In my last column, Paul Tutskey, Green Bay SCORE volunteer, shared his experience in mentoring Rick Paulus as part of the Green Bay Packers Mentor/ Protégé program.
Paulus had sought help in reviving Stark Professional Tool, LLC, of Sheboygan. The company had developed and was awarded a patent on a ratcheting torque wrench head. Paulus, the general manager and director of operations for Stark, was working to erase some previous financial losses that the company had suffered while finding a distribution network for the tool.
His decision to participate in the program fit his quest for learning.
“I had taken part in the SBA’s (Small Business Administration) Emerging Leaders Program in Milwaukee and enjoyed the training, but it didn’t take me into the areas of, ‘How do I push my product? How do I get the proper channels set up? How do I do the marketing?’” Paulus said.
After being matched with Tutskey, who had years of experience as a leader at Snap-On Tools, the pair met regularly, set goals and developed a business plan.
“I hadn’t written a business plan before, and that was a big thing for me," Paulus said. "Putting together the plan allowed me to understand the areas of the business that I never really came in contact with. I was able to look at the market and ask, ‘What are our strengths and weaknesses? What is the size of the market?’ That really helped me to define how I could take the plan to a bank and sell the ideas.”
The plan also helped him focus on the company and organization. He said he went back to experience gained in 25 years of working with a supply chain.
“It was my goal to take this company to be a viable and successful organization,” he added.
The two partners in Stark Professional Tool had given Paulus the latitude to make decisions, and talk to customers to gain input on the product. Since he considered himself an introvert, he said he had to learn to become a salesperson and find a way to be able to sell.
To overcome this weakness, Paulus said he struck up conversations with strangers whenever and wherever he could. He learned to get comfortable and made calls all over the country. However, he found most companies already had relationships that they were unwilling to change.
“I think what happened, what it boils down to, is that the relationships that are out there go back years and years," Paulus said. "When talking to distributors that handle similar products, it boiled down to the fact that they already had relationships and had no interest in changing.”
He and Tutskey spent months reviewing the situation and concluded that the circumstances of the company made it impossible to do a turnaround in the time period needed.
“I’ve gone back to the question of why the efforts didn’t work many times, and I don’t know why,” Paulus said. “Sometimes the best ideas don’t get off the ground. We had a really good product and supporting product line, but I think it boils down to the right contacts, and with the big players in the market, that’s a tough nut to crack.”
After talking about closing for six months, Stark Professional Tool ceased operations and is seeking a buyer for the patented tool. Paulus has taken a full-time managerial position with a new company and has inventions in mind that may come to the market in the future.
Paulus praised Tutskey for being willing to tell him things he didn’t want to hear and says he was a great friend and mentor. He also lauded the Mentor/Protégé program.
“I would recommend this program to anyone with a small business," Paulus said. "They do a great job of giving tools that make you successful and have excellent mentors to help you. My only suggestion is that you push your learning limit. You owe it to yourself and the people who rely on you to be as educated in your industry as you can be.”
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.