By Guest Blogger Bridget Weston Pollack, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, SCORE Association.
Fulfilling the dream of owning a business can be a difficult journey, but some entrepreneurs face more challenges than others. With perseverance and a supportive SCORE mentor, military veteran Al Kroell and his wife Christy found their path to success.
While serving in the Navy, Al Kroell suffered an accident leaving him with a severe disability. He lost the use of his hands and the military deemed him unemployable – his 20 year career was suddenly over. A few years later, his wife Christy also became disabled after a car accident. The couple struggled with finances and needed a plan desperately.
Through the hardships, Al found comfort in his hobby of scroll saw woodworking. He especially enjoyed making plaques for military friends. Then it hit him – why not turn his hobby into a business?
In order to fulfill orders on a large scale, Al needed a robotic laser engraving machine. Unfortunately, it cost thousands of dollars. The Kroells couldn’t get loans because their tax-exempt disability pay was not considered earned income.
Al exhausted military channels for help starting a business but multiple efforts led nowhere. Fellow military personnel directed him to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and SCORE. Al walked into the SBA office and met Peter Fong, his SCORE mentor and soon-to-be biggest advocate.
SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners. As a resource partner of the SBA, SCORE’s network of 11,000 volunteer mentors across the country provides free, confidential business mentoring and education.
Peter guided Al through the necessary steps of starting a business – where he should go and what to do. They worked together to hammer out a solid business plan and submitted it to potential investors and banks. SCORE offered in-person and online workshops and Peter guided Al towards the sessions best suited to his needs. Peter was available anytime – nights, days and weekends – to confer with Al on his progress.
“Peter pushed me along, got me on the ball and told me what I needed to do. The military doesn’t teach you about marketing or running a business, but my SCORE mentor did,” Al said.
The team fought for three years looking for ways to finance the business. Finally it happened – Al was approved for a loan, and ChristyAl Plaques was born in 2012.
Al says it was long struggle to start the business but it was worth it. Peter was there every step of the way. “Peter was a blessing. He saw more in me than even I did. If it wasn’t for him, this business wouldn’t be here.”
The Kroell’s hard work paid off not only with a successful business but with two impressive awards. They won a $1000 grant from SCORE and Sam’s Club and became the first ever recipients of the Sargent Shriver “Veterans Serving America” award. ChristyAl Plaques was the only company in the U.S. to win the award.
Peter believed in Al and the strength of his business. The experience taught Al to look beyond his disabilities. “I look at what I’m able to do and what I can accomplish.”
SCORE believes every person should have the support necessary to thrive as a small business owner. Whether you’re starting or growing a business, SCORE can help you every step of the way. Find your mentor at www.score.org.
About the Guest Blogger
Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the SCORE Association. She is responsible for all branding, marketing, PR, and communication efforts. She focuses on implementing marketing plans and strategies to facilitate the growth of SCORE’s mentoring and trainings services. She collaborates with SCORE volunteers and develops SCORE’s online marketing strategy.