Becoming boss

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After losing their jobs, many Noblesville residents are now working for themselves

During the past few years, many people who had worked in one industry for decades have unexpectedly lost their paychecks as a result of the recession or unforeseen circumstances, and the question of where to go from there could sometimes be a difficult one to answer.

Facing this dilemma head-on, two lifelong Noblesville residents, Rick Heflin and Kevin Heffernan, chose to stop relying on someone else’s paycheck and started relying on their own ingenuity.

Until recently, both Heflin and Heffernan worked in metal fabrication and welding in the automation industry as bowl builders. The “bowls” help feed parts to automated assembly lines. Between them, they had 70 years of industry experience.

But both were forced to leave this industry: Heflin was laid off and Heffernan had to leave because of health issues. Since their departures, however, both have taken the best of their experiences as welders and used them to forge new careers and new self identities.

A budding entrepreneur, Heflin launched his business I’ll Clean Your Can four weeks ago in Noblesville. Using his skills as a welder and three decades of problem solving, he designed a machine that fits into his customized van and pressure washes, sanitizes, and deodorizes trashcans. The clean and dirty water tanks are self-contained.

“It’s environmentally cleaner than attempting to wash them yourself,” Heflin said, adding that the process is far more effective, too.

After surgery five years ago, Heffernan couldn’t return to a stressful career. ‘There was no place for me to go. Who would hire me with a heart condition?” he said.

Drawing on his love for guitars, he decided to expand his existing side business, KLH Custom Relics. Starting with blanks, Heffernan creates unique guitars made from the finest vintage materials including real Bakelite pick guards and Formica tops, giving the guitars a vintage look and sound. Utilizing his welding skills, he has made several metal guitars as well as a branding iron he uses to sign his creations.

To date, Heffernan has built 130 custom guitars that can be found everywhere from the Grand Ole Opry to the Netherlands. But neither he nor Heflin would be in their respective positions today without first facing unfortunate circumstances.

Noblesville Chamber of Commerce President Sharon McMahon said Heflin and Heffernan are just two of many Noblesville and Hamilton County residents who have recently delved into entrepreneurship after first losing their jobs. She said she has seen the number of small business owners in the city increase and attributes that to some people suddenly having less to lose.

“There are plenty of people who have thought about [starting their own business]for a long time but thanks to downsizing, now had the opportunity to do it,” she said. “A good many entrepreneurs have been born in this economic climate, and that’s a good thing.”

Heflin said he realized he was a businessman the day his van came back with his company’s logo on it, but becoming a business owner didn’t happen in a day. His advice to other budding entrepreneurs: “Try to solve one problem at a time. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Sometimes I didn’t know which way to go. There were licenses, legal stuff, certifications.  I talked to my friends who had other knowledge. That helped.”

As for Heffernan, he advises, “You won’t regret it. If you do it, you will survive. Once you don’t work for someone else, you can’t imagine working that way again.”

McMahon added that the Chamber encourages entrepreneurship and has a number of helpful resources available to both members and nonmembers, including opportunities to pick the brains of other small business owners.

Both Heflin and Heffernan said the most impactful support they received was from their families. With his wife, Carol, in full support, Heflin passed up 99 potential weeks of unemployment benefits to start his new career. As a spiritual person, it was a leap of faith for Heffernan.

“I knew I couldn’t do what I’m doing without my wife (Kelly) behind me 100 percent,” he said. “Faith was the key. I’m blessed. This is all a gift.”

Want to learn more?

If you want to contact I’ll Clean Your Can, call 625-4015. For KLH Custom Relics, try 371-8956 or visit www.klhcustomrelics.com. To learn more about the Noblesville Chamber of Commerce or the help it can offer those looking into starting a business, visit www.noblesvillechamber.com or send inquiries to info@noblesvillechamber.com.

They just needed an opportunity

Noblesville Chamber of Commerce President Sharon McMahon said she has seen an increase in Noblesville residents becoming entrepreneurs in recent years. She said she wouldn’t call this a trend, though. Instead, she said the change is likely a result of people who have had aspirations of owning their own businesses suddenly having the opportunity to do so after layoffs forced them out of work.

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