NEWS

Young founders beat the odds in Greencastle business

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Sean Guy, left, and Dan Grooms have split their responsibilities at Greencastle Bicycle Exchange. They get along and envision a long partnership.

Entrepreneurship is risky business any time, but young people sometimes take the plunge with optimism. What they know from schooling or other jobs may help them; what they don’t know because of inexperience still might not be a disadvantage. It depends on how hard they work and whether they access the information necessary to succeed in a competitive world.

Dan Grooms and Sean Guy were 29 and 25, respectively, when they partnered to open Greencastle Bicycle Exchange in 2013. Today a second shop is open in Hagerstown, Md.

“You are always a couple months away from failing if you don’t know what you are doing,” said Guy. “A second income would take off the pressure.”

Grooms was initially in that position. However, after six months balancing a corporate job with the bike store, he went full-time in the new business. And Guy was ready to be his own boss two years ago because he had studied business in college. He first wanted to start a performance car shop “but a gazillion of those failed in the area,” he realized.

The long-time friends took their chance.

Erikka James-Heckman had been employed for many years in the same field before opening Incognito Tattoo Studio in 2011. She was 35 and expecting a baby. She wanted more family time with her son and husband.

“I thought my own business would allow that,” she said, “but I’m busier than before.”

However, using contracted employees for tattooing and piercing, her business is solid and she has been able to create her own schedule.

James-Heckman encountered one obstacle the men didn’t, sex discrimination. In the male dominated industry, many tattoo artists told her she couldn’t do it.

“People still act funny around me, but I can be pretty nice and easy-going. I’m just very goal-oriented,” she said.

One Greencastle success story began in 1983 when Tim Myers started The Jewelry Shop at age 18. He had already learned some of the duties through part-time jobs and apprenticeships. He told the manager of a Chambersburg store they should open one in Greencastle. A few days later she said yes.

Myers was in shock but rounded up some start-up money from relatives. The woman, and then her son, were his  partners, and they adapted to customer needs through the years. A major store renovation and expansion took place in 2004.

“I like making my own decisions, although you have to live and die by them, too,” Myers said.

Doing it right

According to a Forbes.com report in 2013, eight out of 10 businesses fail within the first 18 months. Eric T. Wagner, an entrepreneur for 30 years, said the main reasons were because owners were not in touch with customers, the business was not different in the marketplace, there was a failure to clearly communicate its value, a leadership breakdown occurred at the top, and no profitable business model was used.

No one has to go it alone in Franklin County.

Shippensburg University has one of 18 Small Business Development Centers in Pennsylvania. It is available for free consultations on pre-venture and established businesses. The staff gives advice on developing plans, marketing and financial skills to help people thrive with their dream.

The Ship SBDC has worked with 1,800 clients since 2007, and offered 329 workshops on topics that benefit business owners.

The most requested services are startup assistance and business plan development, said consultants Robin Burtner and Cheryl Young. However, the main thing interested people should do is research, they added.

The questions to ask prior to jumping in are:

Is there a need for your product or service?

Does your market area have the proper demographics for your target customer?

What are the strengths of your proposed industry?

Who is your competition and how will you compare?

Do you need special licenses or permits?

What experience will you and your employees have in the industry?

How will you market it?

How much will it cost to start and where will you get the money?

Grooms and Guy talked to the SBDC, and said the information was helpful

They faced many obstacles, especially for requirements out of their control, such as establishing a limited liability company (LLC).

“So much comes at you really quick,” said Guy. “The key is to have a sound business plan. Procuring money was hard. It’s almost like gambling.”

James-Heckman utilized her experience and consulted other tattoo shop owners. Going it alone was dependent upon personal courage too.

“Being scared and getting the nerve to go through with it, that took a lot. It took me out of my comfort zone,” she said. “The hardest part was to just jump in.”

Sometimes the timing is right and the future is not an overriding concern. Myers still enjoys every day of work. But in the early years, every spare dollar went into the business.

“What I know now, I probably would not do it again,” he said of his teenage endeavor. “The first five years were the hardest. I drove a Vega.”

His biggest challenge was figuring out what the public wanted before they wanted it, as potential jewelry fashions were introduced in the big cities.

Grooms and Guy passed the danger zone of 18 months, and are somewhat surprised to be earning a living already doing what they love. They didn’t expect to turn a significant profit for three to five years.

“If you depend on it faster, it would get ugly quick,” Guy said.

They have split the responsibilities of sales, repairs and bookwork.

“We have a good arrangement,” said Grooms. “Sean is in charge of anything that is not a bicycle. We know exactly where the line draws.”

If you are thinking about it

The Shippensburg University SBDC has recorded 313 business starts and purchases. The staff uses information reported by clients to track successes, which in turn allows it to receive federal, state and private sector funding. The goal of the centers in Pennsylvania is to grow the economy.

“Deciding to start a business can be one of the most exciting, yet terrifying decisions you will make in your life,” Burtner and Young said.

They encouraged people to research their ideas and develop a business plan with financial projections. The SBDC was available to help confidentially and at no charge.

Is there a need for your product or service?

Does your market area have the proper demographics for your target customer?

What are the strengths of your proposed industry?

Who is your competition and how will you compare?

Do you need special licenses or permits?

What experience will you and your employees have in the industry?

How will you market it?

How much will it cost to start and where will you get the money?

What questions to ask before going into business?