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SCORE: The best deal in town on business expertise

BROOKSVILLE — The new managers of a landmark shop in Brooksville that was emerging from foreclosure realized that they would need drastic changes if they were to stay afloat.

A woman who inherited from her late husband a company in Hudson knew she was foundering. The company, which makes antennas, accent lighting and switches for motorcycles, street hot-rods, boats, RVs and autos, had healthy sales but was barely making a profit.

Contemplating opening a shop, a seamstress had students lined up and had rented space in Hernando County. But she didn't know what to do next.

Each of these entrepreneurs faced daunting challenges; and each recently sought help from the Pasco/Hernando Chapter of SCORE, a nationwide non-profit association dedicated to the success of small businesses.

SCORE (the Service Corps of Retired Executives), which partners with the federal Small Business Administration, started in 1964. It has expanded to include volunteers who are still in the executive workforce, said chapter chairman Jim Karam of Weeki Wachee, himself a retired executive. The agency's local headquarters is at the Bank of America building on U.S. 19 in New Port Richey.

Twenty counselors in the two counties offer hands-on expertise to those who want to start a business, purchase an existing company or overcome an entrepreneurial problem.

"And the price is right," quipped George Rodriguez, who recently signed a lease with the option to buy the landmark Rogers Christmas House Village in Brooksville. SCORE volunteers share their knowledge and advice for free.

"We needed a new point of sales," meaning cash register and sales records, said Rodriguez. "The old system, nobody knew how to work it. We wanted to be able to do inventory, daily sales, payables and receivables, sales tax, the complete thing."

SCORE's Karam arrived. He quickly determined the old system was too antiquated to update, and "ordered equipment, exactly what we needed," said Rodriguez.

"When it came in, he (Karam) put it together and put in the programs and everything is working fine," said an enthusiastic Rodriguez.

Other counselors from SCORE are helping the Christmas House write a business plan. "I'm hoping I can get enough information through them to get some financing … so we can keep it going for another 36 years," he said.

At Electronic Control Services Corp. in Hudson, a 20-year-old company with new products, Pat Seborowski, 56, took over when her husband was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Although she'd worked with her husband, she didn't know the whole business. "I was so confused and I knew I had to do something."

A friend told her about SCORE.

Again, Karam rode to the rescue. With a long career in systems development, satellite and missile programs, direct TV and medical imaging, Karam was in tune with the business. He read up on the company's products before he arrived at Seborowski's door.

He advised her to reprice the company's wares, guided her to a national cycling magazine as another marketing arm, and helped her get a contract for manufacturing a new product.

As for the seamstress, SCORE counselor Greg Kullman of Brooksville had to tell her a hard truth: She was not ready to start a business. She had no collateral.

Kullman was speaking from experience; he has owned and operated various businesses for more than 35 years. "All that time I had to do it all on my own," he noted.

He knows the trial-and-error route and wants to save others from the pitfalls. "I'm willing to share (experiences) with people,'' he said.

Concurred Karam, "You get a lot of satisfaction helping people out."

The Christmas House's Rodriguez praised the help he received from SCORE. "It is amazing. They come and help you, and they stay with you. They come anytime. If anyone is thinking of going into business, contact them. They're fantastic."

Added Seborowski of Electronic Control Services, "The neatest thing about SCORE is they send somebody who knows your particular question that needs answered. (Karam) researched my business before he came out. He took a lot of time to look at everything in detail."

The Pasco/Hernando chapter, one of 389 nationwide, has helped start up or has provided mentors for "a full spectrum" of businesses, Karam said. Clients are matched with counselors who are knowledgeable in their particular fields and needs.

To enlist the services of SCORE, Karam advises going first to its Web site, www.score439.org and fill out the brief form there. A counselor will be assigned, followed by a face-to-face interview.

Business owners can also attend the organization's free seminars, given almost weekly at libraries in Pasco and Hernando. Dates, times and sites are listed on SCORES's Web site.

For a startup business, the process can take several months, including writing a business plan and a financial plan, procuring the appropriate licenses and permits. SCORE provides workbooks on each. Karam recalled a couple who came in with good credit and adequate financing who concluded the purchase of a biker bar business in six weeks.

SCORE can be reached at 727-842-4638 or at its office in the Bank of America building, 6014 U.S. 19, Suite 302, New Port Richey.

Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.

SCORE: The best deal in town on business expertise 07/04/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 4, 2008 8:22pm]
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