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The Clarion-Ledger: Real News, Real Mississippi

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February 10, 2002
Section: Business
Page: 1C

Arnold Lindsay

Smarts, funds, faith all factors
By Arnold Lindsay

Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer

Debbie Hankins knew the printing business front and back, she knew the clientele when she wanted to buy out her former boss.

All she needed was a banker. And she found one glad to assist.

Five months later, she has 13 full-time employees and represents the type of small business owner who statistics indicate will be around for a while, said Thelman Larry Anderson, loan officer with the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District, which loaned Hankins money to complete the purchase.

"I would say that the number one thing she had is she had developed a good relationship with the banker. She had somebody who believed in her. She had experience that showed she could do the job in all facets of the business she was acquiring," Anderson said. "She had a good relationship with (customers) as well. And that was a very positive aspect of it ? that made it very attractive to the lender."

At 43, Hankins' Triple H Enterprises, doing business in Flowood as Nick Clark Printing, is going strong.

Hankins represents one of the 106,205 self-employed Mississippians, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy. Of the 53,509 businesses across the state, 97 percent are classified as small businesses, which typically employ less than 500 people.

The vast majority of those businesses, 38,300, are owned by women, and the growth continues, said Janita Stewart, SBA district director.

"Our loan volume remains up and this has been going on all of last year," Stewart said.

In fiscal 2001, which ended last September, SBA made 501 loans, a 26 percent increase over the previous year's total of 399. From October to February, 173 small business loans totaling $44.8 million were made, Stewart said.

Tammy Phillips, vice president of Community Bank in Jackson, who assisted Hankins in securing business loans, agreed small businesses are thriving, and banks assist clients by finding multiple funding sources.

"I would say small businesses are one of the major sources of why we're here. They're our bread and butter," Phillips said. "We make every effort to accommodate everyone of those that's possible."

But despite the thriving small business climate, aspiring business owners must be financially stable and have credit that withstands intense scrutiny.

John Campbell is president and chief executive officer of Shavers Choice, creator of a skin conditioner named SC3 that promises to reduce razor bumps and soothe irritated skin. He is finally on the way up, but his finances stopped lenders from touching him.

The admittedly financially strapped Campbell had exhausted all avenues for growth. After a solid market entry in 1995 when he appeared on the Home Shopping Network and sold his 7,000-jar inventory in eight minutes, he had only been able to sell a few jars here and there.

For years, Campbell's outlook remained bleak until a once-in-a-lifetime chance encounter occurred last Dec. 6.

It brought Campbell face to face with Ridgeland investor Brenda Thornton, who was at the Mississippi Technology Center in Starkville on business.

Within minutes of the noontime meeting, Campbell's story compelled Thornton to break stride and listen. She liked the product and now backs him financially.

"If either one of us had been one minute late we never would have met. That's why we believe it was in God's plan," Thornton said. "I just instantly knew this was something I wanted to be a part of. I've helped John put together his business plan and Web page."

Currently the pair is working on plans to mass produce the product, courting major retailers for shelf space and gathering user testimonials for marketing purposes.

Campbell, who also believes that God intended the meeting to occur, said he had gone to visit a friend and was on the verge of losing his house when he met Thornton. The few dollars he had earned cutting grass, cleaning gutters and doing other odd jobs was not enough.

"I had to file bankruptcy... it was a day-to-day thing trying to keep my lights on. I was trying to keep my home and it seemed like I didn't have a friend in the world," Campbell said. "I started to tell (Thornton) about my trouble. Not only was she able to help financially, she rolled up her sleeves and helped."

How likely is the Campbell scenario to be repeated?

"Not very likely," said Henry Thomas, director of the Jackson State University Center for Business Development and Economic Research, who said Campbell's persistence was a worthy attribute of small business owners.

"Part of luck is learning to be able, and having the knowledge and skill to take advantage of opportunities," Thomas said. "Lucky things happen to people who are prepared. There are other people who would have met (Thornton) and wouldn't have had a product ready and wouldn't be able to take advantage of her skills."

Stewart said startup money is always available, if business owners search hard enough. The SBA even administers a program that would have set up Campbell's business and taken partial ownership until the loan was repaid, she said. One such program, the Angel Capital Electronic Network - AceNet, provides assistance from $250,000 to $5 million.

Campbell also had the luck of being a friend of G.C. Cameron, lead singer for The Spinners, who has passed out SC3 more than a dozen times during his tours across the country. Those who use it, he said, speak well of their results.

"I just came in from Topeka, Kan. So I gave a couple of the sky captains, the guys who take care of us, some of the product, and they seemed to appreciate it," Cameron, a native of McCalls Creek, said. "I think it has incredible potential. It's something that someone should have focused on a long time ago."


Debbie Hankins recently acquired Nick Clark Printing in Flowood. Hankins said it was a gut feeling to buy the business.

J.D. Schwalm/The Clarion-Ledger


John Campbell of Starkville, inventor of SC3, a skin care product, struggled to find financing until a chance encounter led to a deal.

Brian Albert Broom/The Clarion-Ledger


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