Growing up in Burlington, Wisconsin, Amy Pieh thought everybody had blacksmiths and farriers for friends. And, for good reason. Her parents, Bill and Bonnie Pieh, owned Centaur Forge, which over the years had garnered a nationwide reputation for providing quality products to meet their customers’ needs. Amy helped to run the family business and turned to SCORE for assistance.
After a tour of duty in the U.S. Air Force and starting a career as a metallurgical and energy systems inspector, Amy returned to Wisconsin in 2000 to help her mother run the family business after her father died. After her mother passed away 18 months later, she enlisted the help of SCORE volunteer mentors Jerry Carlson and Jim Reynolds to help her purchase the business.
After much consideration and advice, Amy decided to sell her parents company and start her own. Drawing on both the experience from her first attempt at entrepreneurship and email advice from Carlson, Amy launched Pieh Tool Company in May 2003, providing blacksmith and farrier supplies from a 4,000-sf store, by phone and over the Internet.
Her debut as a small business owner was a far cry from her experience at Centaur Forge, however. “I had gone from being part of $4.5 million-a-year company to one lucky to gross $6,000 a month,” she says. “What’s more, my son, William Theodore, was born in October 2003, which was also our worst sales month.”
Though the frustrations and drain on Amy’s personal finances mounted, Carlson continued to provide long-distance encouragement and suggestion to manage her meager funds. “He suggested that I capitalize on my vendors’ trust in the family name to negotiate more favorable payment terms,” Amy says. “It worked. They had always been able to count on my parents, and they knew they could count on me.”
A year later, Pieh Tool Company has gradually quadrupled its monthly sales. Amy is fine-tuning her marketing strategy, and continues to build awareness about her company by participating in trade shows and other events across the country. In December 2003, she augmented the supply side of her business by opening a blacksmithing school. She hopes eventually to make the company a “full-service” shop by adding classes in knifemaking, gunsmithing and chasing/repousse, a form of sheet metal work.
Amy admits that Pieh Tool Company still has a long way to go. But whenever she has questions or needs some encouragement, she knows her SCORE mentors are only an email away.
Jerry Carlson and Jim Reynolds helped Amy develop a business plan and offered ideas for finding a loan.
“Jerry keeps encouraging me to contact the local chapter, but it’s hard to let go of someone who I trust, and who has been so helpful,” she says. “SCORE was there for me all the time when I needed help. It’s nice to know that I can call on them anytime, anywhere.”