New upstarts keep local economy moving

Published 12:03 am Sunday, November 4, 2007

VIDALIA — It takes more than a little grunt work and gumption to make the American dream of owning your own business come true.

Yet, between the smokestacks and the warehouses, economic experts will tell you small business is the meat of any town.

And without new starts, business is going nowhere.

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For Dave Yates, experience helped him start his business more than almost anything else. A Natchez native, Yates ran a medical transcription service in Monroe for roughly 10 years. When he moved back home a little more than a year ago, he started a company offering the same service, AbbiCorp.

“Everything’s been real smooth,” Yates said. “Everyone’s really helped us in this.”

Having run a business with a similar goal, Yates knew what to expect.

“It makes things a little easier,” he said. “You kind of know what you’re getting into.”

Cindy Harper, who has owned and operated Outdoor Galore — an outdoor furniture and accessories store — in Ferriday since May, said it was important to have a financial edge when opening a business.

“I had an edge by already owning the property,” she said. “You’ve either got to have a good backer or good savings.”

And once you have funds, it takes money to make money, Harper said.

“It’s a big thing realizing how much money it takes to get that store stocked and keep it stocked,” she said.

More important than experience or even financing is marketing, Yates said.

“It’s critical,” he said. “If people don’t know what you’ve got, you’re not going to go anywhere. Having a good marketing plan in place can really help you grow your business.”

Harper agreed.

“The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was the idea that this kind of store could be here,” she said. “People are used to going out of town to buy the kinds of products I offer, and so they don’t necessarily think about coming to Ferriday to get them.”

Along with marketing, a love for what you do is of utmost importance, Yates said.

“You’ve got to like it,” he said. “People can tell if you don’t. It helps if you like what you’re doing when you run up on problems. Just have fun. That’s why you’re in business, to make money and do what you like.”

Staying creative is important for the small retail business owner, Harper said.

“You need to constantly do new displays, you have got to figure out a way to stay on top of your game,” she said. “I’m not special. I just work hard.”

First steps

To be able to open a business in Vidalia, the prospective business owner has to go to City Hall and apply for an occupational license, Mayor Hyram Copeland said.

“We talk to each and every new business to discuss the options they have,” he said.

Once they have applied for a license, the board of aldermen votes to approve the license.

Copeland said he only remembers one business ever being voted down.

“The aldermen aren’t going to vote against a business unless it might be detrimental to Vidalia itself or the quality of life we have in Vidalia.”

To open a business in the parish, the process is similar, Police Jury Secretary Russell Wagoner said.

The potential businessperson would apply for their occupational license at the parish sales tax office, and the police jury would vote to approve the business.

If the business plans to sell alcohol or needs other state permits, those permits need to be applied for at the same time, Wagoner said.

In Natchez, a prospective business owner must get a privilege license from the city or county.

In the city, that includes getting approval from the planning, inspection and health departments, as well as the state tax commission.

A little help from friends

On both sides of the river, chambers of commerce can help businesses and point them in the right direction.

In Vidalia, the chamber can help outline a business plan and guide prospective owners through steps such as obtaining a business license and funding.

“We just kind of ease them through the stages of things they need,” Vidalia Chamber Director Kathy Nunnery said. “We’re just a world of information here people don’t realize we have.”

The Natchez Chamber and the economic development authority work together to help businesses.

In addition, both Alcorn State University and Copiah-Lincoln Community College have grant-funded programs to help businesses get up and running.

Co-Lin’s business incubator provides resources for prospective business owners, addressing unique needs, from developing a business plan to wading through applications.

Making plans, planning costs

But there’s more to starting a business than filling out paperwork. It takes planning, and lots of it.

Once someone has an idea for a business, he must develop a business plan, said Kimball Marshall, a marketing professor at Alcorn.

“You have to figure out who your target customer is and how many of them are out there,” Marshall said.

The cost of starting up, creating the product, renting or owning the location, employee salaries, benefits and insurance all must factor into a plan.

But even with a plan, don’t expect to get rich quick, Marshall said. Depending on the business, it could take one to five years before the business recovers its costs and makes money.

That’s why it’s important to be in it for more than the money, he said.

“That’s where the passion comes in,” Marshall said. “You have to have passion for your idea. If you’re kind of interested in it, you probably shouldn’t pursue it.”

That passion for what you do, sell or make can get you through the more difficult first years, he said.

Above all, people shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help, he said.

“In all these things, you should be getting advice,” he said. “Whether it’s legal, accounting, marketing, you should be getting professional advice.”