Starting Up is Hard to Do (But More People are Doing It)
- Categorized in: Carroll Business – Past Issues
John Layton spent a year on the barbecue circuit.
From Louisiana to Texas, in state fairs and county festivals, he tasted and tested where grilling is king, the coals are hot and the best sauce wins. And after extensive development, Layton believes he has the product for a prize. Last year, he and his brother founded Red Brothers LLC, a company with three different sauces, one of which is based on their grandmother’s recipe.
A Sykesville resident, Layton is a contractor. Because he had difficulty obtaining a bank loan for his new venture, he financed the company with $25,000 of his own savings. He hopes that as the company grows, he can phase out of contracting.
“I want to move on,” said Layton, whose challenge now is to market the sauces, which are sold in local stores and booths at Carroll County events.
Starting a business is never easy. Nevertheless, even in the current economic downturn, more people are trying. In Carroll County, experts are seeing a definite increase in people seeking help to establish new ventures.
Doug Howard heads Start Up Carroll, a free service for small businesses. Howard began noticing a steady rise in entrepreneurship five years ago. In 2008, though, when the economy took a dive, the demand for its classes, workshops and individual counseling jumped.
“By 2009,” said Howard, “we were seeing 20 to 25 percent more people than in the previous year.”
Beth Woodring, senior counselor at Carroll County Small Business Development Center (CCSBDC), a state outreach agency, reports the same phenomenon. From 2008 to 2009, the number of people using its online business planning tool rose from 79 to 110. The demand has continued. From January to early June of this year, 38 people used the center’s online tool.
Reasons for the interest in entrepreneurship vary. The depressed economy and the subsequent layoffs and downsizing are part of it, said Denise Beaver, deputy director of the Carroll County Department of Economic Development. But another part is the federal government, which began releasing stimulus money for small businesses.
“Funding became available for people who’d been thinking of starting a business,” said Beaver.
Howard believes that Carroll County is a good place for new businesses. Office rent is cheaper here than in surrounding counties. There is a talented workforce. The county is near areas of major federal spending, such as Fort Meade and its planned expansion. And there are several resources for entrepreneurs.
The Miller Entrepreneurial Institute at Carroll Community College is an example. Marlene Titus, the institute’s coordinator, said that entrepreneurs often open businesses in a trade or profession in which they have expertise. She knows of a company that eliminated its entire geological services division. The ex-employees then formed their own company.
“They knew geology but they needed a business plan, financing and legal documents,” said Titus, whose institute helped the fledgling company.
According to the experts, entrepreneurs face several challenges. Among them are having a business plan and enough financial resources until the business turns a profit: at least a year’s worth.
Joe Carter, a McDaniel College professor, teaches a course on entrepreneurship. These days, Carter observed, “There is less bravado about going out and starting a business. Students see the reality of how tough it is to raise money.”
The experts talk of clients who have opened a craft shop, an interior design business, yoga studio, marketing company, chef consultancy, consignment store and coffee shop. One person opened a scrubs business, selling uniforms for different health settings; another, a rental business with everything from tools to tents.
“There’s a lot of home-based businesses, a lot of service businesses,” said Titus. “People are looking for a niche.”
Pete Truby quit his job in the food industry to start the Salazon Chocolate Company last year. The company’s organic, salted dark chocolates are sold in stores. Truby, a resident of Eldersburg who has worked in natural food shops and grocery stores, saw an opportunity in chocolate bars.
“There’s a lot of creativity in this category,” he said.
Theresa and Christopher Baker started Spectrum Home Services of Central Maryland in 2010 after both of their jobs in a local bank were eliminated. The couple cashed in their 401K retirement plans to finance Spectrum, which offers services from cleaning and landscaping to eldercare and painting.
Although the company works with individuals and companies, it also contracts with real estate and mortgage companies to do post-foreclosure cleanups.
“We offer a broad enough spectrum of services to position ourselves for the future,” said Theresa Baker.
David Cecil is founder of Skill Builder Sentence Wheel LLC, an aid for teaching the English. A Manchester resident, Cecil is an ESOL (English as a Second Language) teacher at the Community College of Baltimore County and the company grew out of an English language learning system that he developed for his work.
“I wanted to share this idea, and the business evolved from that,” said Cecil, whose 2009 company sells the aid to community colleges and school districts.
Jenni Utz founded Team Utz Real Estate last February. The Westminster resident knew she wanted to form her own company, so she used the slowdown in the real estate market to get her broker’s license.
“The bad economy didn’t deter me,” said Utz, whose company includes four independent realtors in addition to herself and specializes in residential sales, property management and bank foreclosures.
Other challenges for entrepreneurs are knowing their customers and choosing the right location, especially if “walk-in” customers are important.
Tim Carbis opened Patapsco Bike & Sports, in Mt. Airy, last March. A cycling enthusiast himself, the Mt. Airy resident had long wanted to own a bike store. His opportunity came when his work as an auto mechanic dwindled.
“Bike enthusiasts like small shops. They like the personal attention,” said Carbis, who sells and services bicycles and cycling equipment and other sports items. Carbis and his partner, John Piorkowski, financed the shop themselves to the tune of about $30,000.
Ellie Bonde opened Blossom & Basket Boutique, a florist and gift basket shop, in Mt. Airy in 2001. Bonde also runs Women in Motion, a women business-owners’ group that meets monthly. The Mt. Airy resident emphasizes the importance of merchandise and service. Customers come to her shop because of her consistently good merchandise and her personalized service, she said.
“That’s what distinguishes me from the competition and the big box stores,” said Bonde.
Carroll County Business & Employment Resource Center
410-386-2820 • www.carrollworks.com
Carroll County Chamber of Commerce
410-848-9050 • www.carrollcountychamber.org
Carroll Technology Council
443-244-1262 • www.carrolltechcouncil.org
Carroll County Department of Economic Development
410-386-2070 • www.carrollbiz.org
Carroll County Small Business Development Center
Start Up Carroll
410-552-5252 • Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Carroll Community College, Miller Entrepreneurial Institute
410-848-7000 • www.mcdaniel.edu