Pearland residents David and Tracy Gottfried had a dream to open their own business. The couple, like thousands in the region, used the Small Business Development Center at San Jacinto College to get their venture in the city off the ground.
During the fiscal year 2014-15, the regional office of the SBDC at SJC—America’s SBDC Texas Gulf Coast Network—created 5,333 jobs, according to a third-party survey. In 2016, SBDC at SJC Business Advisor Gary Bucek said his center alone has created 250 new jobs.
“We had our business plan,” David Gottfried said. “We had our numbers. We had all of our materials. We went down and met with Gary and he reviewed all of that and gave us a lot of feedback. It really felt like Gary would provide that independent, no-dog-in-the-fight type of opinion for us.”
The regional SBDC office has also raised $80 million in capital—small-business loans and business owner contributions—for clients in 2016 to date, Bucek said. The SJC office has raised more than $13 million in capital this year through the end of July.
Carol Artz-Bucek, Pearland Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said the growth of small businesses—specifically retail—in the city can be traced back to 2008, with the addition of the Pearland Town Center. She said development of Pearland Parkway is providing similar opportunities now.
“We see all kinds of people coming in,” Artz-Bucek said. “We have a diverse [population]of people. That brings a diverse group in education, ethnicity and wealth.”
Tim Jeffcoat, Houston district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration, said thousands of residents in the Greater Houston area are starting businesses. Population growth combined with a pro-business atmosphere in the Greater Houston area make it a good time to open a small business, he said.
“If it is the right business that meets a market need, I don’t know if there is a bad time [to open a business],” Jeffcoat said. “The only exception is a full-scale recession like in 2007-08.”
The SBDC at SJC is part of a larger contingent that receives funding from the state, the University of Houston system and San Jacinto College to advise potential small-business owners in an effort to give them the best possible chance to succeed, Bucek said.
“We ensure that people who don’t know how to start businesses learn how,” he said. “They learn how to be funded, and the service is free of charge. That’s probably the most important thing for [potential business owners]. They want to start a business, but they don’t have any money in many cases. We make sure that they start the business correctly.”
Bucek said the Texas Gulf Coast Network uses a formula of created jobs and capital to receive funding from the state.
The SBDC guides potential business owners through the entire process of starting a venture, Bucek said. In addition to information on securing funding, the center reviews and advises on business plans.
“I tell you what you need to know,” Bucek said. “It’s not always nice and pretty. That’s just my nature, and I think they need to know it. I never tell [anyone]no. We will learn if it’s feasible or not by doing our market research and our secondary research.”
After researching possible business opportunities, the Gottfrieds decided upon Mainstream Boutique, a franchise retail store based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The couple worked with Bucek and the SBDC before launching the business on Broadway Street in Pearland.
The center works with those looking to open a franchise as well as people who want to start an independent business, such as Drew Dietrich and Gareth Blackett. The two co-own ADDI Digital Printing in Pearland after leaving their day jobs to open the company in November 2005.
Dietrich said the SBDC helped them turn a side project producing promotional items into their own business venture.
“Gary and the SBDC were there to walk us through the whole process,” he said. “[Gareth] and I both realized we had outgrown [what]we were [doing]. We weren’t going to grow anymore where we were, and we didn’t have the ability to find [new]customers. I think the SBDC really helped in that they laid out the whole process of how to get funding that most banks wouldn’t offer us.”
Small-business owners come from all walks of life, Bucek said. From retirees to employees seeking a change of scenery, he said there is no typical prospective owner.
“I’ve got people approaching me from large engineering firms,” Bucek said. “I have attorneys who are interested in leaving their firms. People want to start their dreams. Once they get to a point in their life where they’re tired of [working in]corporate America and they have some money in the bank, then they can do what they want to do.”
The Gottfrieds said they believed opening a franchise was their best chance for a successful venture.
“We felt like we had a lot of knowledgeable resources that we tapped into,” David Gottfried said. “We felt like we could take away a lot of that apprehension if we were really prepared and diligent. Tracy probably spoke to close to a dozen Mainstream franchise owners throughout the country to really pick their brains about the pros and cons and the challenges.”
The Gottfrieds said an established customer base and brand recognition steered them toward becoming franchisees. Because they wanted to own a business but were unsure which direction to go, franchising provided a sense of security, David Gottfried said.
“I think any time you’re starting anything out, there is going to be some apprehension,” he said. “We certainly had some of that. With that said, we chose the franchise model because we felt it was important to have a proven [business]model and support system to work behind us.”
HaYoung Kim opened UFC Gym in Pearland in early August. Kim also said the franchise model offered a chance for him to realize his dream of becoming a business owner while receiving support from a franchiser.
Kim said he began the process with little expertise in gym ownership. Kim spent three years as CEO of a chemical company and five years as a chief financial officer for a California-based electronics company.
He said while at those companies, he realized he wanted to open a business where he was in charge of making the decisions. However, having never owned a business, the franchise opportunity provided a safety net.
“I like gyms, but I have no experience in the gym business,” Kim said. “I am worried about my dream [versus]my reality. That is the biggest barrier. That’s the reason I chose a franchise. I can use their name, their process and their system.”
Brian Allen and Kris Szecsy, co-owners of BAKFISH Brewing Co. in Pearland, chose the small-business model despite the lack of direction. Although the friends did not utilize the SBDC, their drive fueled the launch of the business, Allen said.
“We didn’t have a handbook written for us,” he said. “We didn’t have any kind of playbook saying, ‘Here’s how you go talk to banks. Here’s how you write a business plan.’ We kind of just did it as we went. You can’t fake passion. It’s either something you have or you don’t have. That’s something we had, and people saw that.”
Allen and Szecsy opened BAKFISH in March, turning a hobby into a profession. The two began as homebrewers and decided Pearland was an untapped market for a craft brewery.
“I think once you have that entrepreneurial drive and you find that one thing that grabs you—that passion—you get blinders on and you don’t see all the hurdles and speed bumps along the way,” Allen said. “You just keep moving forward no matter what.”
Dietrich and Blackett also decided a franchise was not for them. Blackett said although business ownership provides certain benefits, the possibility of failure remains.
“You can come and go as you want,” he said. “You can take vacation when you want. But if you aren’t succeeding, you don’t get to do any of that.”
Artz-Bucek said the chamber is dedicated to making Pearland attractive to new businesses, while also keeping the current business owners happy.
“I think that what the chamber has done specifically is work with the city, the [Pearland Economic Development Corporation] and our [school districts]as a partner to make sure the quality of life, the education system and economic growth are viable,” she said. “Our businesses that are here, we work to retain them. We make sure that they grow—or give them opportunity to grow.”
Additional reporting by Jeff Forward