Motivated entrepreneurs

by Tim Kenyon

CORRIDOR – The owners of three recently started Linn County small businesses say they thrive in running their own business, but they balance that with worrying about risks.

Rodney Hudepohl always wanted to run his own business.

After a couple of other ideas fell through, Mr. Hudepohl felt confident about business prospects when he opened Alloy Wheel Repair in Hiawatha in mid-June 2007.

He spent about three months on the planning process.

He invested almost $80,000 to start the business — $20,000 for a franchise territory fee servicing Eastern Iowa, nearly $40,000 for a mobile unit super shop and another $20,000 to tow the mobile shop.

His business now has two mobile units. The four-wheel drive trucks towing the mobile shops got them out in all but four days of nasty weather this past winter.

The business depends on being available to help customers from the Quad Cities to Iowa City and to Cedar Rapids and areas surrounding those communities.

The main part of the business is repairing and reconditioning broken, bent, gouged and scratched wheels so they look like new.

The cost for new wheels is several times that of repairing damaged wheels.

The business also offers a road-side assistance program and offers nitrogen for tires, instead of oxygen.

Alloy Wheel serves more than 100 body shops, dealerships and tire stores across Eastern Iowa.

Mr. Hudepohl views himself as assertive and didn’t feel comfortable in a “cubicle” environment or dealing with office politics when he worked at McLeodUSA and Aegon companies nearly seven years total.

He attributes a good work ethic to growing up on a farm and learning from his father and grandfather.

“If you work and never give up and never say no to anything, hard work perseveres and you do whatever it takes to get the job done,” they told him often.

Thus Mr. Hudepohl doesn’t wait around to follow others.

“I’m always a leader, even an instigator to take the lead and get it done,” he said. “I never liked working in four walls in a cubicle booth situation. I needed to be out and to be free to make my own decisions and responsible to make me succeed.”

Moves lead to business starts

Susan Donohoe and Mike Dohnalek share some of the same challenges and risks that Mr. Hudepohl does as a small-business owner.

However, Ms. Donohoe and Mr. Dohnalek differ from Mr. Hudepohl in that they opened their respective businesses after they moved back to the Cedar Rapids area.

Ms. Donohoe had 25 years experience in physical therapy working for corporate-owned or hospital-managed departments. Her family moved a few times before returning to Cedar Rapids. With her kids in high school and college, the time felt right to open her own PT practice, she said.

She opened the Physical Therapy Center at 600 Blairs Ferry Rd. NE in January 2009. Ms. Donohoe focuses mostly on helping general orthopedic and neurological patients at the clinic. Jenny Herting treats the patients referred from obstetrics doctors, urologists and sex therapists.

The change in treatment and care of patients motivated Ms. Donohoe to open her clinic.

Insurance commonly allows about a 38-minute treatment for reimbursement, so visits that used to be 60 minutes are now cut to 40 at most clinics, she said.

That’s not the case at her therapy center.

“It just got to be way too business-oriented and not patient-oriented care,” she said.

That creates a niche that her small practice can fill. The center has had steady gradual growth.  

She wants treatment to be more of a personal experience for clients with the additional time allocated to visits.

“It allows each person to get a little bit more time in a relaxed setting,” Ms. Donohoe said.

Rent for her highly visible location is higher than some startup companies might be able to handle.

However, Small Business Development Center Director Al Beach told her to think of it as supplemental advertising.

In a different way, the timing wasn’t so good when she started the business nearly 15 months ago.

“I had a lot of sleepless nights early on as January 2009 was when the economy crashed. A lot of people lost jobs, the banks were in crisis and the financial market really bottomed out.”

She remains committed and is optimistic despite occasional second thoughts.

“It’s worked out good,” Ms. Donohoe said. “It’s still scary at times, but it’s great and I’m very happy and have no regrets.”

Desire to be own boss

After spending many years in the advertising field and time as a clothing buyer at Armstrong’s, Mr. Dohnalek said he wanted to work for himself.

When he returned to the area from Florida, he sought a way to get rid of clothes he hadn’t worn and didn’t want to give them away. After researching the area, he found no consignment store dedicated solely to men’s clothing.

“I know I didn’t want to walk around shopping for nice used men’s clothes, moving around people buying gowns and tripping over kids’ toys,” he said. “So I got on the Internet and found no consignment shops specializing in men’s clothing closer than Des Moines and Minneapolis.”

The light bulb went off. He spent about three months on marketing research before opening his Men’s Value shop in Indian Square Mall in the 100 block of Marion Boulevard in Marion.

Mr. Dohnalek said he spent the first few months building up inventory. He has more than 200 consigners he works with on a 50/50 split on sales.

He likes the high-traffic spot in Indian Square Mall and said it helps that he exchanges referrals with two other nearby consignment shops, one specializing in women’s clothes and the other in youth wear.

His customers range from a doctor at Mercy Medical Center to an engineer at Rockwell Collins to people who walk in off the street to rent a sport coat to attend a wedding.

He said sales increased quite a bit after Christmas. He relates it to the impact the economy has on other sectors. He noticed last week the used car dealership across the street had a lot more test runs than in previous weeks.

Mr. Beach said the three business owners are dedicated and focused on their plans.    

“All three of those people struck me as having visions,” he said. “They have powerful beliefs and are very clear they want their dream businesses to catch up in reality. The fact is they have a vision and a dream and they’re working very hard so reality catches up to their dream.”