Real estate brokerage firm urging small businesses to rely on SCORE

Southern Illinois’ largest commercial real estate brokerage firm is asking business executives to support a well-known nonprofit organization that supports small-business owners.

BARBERMURPHY’s 19-member team of brokers says they are encountering small businesses that are doing their best to pivot from the economic impacts of COVID. The firm’s brokers are meeting with businesses across all industry sectors that have been hit hard by the pandemic and struggling to adapt to the new normal.

Brokers say many small businesses are retooling their strategies not only in light of the pandemic, but due to generational ownership transitions and market changes.

Broker Associate Mike Pierceall, who has been with BARBERMURPHY since 2010 and has 38 years’ worth of experience in many facets of economic development and public administration throughout Southern Illinois, said he regularly talks with the region’s mayors and economic development leaders, many of whom he has worked alongside for nearly four decades.

Out of these conversations comes a “true-to-life snapshot” of how small business owners are faring in the current economic and health climate, he said.

“Small businesses are definitely struggling as a whole right now, particularly those that are not affiliated with franchises, as the state of Illinois and counties impose more and more mandates on them,” Pierceall said. “It’s a tough situation, particularly for small businesses located in rural areas of Southern Illinois.”

The time it is taking to get deals done, such as a lease, purchase or sale of a property, is taking longer. Performing the necessary due diligence is more protracted, according to Pierceall, due to restricted hours of regulatory agencies.

“Deals are getting done, but timelines are often lengthening to give all the parties – the banks, title companies, county courthouses and others – time to complete the necessary paperwork,” he said.

Add to this the stress small business owners routinely face such as financial pressures, generational ownership successions and more, and it’s an increasingly challenging environment. Pierceall says business owners need more support, patience and wise counsel than ever.

Enter SCORE, the nonprofit organization that has been in existence for more than 55 years and is a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Since its inception, SCORE has assisted more than 11 million business owners nationwide. In the St. Louis metro area, SCORE’s 70 business counselors – many of them current or past business owners – have served more than 1,000 clients in FY 2020 alone (a 20 percent increase over last year), many of them seeking guidance on how to apply for and utilize PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans from the SBA.

Tina O’Toole is co-chairperson of the SCORE – St. Louis Bi-State Region Chapter, which serves business owners and entrepreneurs across Southwest Illinois and Eastern Missouri. Although its physical offices are located in St. Louis, O’Toole says the majority of the counseling and business education this year has taken place virtually, extending the organization’s impact well beyond traditional geographic boundaries.

“In FY 2020 alone, our all-volunteer SCORE chapter has provided more than 4,200 hours of virtual workshops and one-on-one client business counseling,” said O’Toole, who has served in leadership positions with the St. Louis regional chapter for six years and is currently a co-chairperson. “There are no paid employees…every one of us is a volunteer, and we have a passion to help small businesses succeed, especially now that they face more hurdles than ever before.”

Most of SCORE’s membership is comprised of individuals who are high-level executives or small business owners. O’Toole says SCORE counselors range from professionals in their 30s to retired executives in their 70s.

Physical offices are currently only on the Missouri side of the metro area – in Tower Grove, Kirkwood, North St. Louis County and St. Charles County, in donated office space – but O’Toole says SCORE – St. Louis is seeking to reestablish a physical presence in Southwestern Illinois.

“When we move past the current in-person meeting restrictions, it would be ideal for us to add an Illinois location,” she said.

Scan analysis is another sought-after service that SCORE provides, according to O’Toole. “This is probably the single-best service that an existing business may qualify for,” she said. “Existing businesses that have been in operation for three to five years and meet certain revenue thresholds, management structures and numbers of employees may be eligible. We assemble a team of experts, perform a comprehensive, detailed analysis of the business from top to bottom, sit down with the management team and make recommendations. Our St. Louis chapter initiated this service more than10 years ago, and since then it has been adopted by other SCORE chapters across the country.”

O’Toole said she is proud of SCORE – St. Louis’ accomplishments as an all-volunteer business counseling organization. She is equally proud of the feedback her chapter receives from the clients it assists.

“The Net Promoter Score, a metric which reflects our performance as graded by our clients, is 89.77 percent,” O’Toole said. “This is based on how each individual client rates us via an evaluation form we send after our first full one-on-one meeting with them. We’re really proud of this number. Our clients’ gratitude, especially during this COVID crisis, warms our hearts.”

To volunteer as a SCORE counselor, see www.score.org/volunteer. To seek a SCORE mentor, send a message to [email protected] To contact SCORE by phone, call (866) 726-7340.

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