Local couple devoting retirement to sharing business expertise

Every morning, Joe and Marlene Peterson can be found at a Starbucks having their daily coffee and enjoying each other’s company.

They’re a friendly couple who, like most couples, share common interests and similar experiences.

In this case, what they share is a lifetime of knowledge in business management, and a passion to help others who want to start, grow or sell a business. They both act as business advisors through the Small Business Development Center at Linn-Benton Community College, and pass their knowledge to both rural and large business owners.

Marlene, along with business advisor George Medellin, also co-leads a new SBDC class, “Small Business Management Nine Month Program,” which begins in Lebanon Feb. 19. They first offered the class at LBCC’s Sweet Home location, and drew in seven business owners from Sweet Home, Brownsville and Lebanon.

“I’m a very spreadsheet kind of person; orderly, methodical,” Marlene said. “George is on the opposite end of the spectrum, where he’s more creative and outgoing. So we complement each other.”

The course explores new ideas to those who’ve been in business for a few years, allows business owners to engage with and learn from each other, and provides personal advising on each business’ goals; Joe acts as one of the business advisors for class members.

“This class really is for people who are ready to try to grow their business a little bit,” Marlene said. “We try to introduce new ideas or perspectives that will help them look at their business differently.”

At the initial class in Sweet Home, Marlene saw lightbulbs click for some of the participants. One client realized gains that could be earned by standardizing operations, another felt much of the material went over her head until the advisor was able to personalize it for her business, and another client figured out how to make a business fit into her life without it consuming her life.

Sessions become more personalized to participant needs, but they include identifying strengths and weaknesses, identifying target customers, understanding web marketing, setting measurable sales goals, understanding financial reports, learning practical leadership actions, running a smooth operation, and defining ideal employee production.

Marlene understands from personal experience that small business owners tend to believe all they have to do is work harder to succeed, she said. Plus, rural business owners have often had to “go it alone” and figure things out on their own.

Marlene worked as a facilities manager for various companies during her career, but her more valuable experience comes from 20 years as owner of Campagna Distinctive Flavors, a gourmet food manufacturing business that began out of her herb garden.

She sold her recipes of herb vinegars, pestos, tapenades and other products on the wholesale market.

“I started like so many business owners start: I just started,” Marlene said. “I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I didn’t know anything, except I knew how to make this product. So over the next 20 years I learned things the hard way and networking with other small businesses that were in the same industry, and I just learned as I went.”

Joe spent his last 15 working years as CFO and CEO of Oregon Fruit in Salem. He helped upgrade its valuation by changing its product and marketing strategy.

“It used to be canned fruit, and there’s nothing sexy about canned fruit,” Joe said. “What we needed to do was create things that people wanted.”

Thus, they reduced production of the canned fruit and began creating frozen fruit drink mixes that were sold to the food industry, including overseas.

“What we did is we made the company look like a company that was of today and not grandma’s age,” he said. “We maximized what the owner could get out of that, and he told me he would not have been able to sell the business had it not been for the things we did over that period of time.”

With such a positive outcome from his experience, Joe likes to assist at SBDC as well as SCALE Oregon, which helps much larger businesses grow successfully.

MARLENE PETERSON, center, and George Medellin lead a discussion in a small business management class. Photo courtesy of Linn-Benton Community College

 “Joe and I make a good team because I work with these little small businesses, and his experience is much bigger,” Marlene said.

The two recognize Lebanon’s economy has been turning around, and they hope to find some Lebanon Downtown Association members at their class this year.

“I’d love to see some of those folks there because I think there’s something to be gained,” Marlene said.

The class meets once a month at the Lebanon Center Annex, 44 Industrial Way. All sessions are from 6 to 9 p.m. on a Tuesday. Registration costs $750, and a second employee may be registered for an additional $150. Scholarships may be available. Discounts for Chamber and Downtown Association members are also available.

To register, call (541) 917-4929, or go to https://goo.gl/forms/pJqFVXfENFX5PmHH3.