SCORE Mentorship Aids Small Businesses With Big Dreams
Nonprofit offers free one-on-one business advice
Dana DeCaire’s business grew out of an act of love for her father, Bill Hermann, in 2004.
Three times each week she watched dialysis machines pump blood out of her father’s shirtless body, purify it and pump it back in through a catheter in his chest. The process made his 95-pound body so cold he often shivered and turned blue, but for safety reasons, his catheter, and his chest, needed to remain uncovered. A heated blanket in his lap did little to ease his discomfort, she said.
DeCaire used her sewing skills to design a sweatshirt with a zipper in the front. It allowed nurses to access his port and sterilize it without removing his clothes. Before long, other patients were asking her to alter their clothes, too, which she did free of charge. Shortly before his death in 2007, DeCaire and her father started Hemowear, a clothing line designed for patients undergoing dialysis or chemotherapy.
Today, DeCaire operates the business out of her rural home in Adel, 46 miles east of Lakeview in Lake County. Her husband, John DeCaire, helps out between a full-time highway maintenance job with the Oregon Department of Transportation and occasional carpentry work.
They earn a small profit, but Dana DeCaire wants to expand her business into a warehouse with employees, so she enlisted the help of Robert Cone, a volunteer mentor with SCORE. The nonprofit offers free one-on-one business advice to entrepreneurs and small-business owners and has offices across the country.
SCORE is trying to engage more established startup companies that want to take their business to the next level. With a viable business showing potential for growth, Hemowear is exactly the type of client SCORE wants to reach.
SCORE has 15 mentors in Central Oregon with a broad array of expertise, such as operations, finance, marketing, sales, manufacturing, and more. Mentors are either working or retired small-business owners and executives.
“Our primary focus is to create a sustainable business,” Cone said. “To do that, you have to create a business plan, which thoroughly vets the idea and creates strategies and tactics to achieve the goals. That’s what I am working on with Hemowear. She wants to grow the business, so we’ve had a lot of conversations about, what does that mean.”
Dana DeCaire credits Cone with bringing structure and focus to her business. When she reached out to SCORE in August, she thought she had a solid business plan. Cone gave her a long list of questions and asked her to rewrite it.
When DeCaire compared her two business plans, she realized she wasn’t following through with the goals she had set for herself.
“He has taken each step of the plan and broken it down so I can understand it and work on it,” she said.
Her ultimate goal is to be the “Nike of dialysis,” but Nike doesn’t manufacture its products out of a craft room in the middle of cattle country. Hemowear has two employees — Dana and John DeCaire. In addition to managing finances and sales, Dana DeCaire handles every aspect of the business, right down to the sewing.
When Hemowear gets an order, she sews in a zipper using a commercial sewing machine named the “green beast,” a hand-me-down from her grandmother. John DeCaire inspects the final packages before shipping.
Last year, Dana DeCaire almost gave up on the business after orders increased eightfold, from 20 in October to 150 in December. She was working two 24-hour shifts a week just to get them out, she said. Exhausted, she would sleep half the following day, allowing orders to stack up. The stress drove her into a tantrum that had her throwing things across the room and threatening to give up completely, she said.
John DeCaire couldn’t believe she wanted to walk away now that the business was finally working, she said. That’s when he stepped in and they found a way to share the workload.
“It’s just me, and my hubby in my back pocket,” said Dana DeCaire. “The holiday season is coming fast.”
This year, Cone suggested she focus on increasing sales and hiring someone else to sew. She hopes to find a part-time worker in Lakeview before the holiday rush.
Meanwhile, she checks in with Cone every month by email to address other obstacles. With his direction, she recently registered the business to sell to federal agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs. And DaVita Kidney Care, which has more than 2,150 clinics across the nation, lists Hemowear as a suggested gift for family members on dialysis. In 2015, she plans to become a wholesale retailer, selling bulk orders of her product to dialysis clinics.
Hemowear has already doubled last year’s revenue, and Dana DeCaire’s busy season is just about to begin. She’s still a long way from going global, but she believes if next year is as profitable as the current one, anything is possible.
“You have to understand the human aspect of it,” Cone said. “The thing that is sobering for most people is having a good idea is just the price of ambition. … The door is open, but executing on the idea, in so many different ways, is the hard part.”
Reaching more Mom-and-Pop businesses
Every Tuesday night, a volunteer SCORE mentor offers free business counseling at the Downtown Bend Public Library. Most who seek counseling come in with little more than an idea. Some of the ideas are good, said Cone. Others, not so much.
SCORE will continue to offer drop-in counseling because it’s a valued resource, Cone said. But the association wants to engage more with established small businesses that need help getting to sustainable and profitable levels.
SCORE is taking a two-pronged approach to attract clients like Hemowear. In January, the association plans to launch a series of seminars in partnership with the Deschutes Public Library. On the first Wednesday of each month through April, the downtown library will host a free 2-hour workshop led by SCORE mentors. The series kicks off in January with business planning and goal setting, followed by financial fundamentals, maximizing marketing, and managing operations in the following months.
“The idea is this will pick up the people who have started hobby businesses. We’re excited to see how this will work.” Cone said.
Mentors also give a presentation targeted to newer businesses at the monthly Bend Chamber of Commerce Membership 101 meetings, which provides new, current, and prospective members an overview of chamber membership.
“With all the different mentors and backgrounds they have, there is a great representation of many industries,” said Shelley Junker, chamber membership specialist. “It’s nice that when someone signs up, they can be placed with someone who is experienced in their area.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0358, email@example.com
For more information on Hemowear, go to www.hemowear.com, or call them at 1-888-836-4366