Building Dreams into Businesses

The Rutgers–Camden Small Business Development Center provides free counseling to more than 400 businesses annually in four South Jersey counties

Jim and Yvonne Grant opened this inn on the site of an abandoned country club in Salem County.

Jim Grant told his wife, Yvonne, at breakfast on his 62nd birthday about a dream he’d had overnight: He wanted to buy the abandoned Salem Country Club and fix up the century-old waterfront clubhouse at the confluence of the Delaware and Salem rivers.

At first, she thought he was fantasizing, but before long, it became reality. In 2011, they bought the overgrown 110-acre golf course and vacant clubhouse in Elsinboro, a small town in Salem County in the southwestern corner of New Jersey. They sold the 90-acre golf course to the state under the Green Acres program that established it as a public-access wildlife preservation area, but kept the clubhouse and 18 acres. They had hoped to renovate the dilapidated clubhouse, but structural damage was so extensive that they razed it and constructed a new building with space for special events and guest rooms.

In 2017, after six years of preparation, including numerous consultations with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the Rutgers School of Business–Camden, they opened the Inn at Salem Country Club, an event space with three bed and breakfast-style rooms overlooking a narrow beach and the river. “It was scary in the first year, but now it is going very well,” said Yvonne, adding that they host more than 90 events each year, including 29 weddings this year.

Jim, who does everything from construction to bartending to bookkeeping, said the Rutgers–Camden SBDC assistance proved invaluable in The Rutgers–Camden Small Business Development Center provides free counseling to more than 400 businesses annually in four South Jersey counties their start-up phase. “The SBDC helps the dreamers reach the stars, and fills in the gaps with practical advice and assessment,” he said. He advises otherswith dreams of owning their own businesses to reach out to the Rutgers–Camden center. “Don’t let your dream die on the vine because you lacked a few practical skills like marketing, PR, bookkeeping, and managing cash flow. The SBDC will give you the practical tools and training or point you in theright direction.”

The Grants’ business is just one of 5,600 small businesses the Rutgers–Camden SBDC has assisted since it opened in 1987, said Robert Palumbo SBC’79, director of the center. The center provides small business consulting in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Salem counties at no charge, and business training courses are available for free or nominal charges. “Our clients are small businesses all across the board,” Palumbo said, adding that requests from business and would-be business owners encompass “everything from ‘I’ve got an idea’ to ‘I’ve been in business for 20 years and I need help.’ ”

Patricia Claybrook

Patricia Claybrook, owner, president, and CEO of Jidan Cleaning—a cleaning service with offices in Medford, New Jersey; Philadelphia; and Baltimore—worked with Palumbo, who was then a SBDC consultant, when she began planning for her business in 2005. “He was very instrumental in the beginning years of my business,” said Claybrook, who lives in Medford. She said that Palumbo advised her on developing a marketing plan, establishing pay rates for employees, building equity, and buying insurance, among other things. “All the things you need to start a business, he played a part in it.”

Since opening 14 years ago, Jidan Cleaning has grown to employ more than 130 people and win a number of business awards, including being named Supplier of the Year by the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware Minority Supplier Development Council in 2013 and recognized by the Philly 100 in 2014 for being among the fastest-growing businesses in the region. Claybrook said she advises anyone wanting to start a business to seek out the free consultations from the SBDC. “It is a big asset,” she said.

Cassie Aran and Brandon Lucante launched the first Cookie Munchers in Glassboro.

Another business the Rutgers–Camden SBDC assisted in the start-up phase is Cookie Munchers, a cookie bakery that delivers until the wee hours on the Rowan University campus in Glassboro. “When we were opening our first location, we were told we needed a business plan to be considered for the location we wanted,” said Cassie Aran, who cofounded the business in 2016 with Brandon Lucante (both recent graduates of Rowan). “We had no clue how to put together a solid business plan and project our financials.”

They worked with the Rutgers–Camden SBDC, which helped them land their first location. Since then, they have opened another Cooke Muncher location in Tampa, Florida, serving primarily University of South Florida students. “The SBDC is a huge help, and they are very open to answering any questions along the journey,” Aran said.

For more information about the Rutgers–Camden SBDC, visit rsbdc.org.

Posted in: 2019 Fall, Features

Comments are closed.