Thriving local business is a symptom of a flourishing economy. In Gig Harbor, a group of volunteers are trying to help bolster the economy by helping business owners find resources to keep their shop doors open.
SCORE is a nonprofit organization that helps small businesses and start-ups find resources and real estate while local volunteers mentor new business owners on how to receive loans, write an excellent business plan and help keep the business open after its first day.
Jeff Freedman, a Gig Harbor resident, is a volunteer and the vice chairman of the Gig Harbor group of the South Sound/Tacoma SCORE chapter. SCORE works in partnership with the Small Business Association, and its volunteer mentors have a variety of backgrounds that can assist entrepreneurs and idea generators.
“Let’s say you have an idea in your head, what we first do when we meet is try to get that idea onto paper,” Freedman said. “(It) could be a new business, a new nonprofit or more. We go through process of setting up a business with the tools you need.”
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Freedman started his own appliance business called Metropolitan Appliance located near Safeco Field in Seattle with his brother a few decades ago. Recently he decided to sell his portion of the business to his brother and son and retire in Gig Harbor. He is one of four other volunteers who work with Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula residents to help start new businesses and nonprofits in the area.
“We have three other volunteers: one in banking, one in finance and marketing and I think the other gentleman is in IT,” Freedman said. “We are offering our services to whoever wants to visit, someone brand new in business or someone who owns a business and is needing a tune-up.”
SCORE has helped start many small businesses in Gig Harbor. Freedman says the group sees about three people a week. Some businesses include local grocery stores, a hot dog stand on the peninsula and the group even helped start organizing funding for the future Hope Recovery Center, which is planning to open on the Key Peninsula.
Hope Recovery Center has been working for more than a year to establish itself as a drug rehabilitation center to tackle the opioid epidemic on a local level.
Jeremiah Saucier, the president and one of the nonprofit’s founders, said that if it wasn’t for the volunteers at SCORE, the organization may not have started at all.
“They were amazing,” Saucier said. “When we first started we knew we had to have a business plan. I didn’t know what to do. Someone referred us to SCORE and they just embraced us. They are probably responsible for the foundation we have today. They helped us get the understanding and the fundraising pieces. They were just very supportive.”
Saucier, like many others venturing to start a new nonprofit or business, is not a business expert. A trained counselor, he said his first draft of his business plan is now used as a funny reminder of where he started.
“It was pretty bad,” he said. “But I am not trained in this. Jeff and the other volunteers really helped us shape the plan which made everything we are working on possible.”
Freedman said SCORE wants to work with Gig Harbor-focused businesses whether they are open already or not. Sometimes the group gets business owners who are looking to bring in more customers or trying to fix some kinks in their daily work. There are also SCORE mentors located in Federal Way, Tacoma, Lacey and University Place.
Freedman said his best advice he always gives new business owners — based on his experience — is to focus on customer service.
“I think customer service is the No. 1 rule,” he said. “We want to go out of our way to help customers when we could be that, just make sure the customer is taken care of correctly. We really want to see happy customers at local businesses.”
Weekly SCORE meeting
The Gig Harbor chapter of SCORE meets from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays at the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce. They offer advice, one-on-one advising and a program of classes to help business owners find resources and funding.