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Updated: May 13, 2024 Focus on Small Business

Maine’s Small Business Development Centers expand their reach

Photo / Fred Field Michael Begley is owner of Peace Love Waffles in Dover-Foxcroft. He says Maine SBDC helped him figure out the financial and business plan.

In November 2019, Peace Love Waffles opened in the Piscataquis County town of Dover-Foxcroft.

Erin Riley, her husband, Doug Campbell, and her son, Michael Begley, initially ran the waffle-centric breakfast and brunch spot in a rented location. But Riley had bought a vintage barn at 1282 Bangor Road with the idea of eventually relocating there.

After a pause during the pandemic, Peace Love Waffles was back in business in February 2021, this time at the new location.

“After our first summer there, we exceeded expectations,” says Begley.

But Riley didn’t want the restaurant life anymore, so she put the business and the property up for sale. Begley decided to buy them out, but didn’t have ownership experience.

He contacted the Maine Small Business Development Centers, which supports entrepreneurs and small businesses through advising, training and resources and provides no-cost, confidential business advice to clients.

“Figuring out the finances was the first step,” says Begley. “Then they were able to take me step by step on what I was going to need to purchase the business and how best to set it up.”

Photo / Fred Field
Owner Michael Begley at Peace Love Waffles in Dover-Foxcroft poured coffee through locally produced maple cotton candy to make maple coffee.

An advisor helped him figure out things like ownership structure, how to build up his credit score and how to get a business loan.

“It seemed like during the process of purchasing the business, I had 10 new questions every day,” Begley says. “It was pretty amazing to be able to have them either help me find the answer or confirm that I had the correct answer.”

Business boom

Begley is one of hundreds of clients each year using Maine Small Business Development Centers.

In 2023, Maine SBDC’s advisory services helped 2,289 entrepreneurs and small businesses — up almost 50% from pre-pandemic years. It helped 220 clients access nearly $36.4 million.

Maine SBDC is part of the national SBDC network, and is a program of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Since its establishment as a pilot program in 1976, the national network has grown to nearly 1,000 centers throughout the nation. In 1977, Maine was one of the first SBDCs to be funded.

In recent years, there’s been “a small business boom” nationally and in Maine, says Mark Delisle, Maine SBDC’s state director.

“We had one of the highest number of business starts in 2023,” he says, adding: “I think the pandemic caused a lot of people to rethink things. Some people lost jobs. A lot of us got into a hybrid work environment. Many have that entrepreneurship drive and wanted to start something new.”

Escalating interest rates and workforce shortages haven’t slowed the Maine boom, thanks to bootstrapping entrepreneurs and to legacy businesses finding buyers, says Delisle.

Maine SBDC has parallel challenges. It’s recruiting for several positions to get back to full staffing. Federal pandemic funding for the SBDC network has expired.

Provided Photo / Maine SBDC
Mark Delisle, Maine SBDC’s state director, says in recent years, there’s been “a small business boom” nationally and in Maine.

Still, SBDC’s work during the pandemic made it more visible to more clients. “The cat’s out of the bag,” says Delisle.

Waffle nirvana

At Peace Love Waffles, Begley credits Riley for the idea, name, menu and restaurant set-up. She wanted an efficient, all-electric operation.

“She wanted to do breakfast, and waffles kept coming up,” Begley recalls. “All of a sudden, she had 20 different waffles. Now we have over 30.”

SBDC connected Begley with Coastal Enterprises Inc. and Eastern Maine Development Corp. The two nonprofits provided 30-year loans of $190,000 to buy the real estate and $50,000 for the business.

“SBDC got the ball rolling on getting me the contact information I needed to get the deal done,” says Begley.

The transactions finalized December 2022. Begley now has six employees, including married chefs Clara and Eddie Lucier, whom Begley credits for the restaurant’s success.

Although 6 miles from Dover-Folcroft’s downtown, the restaurant attracts customers from throughout the region and publicity from publications like Down East magazine. Peace Love Waffles surpassed 2022 sales nine months after he bought it.

“I call it our little waffle nirvana,” says Begley.

Like Begley, many clients who approach SBDC need information about how to plan and finance a small business.

“They’re great at making a pie or making candles, but what they don’t know is, ‘How does this make money? How much do I have to sell? What are the costs to set up and run this business?’” says Delisle.

The mission is to give clients the tools and templates for doing the necessary work on topics such as business planning, finance and marketing.

“We’re not there to write their business plan,” says Delisle. “We’re there to educate them and teach them how to be sustainable.”

Back of the napkin

Katie DeLorme came from a 35-year career in integrative physical therapy and health coaching to launch Maine Sol Botanicals with her collection of salve and scrub products made from natural ingredients.

For years, DeLorme had been growing herbs and flowers in her backyard, keeping bees to harvest the honey, and making salves and teas as gifts.

After a sabbatical from work, DeLorme decided to turn that interest into a business. But at age 60, she had never set up a website or pursued the many other details of running her own business.

Provided Photo / Maine Sol Botanicals
Katie DeLorme of Maine Sol Botanicals in Scarborough says Maine SBDC helped with her website, wholesale opportunities, financial goals, trademark, regulations, e-commerce and value proposition.

With the encouragement of friends and family, she reached out to Maine SBDC and connected with Susan Desgrosseilliers, a business advisor with the University of Southern Maine.

They worked on the website, discussed wholesale opportunities, reviewed financial goals, analyzed the trademark name, discussed regulations, reviewed e-commerce practices and other marketing ideas, and examined how DeLorme’s background as an integrative physical therapist, health coach and herbalist sets her products apart and adds to the value proposition.

DeLorme invested about $10,000 in the startup, converting a large space in her Scarborough home for commercial production.

Now entering its third year, the company broke even this year with online sales and five retail partners. One partner, Canopy Hotel, is featuring her products on an “artisan wall” this month, which provides further exposure.

Their luxury suites have her customized blended soap with a bee motif on them, with orders of 200 soaps at a time. The plan is to align with more boutique hotels and boutique marketplaces.

DeLorme continues working with SBDC advisor Chris Cole to build a wholesale catalog and work toward meeting financial goals. “You don’t have to do it alone,” she says.

Like DeLorme, clients approach SBDC with a mix of business sophistication.

“We get a few people who are back of the napkin,” says Delisle. “They just have a dream. They have an idea. But they haven’t gone far with it at all.”

Most have some experience and some understanding of what they want to do. Maybe they’ve worked in restaurants and now they want to start their own.

Photo / Courtesy, Maine SBDC
Jennifer Boutin, Maine SBDC’s associate state director of operations, says providing education empowers clients to run their businesses more competently.

“Then it varies from there on the continuum,” says Delisle. “Some people come in with a roughed-out business plan. Others don’t know where to start.”

Unknown unknowns

Julian Erickson-Watson knew what his big idea was but had only a rudimentary plan.

In 2021, Erickson-Watson, a California native, graduated from college in Massachusetts and moved to Portland. He loved pottery and decided to open a teaching studio.

He approached Maine SBDC to get financial planning and business advice.

“They helped with the projections,” he says. “I had some rudimentary numbers and spreadsheets. Having the full multi-year financial projections with depreciation and the loan and all of that baked in was super helpful.”

He sank his savings and a loan from a family friend into the $170,000 renovation and fit-up of a 5,000-square-foot lease at 369 Forest Ave. in Portland. Handful Studios’ first classroom — with 11 pottery wheels, a kiln, worktables and a double-bay sink — opened in February. Renovations for a second classroom are underway.

Marketing is mainly through social media. “Pottery is huge on Instagram,” says Erickson-Watson. “And there’s a pretty large demand. Once I had the website up and had class offerings, I started to field emails from people who wanted to sign up.”

Starting with 38 students across five classes, enrollment is now nearly 50. Erickson-Watson says he’ll soon onboard three more teachers, offering wheel throwing, hand building and more.

“Starting a business, there’s a lot of unknown unknowns, things I wouldn’t have thought about,” he says. “It’s really helpful to have someone say, ‘Have you thought about this? Here’s another thing to consider.’”

That’s the general consensus. “A comment we often get from clients is that we help them to build the confidence to operate their own business,” says Jennifer Boutin, Maine SBDC’s associate state director of operations. “We provide the education to empower them to run their own business more competently.”

Adds Delisle, “There’s a lot of untapped potential.”

Provided Photo / Handful Studio
Julian Erickson-Watson  of Handful Studios says Maine SBDC provided financial planning and business advice.

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