MONTICELLO, AR — Starting and building a successful business is a daunting task. Pitfalls and obstacles abound and many good ideas have turned into failures when the only thing needed was a little sound advice.
The Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center at the University of Arkansas at Monticello has been dispensing business advice since its creation in 1998. Since that time, the ASBTDC has helped numerous businesses get off the ground, overcome rough spots and become successful enterprises.
Three of the most recent success stories involve a local logger, a former UAM baseball player turned fitness guru, and a woman whose story may earn her a guest appearance on “The Shark Tank” television series.
Hardy Rhodes was born to be a logger. He comes from a family of loggers and his father-in-law, Welton Green, is a long-time logger. Rhodes is the owner of Hardy Rhodes Trucking, LLP of Monticello. His company employs 15 people who operate cutters, skidders, de-limbers and loaders and drive 18-wheel tractor-trailer rigs from the south Arkansas pine woods to paper and saw mills in the region.
Rhodes built his business from scratch after leaving a job at Potlatch 13 years ago. During his last years at Potlatch, the company went to 12 hour shifts and Rhodes had plenty of down time. Rather than waste the time, he learned how to drive big rigs, which led to the creation of Hardy Rhodes Trucking.
As his company expanded into logging, Rhodes needed more and more financing to secure the expensive equipment needed for the work. Following a chance meeting with Michael Jones, a business consultant for the ASBTDC, Rhodes went to Jones for help. He needed a business plan to help secure the financing he needed to grow his company.
“The business plan they developed helped with the banks,” said Rhodes. “I was able to show them how much income I could expect.” The plan also helped Rhodes secure logging jobs with Potlatch and Plum Creek. “That’s important because with this equipment, you have to keep it working,” he explained. “You can’t afford down time.”
Chris Weast is the owner of Crossfit, a Monticello fitness center that specializes in diverse workouts that avoid the same routine day after day. Weast played baseball at UAM for two seasons before transferring to Delta State to complete his degree in exercise science. His business began as an offshoot of his love of baseball, training young players in batting cages in Monticello and his hometown of Star City.
As his client list grew, Weast’s business evolved to include personal fitness workouts with certified Crossfit coaches. He leased a 6,400-square-foot building on U.S. 425 and began offering Crossfit classes in February 2013.
Weast got some help from the ASBTDC when former director Lindsay Henry, a lifelong friend, told him about the center’s services. “She told me I should come up and talk to her and that the services were free,” said Weast.
The Center created a brochure that Weast sent to potential clients. The results encouraged him to go back for help with his latest project, a skating rink and pool hall he plans to open on U.S. 425 South in November. The ASBTDC created a business plan with data that convinced Weast there were enough potential customers in the area to open the business.
LaShawna Canty-Golden’s story may land her on network television. A tall, attractive former high jumper at the University of Georgia, Canty-Golden is a Chicago native who came to Monticello to spend time with her grandparents and decided to stay. Canty-Golden has served as a surrogate mother five times (she carries babies for others who, due to health concerns, can’t carry the babies themselves).
Canty-Golden and her grandmother, Shirley Wilson of Monticello, were driving through rural Alabama on U.S. 82 one night last year when LaShawna unexpectedly went into labor at 37 weeks. “I told my grandmother to pull over because I was going to have that baby,” she remembers. “We called 911 but didn’t know where we were and we didn’t have GPS so they couldn’t send anyone.”
As Wilson frantically tried to get someone to stop along the dark highway, Canty-Golden gave birth to a healthy 6-pound baby boy while leaning against the car door. She caught the baby herself. “He came out screaming,” says Wilson. “The Lord was looking over us.”
Wilson finally convinced a young man to stop and he called in the location. Within minutes, seven police cars and an ambulance were on the scene. What Canty-Golden and Wilson didn’t realize was they were four stoplights from a major hospital on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa.
That experience spawned an idea – the Stoplight Kit.
“We needed help,” says Canty-Golden. “We needed someone to stop but a lot of times, if people don’t know what’s wrong, they’re afraid to stop.”
Canty-Golden devised a kit to alert passing motorists with red, yellow and green messages that glow in the dark. The kit includes a magnetic stand that sticks to the roof of the car and messages that include “SOS,” “911,” “411,” and “GAS.” She created the concept out of straws and had the kits in production in three weeks. She then went to the ASBTDC for a business plan. “They helped us become an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) and provided information on how to export our product overseas,” says Canty-Golden. “They also provided information about nonprofits and how we could donate the kits to organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs.”
Stoplight Kits now has a website (StoplightKits.com) and additional products, including bracelets and magnetic car stickers to prevent child abduction. The company and Canty-Golden’s story caught the attention of the producers of “The Shark Tank,” who invited her to Dallas for an audition on May 30. She’ll find out this fall whether she will be invited back as a guest.
“Stories like these are why we’re in business,” said Michael Jones. “A lot of people don’t know we’re here, don’t realize that the services we provide are free, and don’t realize they need help. Starting a new business has so many challenges that have to be overcome. Hopefully, we can help overcome those challenges and facilitate success. That’s why we’re here.”
For information about the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, call (870) 460-1910.
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