After 20 years of experience in the casino industry, Tim Varnell and Stacie Schmitz wanted a gaming business of their own. In July 2012, Tim and Stacie (who also had a marketing background), combined their skills to start It’s A Deal Casino Rentals. The casino rental business provides casino-quality tables, equipment and trained dealers to organizations and individuals for fundraisers, parties and events.
Varnell and Schmitz had never run a business before; while they knew what they wanted to achieve, they didn’t know where to start. The team did however, want to maximize their start-up funds and avoid taking any loans.
Business Advisor, Dan Handcuff at the Small Business Development Center hosted by El Camino College, helped the partners select a legal structure, obtain license and permits, write a business plan, set up accounting systems and suggested ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors to market their new business.
Make it Legal
Handcuff explained to the partners how each type of business structure worked and how it would help them. (They formed a general partnership, but are restructuring as an LLC due to rapid growth). He also explained how to file a DBA, get a sellers permit and obtain their business license.
“The SBDC saved us so much money compared to what we would have had to pay a law firm,” Schmitz marvels. “We had a friend who started a business at the same time, and it cost him several thousand dollars to file the paperwork.” With the money saved, It’s A Deal Casino was able to launch a website and set up phone systems without taking on debt.
Handcuff helped Schmitz and Varnell structure a business plan and determine the roles each would play. Schmitz handles marketing and back office operations; Varnell, who works as a teacher full time, runs the events. Handcuff also helped them troubleshoot potential problems in advance.” He had the experience to foresee issues that we might run into, so that when they came up, we already had a plan in place to tackle them,” Schmitz explains.
To help the partners manage their start-up funds effectively, Handcuff referred them to business advisor Carol Cornell, who showed Schmitz and Varnell how to use QuickBooks. Now that the partners are forming an LLC, the SBDC is helping revise their accounting methods accordingly. “ They’re helping us set [the new system] up step by step, says Schmitz. “A lot of times, you pay for [consulting], they run you through it really fast, and then you’re on your own. At the SBDC, not only is it free, but they take the time to make sure you understand what you’re doing and how it will benefit your business.
Varnell and Schmitz used their network to contact local schools to obtain their first clients- school fund-raisers.”We quickly started receiving referrals to other schools, which turned into personal referrals for private parties,”says Schmitz.
To diversify their clientele, Handcuff recommended several marketing strategies. First, he had the partners research their competition and decide what they could do to stand apart. They decided customer service and custom equipment would be their edge, and created a website to reflect that.
Next, Handcuff recommended making cold calls to foundations needing fund-raisers. The events that It’s A Deal Casino put on for foundations impressed celebrity donors, leading to even more referrals.
Once their website was up, Handcuff encouraged the partners to add social media to their marketing mix.
Use Technology for Efficiency
“We started growing more quickly than expected,” says Schmitz. Dan told us not to worry and walked us through it. His advice helped us to respond professionally and manage our time more efficiently.”
The SBDC advisor, Dan Handcuff showed them how to use mobile devices to quickly respond to customer inquiries. In addition, he recommended setting up a file on each client with details about their events. “When clients come back the following year, we simply pull up their information on the computer to remember personal things about them and their parties. Clients love it!” says Schmitz.
In just 18 months, It’s A Deal Casino Rentals sales have tripled; the partners expect similar growth next year. Using a growing roster of over 100 independent dealers, they now serve customers in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and San Bernardino counties.
Ultimately, Varnell and Schmitz want to launch satellite offices in partnership with others in the industry. But for now their goal is simple: to pursue bigger clients while maintaining personal service.
“Our clients say we treat each of them like they’re our top priority and most important event,” says Schmitz. “That’s how the SBDC treats us and we wanted to emulate.”
“The SBDC saved us so much money compared to what we would have had to pay a law firm. We had a friend who started a business at the same time, and it cost him several thousand dollars to file the paperwork.”-Stacie Schmitz, Co-Founder, It’s a Deal Party Rentals