For nearly two years, John and Colleen Thompson of Clear Lake, Iowa thoroughly researched powder coating as a small business concept. They interviewed owners of powder coating companies and visited many operations across the country to get a feel for what was necessary to create a successful business in their local area. Some operations even allowed the couple to work for free to get a better idea of the tools, systems, and equipment used for this type of operation.
Before starting this new venture, the Thompsons went to the North Iowa Area SBDC in Mason City for advice on how to start a business. The SBDC laid out a plan and asked them to do research before spending money or signing contracts. After months of research, they knew the importance of controlling both start-up and fixed expenses. Using interviews of similar companies, they could see what the market would be for their business, plus gain valuable knowledge and experience.
The SBDC gave John and Colleen a business plan template to start working on, helped them determine financial projections, and gave them advice on how to market their brand. Knowing the questions in advance helped them ask the right questions of peers and potential customers. They were able to define what success looks like and draw a map to get there. They also assembled an operating manual from the experience of peers, including both the “to dos” and “what not to dos.”
Rather than building new, the Thompsons remodeled an existing pole barn in their hometown and revamped it into a clean, modern facility fully equipped for batch metal finishing services, including media blasting and powder coating. They called their company Iowa PowderCraft, LLC.
After the Thompson’s completed their initial research, Ted Bair, former director of the North Iowa Area SBDC, connected the couple to the North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) Pappajohn Center’s Launch and Grow Program. The Thompsons participated in the ten-week program and came out of it with a fully-developed business plan supported by market research that presented facts, not guesses. The couple was then able to secure start-up debt financing from Clear Lake Bank and Trust.
The Thompsons are very thankful to have a detailed business plan to use as an ongoing management tool. “We’re not flying in the dark. We know where we’re going and the steps that are necessary to get there,” according to John.
“From the beginning, when our business was just an idea, we received counsel, encouragement, caution, resources, introductions, classes, and new friendships,” says the Thompsons. “We can’t say enough about the value of those services from the SBDC. It’s amazing that there are so many people so willing to contribute, if you just ask,” remarks Colleen.
The first year in business was all about finding and training the company’s team. They needed the right employees to build a good team, which meant recruiting specialized skills they lacked. The couple worked diligently with the SBDC to construct a hiring plan for bringing on skilled personnel, which was extremely successful.
At Iowa PowderCraft’s first anniversary, the Thompsons employed 14 and had an annual gross revenue run rate greater than $1 million, which was ahead of their business plan projections.
Later, when John and Colleen needed an OSHA-compliant safety plan for the business, they went back to the SBDC, which is co-located with NIACC’s John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, for help. The Thompsons continue to utilize SBDC services to this day. According to John, “The SBDC’s business coaches bring a wealth of experience from marketing, to finance, to operations. They help hold us accountable to our own objectives and encourage us. The coaches give us access to their network of experts. Owning a business is not all easy and fun. A lot of people now count on us to get things right. But it is rewarding. It’s good to have the SBDC in our corner.”
Iowa PowderCraft strives to provide quality service through the use of durable and long-lasting finishes and strong customer relationships. The Thompsons work hard to consistently market their brand and to be persistent with prospective customers. They’ve found that price is not why most manufacturers change supply relationships; to win business they have to offer better service. “Our business model closely coordinates with our clients’ own production schedules. We offer predictable, reliable scheduling and fast turnaround,” says John.
Colleen and John are grateful for all the help and encouragement they received, saying, “If you’re looking to start a business, or grow your business, you need to know things you haven’t yet learned and who wants to help. The SBDC truly wants you to succeed!”
To learn more about this Clear Lake, Iowa business and the Thompsons’ success with their metal finishing services, visit the Iowa PowderCraft website at www.iowapowdercraft.com, the company’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/iowapowdercraft, or the Thompsons’ “12 Steps for Aspiring Entrepreneurs” at http://www.niacc.edu/pappajohn/resources/success-stories.