 2000. During this entire time, Ms. Hester was battling to keep her company in the black and growing. Somehow, she managed to do so despite all of the personal losses.
Community Involvement: Over the years, Ms. Hester has been involved in a number of civic and church groups in her local community. In addition, she has spoken all over Kentucky, at colleges, extension offices, at women’s business conferences and to foreign business owners visiting the state through the World Affairs Council, giving her time freely and sharing her powerful story of tragedy and perseverance.
Learn more about SBA’s loan programs, free counseling services and other small business programs at http://www.sba.gov/, your lender, and your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), SCORE Chapter or Women’s Business Center.