JES: Cooking up customer satisfaction through plain, simple hard work Eric Smith entered the commercial refrigeration industry with a clear goal in mind: to improve the state of preventative maintenance in the Greenwood, SC area. Having worked in maintenance for an industrial company for 21 years, Smith understood the importance of maintaining equipment. He started with one customer who had four restaurants. He earned a degree in HVAC and his business grew to more than 20 customers in two years.
All this he did while holding down a full-time job. When he was sure there was a need for this type of service he quit his job and started JES with $8,000 and a truck. Today, JES includes a global company that sells every type of restaurant equipment – from ice machines and coolers to fryers and slicers. Smith’s wife Vivian runs their Internet sales company and they continue to work together to manage and grow the companies.
Starting conservatively and growing smart was Smith’s plan. The only problem was that while Smith knew his industry and customers, he didn’t know the ins and outs of the business world. When he was looking for a construction loan, a banker suggested he visit his local SC SBDC center to get help developing a business plan. He called and made an appointment to see business consultant Mickey Conway of the Greenwood Area SBDC.
“I’d never have been able to prepare the plan alone,” Smith said. “Mickey helped me figure out financial projections. He helped me get my business plan where it needed to be.” Smith got a SBA 504 loan to buy land and build a structure for his rapidly growing business.
“Eric had solid business experience, excellent credit and a well-developed plan,” Conway said. “He got his loan and built his dream facility.”
Besides the commercial restaurant equipment sales and service, the Smiths saw an opportunity in high-end residential kitchen appliances and wares as remodeling became popular. Eric’s kitchen offerings grew to include a full range of culinary wares, fine wines, cooking classes and even his “Now We’re Cooking” catering service that operates from his facility showroom.
Still in growth mode, the Smiths were eager to participate in a free foreign market research study arranged by the South Carolina SBDC State Director, Michele Abraham. The study was conducted by international business students at the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina. The Smiths had previously dabbled in exporting, but they lacked a concise analysis to determine the best export markets for their products. With the expert guidance of Prof. Daniel Ostergaard, a team of six students developed an actionable export plan that pinpointed Canada as the most advantageous international market for JES. The Smiths plan to implement this plan with the assistance of their SC SBDC consultant.
The Smiths are appreciative of the assistance they received at their local SC Small Business Development Center. The $350,000 small business loan Conway helped them secure back in 2003 is down to a $100,000 payoff. They recently had two new hires bringing their full time employees up to 24. When exporting ramps up, the Smiths expect to add even more jobs. With more than $4 M in sales each year, JES has come a long way from an initial investment of $8,000 and a truck.
Smith said, “Thanks to the SC SBDC, the sky’s the limit.”