After a 10-year career in sales, plus experience working for another local embroidery firm, Greg Edwards knew there was an untapped market he could serve. He started Big Bear Inc. at a former automobile radiator manufacturing plant that was being converted into a small business incubator, and began to offer embroidery and screen-printing services.
In less than one year, Big Bear became one of western New York's leading manufacturers of embroidered apparel and promotional items. Greg serves several distributors and major accounts across the U.S., and was selected to produce T-shirts when Buffalo hosted the World Veterans Athletics Championships in the summer of 1995. In 2009, Big Bear started offering tackle-twill, applique, and heat press options to its services.
But he didn't reach these achievements alone. Edwards sought advice from his local SCORE chapter while planning and opening his shop.
"Greg was off to a good start," recalls his SCORE mentor, Robert Fogelsonger, who had started and managed his own successful lumber firm. "He had already prepared an excellent business plan. All he needed was some general business advice to make sure nothing had been overlooked."
Greg and Robert discussed a variety of issues during their first session, including marketing and sales, financing, manufacturing, and other start-up issues. When he left the SCORE mentoring center that day, Greg felt confident that he was ready to flip the proverbial switch, start the embroidery machines and bring Big Bear Inc. to life. With his business plan, Greg applied for and received a $150,000 SBA-guaranteed loan to purchase embroidery equipment.
Edwards fully understood the value of listening to SCORE’s advice after Big Bear's first year. Sales were increasing dramatically, yet the small company was running out of cash. "I didn't think it was possible to do that," he says. "Fortunately, we were able to make adjustments and get back on track rather quickly. But you can bet that when my accountant or advisors tell me something now, I pay attention." Sales grew from $60,000 in Big Bear's first year to about $1 million in 1998.
"It's easy to be blinded by your own enthusiasm when you have what seems to be a good idea," Edwards says. "You're tempted to brush off any negative or cautionary observations because you're sure they won't happen. But to truly succeed, you must solicit advice from experienced business people like SCORE and then listen to it."
"I appreciate all the help SCORE has given me," Edwards says. "They are a great resource for any business owner just starting out. They offer a wealth of experience and ideas, all for no charge."