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City partners with PCC to bring in experts in everything from merchandising to marketing

When longtime co-workers Jeremie Murfin, Geoff Metts and Johnpaul Simonet bought Tanasbourne’s Five Star Guitars in 2012, they took over an already successful business.

Opened in 1998, Five Star founder Ken Potter had built the company to be one of the Top 100 “musical instrument and product retailers in the world,” according to The National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM).

The three men expanded their business into downtown Hillsboro by opening a second shop on Main Street in 2014. But over the past two years, guitar shops have started closing.

“Online sales are the future,” said Murfin, who knew the company’s unimpressive website would need to be revamped in order to help Five Star stay in the music game. “Our website was basically an online business card.”

Around that same time, Hillsboro Economic Development Project Manager Karla Antonini and Portland Community College Business Advisor Molly Moore began soliciting downtown business owners door-to-door, asking them to join a new program the city and PCC had designed.

Called the Retail Small Business Management program, the city would provide a $1,000 scholarship for eligible proprietors to take 30 hours of training and up to 20 hours of one-on-one advising over 10 months at PCC’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in an effort to help them grow successful businesses.

But Murfin knew his business was already profitable. Plus, the scholarship required him to invest $200 as part of the scholarship arrangement with the city. “The first time Karla approached us, we blew her off,” Murfin said. “We didn’t have time for that.”

But after four years of trying to figure out how to make their website become a bigger part of the business, Murfin and his crew eventually gave in and accepted Antonini’s offer to participate.

Ultimately, Murfin said, “we realized they were giving us a chance to grow what we love to do.” So they paid the $200 and started the 10-month course.

Now, with only one class left, Murfin is a believer.

“Beforehand, I wouldn’t have thought I’d get anything out of it,” he said. “But you really don’t know what you’re going to get until you get there.”

“Sometimes business owners don’t know what they don’t know,” said SBDC Director Tammy Marquez-Oldham. “But business owners who actively seek life-long learning and resources that support them in growing a profitable business are more likely to succeed.”

Each class focuses on a key topic, such as financing, accounting, marketing, employee issues and developing systems to grow their business, taught by an expert in that particular field.

One class brought in an expert visual merchandiser, Murfin said. The class was so well taught he and his co-owners hired the expert to come to their stores and help them arrange their products to be more aesthetically pleasing and efficient in their use of space.

“Having someone like that — someone who merchandised for Target and Starbucks — come into our little operation was a little intimidating,” Murfin said. “But she didn’t bring her ego; she brought her expertise.”

“And Tanasbourne space is expensive,” Murfin added. “You’ve got to use it correctly.”

In another class, a chef discussed inventory management.

Then, Murfin took the SBDC’s website-building class. Now, since revamping its web brand, Five Star’s online traffic has tripled, and the company’s online sales last month not only beat year-to-date sales from January 2015 by 10 percent, but they also exceeded sales at the Main Street location.

“The advisors help business owners work more effectively so they’re more strategic about how they work on their business externally,” Marquez-Oldham said.

The next round of SBDC classes will begin in April, and interested business owners are encouraged to sign up soon.

But for those who still have misgivings about the value of the program, an SBDC orientation is being offered from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at the PCC Hillsboro Center at 775 S.E. Baseline St.

For more information and to reserve your seat, visit bit.ly/Hillsboro-SBDC.

Additionally, small business owners in Hillsboro’s Central Business District Enterprise Zone should contact Antonini at 503-681-6181 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to see if their business is eligible to receive the city’s scholarship.

“There’s no small business owner who couldn’t benefit from at least some small part of this program,” Murfin said. “The more you put in, the more you get out … I’d do it again.”

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