By Pat Shaver The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.
If it wasn't for the encouragement of a few retired business mentors, the Great Display Company in Bloomington may not have grown to where it is today.
Aaron Hambleton and Jacob Duquenne wanted to start a printing business and approached the Central Illinois SCORE chapter for help about four years ago.
"One of the first things we did, because we had no clue about owning a business, was we approached SCORE. We met them at Panera Bread over coffee and they just listened," Hambleton said. "Having that reassurance that we were on the right page helped the most."
This year, the Service Corps Of Retired Executives' national organization is celebrating 50 years of helping small businesses start and grow. The Central Illinois chapter started in 1994.
The Great Display Company started in a 1,000 square-foot building in downtown Bloomington and last year moved to a 5,000 square-foot office and warehouse at 704 S. McLean St. The company offers wide-format digital printing, manufactures signs and offers installation services.
"We wanted everything to be perfect and fall into place and it really doesn't. You have to be able to adapt," Hambleton said, adding that he sees the company doubling in revenue and staff in the next two to five years.
SCORE is a nonprofit organization that is partnered with the U.S. Small Business Administration. It is operated by volunteers, mostly business retirees, who mentor small businesses owners and entrepreneurs in the early stages of their ideas, said Larry Johnson, Central Illinois SCORE chairman, who is retired from AT&T.
"We try to guide them from point A to point B, with point B being a success story where they are driving their business," said Johnson, who is retired from AT&T.
In February 2012, mother-daughter team Shelly and Kristi Gehrt were looking to expand their makeup and body painting business, Wild Style. They had operated out of their home but were looking to find studio space, Kristi Gehrt said.
"We are not formerly business-trained, that's where SCORE came in. If SCORE didn't exist we wouldn't be where we are," she said.
They opened their studio at 216 N. Center St., Bloomington, in early 2013. Wild Style specializes in face painting, body art for special events, makeup services and workshops.
"Even if you think you have it all figured out, an outside opinion is so valuable," Kristi Gehrt said.
She and her mom hope to grow the business by developing makeup and body paint products of their own.
In 2013, the local SCORE chapter helped about 120 small businesses, said Reginald Bernard, a SCORE mentor who is retired from State Farm.
Nationally, the 400 SCORE chapters helped to start 38,630 businesses in 2013.