CARSON CITY — Being organized enough to own and run one business in today’s economy is a challenge.
Keeping three afloat is something Mark Sopel has managed successfully for several years thanks in part to keeping to a steady business plan.
After buying his first hardware store in 1982, Sopel now owns and operates three True Value hardware stores in Edmore, Alma and Carson City.
He purchased his third store, Barnes True Value Hardware in Carson City, in 1996 and has tripled it in size since then. The store’s product line has grown beyond typical hardware needs, including major appliances and clothing
“It’s tough in today’s economy, that’s for sure,” Sopel said. “But people need their hardware supplies. We cater to all seasons, offer good costumer service and keep a steady inventory, making sure we have what our customer needs.”
Drawing a roadmap
Sopel said at the end of every winter he sits down and plans out his future inventory for the rest of the year, having to make tough decisions, such as how much winter equipment to order for the next year, despite not knowing how the economy or weather forecast will look.
“This year has been very tough,” he said. “It’s late December and we still don’t have any snow on the ground. I’ve got shovels and snowplows deep in stock and until the weather turns, nobody feels the need to spend the money until they absolutely have to.”
Sopel plans for times like these and he said the plans usually work out.
Marie Elliot, a certified small business consultant at Mid-Michigan Community College, said building a business upward and moving forward without a business plan can be difficult.
“Having no plan is the equivalent of jumping in your car to go somewhere you’ve never been without a map,” Elliot said. “Sure, you’ll end up somewhere, but odds are it will not be where you were hoping to go. If your company needs to access capital, in today’s environment, the funding source will typically require a written plan and financial forecast.”
Sopel said he keeps his plan to himself and that it hasn’t changed much throughout the years.
“I typically just write it out to myself once a year in my office,” he said. “But I have to do that for three stores, as each store has slightly different products with different customer bases. I have a smaller market here in Carson City than I do in Alma, so I schedule to order less product to keep stocked in my inventory.”
How to write a plan
Elliot said “there is not a specific style to stick to when actually writing (a business plan) out,” and that each writing styles can be “uniquely individual” for anyone writing one.
“It is important to remember that your business plan is not a term paper and has no predefined length,” Elliot said. “Many times business owners are reluctant to write down their plan because it feels to be overly burdensome. This does not have to be the case.”
She said good business plans are clear, concise and address the unique characteristics of the company. The plans also should include details about how to implement the plan.
Elliot said “a business plan is basically the framework within which a business operates” and that a good business plans address:
• Description of the product or service offered.
• Researching and analyzing the market.
• Reaching the market.
• Building the organization and team.
• Financial planning, including projected cash flow, profit and loss and a balance sheet for three years.
• Where and when to seek outside funding.
Plans provide stability
Sopel said he laid out a more concrete plan with more of a vision in mind when he first launched his hardware business. Now that he owns three successful stores he works to keep all three profitable.
“It was tough when I first started out,” he said. “I took over a store that was in bad shape that didn’t have much of a customer base. But after implementing a steady plan, creating good relationships with customers and offering a good local service they couldn’t find anywhere else, I found myself with a business plan that has worked to this day.”
Sopel recently remodeled his Carson City store in early 2011, purchasing the two adjacent vacant buildings and expanding his store by nearly three times in size. A new storefront design has given the store a sleek appearance, which Elliot said is important for attracting customers.
“Effective use of visuals can not only provide a more succinct and compelling look at a firm, but can also resonate better with many audiences,” she said.
Sopel said his stores have been faring well despite a rough winter season. He is hoping a heavy snowfall in early 2012 will encourage customers to buy some of the snow equipment on his shelves.
“I stocked for a heavy winter, so we’ve got everything you need,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere anytime soon, so we’ll continue to service your basic hardware needs as long as people need.”