Small business success is as much about the growth of the owner as the business itself. Clint Dudley,owner of Shade Tree Auto in Grimes, learned this important lesson by investing in his own professional development.
Dudley started Shade Tree Auto as a side business in his garage in 2001 while working a full-time job as a service technician. The graduate of Des Moines Area Community College’s auto technician program initially intended to just offset his living expenses by servicing the cars of friends and family members.
Demand was high enough that he decided to turn it into a full-time business two years later. He learned a critical lesson when he brought in a business partner and the business started to grow. Their conflicting views on running the business forced him take a step back and recognize he needed to better educate himself on the operational side of the business.
“People think you start a business because you can do a better job,” said Dudley. “The reality is there is a lot of education involved and you need to be pro-active and open-minded to look for the support.”
Dudley first turned to the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center in Des Moines to help him develop a business plan. He then invested in executive coaching from a business consulting firm based in Baltimore, a decision he sees as a tipping point for the business. The training helped him to better understand the financial aspects of business ownership, including financial margins and pricing.
He also took advantage of programs offered by the Grimes and Urbandale Chambers to improve his networking skills. He credits Urbandale Chamber’s Moxie peer group for providing valuable advice from fellow business owners facing similar issues. The Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Leadership Institute further exposed him to a wide array of business resources.
It was at this point that he decided to take his business to the next level and expand. He financed the construction and build out of a 13,000 square foot facility with an SBA 504 loan through Charter Bank and Iowa Business Growth, an SBA Certified Development Company.
The financing required Dudley to invest only 10 percent into the project with 20-year fixed rate financing on the SBA portion of the loan. The 504 loan was more advantageous than a conventional commercial real estate loan that typically requires a 25 to 30 percent cash injection.
The expansion wasn’t without its challenges though. He gained a lot of experience during the process due to extra expenses incurred with subcontractor issues and subsequent construction delays.
The building’s modern architectural design features an energy efficient workplace with 11 servicing bays covering 10,000 square feet and a 3,000 square foot office space. All of Shade Tree Auto’s nine employees were involved in designing the building’s layout.
Since opening the new location in 2017, Shade Tree Auto’s sales have increased by 100 percent. Dudley credits the explosive growth along the Route 141 Corridor and the City of Grimes’ business friendly climate as contributing factors in the business’ rapid growth. In fact, the building’s architect identified Grimes as the easiest community he has worked with thanks to its tax incentives and streamlined permit and regulatory processes.
The state also has invested in the future of Shade Trade Auto. Dudley received two business development planning grants through the Iowa Economic Development Authority to create a hiring process and a franchising model. His plan focuses on strategic growth by expanding into several locations first to test the franchising model.
Dudley recognizes the impact his employees have on the business’ success. In the beginning he hired employees strictly based on talent. Experience has taught him that a more well-rounded employee with strong technical and customer services skills is necessary in a service-related business.
He recently graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program, a statewide initiative hosted by Iowa’s community colleges. The 12-week intensive training program targets existing business owners with a minimum of $200,000 in annual sales and two employees. His cohort of 37 business owners met over three to four-day training blocks that included guest speakers, training modules and peer discussion groups. Continuing education and interaction are provided through an app connecting the graduates to over 9,000 other participants nationally.
The local, national and international business communities have taken notice of Shade Tree Auto’s success. Dudley was honored by DMACC with the Dennis Albaugh Award recognizing outstanding alumni and the Greater Des Moines Partnership and U.S. Chamber of Commerce with the Community Champion Award. He also received multiple gold and bronze medals at the Stevie International Business Awards, the world’s premier business awards recognizing achievement in the workplace.
Dudley believes Shade Tree Auto is well positioned for future growth as consumer demands shift to a more customer service-driven auto servicing business model. The investment in his business education is certainly paying off for this hard-working entrepreneur.
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Jayne Armstrong is the district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Iowa District Office with offices in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. The SBA resource network includes 15 Small Business Development Centers, eight SCORE chapters, the Women’s Business Center and the Veteran’s Business Outreach Center servicing Iowa’s small business community.
About the U.S. Small Business Administration
The U.S. Small Business Administration makes the American dream of business ownership a reality. As the only go-to resource and voice for small businesses backed by the strength of the federal government, the SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small business owners with the resources and support they need to start, grow or expand their businesses, or recover from a declared disaster. It delivers services through an extensive network of SBA field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations. To learn more, visit www.sba.gov.