SBDC Offers Free Assistance, Advice and Resources
Eighteen years ago, Valerie Deptula was considering whether to buy a small natural food store in Leonardtown. Would it be a good investment? What were her chances of success?
Once Deptula received the store’s cash flow statement, her first move was to take the report to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), then located in California, Md., where she met with an SBDC business consultant, Linda Craven. Deptula remembers Craven studying the report and then saying “You know what? It looks like this is doable. You can make a profit.”
On the strength of this input and her own research, Deptula purchased The Good Earth Natural Foods Co. Over the years Deptula has turned the tiny business into a Leonardtown star.
Deptula grew Good Earth from a 900-square-foot storefront with sparsely stocked shelves into the current 3,000-square-foot business that has expanded to also sell a wide variety of fresh organic produce along with numerous organic and natural products. She went from being the store’s sole employee to the employer of just under 20 workers, six of whom are full time. The business now also includes a demonstration kitchen where staff prepares healthy foods to sample or purchase. It is a place to go for amazing smoothies.
Deptula considers SBDC a part of Good Earth’s beginning that continues to assist Deptula as her business has grown and evolved.
“It is free,” Deptula said of SBDC services. “They have so many resources. It’s all there. I always like to have another set of eyes to look at something.”
“The Small Business Development Center serves as a conduit for entrepreneurial growth and development,” said SBDC Regional Director Ellen Flowers-Fields. “We work closely with the Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s economic development offices as well as with a host of other stakeholders to ensure our consulting, training and client engagement efforts support the region’s strategic economic priorities.
“We are uniquely positioned alongside government and education to bridge the needs of the existing and future business community,” Flowers-Fields said. “Our services serve to inform and to navigate the business owner through the myriad of needs and requirements that ensure a successful business start and growth.”
The SBDC is a part of a statewide and national network of experts that work together to ensure entrepreneurs and existing business owners like Deptula get the information, resources and support they need to be successful. SBDC advisers offer a variety of free business consulting and low-cost training services — business plan development, manufacturing assistance, leadership training, financial packaging and lending assistance, permits, obtaining loans exporting and importing support, business growth strategy, disaster recovery assistance, procurement and contracting aid, market research help, 8(a) program support and healthcare guidance. Free workshops are available as well as low-cost classes provided through CSM.
Deptula says she always points aspiring business owners to the SBDC office because of the complexity involved with small business start-ups. “Running a business is a constant challenge,” she said. “I have seen a lot of people start their business and then go out of business. They don’t do their homework. There’s so many licenses and taxes, human resources rules. It can be overwhelming. SBDC is a great resource.”
Deptula’s early connection to the SBDC office included assistance with learning what licenses she needed and tax advice. But assistance from the office became particularly critical when Deptula was deciding whether to leave her increasingly cramped location on the town square and all the foot traffic that came from that location to a much larger space around the corner with easy access parking and other amenities. Deptula worked with SBDC and was referred to Lester “Casey” Wilson, an SBDC consultant and retail/restaurant specialist. Wilson reviewed Deptula’s business plan and the reasons for the proposed move. He agreed it made sense.
“It gave me the confidence to move,” Deptula said.
Wilson went on to work with Deptula as she evaluated buildout bids and negotiated a lease. An SBDC business consultant helped Deptula assemble a team of professionals, in particular financing options and a lawyer for contract reviews.
While many others shook their heads and predicted a slow death for the still-young business if she moved, Deptula received ongoing consultation assistance from Wilson and other SBDC consultants. Once Deptula was in the new space, Wilson made site visits and offered suggestions as she was setting up and provided a team-building workshop for store employees before the opening. Wilson also helped Deptula craft a mission and vision statement and Good Earth’s tag line: “Where good things happen.” As Deptula moved forward, she received advice on marketing, merchandising, employee management, her changing written business plan and more from SBDC. Her business survived and thrived after the move.
Most recently, Deptula has been working with SBDC Business Consultant Wynne Briscoe, who has been assisting with training needs assessments for Deptula’s growing staff.
“We’re here to be your teammates,” Briscoe said during a recent visit to Good Earth, as she and Deptula discussed SBDC training services. “These are your tax-payer services. If it was a paid consultant, it would have been thousands and thousands in cost … It is a huge benefit to use this free service to make money and grow your business.”
According to 2016 statistics published by the Small Business Administration, about 78 percent of small business startups survive the first year and about half of all employer establishments survive at least five years. Only a third survive 10 years or more. Deptula and other SBDC clients have proven, however, that savvy business decisions go a long way toward beating those statistics.
SBDC consultants are prepared to do their part to support small businesses beat those odds. While they won’t write someone’s business plan and they can’t give a business loan, the consultants can provide feedback on a business plan and can help research things like market demographics as well as put businesses in contact with small business lenders and other business specialists, along with a variety of other valuable services.
“We need small businesses. We need them to be successful and thriving,” Briscoe said. “Our region has helped thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs and small businesses start and grow. That’s what we’re here for.”
The Southern Region SBDC provides training and counseling services to new and existing small businesses throughout Southern Maryland. Regional headquarters are at the College of Southern Maryland’s La Plata Campus, and SBDC business consultants also have offices in Calvert and St. Mary’s counties, hosted by each county’s department of economic development. The Maryland SBDC Program is funded in part through a partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, with funding also coming from the state, the College of Southern Maryland and Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s county governments, which allows for regional provision of these services.
The Good Earth Natural Foods Company is located at 41675 Park Avenue in Leonardtown. For information about the store, visit www.goodearthnaturals.com or call 301-475-1630.
For information on the SBDC non-credit CSM courses designed for small business needs, visit www.csmd.edu/programs-courses/non-credit/workforce-training/sbdc/. For information on the Southern Region SBDC and its services, visit www.sbdchelp.com.