When the construction of a better mousetrap — or in this case, a more elegant line of sportswear — wasn’t enough to make the world beat a path to his door, fashion designer Ron Finley took advantage of an entrepreneurial training program offered by USC’s Business Expansion Network (BEN).
“I had crawled and pawed my way all the way to the middle,” Finley said of his lifelong obsession to design and manufacture high-fashion garments. “My basic business philosophy was to look in my pocket and see how much money I had and that would tell me how much I could spend.”
There wasn’t any question that Finley was talented. After all, actor Will Smith and such athletic superstars as the NBA‘s Nick Anderson, Penny Hardaway, Sam Cassell and Gary Payton regularly pay thousands of dollars for custom-designed Finley sportswear, suits, jeans or tuxedos. In addition, Nordstrom and Nieman Marcus department stores are regular customers, buying small shipments of Finley’s line of women’s clothes.
Finley established Drop Dead Collecxions, 4900 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles, in 1984. But “I didn’t know how to spell business plan and marketing,” Finley said, using a colloquialism to explain why his business wasn’t growing. “I couldn’t spend time going to college to learn how to make the money. That’s why this program is so cool.”
The training program has brightened Finley’s future. “It has shown me the . . . benefit of planning things out,” he said. “It has taught me that you need a plan. You need a goal and a set of tactics to help you reach that goal.”
The 12-week course, based on the internationally replicated FastTrac entrepreneurial training program, offers a boot camp approach to the basics of sales, marketing and financial planning for small businesses. FastTrac was developed by USC Marshall School of Business professors Mack Davis, who retired last year, and Richard Buskirk, who retired about 10 years ago as director of the school’s entrepreneurship program. Buskirk died in 1994.
A series of once-a-week seminars and workshops introduces participants to established apparel manufacturers and other clothing industry experts who share the secrets of their success. The training concludes with participants designing their own feasibility studies or comprehensive business plans.
The current training program for apparel manufacturers is a partnership between BEN and organizers of the Los Angeles Black Business Expo.
FastTrac is usually not industry-specific, said BEN interim director Nitin Bhatt. “We customized the entrepreneurial program for the apparel industry because that industry is one of the high-growth industry clusters in Los Angeles,” Bhatt said.
BEN’s FastTrac program “reflects our philosophy that education and business planning are key to the success of entrepreneurs,” Bhatt said. “The intent is to have problem-solving skills and venture management expertise transferred to participants so that when they have business challenges down the road, they can solve them.”
BEN is USC’s economic development arm and is part of the office of Civic and Community Relations (CCR).
“Its mission is to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit of Los Angeles communities, individuals and organizations,” said Kay Kyung-Sook Song, assistant vice president and executive director of CCR. “It provides access to educational and technical resources that foster business expansion and job creation.”
Esther Navarro, a partner in Whittier-based RoxWear, said she has benefited from participation in BEN’s training course for apparel manufacturers.
“We heard that this program was No. 1 in the nation,” said Navarro, who designs and manufactures dresses for women size 14W and up with business partner Rosana Moreno. “The professors and guest speakers are so helpful. They even motivate you to look for (growth) opportunities.”
Navarro said she is already applying some of the things she’s learned in class.
“With all the help in marketing and sales, we recently booked an order for Bloomingdale’s; it’s their first time with our company,” Navarro said. “A program like this changes your life.”