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Program gives small businesses a boost

A little-known but widely appreciated program sponsored by Olympic College exists to provide consulting services for local small businesses, offering advice and coaching to increase the chances of success and profitability.

“A large corporation can afford to hire a management consultant at thousands of dollars a day,” said Rand Reidrich, who directs the local Small Business Development Center. “We want to make the same options available to ‘mom-and-pop’ businesses that could never afford these services.” 

Part of a network with 1,500 offices across the country, the service addresses two groups – those in business who need advice as to how to proceed and those who have an idea they want to turn into a business.

The former group is accommodated immediately to deal with emerging business problems right away, while the latter are asked to attend a monthly business workshop that covers the basics of starting a business.

Reidrich said about one-third of the people attending the workshop follow through.

“One of the great urban myths is that there is government money available to help people start businesses,” he said. “Once they find this is not the case, a large majority of people lose interest.”

Those who continue have the necessary motivation to succeed, which Reidrich describes as a “fire in the belly.”

He doesn’t recruit people or companies, rather he waits for them to request his help. This, he adds, is another way to screen out those who lack the necessary commitment.

While SBDC doesn’t have any money to distribute, Riedrich is connected with a variety of available money sources and can acquire the necessary funds to pay for a downpayment or an expansion.

He won’t ever tell a client their idea is not sound or that it won’t work, since every individual has a unique view of business development. The same idea can succeed or fail, based only on the drive of the individual involved.

“It’s not up to me to say whether something is a good idea or a bad idea,” he said. “I’m here to ask questions about how they plan to build the business, and to help them develop a solid plan.” 

The most important part of the plan is to determine the target audience for the product.

“Eighty percent of your sales will come from your target market,” Reidrich said. “I ran a nursery and found my target to be upper-middle class white women from 25 to 55 who lived within five miles of my store. They liked flowers but weren’t horticulturists. Anyone who came in who didn’t fit the target profile was a bonus.

“You need to visualize who belongs to this target market,” he said, “and find out as many details as you possibly can about them.” he said.

As an illustration, Reidrich notes that both Tiffany’s and Wal-Mart sell wristwatches, but to radically different customers.

“Wal-Mart customers are acutely concerned about price,” he said. “But to a Tiffany’s customer, the most important thing is the little blue box, and where the product came from.”

Part of determining a target audience these days is defining the role of the Internet. Anyone selling insurance to elderly people might not concentrate on on-line sales, while a younger target market will require a Web presence.

In any case, Riedrich said the notion that putting up a Web site is a license to print money is a misconception.

He stressed there is no formula for success, but that many of the best small business people “aren’t necessarily A students.” 

The role of the Internet cannot be downplayed, and the SBDC’s link to Olympic College provides a path to Web development training.

Still, modern software tools allow people with little technical knowledge to develop profitable Web pages.

As a public service, the SBDC gets no cut of the business. Its annual budget is about $100,000, including Riedrich’s salary, and it receives funds from several local municipalities, including Kitsap County and the Port of Bremerton.

It also seeks miscellaneous government grants for operation.

Riederich said the office assists between 160 and 180 businesses a year and has dealt with a range of companies. These identities are carefully protected, from small auto repair shops to larger healthcare facilities.

“We don’t talk about our clients,” he said. “They are part of the community, and the last thing they need to make public is the fact that they need help.”

The SBDC provides a periodic stakeholder’s report that quantifies its accomplishments.

The latest such report, released in December, said its economic impact in 2007 was $8.7 million and that it had acquired $3.8 million for local businesses during that time.

Riedrich, 53, has directed the office for two of its three years of existence. A native of New Orleans, his business was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, after which time he located in Kitsap County.

“I wanted to find the place that was the farthest away from New Orleans and still in the lower 48,” he said. “Since the job I had in Port Angeles fell through, this was it.”

To contract Reidrich, e-mail RRiedrich@oc.ctc.edu, or call (360) 307-4220.

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