Karen Duke was looking for answers. Her family’s Richmond, Virginia business, Victorian Fireplace Shop, had a steady stream of customers. But at the end of the year, the company’s bottom line had very little to show for it. In addition, a decision to expand the business offer online ordering had been more successful than they had anticipated, and the shop was struggling to handle the influx of new business.
Duke had been in the fireplace business for nearly 25 years, including more than 10 at the Victorian Fireplace Shop, but she felt like her business was not getting anywhere. “We had sold more than ever, but there was no money in the bank,” Duke says. “It was very frustrating to be doing the same thing for so many years and not learn the secret to how to make it work.”
Duke's daughter, a business student at a local university, heard about SCORE from a professor in one of her classes and thought they could help. Together, the family outlined what help they thought they needed, and then contacted the Richmond SCORE chapter for assistance.
By refocusing the company's efforts and delegating tasks, Victorian Fireplace Shop was able to set itself up for another decade of success. Duke was even able to open Victorian Curtain Shop, a division of the Fireplace Shop offering vintage-style linens.
Duke met with mentors Steve Shapiro and Hugh Greene. Shapiro, an accountant, saw that the company would benefit from more rigorous bookkeeping. Greene helped Duke break the business down, analyze individual aspects and understand how they fit together to improve the overall business.
Greene also encouraged Duke to rethink what her business focus. Duke's husband Mike spent most of his time in the field doing installation work. But the growth of business they were getting from internet orders — including customers from as far away as California, New York and Pennsylvania — meant that bringing Mike down off customers’ rooftops and inside to help with sales would make more sense.
Today, while they maintain the retail operation that thrives through online sales, the company also manages equipment manufacturing, and serves as a supplier to other retail businesses.
“Hugh was patient, understanding and inspirational in making us analyze what we needed to stop doing and what we needed to develop,” Duke says. “Our sales went up nicely, and we hired some more employees. We work smarter now.”
Duke is always looking for ways to make the business more efficient. “I am looking at what we can do additionally in terms of marketing and streamlining processes. We want to do more online,” Duke says.
Despite her extensive experience, Duke feels that what she discovered working with SCORE had a greater impact than anything else she had encountered. “I’ve been in this business for almost 25 years, but I feel my greatest business learning has come from working with SCORE.” Duke says. “I highly recommend them to any business, old or new.”
Duke says, “SCORE helped to teach us some of the rules of the game and to make us do some things that we hadn’t done before because we didn’t realize the relevance an importance.”