James Richards and Edie Artis don’t punch a time clock anymore. While they were working in a factory, they started a second job washing people’s cars at work. Things took off from there, and six years later E & J Detail has become a successful small business with a mobile unit, a location in downtown Jackson and another location in Flowood.
“I love having my own business,” Richards said. “I probably couldn’t work at a factory ever again in my life. I don’t think I could hit a time clock again. My partner feels the same way.”
After starting washing cars at the factory, the two African American men began washing cars at their house. Then they added a mobile unit, and then a shop.
“It just kind of expanded,” Richards said. “We didn’t see it coming. When I was growing up as a youngster I wanted to wash the car to drive. I always wanted to wash my uncle’s or cousin’s car, because if I washed it, I got a chance to drive it. They would send me to the store. That kind of stuck with me.”
In the early days, the partners didn’t realize how much demand there was for their services.
“It seemed like for several years we worked two jobs and didn’t get anywhere,” Richards said. “We didn’t know at the time the high demand there was because we were trying to do the car washing business and work another job. We quit jobs and started doing it full time. It has boomed.”
Richards and Artis took advantage of free counseling services from James Bennett, a business counselor with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Hinds Community College, Rankin campus, to give their business a boost.
“The counseling was tremendously helpful,” Richards said. “A lot of times you think you have it going, but you always need someone else to help guide you in the right ways. One thing about it is you can’t work and try to handle your business all at the same time. You need to have some help. Being licensed, being a LLC, what you can tax and what you can’t, we didn’t know anything about that. We ended up getting an accountant so we keep a record of things for several years.”
Bennett thinks a lot of the young businessmen and what they have accomplished. His counseling stressed the importance of good financial record keeping.
“Financial statements to the individual business are just like x-rays to the doctor,” said Bennett, who retired as president of a large financial institution but works three days a week counseling small businesses. “It gives you an idea of what is going on in your business. People going into businesses really need to have a good set of recordkeeping tools to use. That is how you are going to know if you are making a profit or not.
“They have to make sure they have a good set of financial statements, good projected cash flow and projected income statements, then a balance sheet on what they own and what they owe. The reason you need those things is because as time goes on, you are going to need to monitor how you are doing compared to how you thought you were doing. That is the reason why you need those statements.”
Bennett said the counseling advice for minority businesses like E & J Detail is the same as it would be for other businesses.
“Business is business,” Bennett said. “It doesn’t make any difference if you are a minority or not. It doesn’t make any difference if you are running a large corporation or small mom-and-pop operation. You have to do the basic principles to make it work. You are going to have to do the same thing to be successful in business.”
While it is important to start a small business intending to succeed, Bennett also recommends a plan for knowing when to get out of business in case it doesn’t work. He compares it to going somewhere gambling — you have to know how much you can lose.
“Go into business with the idea to make a profit,” he said. “But if it doesn’t work as it is supposed to, where is the point that you decide to get out?”
Bennett also counsels that it is important to think about the legal structure needed to start a business. He said the type of legal structure depends on how much personal liability the business owner wants to assume.
Often people don’t understand the difference between the types of business structures such as sole proprietor, partnership, corporation or limited liability company (LLC). If you are going to start a small business and want to protect yourself from liability, he recommends using an S corporation.
The other thing a person needs to do is decide without doubt what kind of business he wants to open. Bennett said he needs to get a firm grip on exactly what he wants to do and what kind of market there is for that particular business. Then he needs to decide on what kind of location is needed.
“If your business is dependent on walk in customers, you must have a good, prominent location,” Bennett said. “But if you have a manufacturing business, the location might not be nearly as important.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.