Kim Batty, owner of KB Concepts, teaches marketing to students at the Emerge Program’s second cohort.
Written by Edward Smith
A group of 12 people attending the Visalia Chamber of Commerce’s Emerge Program is nearing the end and ready to “graduate.”
The six-month program held at the College of Sequoias gives people with diverse levels of business experience an in-depth look at opening and running a company. Classes include business and employment law, accounting, marketing, finding the right insurance and sales training, among others.
“The hope is to not just build better business, but to also show attendees if an idea is viable,” said Gail Zurek, president and CEO of the Visalia Chamber.
Three people looking to grow in the business world each sought out the Emerge program with unique needs – expanding an existing business, testing an idea or entering the world of business for the first time.
Finding the right people
Rachel Ingram has been in the information technology business for five years. She co-owns TechCare 360 in Visalia with her husband, but a desire to rebrand their company brought Ingram to the program.
Already fairly involved with the Chamber, Ingram had found out about the program through a networking group.
She and her husband started TechCare right out of high school, and over five years, they “learned the hard way” how to run a business, Ingram said. What she wanted was a mentorship with someone who had been through many of the same problems she was facing.
Ingram’s most immediate concern was hiring. Along with the rebranding, Ingram and her husband needed a full-time position filled. They had hired a person a number of years before, but it wasn’t a good match. The hire didn’t stay.
“Seeing how someone interacts with a client is important to match the values we want with our rebranding,” said Ingram. They weren’t worried as much about experience in IT, because Ingram said they could teach those things. What she said she couldn’t teach was honesty and focusing on people rather than problems.
She found her mentor in Vickie Goudreau, owner of Innovation Commercial Flooring in Fresno.
In her first meeting with Goudreau, Ingram asked about her hiring dilemma.
“She said something really profound to me, which wasn’t about skills or talents,” Ingram said. “You start with their values and personality, and what they’re passionate about, because it will tell you what they’re values are and what will fulfill them in their job.”
Now, Ingram and her husband are ready to start interviewing for that position.
“It made us comfortable knowing we weren’t going to do it the same way,” Ingram said.
Right side of the law
Shelley Ellis said she has no intention of leaving the job she loves at the Visalia Convention Center, but an idea to do gourmet donuts had been hounding her since she first discovered them.
While walking with her father in Park City, Utah, they came upon a donut shop with mini donuts. She had gotten her business acumen from her father and together, they struck up a conversation with the owner. The adventurous and creative side of Ellis wanted to bring the idea to Visalia. But her cautious side told her she had more to learn.
Ellis graduated from University of Nevada Las Vegas with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, which eventually brought her to the Central Valley. Being involved with the Chamber in her job at the Convention Center introduced her to the Emerge Program.
“I think it’s important to not jump into something without understanding what it takes,” Ellis said. She has attended every one of the classes for this second cohort, but the class that stood out the most to her was employment law.
“It’s important to be aware of the laws and protect your assets and be there for your employees,” Ellis said. “It’s a huge investment.”
After developing her business model, she felt confident that the return on investment was there, but the timing wasn’t right for her.
“This is absolutely what I love to do and it’s not just a hobby, but there are personal decisions I have to make,” she said.
Big shoes to fill
Even though Franey’s Carpet One Floor and Home has been open since 1955, its sales manager and heir-apparent, Colin Franey, needed to know business before he could step in and fill an ownership role. When his grandfather retired from the business, he passed it off onto Franey’s uncles. But now, Franey wants to continue to take over the carpet store.
“Family is important to me, and legacy,” he said. “I take a sense of pride my grandfather started this business.”
Franey had the desire, but what he lacked was a background in business. Before coming to Visalia in 2015, he had been a congressional aide in Washington D.C. for four years. He was looking to make a career change and an opportunity to come back to Visalia presented itself.
But it was going to take work to learn the family business. A decade ago, Franey had asked about taking over the business, but his uncles felt the timing wasn’t right, Franey said. So, he set himself to learn.
He needed someone to talk to him about topics like human resources and tax codes. Guest speakers became the highlights for Franey. He would furiously scribble notes, then go back to the carpet store and test what he’d learned.
“They were things they did naturally, but I was able to pipe in and learn hands-on and think about if there were different ways to do it,” Franey said. “Sometimes people didn’t even know there was a different way of doing things.”
Being in an established business meant he could fall back on people who already knew how to run the company.
“It made me realize there was so much more I needed to learn,” Franey said. He knows now he has to surround himself with good people. Having only a cursory knowledge in accounting, he said, means he needs a good accountant.
As of right now, Franey says he is continuing to learn and that in a couple of years he can take over the lead of Franey’s Carpet One. His big “pie-in-the-sky dream” is – by the time he is retires – to hand off the store to the fourth generation as it reaches its 100th anniversary.