SCORE helps novices start, improve small businesses

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Giving a twist to the adage, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks," SCORE has as its motto: "We teach new dogs old tricks."

The "old tricks" come from seasoned business people, mainly retirees, who volunteer to offer their expertise to the next generation.

SCORE is a national nonprofit corps of working or retired business professionals who share their knowledge free of charge with those who want to start or improve their small businesses. The Westmoreland County chapter of SCORE has helped small businesses and business startups here for about 25 years. Now the chapter needs help.

"We run ads periodically asking for volunteers but also to let people know we are available for counseling," said Jim Sumner of Greensburg, the retired owner of a small manufacturing business who serves as chapter chairman.

The local chapter has 38 members who offer confidential counseling and mentoring. The group is based in Aurelius Hall at Saint Vincent College near Latrobe in Unity and is affiliated with the college's Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics and Government.

Funding is provided through philanthropic organizations and local businesses, Mr. Sumner said.

The acronym SCORE originally stood for Service Corps of Retired Executives, but the organization now goes by just SCORE because some counselors are still working or semi-retired, said Lois Runzo of Greensburg, a semi-retired counselor and owner of Landmark Leasing in Greensburg.

SCORE offers free Saturday workshops every month on a variety of topics, including how to start a business, web site building and social media.

Ms. Runzo used SCORE services in the early 1990s and made a business plan for her forklift business, AMO Material Handling in New Stanton. "I consulted the plan all the time," she said. "Before I made a plan, it was almost like being in a ship on the ocean without a rudder."

She said her business plan took three to four months to complete. "You have to answer many questions about your competition, their prices, set your price, make a cash flow chart. You have to pay attention to everything. I did a thorough job. I had to because that's how I was going to pay my mortgage and buy food. Every now and then, we would go back and tweak it, but all in all, I followed it."

SCORE volunteers provide business plan advice, but the plan is completed by the client.

"I was so impressed with the people from SCORE, when I finally had more time, the first thing I wanted to do was to give back," Ms. Runzo said. She recently received her 10-year service award from SCORE.

"People come in and have a dream of owning a business and many times don't know how to get started," said Sam Dickson of Greensburg, retired financial officer for a packing company who volunteers with SCORE.

"I've had a good career. This is really paying back to help other folks who are trying to get started," said Mr. Dickson, who leads SCORE workshops on starting a business.

"Some people have a good idea, go for it and do well. Some flounder and don't do well. We are here for them. Some people have the commitment to start a business, some don't. If they don't have the commitment, we don't encourage them to keep going. We don't want to lead them down the primrose path," Mr. Dickson said.

As part of SCORE's code of ethics, counselors cannot become financially or personally involved in a business. "That keeps our advice very objective," Mr. Dickson said.

Jim Young of Natrona Heights, now retired, owned Vision Products in New Kensington, which manufactured samples for the building products industry. He took his business plan to SCORE about six years ago when he wanted to increase profits through automating equipment. His plan involved buying out his partner, and he wanted the veterans from SCORE to look at the plan and let him know if it was viable. Mr. Dickson was a member of his SCORE team.

"These folks have all the experience and they can give you a different perspective," Mr. Young said. "The benefit is that there is no downside to using them. You don't have to use their advice, obviously, but I don't know why anyone wouldn't."

Mr. Young implemented his plan. He sold his company in 2010 before retiring.

Janis Durick of Penn Township said she could not have opened her business without the counselors from SCORE. She owns three home health care businesses in Westmoreland, Allegheny and Washington counties, and in Philadelphia: From the Heart, From the Heart Too and Allegheny Westmoreland from the Heart.

SCORE guided her seven years after she quit her job to help her aging parents. She saw a need in the home health care area. "I started with nothing. Now I have 132 employees. Each one of the people from SCORE had a forte and helped me," Ms. Durick said.

SCORE counselors apply for membership and go through an interview process before mentoring.

"We have such a variety of people that have amassed years of knowledge," Ms. Runzo said. "To be a member of SCORE, it doesn't take a whole lot of time."

Mr. Sumner said SCORE is always open to new members, especially women and minorities.


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Jill Thurston, freelance writer:


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