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Chris Runyan relocated to Stamford, Connecticut from Bentonville, Arkansas in 2009. He’d considered opening a GameXChange franchise in Arkansas before moving but discovered that there were no franchise territories available in Arkansas. Chris pursued his passion for gaming and this particular franchise and prior to the relocation, researched job and business opportunities and discovered that while there were no GameXChange franchise opportunities in Arkansas where the franchise was founded, there were territories available in Connecticut.
GameXChange is a franchise retail store that sells, purchases and trades new and pre-owned video games and related hardware, software and accessories.
After living in Connecticut for just one week, Chris contacted the SCORE chapter in Norwalk and developed a business plan and set up meetings with commercial lenders with their help. After being rejected by eight banks, Chris contacted the Connecticut Community Investment Corporation, an SBA micro lender, where he was approved for a $35,000 loan to open his first store in Orange, Connecticut in March 2010.
Chris was profitable in his very first year and decided to expand to another location. Once again, he sought out technical assistance from CTCIC and got a second SBA micro loan followed by two more locations and two more loans.
Not only has Chris launched five GameXChange franchise locations, but his first store in Orange was ranked sixth out of more than 50 GameXChange stores in revenues for 2012, just its third year in operation. And, he created over 40 new jobs along the way!
Moving across country and opening a new retail concept was never going to be easy but because of a solid business model, thorough business plan and help from the SBA, SCORE and CTCIC, as well as lots of persistence, Chris has been able to achieve impressive results in a short period of time. And by the way, did I mention that Chris just opened his sixth location in Connecticut?
Susan Nolte has always been a very health conscious woman, one that is looking to make the world a healthier place, one cookie at a time. In 2008 she founded the May Cookie Co., an effort that came out of a vision that consisted of creating a world of healthy people who eat well, live well and smile a lot. Her next question was can this be a viable business? Originally, Susan wanted to bake and deliver delicious, wholesome cookies that had healthier ingredients than those traditionally found in stores at the time. Over time, the concept evolved into a healthy cookie mix, which allowed her to take advantage of broader consumer appeal, wider geographic reach and a longer product shelf-life.
Susan began by taking her vision to the Hartford Women Business Center in 2008 to align her with some business basics that would guide her through the challenging maze of entrepreneurship. With guidance from the business coaches at the WBC she perfected her business plan, learned marketing strategies and gained appreciation for cash flow management. Her first big challenge was to identify the right manufacturer for the three product offerings she initially developed. They are: Triple Chocolate Chip Oatmeal, Dairy-free and Egg-free Rich and Chewy Chocolate Chocolate Chip, and Hearty and Wholesome Oatmeal Cranberry cookie mixes.
Her ingredients are packaged individually which is a unique departure from how most baking mixes are put together. This allows bakers to “Make a Good Cookie,” meaning, achieve homemade results with healthier ingredients. About 6 months after taking the Entrepreneurial Center class, Susan was in production, with consumer sales generated through networking contacts and low-cost high impact public relations activities using social media that leveraged relationships she had built over time. By attending her first big national trade show in September of 2009, Susan was introduced to an up-and-coming unique, “healthier-product ” on-line marketplace (www.abesmarketplace.com) that catered to her particular target audience. Also at that trade show, she was able to secure her first big retail account, a national home furnishings store. This helped her continue to build some steady cash flow while pursuing regional distribution in Whole Foods and some other strategic distribution outlets that would bolster the brand’s credibility and link May Cookie Company with a healthier lifestyle. At this point things were moving quickly for Susan, she partnered with her daughter Marissa and together sought the much needed access to capital so that they could fulfill their orders.
She was put in contact with an SBA lender specialist at the Connecticut Bank & Trust who proceeded to give Susan a jump start on her working capital. In 2009 she secured a $75,000 SBA 7(a) loan with CBT to help her with her start-up costs and the purchasing of fixtures to get her baked goods out on the market. Susan and her daughter Marissa now have a thriving business that includes both wholesale and consumer based cookie dough and pre-made cookies in many flavors. Their unique business model of offering gluten-free, vegan, whole grain, and high protein choices all with the taste and texture of homemade are what has made this mother/daughter team a sweet success.
For Bolivar Jimenez, the owner of L & P Gates Co., Inc., a full service metal fabrication company, offering valued service and quality workmanship to his customers is what success is ultimately about. L & P Gates was established in 1991 by two brothers, Bolivar and Manuel Jimenez, who learned all about the manufacturing of custom iron gates and railings by working at their uncle’s shop in Jersey City, New Jersey before launching their own business. L & P designs, manufactures and installs wrought iron fencing, automatic gates, metal stairs, ornamental fencing and gates, railings and structural steel.
The Jimenez brothers recognized the opportunity that Hartford presented for a business like theirs when delivering and installing in the area. Once they established a location in the city, they focused on marketing and advertising and were able to build name recognition and a solid customer base.
When the recession hit and building came to a halt in the mid-2000s, the owners recognized that they had to change their business model in order to survive. Bolivar joined the Connecticut Minority Construction Council and began to network extensively with other contractors who encouraged him to investigate federal and state contracting opportunities.
When Bolivar became the sole owner of the business, he decided to focus on government contracting and ultimately won a coveted contract working on the Connecticut Convention Center which opened to the public in 2005, an award-winning venue owned by the state of Connecticut. This opportunity has given Bolivar the confidence to continue networking and led him to compete for larger projects.
As the company grew, Bolivar sought bank financing and began working with Kevin Kickery at Farmington Bank who provided L & P with a $150,000 SBAExpress loan to purchase the materials needed for new state contracts for Goodwin College and M D Fox Elementary School in Hartford.
L & P Gates is an excellent example of a successful minority-owned company that employs 13 full-time staff including family members and most importantly Bolivar’s wife, Evelyn, who is the bookkeeper. Bolivar and Evelyn’s sons, Ismael and Joel, have joined the family business which ensures that L & P Gates will continue to operate for years to come.