SCORE Helps Lenoir City Business Become Finely Toned

Relocating to a new town and starting a business from the ground up can be a difficult task.  Making that business successful can be even more daunting considering the fact that you have no established contacts or familiarity with the area.  Karen Stephenson, however, did just that.

Karen is the owner of Toner Patrol, a toner cartridge and inkjet cartridge sales company located in Lenoir City.  Shortly after she and her family relocated to East Tennessee from Birmingham, Alabama, Karen decided to go into business for herself.  So, in October of 2000, Toner Patrol was founded.  She had experience as an office manager for an office supply company in Birmingham and knew how the business of selling toner cartridges worked.  What she didn’t realize was how things would be different being the owner of a company rather than an employee.  “Lunch barely exists anymore”, Karen admits.

She found some help in the form of her local SCORE office however.   SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) is a group of retired businesspeople who volunteer their time to help small businesses in a variety of ways.  Sometime near the end of her first year in business, Karen met with a SCORE counselor and began to get advice on things she had not considered.  “SCORE taught me about writing a business plan”, Karen said.  They also provided cost analysis for hiring employees and a great deal of encouragement.  “It was nice to be able to bounce ideas off of them and hear that I was doing a good job.”

What has followed from those SCORE sessions and Karen’s hard work is a thriving business.  She has a retail store in Lenoir City and also has same-day delivery to many businesses in the surrounding area.  Her customer base has grown from zero to 287 customers in less than two years.  That customer base includes some impressive names like the Lenoir City School Board and Lenoir City Utilities.   

The formula to her success is one that you have probably heard before.  Deliver what the customer wants and truly listen to their needs.  Karen states that her prices aren’t always the cheapest, but she is providing a quality product and has established a rapport with her customers.  Mistakes were made in the beginning Karen admits, but she has learned from them and it has contributed to the success of Toner Patrol.  “I listened to the complaints of my customers and have tried to give them what they want.”  Ultimately, that philosophy is working quite well for her. 

Unfortunately for East Tennessee, Karen is again relocating.  This time the relocation is to Florida.  Many of her customers, however,  will be going with her.  Toner Patrol currently has the ability to do drop-shipping of products to various customers in East Tennessee and this program will continue and expand once the move to Florida is made.  It is testimony to Karen’s emphasis on customer satisfaction and quality products that her sales are expected to remain largely unchanged despite a move to another state.

It is also testimony to the effectiveness of SCORE that Karen intends to contact her local SCORE office shortly after arriving in Florida.  She will be seeking advice on purchasing a new retail facility as well as other logistical questions that may arise.  Karen says, “Two heads are better than one.  I would definitely recommend SCORE.”