Schempp Wholesale logo and Phil Duane, owner. Images property of Schempp Wholesale. Used with permission.

After working in the equipment rental industry for more than 20 years, during many of which he was a travelling sales representative, Phil Duane decided to strike out on his own.

“I was ready for a change and challenge,” said Duane, owner of Schempp Wholesale in St. Joseph, Missouri. “Construction industry, rental industry, and equipment were still my passion that I wanted to be part of in my new venture”

By June 2018, Duane was in the rerental business. But that’s not all.

“There’s really three pedestals to the company,” Duane said. In addition to rerenting equipment, Schempp Wholesale brokers equipment sales and will serve as a manufacturer’s rep agent.

“The brokerage side is big,” Duane said. “We’re touching all these rental equipment companies. Sometimes they want to sell machines, sometimes they want to buy a machine. We’ve created some great alliances on the brokerage side.”

As a manufacturer’s rep agent, “a company can contract with me, and I’ll rep their product and work a deal,” Duane said.

Phil Duane and Christy Mayfield standing beside a lift.On top of all that, Duane and his operations manager, Christy Mayfield, produce a podcast. Access Nation covers topics of interest to the construction, lift and access industry: new products, industry news and trends, rental rates, and used equipment values.

With all he had going on at the office, Duane took on even more early this year when the Missouri Small Business Development Center (SBDC) invited Schempp Wholesale to be one of 12 companies to participate in the Elevate program. Elevate focuses on second-stage businesses. A second-stage business is typically one with 10 to 99 full-time employees, $750,000 to $5 million in annual sales, and an opportunity to grow beyond its current market area. (Learn more about the Elevate program in this article.)

The Missouri SBDC, in partnership with the Edward Lowe Foundation, was able to offer the Elevate program to 12 Missouri small businesses at no charge through funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The 12 businesses were selected from a group of companies recommended by their SBDC business consultants.

Even though Schempp Wholesale has but one employee, Rebecca Lobina, director of the SBDC at Northwest Missouri State University in St. Joseph, nominated Duane’s company for the program.

“The Elevate program looks for businesses that are scalable, and his business definitely is,” Lobina said.

“He needed to focus in on his market and on trying to figure out how to grow the business appropriately, so that it would be sustainable,” Lobina said.

“We were really just clay for the Elevate program,” Duane said.

The Elevate program offers business leaders two forums for learning: individual engagements wherein each business owner works with a team leader who helps to determine the business’s right next steps and calls on specialized consultants for support, and roundtable meetings facilitated by Edward Lowe Foundation experts wherein participants share their experiences and explore their most pressing issues.

The resources, the consultants who could take the time to help guide Schempp Wholesale toward its vision, “that’s where it’s of value to me,” Duane said about the Elevate program. “I basically had some employees working with me that, otherwise, I couldn’t afford.”

The finance topic was a big one for Duane, who was looking to attract investors, and he now has new ideas on how to structure with new investors.

“We got a ton of leads” from the marketing consultant, Duane said. And he has already bought contact management software to load all those leads into.

Although they haven’t been able to work all those leads yet — there is the matter of needing to have the type and amount of equipment those leads are looking for — what they learned from the marketing consultant refocused them on their lead prospecting.

Duane got what he and Mayfield both thought was the best immediate advice they could act on from the “LinkedIn ad guy.” And they have already run an ad based on his content.

“He gave us the most information about marketing our business in a way where money would reach the most people more efficiently,” Mayfield said. “Using LinkedIn is pretty popular in our industry, and he was able to kind of tell us how to quickly and easily define our category, our market to reach the most people on there.”

No deal has been made off the ad yet, “but we can see we touched a lot of people with it,” Duane said.

Another topic that came up during the program was exporting, “which will be huge for the brokerage side,” Duane said.

Lobina has already followed up with him on getting involved in export and connected him with SBDC international trade experts.

“I expect to see the exporting potential just skyrocket with them,” Lobina said. “And then I can see them growing substantially in the next 12 to 18 months.”

“There are a lot of the pieces to the plan,” Duane said. “We are excited to start putting them together and execute. We embrace the challenges.”

Duane is glad to know there are resources such as the Missouri SBDC and the Elevate program that want to help small businesses such as his accomplish their goals. “Like with any resource, you get out what you put in,” Duane said.

Writer: Victoria Stokes

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