Jack Bares made his fortune starting up or buying some 24 companies. It is a feat he says he managed with help from a strategic planning course he once took at a university.
Now, at 84, Bares has left his Ohio home and made his Ellicottville vacation house his full-time residence and found a way to help fellow entrepreneurs learn the same trick on the Southern Tier, where increasing numbers of new business start-ups have been appearing.
Bares' $15,000 donation for scholarships and start-up costs helped lure the University at Buffalo to launch, beginning this fall, an Ellicottville satellite version of its Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership.
"There are hundreds of companies down here that don't have a strategic plan," said Bares, who was inspired by his daughter's work with a graduate of the UB program. "I would like to see 10 companies sign up for this session."
In the past week a handful of inquiries have come in, enough to encourage the CEL director that the $4,500, 10-month course to help make established businesses more profitable will fill up in time for a November start in an office building with views of a pond and wooded hill that once held Bares daughter's tool company.
News of the class, with its evening meetings once a week, is encouraging to Tom Livak. As director of the Cattaraugus County Economic Development Planning and Tourism Department, he has been tracking the increasing rate of new business start-ups in his county.
For the last couple of years, some 40 to 50 new businesses a month have been registering a "doing business as" names at the county clerks' office. A few years ago, when factory jobs were more plentiful, the new monthly listings used to be in the 30s or lower, said Livak, who has been on the job for 13 years.
"I think of a lot of it in our rural area is economic necessity . . . Some of them are deciding, 'You know what? I am going to depend on myself to earn a living,' " Livak said. "People have become tired of bouncing around or working for others . . . They've decided to create their own economic security."
And while there are already programs in the three rural Southern Tier counties of Cattaraugus, Allegany and Chautauqua to help fledgling businesses get started, nothing else local focuses on helping more established entrepreneurs.
"I think that's a good fit," Livak said of the CEL program. "If we can help grow a few, or a dozen jobs, it's a victory."
Ellicottville restaurateur Dina DiPasquale built an extra dining room and hired seven more staffers after she took the CEL course in Buffalo. "You have all these people helping you try to figure out how to make your business better," she said. "What could be better than that?"
A few years ago, after 14 years in business, she decided to sign up and make the once-a-week, hourlong drive from Ellicottville to UB's Amherst campus. At the time, her "Dina's" restaurant had good numbers and was doing well.
"I just wanted to make sure I was running my business the way professional people are running their business," said DiPasquale.
For the class, she had to reveal revenues as part of a presentation about her gourmet restaurant that caters to the resort crowd. The group who listened included about 30 classmates, selected so competitors are not together. Owners with businesses in construction, investment management and head hunting were among them. Also in the audience were advisers she chose: A restaurant franchisee, owner of a steel company -- and an owner of a tool factory, Bares' daughter Lori Northrup.
The changes DiPasquale implemented after she graduated have made her business more lucrative. She began to ask catering clients to sign contracts to ensure payment. She kept better financial records with a focus on inventory of food, alcohol and supplies.
"My office completely changed after the class," she said.
CEL also led her to enlist her class advisers to serve as a regular board of advisers, meeting with her twice a year to go over operations and help create a plan for future growth.
"It got my business to a level where I felt comfortable making an expansion," DiPasquale said. "It was much easier to do a strategic plan, and have the vision to do one."
Even though the result -- a new Western-style dining room complete with antler chandeliers -- led to more business, she wasn't able to convince local colleagues to sign up and make the Buffalo commute: "A big thing is, people think they can't leave their businesses," she said.
June Andrews, owner of Ellicottville Concierge real estate and property management company, around the corner from Dina's, agreed.
She'd once considered joining a women's networking group in a Buffalo suburb but she couldn't bring herself to make the drive. An Ellicottville-based program sounded perfect.
"I would go in a heartbeat," said Andrews. "I would do it to be a better business owner."
On an evening last week Bares, Northrup and CEL alums gathered in Dina's upstairs dining room for an open house about the new program. CEL grad Carolyn Boser Newhouse of Bradford, Pa., had made the long commute to the Amherst UB campus, just as DiPasquale had.
Her computer consulting business's first year since she finished has been one of the most profitable since she started in 1993. Going over her revenues and analyzing her business led her to hire an accounting firm, spend more time marketing and plan to open a Buffalo office.
"I was working in the company," said Newhouse, "not on the company."
She agreed with Barnes' wife, who observed that entrepreneurs can have a tough time running business alone, which is why the CEL peer review is such an asset. "Where do you go to get honest, candid advice?" said Newhouse. "With no agenda, other than to help?"
Bares has long advocated such a thoughtful approach to running a business.
Now that he spends his days working as director of his Bares Circle Foundation from a one-story brick office on Park Avenue, he has wanted to add aid for local businesses to his collection of charity projects -- childrens books mailed to parents in Ohio, and wrenches, drills and other tools donated to trade-school students in Africa.
When his daughter told him about DiPasquale's success with CEL, the program seemed like the strategic planning class he took at a university that helped him grow his collection of companies after his first "hit" tool. The "Reechet" wrench design he licensed from an inventor sold well in 1950s to car mechanics who liked the way they could use it to remove a hard-to-reach sparkplug.
Two decades later, even more profits came after he developed plans to grow his businesses, posting progress-tracking charts so his employees had an easier time working toward his goals.
"It just gives a whole different feel to running a business," he said. "I noticed I started making a lot of money."
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