SCORE, a business-mentoring organization, made the final award decisions.
“It’s a picture-perfect day to celebrate small business success in Cleveland ... with many, many wonderful days ahead,” said Walter Perry III, district director of the Small Business Administration. “We have a really great ... and unique ... success story here in Southeast Tennessee with the Deardorff company. Deardorff was a brand dormant for 20 years and was brought back to life through the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (in Cleveland).”
The company was nominated for the award by David Hudson, director of the local TSBDC, who numbers the Deardorff company as one of his first clients.
At a small ceremony at the L.F. Deardorff offices at the Business Incubator located on the Cleveland State Community College campus, a plaque was received by co-owners Barry and Monica Cochran. Perry presented the award and made a presentation. Also at the ceremonies were Tommy Wright, vice president of finance and administration at Cleveland State Community College; Hudson, whose TSBDC is located on the CSCC campus; Hurley Buff, executive director of the Business Incubator, also located at CSCC; and David Tiller, SBA public information officer.
“We wouldn’t be a success if it weren’t for the Business Incubator and the Tennessee Small Business Development Center,” Barry Cochran said. “If we hadn’t, we’d still be operating out of garages and basements. We wouldn’t be such a success. You’ve all been a huge help to us. You deserve the lion’s share of the credit.”
“And also to our hard-working employees,” Monica Cochran said.
“We appreciate all the hard work,” Wright said. “Thank you for your commitment to us. You have choices and we’re glad you chose us.”
Hudson added, “I knew this company was something unique when I first heard about it.”
“We’re very proud of them,” Buff said. “They’re examples of true entrepreneurs who went about it the right way and took advantage of what’s available. As a result, they are making a lot of headway.”
The original Deardorff company was initially opened for business in the early 1900s by Laban Fisher Deardorff in Chicago. The company was bought by another businessman in 1988, but was open for less than three years and closed its doors again in 1991.
Twenty years later, the Cochrans again started manufacturing the Deardorff brand, leading them to the business success awarded them now.
After 20 years out of production, the Cochrans over the past two years have revived the unique Deardorff camera brand and are manufacturing it in Cleveland. Their company makes the handmade cameras in five sizes, from Deardorff cameras that can hold negatives that are 4 inches by 5 inches in size all the way up to cameras that can hold negatives that are 12 inches by 20 inches in size. The larger the piece of film, the sharper the image of the final print.
In addition, the Deardorff camera also has bellows — resembling an accordion — that allow the photographer to correct for perspective and distortions that other cameras cannot. Over the years, in addition to landscape photography, Deardorff cameras have been used for architectural and commercial photography. Now, it again is having a resurgence among photographers across the board — from professional to amateur — who value quality.
“If you know Ansel Adams, it’s the kind of camera he used,” Hudson said.
Over the last year, the company has grown to doing around 66 percent of business internationally, in countries as widespread as Germany, Australia, France, China, Japan, Canada, Andorra, Great Britain Italy and South Korea.
“The economy in the Far East, especially, is doing well,” Monica Cochran said, explaining some of her and her husband’s business strategy to market their business internationally. “The Far East likes good American-made products, especially if handmade American products. And they like the prestige of owning a Deardorff and also that it retains its value.”
The Cochrans had already seen how many customers from overseas bought through their online site. So, a large part of their continued growth and success Monica Cochran attributes to the launching of the company’s updated website in January.
“We were able to add a lot more information,” Monica Cochran said. For example, the latest information available is that Deardorff is now shipping the Limited Edition 2011 cameras in both 4x5 and 8x10 sizes. In the near future, Deardorff will be offering a new, much larger camera size, the 12x20 cameras.
Right after the award presentation, Barry Cochran announced that he had just received an email before the event from the owner of a large format camera store in Shanghai, China, who wanted to be the official representative for Deardorff cameras in his area.
But the Cochrans also encourage local businesses at the Business Incubator by supporting and buying from them wooden and metal parts, as well as website design work, for their business.
In addition to Cleveland, 15 other regional TSBDC offices are located throughout Tennessee, all working together to help small business throughout the state. These 15 are in Chattanooga, Clarksville, Columbia, Cookeville, Dyersburg, Gallatin, Jackson, Johnson City, Kingsport, Knoxville, Martin, Memphis, Murfreesboro, Nashville, and Oak Ridge. SBA offices operate in all 50 states.
“The TSBDC is a launching pad in Cleveland for companies worldwide,” Perry said. “From Cleveland, you can go worldwide if you have a quality product to offer, such as the Deardorff classic camera. The world of commerce has changed ... demand is across the globe.”
“And companies don’t need to be multi-trillion dollar companies to achieve great success,” Hudson added. “You can start small ... but the world is now their market. Commerce goes so easily around the world these days.”
“Doubling our exports in three years, small business has taken the ball and run with it,” Tiller said. “It’s the fastest-growing segment of the economy.”
In addition to the Exporter of the Year award, the SBA also honors companies in several other areas such as women’s, veterans’ and financial service businesses. SBA provides awards in 17 categories.
n The Business Incubator has two spots left for businesses at the Cleveland/Bradley Innovation Center, as well as one open office space available at the main Business Incubator location.
n For more information about Deardorff cameras, contact LF Deardorff at 478-6493. Its website is www.deardorffcameras.com.
n The TSBDC in Cleveland can be reached at 478-6247, the Business Incubator at 478-6476, and the SBA at its website at www.sba.gov/tn.