Helping Government Fill in the Spaces

September 2010

Special Contributions by Stacy Betts

Most entrepreneurs start from very humble beginnings.  After years of pushing to grow their business, they become experts in resourcefulness and innovation.  What started off as something that looked like an indoor lemonade stand in 1995, Solution Planning and Contract Environment, Inc. (SPACE), leveraged itself to become one of Michigan’s largest, Preferred Dealers of Haworth furniture.

Starting with a couple of folding tables and a single computer that was shared among three employees, SPACE has grown to provide sophisticated design elements and outstanding products and services nationwide.  The company was started by founders Kathie Fuce-Hobohm and Lisa Hulbert after a Haworth dealership in Midland decided to close.  Fuce-Hobohm and Hulbert decided to start their own dealership.  SPACE grew from folding tables to a “working showroom” and warehouse, displaying multiple lines of furniture and providing an ergonomic workplace for all 33 employees.  In addition to the Midland location, in 1997 SPACE opened an office in Flint and another in Arlington, Virginia in 2010.

Stacy Betts, Vice President of Business Development for SPACE, noted, “The two factors that contributed to SPACE’s growth and success were exceptional determination and the government’s diversification program.”  In 2002, SPACE decided to bid on a project for a government organization that required a General Service Administration contract holder certification.  After receiving the certification, SPACE explored other opportunities to contract with the government that would allow the company to grow.  Along with being a GSA contract holder, SPACE is also a Women-Owned Small Business, and holds Blanket Purchase Agreement contracts with the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), the United States Navy and the United States Property and Fiscal Office (USPFO).

While attempting to grow the dealership, Betts, who works in the company’s Flint regional office, came into contact with business consultant Harry Blecker and regional director Marsha Lyttle at the MI-SBTDC Region 6 office.  Betts was referred to them after working with the Genesee County Regional Chamber of Commerce Procurement Technical Assistant Center.  Blecker and Lyttle worked with SPACE on how they could gain business through marketing and business development efforts. “Harry and Marsha really challenged us to think outside the box,” reclaimed Betts.  “Harry helped us focus on setting goals for ourselves and identifying the steps necessary to reach those goals.”  Blecker and SPACE used several MI-SBTDC tools to further develop their marketing efforts and extend their ROI for the marketing projects.  “We have seen phenomenal improvement in the return on our marketing programs after working with the SBTDC on this program,” replied Betts.

Betts noted that one of SPACE’s biggest initial challenges was convincing federal government agencies in Washington, DC, that a small design firm from Michigan could supply the products and services they required for their furniture procurement needs.  SPACE worked diligently to show the benefits of using them as a sole-source for office furniture and design expertise. The government benefits with great discounts and high quality design and products.  SPACE is now creating standards for office layouts for the DHHS and USPFO.

Betts continued to exclaim how happy SPACE has been with the work they are able to accomplish with the SBTDC.  “They really helped in mentoring us and acting as a sounding board for many of our ideas,” stated Betts.  “We would encourage anyone that is contemplating or in the process of starting a new business to contact the SBTDC.  I let everyone know that the SBTDC is who you need to talk to about small business because they can help you find everything.”

In the future, SPACE hopes to sustain stable growth as a business in the state of Michigan, but also wants to continue their community outreach.  The company currently offers a volunteer program that allows employees to use company time to volunteer in their communities.  Betts does offer some advice for small businesses, “If you have the opportunity to work with the SBTDC, don’t hesitate to talk with them.”  SPACE has come a long way since those first days.  While SPACE no longer works off folding tables…they do offer them in their catalog.

Find out more information about SPACE Inc.