Duo Lauded as SBA Pittsburgh District Small Business Persons of the Year
STATE COLLEGE, PA – For 10 years, Centre County small business owners have trusted their trade secrets with proprietors Jim and Colleen Small.
The roles will reverse when the Smalls share their “big” news with the business community. The husband-wife owners of two The UPS Stores, located in State College and Altoona, are the SBA Pittsburgh District Office’s Small Business Persons of the Year. Their sales and employment growth coupled with community involvement were noted in an award package penned by the Penn State Small Business Development Center.
Since 2005, the duo and their ever-growing staff has helped their extended Penn State family with everything from packing and shipping valuables, creating canvas paintings from photographs -- even creating 3D-printed model trains for a hobbyist turned entrepreneur.
“We still can’t believe we were chosen for the award,” admitted Jim Small. “This is a tribute to all of the hard work of our employees.”
According to Kelly Hunt, SBA Pittsburgh District director, the Smalls are entrepreneurs who found and refined their customer service niche through outreach and education – becoming a community asset.
For the Smalls, pursuing a second career as business owners trumped retirement. “We were much too young to retire,” said Jim Small. “Instead we looked at opening a franchise close to our families in State College and Altoona.”
Utilizing some investments, the Small’s purchased The UPS store franchise and then received a SBA 7(a) loan for the necessary fixtures and supplies.
They soon found themselves back in school at The Pennsylvania State University Small Business Development Center (SBDC) taking every class imaginable from “The First Step” to marketing courses hoping to grow their business via technology and superb customer service.
Colleen Small, who up to then never had a business card to swap, tasked herself as the store’s main marketer attending networking events at the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County.
“I knew many businesses grow through word-of-mouth advertising,” she said. “But, when I went to my first few meetings, I immediately would go to a corner because I thought everyone was staring at me.” However, she became friends with the chamber staff, increased her community involvement, honed her skills and now serves as an ambassador to new members – even winning a chamber award for her efforts.
Hunt applauded the Smalls’ tactics.
“It’s commendable to grow a business via grass roots outreach and it’s hard to do,” Hunt stated. “Our agency may have provided the tools in the form of counseling, classes and capital access, but, the Smalls spent the better part of a decade refining their skill set and technologies to truly diversify their business based on changing customer needs.”
The Smalls admit that being out and about certainly raised awareness for their store, but, according to Jim Small, they wanted to be the “small business for small businesses.”
“Everyone knows we ship,” Jim Small explained. “But, knowing how hard it is to be in business we wanted to help our counterparts. Small businesses may not be able to afford a marketing firm, but they can afford us. We are more than willing to print small quantities of brochures and business cards, allowing our clientele to order on an as-need basis so they can advertise and grow their business.”
Market demand led the Smalls to invest both time and money into purchasing and learning about 3D printing; their site was selected as one of only 52 of The UPS Stores in the country that produce on-demand 3D prototypes for entrepreneurs hoping to enter the business arena.
Just like the Smalls, last year, more than 539 small business owners and entrepreneurs in the SBA Pittsburgh District Office 27-county footprint received more than $125 million through the agency’s 7(a) loan program. It’s the SBA’s most-used business loan program because of its flexibility in loan structure, variety of loan uses and availability.
Today’s SBA: Smart, Bold, Accessible