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VOL. 123 | NO. 62 | Friday, March 28, 2008

Tennessee's Small-Business Champion Plans Grand Events in Memphis

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"The hardest part is just hanging in there and keeping cash flow going the first few years and also getting the manual work done."

- Mark White
Name: Mark White
Position: Co-Founder
Company: Grand Events and Party Rentals
Basics: White has been named the National Federation of Independent Business' 2008 Small Business Champion in Tennessee.

Mark White started Grand Events and Party Rentals with his brother Stan 18 years ago. They had one truck and two employees - themselves - and they worked 'round the clock to establish their nascent company as the city's premier event planner.

Since then, the company has flourished. It has grown to 20 trucks and 100 employees. The Grand Events logo is visible in the background of major functions throughout town.

Once White had devoted the requisite time and energy to making his company a success, he began working to create a healthier climate for other small businesses through his affiliation with the National Federation of Independent Business.

For his achievements on both fronts, White has been named the NFIB's 2008 Small Business Champion in Tennessee.

White, who is chairman of the NFIB's Memphis-area action council, serves the organization in remembrance of the challenges he faced at the beginning of his own entrepreneurship.

"I remember how hard it was," White said. "In our business, we were seven days a week, 24 hours a day, depending on the customer demands. I didn't have time to get involved with other things."

Supporting America's backbone

As White's business grew and prospered, it allowed him more time to devote to small-business issues, and he realized the importance of organizations such as NFIB.

"They can keep an eye on things for the business owner who doesn't have the time to keep up with what's going on in the state house or in Washington," he said.

As White is quick to point out, 80 percent of U.S. businesses employ 10 or fewer people, so small businesses are the backbone of American commerce. Knowing that makes his dedication to small-business causes even more vital.

"That's most of the economy, and those are the people that are struggling," he said. "That's why it's so important that the small-business owner and the entrepreneur have a chance to survive - to get past 'just hanging in there.' That's what it's all about."

One of White's biggest battles has been affordable health care for small businesses. Not only does that issue impact a small business' bottom line, but it affects the ability to retain good employees, who could be swayed to join a larger company in hopes of garnering better benefits.

"If you have 10 employees, trying to get health insurance is very, very expensive," he said. "If you can combine with 1,000 businesses and take 2,000 employees, then you can get better rates. That's what we're trying to do right now."

'Hanging in there'

White graduated from then-Memphis State University in 1974. He taught and worked in administration for Harding Academy for six years, and he started his first small business, an office supply house, in 1985.

Then he and Stan started Grand Events and Party Rentals in 1990. He remembers vividly the challenges of finding the time to "get everything done" in those early years.

"Not only do you have to manage the job, but as a small-business person, you've got to do all the paperwork, all the book work," White said. "If you're fortunate enough to have employees, you've got to manage that. You've got to manage all the activities. The hardest part is just hanging in there and keeping cash flow going the first few years and also getting the manual work done."

White has been hanging in there for almost two decades, and one of the rewards was being acquired last year by Classic Party Rentals, a Los Angeles-based network of event planners nationwide.

Strong foundation

History has proven Memphis to be an incubator for small businesses. After all, three men who made huge impacts on U.S. commerce got their start here.

"Memphis has a great history of entrepreneurs," White said. "From (Piggly Wiggly founder) Clarence Saunders to (Holiday Inn founder) Kemmons Wilson and (FedEx founder) Fred Smith, they all started with small businesses originally and they grew them into very large businesses. So Memphis is a good breeding ground for the entrepreneur, for people who want to start businesses."

White said the biggest challenge facing small-business owners in Memphis is crime - blighted areas with criminal activity deter consumers from frequenting their stores. But there is plenty of good in the city, too. White touted the Memphis Regional Chamber and NFIB as invaluable resources for business owners.

More than anything, White said aspiring entrepreneurs should know this:

"Always go for it. Until you try, you never know. Just don't go into it blindly. Do your homework. Just because it's a good idea, you've got to be able to hang on long enough to convince other people that it's a good idea, too."

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