GOOSE CREEK – Dan Guzman had worked at the corporate level in retail and logistics for more than three decades when he moved to the Lowcountry in 2014.
He worked as a retail grocery store manager in California before making the leap into the aerospace industry as a procurement and program manager.
As successful as he had been in the business world, Guzman and his wife Christina wanted to get out of the lifestyle. They longed to create something of their own and decided to start a small business.
“For 20 years, Christina has always dreamed of owning a coffee shop,” Guzman said.
Guzman liquidated his retirement account and put almost $200,000 of his own money into the business and Ra Coffee Co. was born.
“We took a leap of faith without a parachute,” said Guzman, who named the company after the family cat. “We were all there”
As adept as Guzman was on labor costs and supply chain issues, he knew he would need help to get his idea off the ground.
Guzman, like many aspiring local entrepreneurs, turned to the South Carolina Small Business Development Center in North Charleston for help overcoming the pitfalls of starting a small business.
“I knew the basic stuff, cost of goods versus labor cost, inventory flow, hiring people, but starting your own business is so much more than that,” Guzman said. “I like to think we would have been successful without their help, but there’s no way we would be where we are today without them.”
In October 2018, Ra Coffee opened its doors at the south end of Goose Creek along US 52 with three employees and double drive-through windows. In just three years, the small company with 27 employees has grown to three stores – two more at Joint Base Charleston.
“The SBDC was our compass, they were like guard rails and kept us focused on our ultimate goal,” Guzman said. “They were instrumental in what we built.”
For more than 40 years, entrepreneurs have turned to the center for help starting a new business or expanding an existing one.
SBDC has 20 locations across South Carolina, including a new field office in Goose Creek that opened this summer and serves 6,000 customers each year.
Since 2006, SBDC has supported the creation of more than 500 new companies and helped raise more than $383 million in capital. Over the past five years, SBDC consultants have helped award more than $1 billion in government contracts to small businesses in South Carolina.
In 2020 alone, SBDC helped launch 143 new companies, create or sustain nearly 4,000 jobs, and secure more than $77 million in funding.
Most SBDC advisors were themselves entrepreneurs or worked in the financial sector. The help offered is free.
“What we’re trying to do is walk entrepreneurs through the process of how to start a new business,” said Tom Lauria, business consultant for exports and manufacturing at the Charleston Center. “We want to help them to realize their dream and turn it into a sustainable company.”
With the booming population in Berkeley County, the SBDC got more and more customers from Goose Creek and Moncks Corner. Opening an office in the area seemed like a logical step. Once a week, a consultant from the SBDC meets with clients at the city’s municipal office.
“We’ve become sort of an epicenter for businesses in Berkeley County,” said Goose Creek economic development director Matt Brady. “The SBDC is a great resource for anyone looking to start a small business.”
Genesis Wernham discovered how critical SBDC could be to her success as she sought to expand her day care business.
Wernham had operated the Olive Tree Children’s Center from their Ladson home for about a year and wanted to expand into a larger facility. She had her sights set on a nearby building and was about to sign a lease when she called SBDC.
“I spoke to Tom (Lauria) and we ran the numbers and realized the building was way too expensive,” said Wernham, who had worked as an elementary school teacher in New York. “He saved me. If I had signed that lease, I would have been in big, deep trouble and it would have taken me years to get out of it.”
Wernham is in the process of getting a lease on a building she hopes to open within a year.
Guzman and Wernham agreed that the SBDC’s help in developing a business plan was vital to their efforts.
“I wrote business plans in college and have been involved with business plans my entire career,” Guzman said. “Christina put together what I thought was a great plan, but we ended up going through four drafts. They wanted it to be perfect and that was a huge help because that’s your playbook, that’s your blueprint for success.”