Based in Vidalia, Louisiana, Southern Designs is a manufacturing company that makes decorative signs out of steel, wood and acrylic. In a short time, the young company has expanded selling products in over 400 Wal-Mart stores as well as the Home Goods chain of stores across the country. In addition to quality customer service and a solid business plan, 28-year-old CEO, Tance Hughes credits two initiatives from Louisiana Economic Development (LED) in supporting his company’s growth. Southern Designs used LED’s Economic Gardening program and CEO Roundtables within the last year to great success. The Economic Gardening initiative provides Louisiana-based small businesses with the information they need to grow and succeed. Through accelerated technical assistance and research, the experienced Economic Gardening team provides customized services tailored to individual business needs. Services range from a review of core strategies and market research to improving internet presence and advice on how to best use technology to connect with customers.
“The Economic Gardening Initiative worked really well for us,” says Southern Designs CEO, Tance Hughes. “We used a Geographic Information System (GIS) to literally map out and clearly define our customer base. It essentially provided us with a geographic heat map of the age, interests and more of our customers. I really appreciated the fact that they allow you to personalize the program and focus on solving the specific challenges facing your business.”
In addition, Hughes participated in LED’s CEO Roundtables, which bring together groups of 15 to 18 key decision makers from Louisiana-based small businesses. The groups meet 10 times over the course of a year for collaborative, growth-oriented roundtable sessions that allow CEOs to have meaningful discussions on business and personal issues with the guidance of experienced facilitators.
“Operating our business in a small town, I don’t have too many peer companies where I can get the kind of input I got with the roundtables,” states Hughes. “It was good to talk to people about specific issues I face as a small business. There was even another company that does metal fabrication—similar to us, but a different market. It was good getting to know her and her company.”
In addition to Southern Designs, the group included a diverse range of industries including construction, insurance, real estate, a medical equipment manufacturer, chemical lab and more. “Even though we are in different industries, we had a lot in common. I got some great insight into issues, like hiring, firing and managing employees.”
As his company grows, Hughes anticipates going through another round of Economic Gardening. “We plan to look at the size and trends of our specific industry and narrow down some market research to support our growth.”
For more information on LED programs that support Louisiana small businesses, visit Louisiana Economic Development’s small business services.
Louisiana Business Connection is the state’s first comprehensive database to connect small businesses and prime contractors statewide. Simply create a free account for your company then publish your small business profile or find qualified local business partners based on your needs.