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Front and Center: Ted Schinzel makes big business out of small business

Ted Schinzel, standing in the classroom space of his office, operates the Small Business Administration office in the SRBC building in Spokane, shown Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. He’s been with the SBA since 1990. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Ted Schinzel, standing in the classroom space of his office, operates the Small Business Administration office in the SRBC building in Spokane, shown Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. He’s been with the SBA since 1990. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The top three New Year’s resolutions are 1) get healthy, 2) get organized, and 3) live life to the fullest.

Somewhere farther down the list is “start my own business,” which some entrepreneurs would argue dooms any hope of ever achieving those first three goals.

Still, if you’re determined to make 2018 the year you launch your startup, a good first step might be visiting the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Spokane branch office at 801 W. Riverside Ave.

There you’ll find volunteers who can assist you with business plans, as well as access to counselors who can help you secure government-guaranteed loans and discuss export opportunities.

Ted Schinzel has managed the Spokane branch the past 15 years.

“We usually have a bigger turnout in January,” he says. “For some people, starting a new business is almost like starting a new exercise program.”

During a recent interview, Schinzel discussed tool rentals, retirement, and the wrong reason to open a restaurant.

S-R: Where did you grow up?

Schinzel: Spokane. I graduated from Shadle Park in 1974.

S-R: What were your interests?

Schinzel: Ice hockey. I started when I was 12, and played center for the Spokane Rockets until I was 18.

S-R: Where you ever seriously hurt?

Schinzel: When I was 17, I got knocked unconscious when someone cross-checked me in the head with his stick.

S-R: What was your first job?

Schinzel: I started working at Pine Acres par-3 golf course when I was 16. I mowed lawns, did maintenance and cleared balls off the driving range.

S-R: Did people try to hit your cart as you were gathering balls? Schinzel: They sure did. What was maddening was they’d keep plunking at me when I was out of the cart, shagging balls in the rough. Some people thought that was funny. One person hit me right square in the stomach with a drive.

S-R: Back then, did you have any idea what career you’d like to pursue?

Schinzel: I always had an affinity for numbers. I was better than the teachers at math. So I was leaning toward some sort of business application.

S-R: Where did you attend college?

Schinzel: I started out at Spokane Falls, then went on to Eastern and earned a bachelor’s in business in ’79. I worked for a while at Legal Services of Spokane, then went back and earned my accounting degree. From 1984 to 1989, I held economic development jobs in North Idaho while I took night classes to earn my MBA from the University of Idaho.

S-R: When did you join the SBA?

Schinzel: In 1990. I started out as a business development specialist.

S-R: How has the office evolved?

Schinzel: My dad, Bob Schinzel, actually opened the Spokane office in 1963, and was here until ’82. Back then, there were about 36 people here, including a whole division of management assistant counselors. By the time I started, we were down to 26. In 2004, we were demoted to a branch of the Seattle district office, and today we have only three employees. The management assistance division now contracts with the state’s Small Business Development Centers, and the SBA’s loan division, which used to be in-house, is funneled through processing centers in Sacramento and Little Rock, Arkansas. The banks themselves now handle collection of bad loans.

S-R: What’s your office’s role today?

Schinzel: One specialist does contracting, one counseling, and I’m the lending specialist. When a client contacts us, we discuss their situation and may suggest they take a SCORE workshop (a free mentoring service) taught by one of our 35 volunteers, or we may refer them to one of our MBA-certified counselors around the state. If they’re seeking a loan, we usually send them to a workshop, so they understand what a banker looks at. SBA can guarantee loans up to $5 million. We also help businesses run by women, minorities and veterans secure federal contracts.

S-R: What skills learned earlier in life transferred to this job?

Schinzel: Leadership. Even in hockey I was kind of a leader, either making something happen or cheering the team on.

S-R: What’s a good business lesson you learned along the way?

Schinzel: My dad taught me to see things from other people’s perspective. For instance, if you want to start an expresso business, think about what a banker or potential investors are going to ask – what we call the five C’s. They’ll want to know about your character – whether you repay debts. They’ll ask about capacity – the projected cash flow. Capital – how much you’re contributing. Collateral – what you’re guaranteeing against their investment or loan. And, finally, conditions – how you intend to use the money they give you.

S-R: What do you recall about the recession years?

Schinzel: Many small businesses succeed despite themselves during good times, like right now. But when the economy goes bad, those businesses tend to be the first to fail. I can’t count the phone calls I got in 2008 and 2009 from clients who wanted to have their loans redone. Some banks were pulling in the reins and unwilling to do that. Others were more accommodating. Part of our job was helping find answers for clients.

S-R: How many people have you personally helped?

Schinzel: Thousands. I probably do 60 workshops a year, and each workshop can have 10 to 50 participants. Inquiries pick up a lot during a strong economy.

S-R: What’s the wrong reason to start a business?

Schinzel: Someone who wants to open a restaurant because they’re good cooks, but have no restaurant experience and no money to invest. That happens a lot.

S-R: How about businesses that look good on paper, but don’t succeed?

Schinzel: Surprisingly, a lot of people don’t put as much on paper as they should – specifically a business plan. That’s one of the key things we try to teach.

S-R: What’s it take to succeed as a small business?

Schinzel: People have to adapt. You can’t use the same business model forever anymore. If you want to succeed, you’d better be aware of trends, especially technology, watch your competition, and adjust accordingly.

S-R: Any memorable success stories?

Schinzel: Years ago, a fellow named Dick Mayer bought a tool rental business at the wrong time. He bought it in November, and by March he was broke, because tool rentals slow down in winter. So one day he threw the keys to the fellow he bought the business from, and said, “I give up.” The owner told him, “Just hold on. Things will start picking up.” “You don’t understand,” Dick said. “I’m flat broke.” If he’d had a business plan, he would have realized he needed about $15,000 in working capital to get through winter, or buy the business during a busier time of year. With the previous owner’s help, Dick not only got through that rough patch, and went on to found Sun Rental Centers, which eventually expanded to 19 stores, including four he owned himself. After he retired in 1990, Dick taught SCORE workshops here for 20 years, always stressing the importance of writing a good business plan.

S-R: Any changes on the horizon?

Schinzel: I’ll be retiring in 2018.

S-R: What will you do then?

Schinzel: Travel.

S-R: During your career, you’ve helped countless aspiring entrepreneurs launch new businesses. Have you ever considered starting one yourself?

Schinzel: I really haven’t, because I know the commitment it takes. When someone 35 or 40 tells me they want to start a business, I ask them, “Are you so passionate about your dream that you’re willing to live and breathe it 60 hours a week for much of your life?” I’ve never been that passionate about a specific product or service.

Writer Michael Guilfoil can be contacted at mguilfoil@comcast.net.