For more than a decade, Joey Schumacher has worked in the pool and spa industry.
He only recently, however, mustered the courage and acquired the knowledge to go it alone.
About one year ago, Schumacher began conducting pool construction and service on his own. The business will take another major step forward next week when Schumacher Pool & Spa opens a storefront at 472 Central Ave. in Dubuque.
The business will sell hot tubs, swimming pools, cleaning items and a variety of other accessories, and the storefront will give Schumacher a place to sit down with customers.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial attitude,” he said. “I enjoy being my own boss and setting the tone for the company. I should have done it way sooner.”
The opening of Schumacher’s storefront is an example of a business climate ripe with growth and additions.
Jay Wickham serves as the regional director for Northeast Iowa Small Business Development Center, which is branded locally as Startup Dubuque. The SBDC serves an eight-county region.
Wickham said clients counseled by SBDC started 30 businesses in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 — an increase of about 20% compared with the previous year.
The SBDC counseled 312 clients, including some from existing businesses and others looking to start new ones.
They created 334 new jobs during the year, quadrupling the previous year’s total, and they created a “capital infusion” of $6.7 million, up from $4.1 million last year.
Opening a new business can be daunting.
“The process was completely new to me,” Schumacher said. “It was very confusing at first.”
He credited the counselors at SBDC for “pointing him in the right direction.”
Among other things, the staff helped him secure insurance, form an LLC, craft a business proposal and acquire a loan.
Ralph Kluseman has advocated for SBDC clients for more than three years.
“When you can help them create that business plan, you see their eyes light up,” he said.
He believes the dynamics of the current labor market have shaped the motivations behind starting a new business. With unemployment at 2% in Dubuque County, job openings are abundant.
As a result, people are starting businesses because they want to, not because they need to.
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a leading research and entrepreneur advocacy organization, tracks the percentage of entrepreneurs who start a business out of choice rather than necessity.
In Iowa, 93.6% start their businesses by choice — the second-highest total in the nation, according to data from the foundation released last month. Only 68.4% of Wisconsin entrepreneurs that started their business fit that profile, the lowest mark in the country. In Illinois, 79.4% start their business by choice rather than necessity.
Many entrepreneurs encounter challenges on their journey.
Wickham said local banks and credit unions “are great partners” for entrepreneurs, but capital still can be hard to come by.
“Interest rates are competitively low, but the local financing has always been modest and conservative,” he said.
The competition also looms large.
Wickham noted that those entering the food-service industry must compete with a growing number of chain and franchise restaurants in the market.
Meanwhile, new retailers must contend with stiff online competition such as Amazon.
For all retailers opening storefronts, Wickham recommends that they create an online presence and generate at least 20% of their revenue via internet sales.
“You have to be niche and have to be different than what is offered on the internet and in big-box stores,” he said.