Aliceville Entrepreneur Buys Local Publishing Business
By Kirsten J. Barnes
Karen Long Upton had never thought of owning her own business as she worked as the office manager for The Shoppers Guide in Aliceville, a job she held for 17 years. However, when the owner told her he was selling it and she could lose her job, Upton decided to make him an offer. "I did already know all the ins and outs of the production, and I was well established with the customers," Upton said, recalling her logic.
She went to her local chamber of commerce and also spoke to State Rep. Alan Harper, who was then the economic development director for the City of Aliceville. They told her about the Alabama Entrepreneurial Research Network, an outreach agency of the University of Alabama's Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration.
"She was telling people she wanted to buy a business," said Annette Watters, director of AERN. "We sort of talked her through the process. She needed financing, and we told her the ways she could get financing. We also told her that for an important legal transaction like this, she needed a lawyer. We counseled her, she took the right steps, and it worked."
"The University professionals came to the Shopper and looked at the business and examined the figures and gave me a list of things I would need to go forward," Upton said of the people working with AERN. "The resources that were supplied to me by the University of Alabama were very helpful because of their objective view of the market. I had been in the business for 17 years and I was seeing everything from one point of view; it was a great relief to have fresh new eyes on the same concept."
Although Upton knew how to run the business, she did not know how to finance a business.
"We were able to get her hooked up with a lender who was able to help her get financing and negotiate a deal with the owner," said AERN Outreach Coordinator Mary Patterson, who has a background in finance and is a certified public accountant. "We just kind of talked to her a little bit about expanding, growing, and how to purchase a business."
In addition, Upton was able to use AERN's free service to help her retool her business plan and learn about pricing and costs. Upton said she did not know enough about bookkeeping and taxes, and it was essential to be able to trust that she was getting good information.
Watters said this is exactly how the program should work to help entrepreneurs in rural Alabama build the foundation they need to succeed.
"In my opinion she's going to be a really good owner because she was running the business every day," Watters said. "She had on-the-ground ideas about better ways to do things. She is interested in improving the business. It was already a profitable business, and I think she's going to make it more profitable."
Two of the important assets that will help the business grow are its current employees. Gladys Layton has worked for The Shoppers Guide for over 27 years. Over the years she has held many different positions and is now the offset press woman and general manager. She was born and raised in Aliceville and knows nearly everyone in town. The Shoppers Guide is also proud to have Sandy Huff as the bookkeeper. The Huff family has been part of the Aliceville business community over 75 years with the local Piggly Wiggly supermarket.
Upton says, "We are trying to keep business and jobs here at home and hope to be able to employ more local talent as time and growth goes on."
From AERNews, vol. 12, no. 1, Spring 2012