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With its friendly atmosphere and large array of goods, Blazing Needles in Sugar House is typically filled with customers. And thanks to the help of SCORE, a nonprofit association that for years has paired small businesses with mentors, the knitting shop's clientele may increase even more.
Owner Cynthia Mills has been working with Ron Baron, an experienced business executive who's providing guidance on how to grow her enterprise. After just one meeting, his input already has made a difference, according to Mills.
"His ideas were just amazing and put my whole thought process in another sphere of thinking," she said. "He just gave us some real insight of what he saw as our strengths."
Since its founding nearly 50 years ago, SCORE has helped businesses get off the ground, grow and be successful. The Virginia-based association's work funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and private corporations is performed by 13,000-plus volunteers nationwide, including more than 30 in the Salt Lake City area. Mentoring is always free, while other services, such as seminars, are either free or offered at a low cost.
Originally an acronym for Service Core of Retired Executives, SCORE now operates under the name Counselors to America's Small Business.
Mentors help all types of businesses and entrepreneurs with all types of issues. Many clients want to start a business, others are ready to take their company to the next level and some are struggling. The advice they receive might cover management, marketing, sales training, hiring, financing, incorporation and other legal matters, business plans, viability studies, social media or a multitude of other issues.
"That's the one of the great things about SCORE," said Ron Tucker, president of the organization's Salt Lake chapter. "We have a vast variety of industry backgrounds and specific skills."
He said clients often meet with more than one mentor and can have as many sessions as they like. A struggling business, for example, could be paired with a certified public accountant and a marketing expert.
Mentors like to develop long-term relationships with the businesses, Tucker said. About half of them are retired and half are still working, he said.
In fiscal 2012, Salt Lake-area mentors met face-to-face with 417 new clients, conducted 359 follow-up sessions and helped others online, for a total of more than 800 sessions, Tucker said. In addition, SCORE conducts a free monthly workshop, supported by a $15,000 annual allocation by the Salt Lake County Office of Business and Economic Development, on how to start and operate a new business, he said.
Dale Carpenter, the office's director, said the county gets a good return on its investment. With 82 percent of businesses considered small by definition, adding just one or two workers to an existing enterprise or starting a new one can add up to considerable growth, he said.
"It's a great program," Carpenter said of SCORE.
Taylorsville officials agree. They recently began matching residents with the group as a way of boosting economic development in the west-side community.
At an initial meeting at city offices, Wayne Harper, Mayor Russ Wall's assistant for business and economic development, and interested company owners meet with SCORE representatives to talk about the business' goals. Then SCORE sets up the entrepreneurs with mentors who can help them.
Participating businesses have included restaurants, a recording studio and an online support company, Harper said.
Kris and Frank Rudarmel, who own Anchor Restoration, a carpet cleaning company in Taylorsville, have been working with SCORE since August. Kris Rudarmel said she approached Wall about available space for an expansion and he set them up with SCORE.
The couple has received suggestions from Baron on who to target in their marketing and what to emphasize, as well as help hiring more workers. He sat in on an interview with an applicant after coaching the Rudarmels on questions to ask.
"It helped us think outside the box on ways to build the business and help us stand out," Kris Rudarmel said.
Other SCORE clients are working to turn an idea into a business, including Amy Arnold, who hopes for a spring launch of her video game-related Sacred Juju venture. The Woods Cross woman got help with writing her business plan from the North Front Business Resource Center in Kaysville, which referred her to Baron for additional assistance.
"I've taken business classes but this is a new arena for me," Arnold, an administrative assistant, said. "I had this idea and I wanted to do it right."
In Mills' case, Baron is giving her guidance on finding new hires who will fit in well at Blazing Needles, 1365 S. 1100 East. During a visit to the shop, he noted the number of customers who stayed for hours knitting, sipping tea and helping each other pick out yarn colors.
"This is a very friendly shop," customer Marie Bambo said as she sat around a table with other knitters. "It's just such a welcoming environment."
Baron said Blazing Needles is a community gathering place, which gives it an advantage it offers the type of environment a big box store can't. His advice to Mills was to look for employees with the type of personalities that draw people to them.
"In places like this, it's less about experience," Baron said. "It's about heart. This isn't a business, it's a magnet. We need magnets."
SCORE was founded in 1964 as the Service Corps of Retired Executives and now uses its acronym but calls itself Counselors to America's small Business. The organization's 13,000 mentors help small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals. Other services include free or low-cost workshops.
There are more than 100 mentors in Utah's SCORE chapters in Salt Lake, Logan, Ogden, Provo and St. George. Visit http://www.score.org to learn more and to find a mentor.