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Local companies receive Success Award at annual SBDC ceremony

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Local companies receive Success Award at annual SBDC ceremony

By Lexi Heninger

Thatcher, AZ—Last month, nearly 400 legislators, host administrators, clients, partners, and other stakeholders joined the Arizona Small Business Development Center Network (AZSBDC) on the House Lawn of the Arizona State Capitol as they applauded the accomplishments of 12 of Arizona’s brightest small businesses at the 2012 Success Awards ceremony. The owners of the 12 winning companies were the stars of the event and included four local business owners. Irene Schmoller of Cotton Clouds in Safford, as well as Lynn Lewis, Rachel Peck, and Emma McBride of Sorellas Elite Fashion, also in Safford, were honored for their success.

Irene Schmoller started Cotton Clouds in 1978 on her dining room table after searching for-and not being able to find- the quality yarn she needed to weave her own clothes. She decided that if she couldn’t find these yarns, other weavers probably couldn’t find them either, so she started Cotton Clouds as a mail order business to fill that need. When the Eastern Arizona College (EAC) SBDC opened in 1988, Schmoller became one of their first clients and took advantage of the seminars and classes whenever she could.

It was a social media marketing seminar in 2010 that helped her business take off into what it is today, a thriving online retail and wholesale business with customers around the world and an award-winning catalog. The company expanded its product line to also include specialty yarns, project kits, spinning wheels and looms, books, patterns, and DVDs.

“Before social media, we would receive one to two orders a day,” Schmoller says. “We now process 10-12 orders a day and each is substantially larger than before. We are reaching more of our market and complaints are down. Social media let’s you engage people and build relationships. That’s important.”

SBDC training classes have allowed Schmoller to network and interact with other small business owners to learn more and get advice over the years. “SBDC classes are affordable and you get to hear what other business people are doing,” she commented. Running her own business has taught Schmoller many things, but her best advice to a new business owner would be, “the most important thing isn’t customer service, it’s customer love. People are not just buying a product, they’re buying who you are and how you treat them.”

Sorellas Elite Fashion opened in downtown Safford in 2010 when owners Rachel Peck, Emma McBride, and Lynn Lewis decided to make it easier for women to access trendy clothing and accessories without having to drive two hours away. “We felt we had a real niche to fill in our community, even though it was bad economic times,” says Peck. “We knew that if we came into the market and presented our offering in a different way, it would be okay.” The three partners went to EAC SBDC for advice right from the start. They received help with business planning, marketing, and social media. They have an ongoing relationship with the EAC SBDC team and call them whenever a question arises. “They put on great workshops about social media and other topics,” Peck explains.

Like many other small businesses, the biggest challenge was getting a loan to open a business in the middle of a recession. Peck says, “We pulled everything we had together and just made it work. When you’re passionate about something, you make it happen.” In fact, her advice to new business owners stresses, “Make sure that you are doing something you are passionate about. That makes all the hard work worth it.”

Arizona Senate President Steve Pierce, Speaker of the House Andy Tobbin, and Secretary of State Ken Bennett all participated in the program and Arizona Capitol Times publisher Ginger Lamb served as emcee. “It [the ceremony] is a real opportunity to recognize and applaud the achievements of Arizona’s small businesses,” AZSBDC state director Janice Washington said. “The winners come from every part of this state. Their accomplishments are even more impressive, given the tough economy that our nation continues to struggle with.”

The AZSBDC Network is Arizona’s largest and most accessible source of assistance for small business, with 28 locations across Arizona that provide free one-on-one business counseling and other programs. The Network recently became the host of the new Arizona Procurement Technical Assistance Canter (AZPTAC) network, which is headquartered in Glendale and has satellite locations in Mesa, Tucson, and Yuma.

Success Award winners work with an AZSBDC Network Center to achieve their goals and are chosen for their outstanding economic performance during the previous year. “We are a very strong state network,” noted Washington. During 2011, the Network counseled 3,128 clients and helped create or retain 1,647 jobs. AZSBDC clients started 268 new businesses last year. They created capital investment totaling $45 million. Together, these companies increased their s

ales by $85.1 million. The AZSBDC Network is funded through a cooperative agreement with the U. S. Small Business Administration and through host agreements with 10 Arizona community colleges and Tucson’s Microbusiness Advancement Center.

“Congratulations to each of our winners this year who, out of more than 3000 small businesses who sought assistance from the AZSBDC Network during 2011, represent the best of the best,” said EAC SBDC Director, Kevin Peck.

For more information about EAC’s SBDC contact Peck at (928) 428-8590 or by email at: