Group aims to boost small business

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — To generate revenue to support its mission of revitalizing the mainly African-American and low-income Beatties Ford Road corridor just west of downtown Charlotte, Friendship Community Development Corp. last November opened Great Things, a resale thrift shop.

But the shop, located in an abandoned house and launched with donations from members of Friendship Baptist Church, lacked a business plan.

That has changed, thanks to Community Anchors, a nonprofit formed last fall by a former Bank of America employee to provide free business consulting to small businesses that are run by minorities or women and serve low-income neighborhoods in the city.

“The main goal is to try a different, grassroots approach to community development,” says Geoff Goss, president and board chair of Community Anchors and former vice president and service-delivery manager at Bank of America.

With a $75,000 operating budget, most of it from individual donors, Goss enlisted a second staff member and recruited a network of 25 volunteers, roughly half of them from Bank of America, includes MBAs, retired executives and current or former small-business owners.

In its first year, Community Anchors has provided over 500 hours of free consulting to 35 clients, half of them startups, in sectors ranging from retailing and human resources to the electrical, plumbing and general contracting trades.

Community Anchors provides “directional consulting” to most clients, referring them to resources they can use to set up, run or improve their business.

The nonprofit also has worked with three clients for three to four months each, assessing their strengths and weaknesses and suggesting “low-cost but high-impact” improvements, Goss says.

While he and his other staffer handle most of they work, they call on volunteers to address issues like marketing, accounting, finance, supply-chain management, and technology.

If a client wants additional consulting, the nonprofit charges a nominal fee.

After studying Great Things, Community Anchors recommended the thrift job run ads in selected publications and change its price structure and store layout, Goss says.

Two ads that offered a 10 percent discount were placed in Spanish-language weekly La Noticia, for example, and generated 100 customers.

As a result of all the changes, he says, weekly sales have grown to $2,000 from $1,500.

In 2007, Community Anchors plans to add two bilingual staffers to serve Hispanic clients, double its volunteer network and provide 3,000 to 4,000 hours of consulting to 250 clients, including 25 that will receive in-depth services.

Goss, who has been operating out of his house, also plans to open a satellite office, possibly in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in East Charlotte or in the Beatties Ford Road neighborhood.

And he hopes to expand a partnership with the BizHub Network and the Institute for Entrepreneurship, two programs at Central Piedmont Community College that serve small businesses.

Helping small businesses grow and sustain themselves can help build low-income neighborhoods, Goss says.

By adding jobs and capital investment, and buying land and facilities, he says, small firms over time will produce a “ripple effect where more businesses are going to come in where they’ve seen success is possible.”

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