Small business owner Robert Penna opened his Miami, Fla., health food store “Beehive Natural Foods” and operated in the 1000-square-foot rented space for 33 years. But last summer, he and half-dozen small business owners in the same strip-mall received unexpected news from the landlord. The building was sold and everyone had to move out within the next six months.
“Needless to say, I became very anxious about where I was going to go,” said Penna recalling the announcement that left him and the other business owners shocked.
Penna had no choice. This wasn’t something he had ever considered and he had no idea where to move his business. But one thing he did know was that he was going to need a loan to make the move. With advice from his mortgage broker, Penna began researching SBA loan program options. He began the approval process with SunTrust Bank and shortly afterwards found a retail space for sale just a couple miles further down the road.
“I always rented but I found a larger space and the sales price made better business sense to purchase commercial real estate than renting.
Penna was soon the new owner of a nearby retail space thanks to an SBA 504 loan arranged through SunTrust Bank and GulfCoast Business Finance, an SBA-designated Certified Development Company responsible for processing loans to eligible small businesses.
“Getting the 504 loan was really easy and the process was great. The terms, the interest rate, and the limited amount of money I had to put down to get the size loan I needed were fantastic.”
“Robert could’ve financed his business with either an SBA 7A or 504 loan,” said SunTrust Bank Vice President, SBA Business Development Officer, Jeni Chokron. “It was important for him to have a fixed loan rate given the changing price of store’s inventory. Using the SBA 504 loan was the best fit for Robert and that’s what we try to do with all SBA loan clients.”
Penna’s loan was structured like many SBA 504 loans used to purchase real estate. SunTrust Bank covered the first 50 percent of the loan amount. The U.S. Small Business Administration and Gulfcoast Business Inc., serving as the CDC, covered 40 percent of the loan and the remaining 10 percent was invested by Penna.
“The SBA 504 loan was really an ideal way for Robert to purchase his new store,” said GulfCoast Business Vice President for Commercial Real Estate and SBA Lending Beth Herdegen. “Under the program, Robert invested a minimal amount which helped him save money for the operating capital he was going to need at the new location. The loan also reduced the risk to SunTrust Bank to only 50 percent of the total loan to value. Lastly, not only were his closing costs and fees financed into the project, but the interest rate on the loan was fixed for 20 years.”
Beehive Natural Foods has been operating at its new location for more than three months now. The retail space has almost tripled. Penna can offer more natural food and vitamin choices as well as provide more space for a juice bar operation he leases to another small business owner.
“I was worried about losing my customers but business has returned to normal and I’m expecting to see an increase given the new location with better access and visibility from the street,” said Penna.
The 60-year old business man doesn’t see himself slowing down. He largely runs the store himself with two other employees. In fact, he says his small business enthusiasm is like a movie scene with Al Pacino in his film “Scent of a Woman.”
“Started? Oh, I’m just getting started!” Penna said in a performance-worthy Pacino impersonation.
The trained nutritionist who also raised a family of 10 children while building Beehive Natural Foods says small business ownership isn’t easy but if you want to be successful, you have to want it.
“You need a lot of passion to run your own business. When I started this business 33 years ago, there were a lot more health food stores. Many went out of business as larger, the natural and organic chain-grocery stores opened. But I like what I do and I offer nutritional advice and customer service to my clients that remained loyal and moved with the store,” said Penna.
“SunTrust Bank is very happy we could help a small business like Beehive Natural Foods. Robert’s business was one of 20 Miami small businesses that were provided more than $20 million in capital last year,” said Chokron.
Women History Month Spotlight: Achieve Beautiful Skin Looks Marvelous Thanks To Women's Business Center Program
The U.S. Small Business Administration South Florida District’s Women’s Business Center (WBC) at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne is an integral business resource for inspiring women entrepreneurs and helping women-owned small businesses grow and create jobs. Just ask Jeanne Whitman, owner of Melbourne’s “Achieve Beautiful Skin”.
Whitman, who opened “Achieve Beautiful Skin” just a few years ago, is one of many south Florida, woman-owned businesses who credit greater success through programs offered at WBC. Her success is why this year’s theme for Women History Month, “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment,” is representative of women-owned small business success in south Florida.
“I always had a dream of opening my own beauty spa,” said Jeanne. “My sister Carol was a beauty queen and I was a cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins cheerleader for three years. I wanted to help other women develop and keep a positive self-image.”
Whitman was a stay-at-home mom and raised two children. Active in charity events and volunteering, she has sponsored the “Decorate Your Bra” for the American Cancer Society’s breast cancer awareness campaign for the past four years. After donating more than 1800 hours of volunteer time, she won Broward County School District Volunteer of the Year honors. Small business ownership was a destined calling.
“Ironically, I launched my business on April Fools Day two years ago. I had a vision to provide an affordable, professional skin care treatment for my customers,” recalled Jeanne. “Comparing the Brevard County market, I thought I could deliver a service with greater value but also combine it with personalized service and comfort.”
With professional certifications as a certified medical aesthetician, laser specialist and electrologist, Whitman opened her medical spa business. She offered her clients a full-range of skin treatments including laser treatments, SmartPeel medical microdermabrasion, Dermawave ultrasonic skin rejuvenation, chemical peels, facial massages and much more.
“I did pretty well my first year. I had a steady-stream of customers because of word-of-mouth recommendations. I think my clients loved their experience here and I tried to make my customers see me as their personal ‘image consultant’.”
Though business started off well, Whitman wasn’t satisfied and sought other ways to grow.
“I learned about the WBC at FIT and went there to seek some advice. I found a business mentor through the IGNITE mentoring program and learned to see my business from a different perspective. My eyes were opened to challenges I hadn’t seen and IGNITE helped me come up with a plan.”
According to Whitman, her goals were to increase her visibility in the community and attract new clients. She also was looking to generate larger revenues by making sure her services were priced correctly, enhancing her personal management style and refining a business marketing plan.
“I started my business with some challenges. My business had no storefront, no doctor on site, and no laser for treatments because I lacked capital. I also needed to do a better job networking to build a customer base and new business partnerships.”
Because of what she learned through WBC’s IGNITE mentoring program, she relocated “Achieve Beautiful Skin” to new more accessible location in a doctor’s office. After conducting a cost comparison, she adjusted prices to remain competitive and eliminated some of her discount offers. She also added new service packages, and improved her managerial skills. Because of the improvements, Achieve Beautiful Skin was nominated as the WBC 2013 Business Champion of the Year Award, Emerging Business category in its second year.
“Because of the assistance I received at WBC and through the IGNITE mentoring program, I’m feeling more confident than ever. I have a 7-year growth plan with an exit strategy if I should ever decide to do something else. “
But for now “Achieve Beautiful Skin” is growing and reflects the vision that Whitman imagined long before she went into business.
Jeanne Whitman is a great example of a how a woman can turn passion for helping other women into a successful business, with a little extra help from her local WBC at FIT.
Growing up in the small town of Danville, Va. as a first generation American son of a Cuban father and Colombian mother, Richard Estevez was self-conscious of his identity and culture. Though the city population was nearly equally balanced between whites and blacks, being Hispanic set Estevez apart from the rest of the kids in school.
He didn’t like being different.
“Initially, I did not associate myself with the Hispanic culture and I did not want to speak Spanish,” Estevez said recalling his elementary school days. “However, that changed when I was about 10 years old.”
When he was old enough, Estevez’ father sent him to work in the region’s farms with other migrant workers, most of whom were from Mexico. But Estevez wasn’t sent to help harvest crops.
“My father was an educated man and he took me to the fields to serve as an interpreter between the migrant workers and doctors. I helped the workers explain to the doctors what was bothering them by interpreting for them. The workers didn’t speak English and the doctors didn’t speak Spanish,” said Estevez.
It was then Estevez began to appreciate his culture and understand how his language skills could be used to help people. It was this passion Estevez would tap into and form the successful, Trusted Translations, Inc., a full-service multilingual translation and interpretation company. The company employs the services of more than 10,000 expert linguists with the ability to translate to and from over 200 languages including American Sign Language (ASL).
“After college, I went to law school and became a lawyer in a large law firm. But there if you weren’t working, you weren’t earning. I wanted to build something that had its own life. I wanted a business that could be self-sustaining even when I wasn’t there so I could explore new ways to improve our service offerings.”
Because of experiences of working with migrant farmers as well as law offices of corporate America, Estevez recognized a demand for quality translation and interpretation services at reasonable rates. With that goal in mind, Estevez left the law practice and formed Trusted Translations, Inc. in 2003.
“I did not have a lot of money to fund Trusted Translations but I bootstrapped resources together to get started. I found government documents and brochures with bad Spanish translations and looked for ways to help the government. My father was a U.S. Army veteran and I wanted to find a way to help as well,” said Estevez.
While looking for ways to help the government, Estevez learned about the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 8(a) business development program for small, disadvantaged businesses. The program assists small businesses to position themselves to compete in the marketplace.
“I went to SBA four years ago and asked for help. Many of the government’s translation and interpretation services were going to large firms who were then subcontracting the business. I knew I could provide a more affordable and better service given my background in languages. But I didn’t know how to compete against the giants in the world of government contracting,” said Estevez.
Estevez enrolled in SBA’s 8(a) business development program and was assigned a business opportunity specialist in the SBA South Florida District. His SBA business opportunity specialist guides him through the nine-year program designed to help aspiring small business owners gain a foothold in government contracting. The program is two-phased; the first four years serve as a developmental phase and the final five years are a transition phase at which point the 8(a) business graduates can stand and compete on their own expertise and reputation. While in the program, a certified 8(a) company can receive sole-source contracts, up to a ceiling of $4 million for goods and services and $6.5 million for manufacturing. Certified companies can are also able to form joint ventures and teams to bid on contracts.
Like many firms who find success through SBA’s 8(a) program, the first contract offer is never forgotten.
“My first government contract was with NASA,” recalled Estevez. “But small businesses need to know getting 8(a) certified is only a start. It’s a tool that levels the playing field but there is no guarantee of work. You have to market yourself. You have to provide quality services at an affordable price. You’re not going to receive a multi-million dollar contract just from entering the program,” said Estevez.
Before becoming 8(a) certified, Trusted Translations had a limited number of full-time employees and several dozen freelance translators. Through participation in the 8(a) program and providing quality translation services for multiple agencies, the company has grown to more than 40 full time employees, a small army of experienced translators and interpreters, and offices on three continents.
“Knowing a language is not enough in our business. Many of the services we provide require our translators to have a medical background or some other professional experience,” explained Estevez.
Because of their reliability, experience and price, Trusted Translations, Inc. has been awarded contracts with various divisions of the Federal government including the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Army, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Library of Congress, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Additionally, the company was recently awarded a contract to provide ASL services for the Miami-Dade County school district.
“We are currently working with a sponsor to grant Trusted Translations Inc. a top secret clearance to provide services for the U.S. intelligence agencies. The level of scrutiny goes up but I’m very satisfied with our ability to deliver quality translation and interpretation services at an affordable price,” said Estevez.
Trusted Translations Inc. shares its successes with its community. In 2009, Estevez formed Trusted Translations Foundation, a charitable non-profit organization dedicated to helping and supporting children’s causes. Among the foundation’s causes are: fight against childhood cancer, improving academic performance among children in low income Hispanic families, and helping disadvantaged deaf children through academic support.
For more information on SBA’s 8(a) business development program and how it helped a small business like Trusted Translations, Inc. visit: http://www.sba.gov/content/about-8a-business-development-program. You may also contact the SBA’s South Florida District Office by visiting www.sba.gov/fl_south.