If it hadn't been for Katrina — the hurricane that devastated New Orleans and southern Mississippi three years ago — Mike and Charlotte Dawley would be operating a successful collection agency in Slidell, La., today.
Instead Louisiana's loss is Missouri's gain, Springfield, Mo., to be exact.
It was to that thriving southwest Missouri town the Dawleys traveled in the wake of the August 2005 super storm that literally redesigned the Crescent City and the adjacent area.
The Dawleys had purchased an acre of land on Aug 18, 2005, to build a 3,000-square-foot facility in Slidell for the business they'd been planning for more than a year. Katrina drastically altered their dreams after it made landfall 11 days later.
Mike and Charlotte lost all their possessions. Their newly built home in Pass Christian, Miss., not far from Slidell, was swept away. So too was the vision of starting their own company in the area.
What they retained was years of management experience, Mike as an employment director and operator of a construction business, Charlotte as a manager with more than a decade of experience in the collections industry specializing in start-up operations and salvaging struggling sales offices.
After the storm the Dawleys decided to pull up their few remaining stakes to find a new market for their dreams. Springfield became their new goal.
"We were very familiar with Springfield and we felt it would be a perfect market to start our business," recalls Mike.
With the support offered by many Springfield businesses and community leaders, the Dawleys planted the seeds of a new beginning. After establishing a new home they reinvigorated their business plans, opening Hammer Collections in April 2006.
Mike and Charlotte started the business despite the difficulty they were having in obtaining a business loan. They had submitted a business plan with their loan applications, but had been turned down by two banks.
Shortly after opening their business doors, the Dawleys received advertising in the mail that became the key to opening the loan door.
"I received a letter from the (Missouri State University) SBTDC telling me about their services and an upcoming seminar on writing a business plan," Mike remembers. "I figured I had nothing to lose by going to the seminar on business plans and could possibly learn what I was doing wrong."
Learn he did. While attending the class Mike discovered he needed to improve his financial projections and cash flow statements. Following the seminar he met with the instructor — Rayanna Anderson, director of the MSU SBTDC who gave him specific advice on those two elements.
"After I made the changes to my business plan, Rayanna encouraged me to approach one of the banks that had previously turned me down," says Mike. "This time my business plan was complete and the bank approved my loan.
"Rayanna won't sugar coat the message to her clients. She knows the difficulty involved with meeting the requirements of banking formulas and policies and she makes it clear to her students and clients what is needed for them to obtain their goals."
Getting the loan gave Mike and Charlotte the boost they needed for their company. From the first year in business to the second year their revenue and sales grew 500 percent. Since then it's progressed at a more manageable, yet vigorous, 40 percent. In another sign of progress, they've secured a loan from The Bank of Missouri and started construction on their own building.
Hammer Collections has clients nationwide. The Dawleys can help any company with delinquent commercial accounts.
"Our goals are simple," says Mike. "To get as much debt placed with our agency for collections and then to collect as much of it to generate revenue and get our clients paid back the money they are rightfully owed."
According to Mike, with the establishment of Hammer Collections in Springfield, they have essentially brought a new industry to the area.
"We are training newcomers to the business," he explains. "We have to hire, train and try out many people before we find the employees who are the right fit. Another challenge is that running this business, or any business, requires complete attention to all details, which sometimes can be draining."
But while Mike and Charlotte take care of those details, they know they've got a resource they can rely on for business advice:
"Rayanna and the SBTDC were a huge help in the early stages of our business start up, and on occasion I still reach out to them with questions. I know that they are always there for me if I need assistance."