Staying the Course: Help From the SBDC Moves Downtown Store Forward
As customers pass by the lawn mowers and wooden rocking chairs outside Anderson’s Western Auto, they know when they enter through the glass doors that they will find a little bit of everything and a whole lot of friendly service.
Harry B. Anderson, Sr., opened the store in Valdosta in 1939, and since that time it has remained in his family for nearly 80 years. In 1970, his oldest son, Harry ‘Bucky’ Anderson, Jr., began managing the store, and then sold it to his brother, Bill Anderson, in 2016.
“I started working after school and in the summers mostly stringing tennis rackets,” Bill said. “I worked many years with my brother Bucky and learned a lot about running a business, especially how to treat customers with respect.”
Anderson’s Western Auto has become a landmark in downtown Valdosta, a place where multi-generations of customers have purchased a myriad of products from automotive supplies and tires to lawn equipment and household appliances, and much more. With the added benefit of being a True Value distributor, the store also sells an extensive line of hardware products.
The diversity of products and services is what makes the store unique.
“Most auto stores don’t sell hardware or appliances,” Bill said. “We sell what our customers want, and over the years we have changed our inventory to fit their needs.”
Even though the national Western Auto company is no longer in business, Bill said, “Everyone knows us as the Western Auto store. Customers continue to come to us because they know we are going to have what they are looking for and treat them right.”
As one of the oldest family-owned businesses located in downtown Valdosta, Anderson’s Western Auto has served multi-generations.
“Being downtown it is nice because it allows us to get to know our customers,” he said. “We know them, and they know our family. We have customers that started coming with their parents or grandparents to the store.”
SBDC Guides Future Growth
After purchasing the store, Bill and his wife Anne, who helps manage the day-to-day operations, began looking for assistance in restructuring the store’s accounting procedures and improving other business activities.
The Andersons reached out to Lynn Bennett, area director of the University of Georgia Small Business (SBDC) at Valdosta State University (VSU), for help with moving their business to the next level of growth.
“I started calling around different places asking who could help and I kept hearing that I needed to call the SBDC,” Anne said. “I had heard of the SBDC but wasn’t sure how they could help.”
Bennett said the Andersons were in transition, and though their store had been established for nearly eight decades, they needed help moving the business forward.
“I visited them at the store and spent time getting a good understanding of their business needs,” said Bennett, who is now an accounting lecturer at VSU. “Bill and Anne realized there was a need to update the store’s business processes. They wanted to stay and maintain their presence in downtown Valdosta, and they were willing to embrace change in technology and business processes.”
During a series of consulting sessions, Bennett provided training in the use of accounting software (QuickBooks) and guidance in human resource procedures including updating the store’s employee handbook.
Bennett said helping businesses like Anderson’s Western Auto is a good example of the SBDC mission.
“When we talk about transforming a business,” she said, “Anderson’s Western Auto already had a strong foundation, and Bill and Anne just needed some guidance. That is what the SBDC does every day for small businesses that are just starting or have been going for many years.”
Bennett said she enjoyed working with the Andersons and appreciated their eagerness to make the needed changes within their business.
“I often tell clients to embrace change, especially new technology,” Bennett said. “It is phenomenal to me that this business started nearly 80 years ago and it is still thriving today. They have maintained its legacy through continued family ownership.”
With 17 locations throughout Georgia, the SBDC’s goal is to “enhance the economic well-being of Georgians by providing a wide range of educational services for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.”
The SBDC provides confidential one-on-one business consulting at no charge; however, some services, such as classes, have a nominal fee. Services are available to both beginning entrepreneurs and experienced business owners looking to grow their business.