It’s time to co-opt one of Gov. Nikki Haley’s favorite slogans.
On May 6 it will be a “great day” in Rock Hill for business.
That day business leaders from all over the state will gather in Columbia to celebrate South Carolina’s Salute to Small Businesses.
Rock Hill will be center stage with the state’s top small business being homegrown, started by Melissa Gladden in a spare bedroom of her parents’ home.
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The Winthrop Small Business Development Center also will stand tall, honored for its innovative practices.
Both awards are from the federal Small Business Administration.
While the honors are separate, the success of Gladden and the center are intertwined. Gladden was one of the center’s clients. For both, embracing diversity was a key part of their winning applications.
While a student at Winthrop, Gladden walked by the small business center in the Thurmond Building almost daily.
So when it came time to grow her business, Carolina Recruiting LLC or CR for short, she turned to the center for help.
Gladden, now 38, started the business at 24, after being laid off by another staffing firm.
She wondered, “Where is my life going? This was my time to try and fail.”
She started her own firm and, like many small business owners, she learned each day.
She honed her salesmanship skills, as staffing is all about recruiting – clients as well job seekers.
She understood that staffing is a cyclical business. When clients are looking for employees, people are not looking for jobs. When people want jobs, clients aren’t hiring. “There never seems to be a perfect balance. It’s now hard to find the talent, and the jobs are out there,” she said.
As her firm grew, Gladden hired more people. Her instinct was, “it’s my company, this is the way things are done.” She soon learned to “trust her team.”
“They came with different experience, different ways of doing things. You have to be flexible and value the person.”
As a small firm competing against national companies, there were days of doubt, “There are days you don’t feel like a winner,” she said. But her energy never waned.
“You just keep showing up... I just don’t quit. That’s all I know to do, that’s the way the Lord made me.” The unlimited energy earned her the nickname “Fireball.”
At the small business center Gladden was paired with Forrest Norman, the retired chief financial officer from Central Textiles and a certified public accountant.
Norman looked over her business and its books. He was impressed with what he found.
“There were millions in revenue,” he said. But she had hired an outside firm to manage her financials, and that firm was getting 2 percent of each invoice, Norman said.
He helped Gladden understand the financial side of her business and what her options were.
With the changes CR made, Gladden is now looking at acquiring other firms and becoming a managed service provider. A managed service provide is a conduit between staffing agencies and companies. Companies that are hiring often use multiple staffing agencies that have their own ways of doing things. A managed service provider oversees, and helps standardize, the hiring process.
Regardless of what the future holds, Gladden is confident of one thing – she won’t walk away defeated. If she does decide on a different path, she will leave CR on the highest of highs, “when I know I have done the best I could.”
Growing companies such as Gladden’s has been one of the primary goals of the Winthrop’s small business center in recent years.
Traditionally, small businesses centers across the country, which are operated in conjunction with the federal Small Business Administration, have helped people wanting to open a business.
While that’s still part of the Winthrop center’s mission, director Larry Stevens challenged his staff to “look outside the box,” finding ways to help underserved businesses or potential business owners.
“A focus became the Hispanic population,” Stevens said.
Office materials were translated into Spanish. The bigger change, however, was having workers fluent in Spanish giving those coming to the center a sense of confidence when they came for help, Stevens said. The center now has two Spanish-speaking employees.
Over the past 18 months, the center has assisted 12 clients in Spanish, some of them with existing businesses in Charlotte and Charleston. The businesses include a travel agency, a dry cleaner, car repair, bakery and commercial and residential cleaning services.
While the center has embraced diversity among its clients, Stevens said it has also embraced diversity within. The center has a mix of seasoned counselors, such as the 72-year-old Norman, to grad students. The diversity of skills, age, race and gender is one of the center’s biggest advantages, Stevens said.
The center not only won for South Carolina but was also named the Region IV winner, competing against centers from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Bigger awards could be in Gladden’s future too. The national small business person of the year is announced May 8.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066 • firstname.lastname@example.org