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Carlisle area entrepreneurs talk risk, responsibility at panel

By Zack Hoopes

This article was published on Cumberlink.com on November 18, 2016.

If there was one piece of advice to get out of last night’s entrepreneurship panel, it was this – don’t be an entrepreneur if you don’t deal well with uncertainty.

Other than that, it’s hard to make a concrete set of rules for a task that is inherently unpredictable. At a certain point, you just get used to it.

“The early days were fearful. Today is fearful, but you get through it,” said Mike Kennedy, owner of The Railroad Associates Corp. and, most recently, the Allenberry Resort.

“When small businesses start to fail, it’s when owners get too comfortable,” agreed Bert Wendeln of The Carlisle Group. “The first time one of your employees has a child, you think ‘that’s a mouth I’m responsible for’ … but that’s the kind of ownership you need to be successful.”

The Thursday night panel took place at the Holland Union Building at Dickinson College. Organized by the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp. and hosted by the Cumberland Valley Business Journal – a publication of The Sentinel – the event was the first in a series looking at entrepreneurship in the county.

Kennedy and Wendeln were joined by Mark Bricker, owner of Brick restaurant in Carlisle, and Jen Delaye, owner of catering and restaurant businesses the JDK Group and Metalaye Hospitality, as well as aquaponics startup Intag.

Delaye recalled her first step into entrepreneurship – running a food stand for her father as a teenager, along with her siblings.

“It was a debacle. … We opened to throngs of thousands the first weekend, within an hour we were out of potatoes. We didn’t even know food distributors existed, so we just went to the grocery store and bought more,” Delaye said.

Bricker was also a complete novice to the food industry.

“In 2010, I had never worked in a restaurant in my life. Never waited a table, never washed a dish, nothing,” he said. “The restaurant started because I just didn’t’ know any better, but it’s paid off.”

Wendeln had been involved in management at Wells Fargo before jumping into the Carlisle Group, an executive search and consulting firm. The company just built a new headquarters on Route 114, a building which also houses a spa run by Wendeln’s wife.

Kennedy had been involved in railroad construction with his father since he was young. But even something you know becomes more risky when you’re on your own.

“My brother and I knew what we had to do. We borrowed money against our houses and started TRAC,” Kennedy said.

The crux of entrepreneurship, it seemed, is mastering the idea of bearing the ultimate responsibly for one’s employees, while at the same time allowing those employees to take much of the responsibility off of you.

“There’s no way I could run these businesses the same way as I did before I had kids,” Delaye said. “It made me realize it was the team.”

Wendeln noted that, for his first several years in business, he was personally doing much of the technical work.

“Once you get to about seven or eight people working for you, it becomes really hard to be the technician and the manager,” he said.

It’s also about knowing when to say no. Each panelist stressed that growing their footprint didn’t necessarily mean more money.

Delaye noted that she had pulled back on some parts of her business after finding that being “everything to everyone” had cut into her competitive advantage; Bricker said he would rather develop a loyal clientele who would pay full price than pushing specials or happy hour deals that would only bring in temporary customers.

“Growth has no correlation to profitability in my mind,” Kennedy said. “You may be growing into wagon wheels right before steel rims come out.”

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