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Small Business Boot Camp participants march forward

David Henson provided participants in Small Business Boot Camp a textbook case study of how to succeed in business. Well, it was as textbook as business success can be since each endeavor usually becomes its own case study — no two efforts are identical.

Henson and two of his officers at Tupelo-based Henson Sleep Relief Inc. (HSR) spoke March 4 to approximately 30 participants in a New Albany session of the 12-week program put on by Mississippi Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The first four sessions were in Tupelo, while the next four were in New Albany, winding up its final four in Pontotoc.

“We saw this as a way to diversify,” CEO and company owner Henson said in explanation of how the firm got into making and marketing foam contour pillows and mattress pads. Henson reported that, back in the early 1990s, demand for the foam furniture components they formerly made dropped as the Northeast Mississippi furniture industry went through one of its slumps.

“We started 15 years ago with four employees. We started very grassroots,” said Jane Ennis, president of Henson. The company had $10 million in sales last year.

“I feel a real sense of knowing where you are,” she said to the group comprised of folks who either want to start a business or improve their existing businesses.

Henson, Ennis and HSR general manager Dale Helms fielded questions from the Boot Campers, questions that revealed a better understanding of business principles and practices than when the camp began in Tupelo in late January.

“How do you include your employees in your company decisions?” asked one camper, in response to an element of the evening’s formal program by presenter Frank Wiebe (pronounced wee-bee).

That topic was the practice of providing employees “ownership” in the company — including employees in decision-making — said Wiebe, gives them responsibility for the condition of the company and, hence, “ownership” it its success.

“We involve everyone in the planning at SBDC, from the secretaries on up,” said Wiebe.

The evening’s lesson concerned the broad field of “Management,” one of almost a dozen topics broached during the three-month offering. Management, said Wiebe, is arguably one of the most important ingredients for success in business.

He offered the example of an owner of a foam-cutting company, probably not by coincidence, considering the night’s guest speakers. “If you are (out in your plant) cutting foam, you are not managing.”

The lesson, of course, was embodied in the name of the evening’s program — “Management: Getting Things Done Through Others.”

“The first thing you have to ask yourselves is where you want to go,” Wiebe told the gathering. He deferred to his colleague and supervisor at the SBDC, Don Fischer. “Don said you can go anywhere you want as long as you have no objectives.”

However, he pointed out that forming objectives — and sticking to them — is a completely necessary element of running a business. Without them, there is no plan of action, no course to follow.

But there is a caveat to that, according to Wiebe: “Objectives that can’t be achieved are worthless.”

Throughout the first half of Boot Camp, participants have received nightly handouts that they place in a three-ring binder, also provided by the workshop’s sponsors. The binders are meant to be a reference to the time they have spent in the meetings, accessible when questions arise in their future and present endeavors.

Those sponsors include: SBDC, Minority PULL Alliance, Union County Development Association, Pontotoc Chamber of Commerce, Three Rivers Planning & Development District Inc., Community Development Foundation and Renasant Center for IDEAs.

Future workshops deal with how to grow a business, secrets of advertising, attracting and training the right people and minority programs.

Small Business Boot Camp could be initiated in other state SBDC regions, depending on the success of this, the first such comprehensive offering of already existing small-business assistance training offered by the statewide organization.

Editor’s note: This story is part three in a series as the Mississippi Business Journal follows the progress of Small Business Boot Camp and its participants.

Contact MBJ contributing writer C. Richard Cotton at rcotton4@earthlink.com .

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