October 22, 2014

Center helps business fill in the details

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A passion for detailing and cleanliness led David Cook to entrepreneurship. 

Cook, founder of Allied Automotive Brokers and Detailing in Murphysboro, is a licensed automotive dealer and self-described “clean freak.” He worked at various dealerships in Southern Illinois but when the dealership he most recently worked for closed its doors, he knew it was time to open his own shop.  The Illinois Small Business Development Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale was there to help Cook create a business model and make it happen. 

“The entire time I worked at the dealership, I was thinking, ‘This is going to be my last job working for someone else’,” Cook said. “I just wanted to do my own thing.” 

Cook said the SBDC “helped get the plan out of my head and mold it into what I wanted to accomplish.” 

Cook secured a location for his business in March 2008 and now, nearly seven years later, his business has a loyal customer base and a booked schedule. His relationship with the SBDC didn’t stop after the setup help. 

A year after Cook’s business opened, he graduated from “Operation Bootstrap,” a collaborative entrepreneurial training program the center offered for new and potential businesses. Cook said the program boosted his confidence and put him in an environment surrounded by other current or prospective business owners with similar experiences who shared valuable knowledge. 

“The entrepreneurial training program gave me the opportunity to talk to people who were running their own businesses.  When you’re in business, nobody understands business owners like other business owners,” Cook said. “You don’t have that cushion of a steady paycheck that other people have.” 

Planning ahead is essential, something startup business owners don’t often realize, Cook said. 

“You’re just so excited to start your business that you don’t think long-term.  It’s about planning. It’s about looking ahead instead of focusing on the now,” Cook said. 

Other challenges include hiring and training good employees, while knowing that the owner still shoulders the major workload. Finding a solid customer base has been easier and Cook said his “biggest reward is my customer base. I’m appreciative of my customers. I just can’t say that enough.” 

Cook advises prospective business owners to evaluate the challenges and rewards before they start their adventure, but also be mindful not to “sell yourself short.” Price and quality are both important for businesses and Cook said the SBDC offers critical assistance to help entrepreneurs gain new perspectives and rethink their ideas to create successful businesses. 

Working with the SBDC and other business owners convinced Cook to think about his business and set future goals.  The SBDC program provided Cook with information, along with access to various forms of regional funding, and he was able to secure capital to help expand.   He still seeks valuable advice through the center and as he looks to the future, he is planning a business model shift -- scaling back on the detailing work and focusing more on growing the car sales and brokerage aspects of his business, as well as offering car customizations, including window tinting.

“The Small Business Development Center is full of a wealth of knowledge that can help guide you,” Cook said.  

The SBDC is hosting “Celebrating 30 years of Small Business Success” from 3 to 6 p.m. on Nov. 14 at the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center, 1740 Innovation Drive, Carbondale. The event will feature guest speakers, client success stories, awards, a trade show highlighting some of the center’s client success stories and “A Taste of SBDC,” showcasing a large number of area food producers who are center clients. For more information, contact Robyn Laur Russell at rrussell@biz.siu.edu or 618/536-2424. 

The Illinois Small Business Development Center/International Trade Center, is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and hosted by Southern Illinois University Carbondale.