Programs help small business owners excel
Starting a business from scratch is far from an easy task, but it is something more people are turning to in the Tomball and Magnolia area. From January to mid-May, 35 permits were issued by the City of Tomball for commercial projects.
“We have new businesses opening up in Tomball at a rate like never before, and the vast majority of them are going to fall into the small business category,” said Bruce Hillegeist, president of the Tomball Chamber of Commerce.
Although the U.S. Small Business Administration has no broad definition for “small business,” it uses several factors to determine whether a business would qualify as one, including the number of employees over the past 12 months and average annual receipts over the past three years. Size standards vary depending on what type of industry the business falls within.
There are 3,943 businesses with a listed address in Tomball and 2,703 in Magnolia, according to Reference USA, a database of businesses in the United States. Of those businesses, 3,711 of the Tomball businesses have fewer than 20 employees, and 2,590 in Magnolia.
The surge of small businesses in Tomball is a real thing, according to Mary Harvey, president of the Tomball Business Association and owner of Granny’s Korner on Market Street.
“I’ve been here since the early ’80s. I’ve seen it big and I’ve seen it slump, and right now we’re at a point where it’s really on the rise,” she said. “You can just look around, and you see the ‘coming soon’ signs.”
Where it starts
Dr. Jamie Marshall opened her own chiropractic practice—Quality of Life Chiropractic—in Magnolia in March. She said she chose Magnolia as a location after identifying it as an area that was clearly growing, but lacked options as far as chiropractic services were concerned.
“It’s kind of the American dream to own your own business,” she said.
Otis Parks decided to open up his family’s antique store—With These Hands Antiques—on Main Street, Tomball, after he retired. While business can be slow at times, Parks said the key is offering a product or service that people cannot get at generic shops.
“You go in a lot of stores and all you see is the same thing over and over again,” he said. “We try to strictly carry one-of-a-kind stuff you don’t see at your run-of-the-mill antique store.”
The reason Andrea and Dave Ketterer decided to start up their own business was simple: after spending years working 60 to 70 hours per week in corporate jobs, they both decided that, if they were going to spend that much time working, they might as well work for themselves.
Today, the Ketterers run Circle K-9, a certified dog training service, which opened in Magnolia in January.
“We basically funded the initial costs through our own savings,” Andrea said. “Our goal is to get to the point where we need to hire more employees, to eventually become the job creators.”
The most common problems for new small businesses are financial, said Karen Cavallaro, a senior consultant with Lone Star College’s Small Business Development Center, located on Research Forest Drive in The Woodlands.
“Usually, small business owners are very good at what they do, but are unfamiliar with the other aspects of operating a small business,” she said. “Many underestimate expenses and overestimate revenues when preparing their business plan.”
Cavallaro, who works with small businesses in Tomball and Magnolia, said a start-up is more likely to struggle due to a lack of marketing, selling and accounting skills than anything else.
When Charlotte and James Moncrief started up Red Lion Plumbing in Magnolia in 2010, they had zero customers. They had ideas for how to run their business, but sought consulting from the SBDC to help get things off the ground.
“We wanted to understand what we needed to do just to get started,” Charlotte Moncrief said. “They helped us set goals, write up a development plan and advised us on how we might want to finance our business.”
The SBDC proved to be most helpful when it came to networking, Moncrief said.
“Karen introduced us to a lot of networking groups and chambers of commerce, which is what really helped kick-start our business,” she said. “We made some very good contacts that way. We went from having no customers to having a scheduling book that is almost always full.”
Local chambers of commerce are a vital source for small business owners, Cavallaro said. On top of networking opportunities, the Tomball Chamber provides programs in economic development, community services and special events. It also includes a free Small Business Start-Up Guide on its website.
In addition to free one-on-one consulting services, small business owners can take loans at reduced interest rates from local SBA certified banks, including Spirit of Texas Bank in Magnolia and Regions Bank in Tomball.
The Ketterers did not require a loan to start their dog training business, but Andrea said they will likely be seeking out consulting in some form in the future as they plan their growth.
“Right now, we’re the only two employees,” she said. “At the rate that we’re going, our future plans will definitely involve expanding, and we want to make sure we do it right. It’s always good to seek advice if you’re unsure of something.”