WESTVILLE, NJ---Eight year ago Maureen Keough and her brother Jim were designing and making alternative clothing for punk rockers and rockabilly aficionados out of the basement of a hair salon on iconic South Street in Philadelphia.
What started as a part-time business has evolved into a full line of clothing and brand called Too Fast. The Westville-based clothing/design manufacturer is literally busting at the seams. Their wholesaling and online retail operations are growing at a rapid pace.
Maureen likes to say, the Too Fast Brand is where music, punk, rockabilly, tattoos and fashion come together. “I was a college dropout,” said Maureen. “I just picked it up as I went along.”
Maureen and three other designers come up with the ideas for new designs. “To stay up on fashion, you have to live it. Every day, we’re shopping, flipping through fashion magazines, checking out art, listening to music, watching runway shows, and reading our trending service,” said Maureen. “We have to stay ahead of the curve, because we start designing over a year in advance.”
“When we first started, I was waiting tables and Maureen was cutting hair,” said Jim. “That first year we were doing this part time and we managed to do $50,000 in sales. After that first year the business just took off.”
With it came some growing pains. “Our biggest problem was cash flow,” said Jim. “The demand was there for the clothing, but the cash needed to fulfill orders and purchase inventory wasn’t quite there.”
So Maureen and Jim turned to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for assistance. Lisa Viscusi, Vice President and Senior Business Banker at Susquehanna Bank recommended a couple of SBA loan products to help the business with their growth. First, she advised Maureen and Jim to take out a $250,000 term loan under SBA’s 7(a) Guarantee program to help refinance and consolidate some existing loans. Part of the loan also provided them with some working capital and helped them to purchase some inventory.
In addition, Lisa recommended that Maureen and Jim use a $250,000 line of credit under SBAExpress in order to finance short-term working capital needs, such as inventory purchases or to pay operating expenses while waiting for income to come in from the company’s accounts receivables.
“SBA’s longstanding relationship with Susquehanna Bank enables us to work effectively to put capital in the hands of small business owners like Maureen and Jim Keough who are growing and thriving in the marketplace,” said SBA’s New Jersey District Director Al Titone. “Our loan products are flexible enough to give growing companies like Too Fast the ability to refinance debt and to meet their expenses and variable working capital demands.”
Today, Too Fast has grown to 18 employees with annual sales nearing $4 million. Even their mom Ellen chips in by helping out with the company’s bookkeeping. Three of the employees work in China and secure factory space and production time for Too Fast’s clothing line. In addition to their Too Fast Brand, Maureen and Jim have created the Rat Baby Brand. They also are resellers of name brand and hard to find merchandise. “Our favorite styles stem from punk, tattoo, vintage, and rock and roll roots,” said Maureen. “Our demographic is 17-35 and 80 percent of our customers are women. It’s aggressive designs for customers who aren’t afraid to wear something different.”
The Too Fast Brand includes tees, dresses, tank tops, hoodies, leggings, cardigans, bikinis, socks, heels, boots, purses and wallets. All designed with an edge and attitude.
“We are growing and trying to take the business to the next level,” said Jim. “but we don’t want to forget our roots and we want to continue to focus on giving our customers what they want.”
Currently, the Too Fast and Rat Baby brands the company represents are in 500 stores around the U.S. and in Canada. They work with an additional 300 to 400 stores in Europe, Australia and Japan. Thanks to three sales reps working on domestic and international sales, the Too Fast Brand is growing in popularity.
“We’re taking steps to increase our business,” added Jim. “We’re going to be focusing on international sales and marketing over this next year.”
The Too Fast Brand has 75,000 Facebook Fans, another 20,000 following on Instagram and another 1,900 on Twitter.
“This is a huge growth stage for us right now,” said Jim. “We’re strengthening our infrastructure and are gearing up for the next stage. Eventually, we are going need more space. Our goal is to grow the company by 50 percent each year. We continue to reinvest everything we make back into the company. We know that eventually it is going to pay off.”
It’s a success that’s always in fashion.
WEST BERLIN, NJ---Ilya Girlya is riding a wave of success these days, thanks to an innovative loan program from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
The president and owner of Sahara Sam’s Oasis, an indoor/outdoor water park located in West Berlin, was able to complete a $6.5 million expansion of the water park this year with the help of an SBA 504 loan. The expansion allowed for a new outdoor beach club that features a 25 meter leisure pool (The Blue Lagoon), a children’s play zone (Splish-Splash), a 12,000 sq. ft. wave pool (The Rip & Roll) along with a full service lounge, along with sand volleyball courts, new kitchen facilities/snack bar, restrooms and expanded party facilities.
Girlya and his family started Sahara Sam’s Oasis in 2009. “Initially, we started with a 58,000 square foot indoor waterpark that featured a retractable roof, which allowed us to make it a year round facility,” he said. “We always knew that we would expand the facility to include the outdoor beach club.”
The planning for the outdoor facility took place back in 2011, with the idea of starting construction in 2012. The only drawback was finding a lender who could support a project of that size. That’s when the SBA came into play. One financing option that was very appealing to Girlya and his family was SBA’s 504 loan program.
The first step, for Girlya, was approaching the Regional Business Assistance Corporation (RBAC) of Mercerville. RBAC is one of four SBA Certified Development Companies in New Jersey that packages 504 loans. “The SBA 504 loan is designed to assist small businesses like Sahara Sam’s Oasis obtain long-term financing for capital assets like the purchase of real estate and costly equipment,” said SBA New Jersey District Director Al Titone. “With financing available for up to 90% of the project cost, SBA 504 loans offer an affordable down payment, enabling the entrepreneur to conserve working capital and retain liquidity to meet operating needs.”
For this particular 504 loan, RBAC teamed up with the SBA to provide Girlya with 35 percent of the financing for the project, while TD Bank provided financing for 50 percent of the project. Girlya was required to put up 15 percent of the project, which allowed him and his family to add the outdoor portion of the waterpark this year. In this instance, because the project was classified for special-purpose use, the SBA required a 15 percent down payment versus the traditional 10 percent that is usually required.
“William Pazmino and his team at RBAC were a pleasure to work with,” said Girlya. “This was not your typical conventional financing. It was a very detailed project and I commend them for working with me and taking me through the loan process.”
“We recognize that small business owners sometimes have more difficulty getting traditional business financing that is needed to grow their businesses,” added Titone. “Our Partnerships with the Regional Business Assistance Corporation and TDBank allow the SBA to make 504 financing available to business owners like Ilya Girlya to make the investment in their own facilities and allow them to continue to expand and create new jobs. In the long run, the community gets the benefit of additional jobs, business growth and tax revenues from a growing small business.”
Today, in just four short years, Sahara Sam’s Oasis is a thriving business that has grown from 150 employees to 225. “With this expansion we have been able to increase our capacity 50 percent,” said Girlya. “After operating the new outdoor facility Memorial Day through Labor Day of this year we find ourselves with a 20-25 percent increase in business.”
According to Girlya, Sahara Sam’s Oasis is all about family fun. “Our age demographic is 3-13 years old,” he added. “We market to hotels and have truly become a regional year round destination, attracting families from Washington, D.C to Pennsylvania and New York. We cater to schools, camps, scouts and family outings.”
The facility has also been rented out for special occasions, including a wedding, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, as well as groups looking to have events at the facility. Sahara Sam’s Oasis has even done project graduations. However, the most popular offering is the children’s’ birthday party with packages ranging from $349 to $429. “The full kitchen and arcade enable us to facilitate any type of children’s activity,” said Girlya.
“The great part about this facility is that we are able to use technology to our advantage,” he said. “We have an automated system that monitors our water's pH levels. The system alerts our cell phones, when the water’s acid-alkalinity balance is off. We can adjust all that through technology. It is quite a system.”
In addition to the water park, Girlya and his family realize the importance of giving back to the community and have created a separate nonprofit that is called the Sambulance Educational Safety Programs. “This is a partnership with Cooper Children’s Regional Hospital, Safe Kids Southern New Jersey, the National Crime Prevention Council, The Bullying Academy, American Red Cross and the National Drowning Prevention Alliance,” said Girlya. “We take the Sambulance to schools, camps or community organizations throughout the year and we teach children about safety awareness, first aid, water safety, bullying prevention, fire safety, car safety and bicycle and scooter safety. The program has been well received and when we’re not on the road, the Sambulance is parked on the grounds of Sahara Sam’s Oasis where children can peek inside and learn about some of the aspects of safety.
As for future plans, Girlya said, “There are still a few things we want to do, we’re never done. We want to create additional slide areas, and we still have room to grow. We are excited about the possibilities.”
“When most businesses were hunkering down during the worst recession, we’re saying full steam ahead,” he added.
It’s not a bad philosophy to have, when you are riding a wave of success.
MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ---In 1993, at the age of 22, Alberic Jean-Baptiste came to United States from Haiti. “I had nothing in hand and did not speak any English,” he said.
Today, Baptiste is living the American dream as the owner of 24/7 Enterprises, LLC a Mountainside-based company that specializes in courier, medical transportation and warehousing services.
In 1995, he became an independent contractor for UPS delivering packages in New Jersey. After working for five years, he decided to start his own courier service. “After doing it for a while, I decided to go out on my own,” said Baptiste. “Basically, I had no business background, but I had a basic understanding of the courier business. The difficult part was that I had to start from scratch. I was willing to work hard and put in the necessary long hours. In the beginning I recall working until 3 a.m. some days.”
Determined to succeed, he worked on developing a customer database, a brand and a website. “We started with 2-3 customers; some who are still with us today,” he said. “I was able to grow the business to a certain point, but I realized in order to take the company to another level, I needed help.”
The first thing Baptiste did was go back to school. “I realized the importance of an education in business, so that I could understand every aspect of running my business,” he said. So he enrolled at Kean University at night and earned a degree in International Business.
While attending school, he learned about the Kean University Small Business Development Center. The center is one of 12 located throughout New Jersey that receives funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the state of New Jersey to provide small business owners with counseling and training programs to help them achieve a greater level of success.
At the Kean University SBDC, Baptiste met Nat Sims, the current director, who helped him develop a business plan for 24/7 Enterprises, LLC. It was that business plan that led to a much needed $10,000 microloan from the UCEDC, a statewide nonprofit economic development corporation that provides financing to small business owners through a variety of SBA loan programs.
“The assistance that I have received from both the Kean University Small Business Development Center and UCEDC has been invaluable,” said Baptiste. “In addition to developing a business plan with the Kean University Small Business Development Center and receiving an SBA microloan from UCEDC, both groups were instrumental in encouraging me to explore federal contracting as a source for new business opportunities.”
A turning point for the company came in 2010 when 24/7 Enterprises became an SBA certified 8(a) company. Again, it was the help of the Kean University SBDC that had helped Baptiste through SBA’s certification process.
According to SBA New Jersey District Director Al Titone, the SBA’s 8(a) Contracting Program gives small business owners access to contracts from the federal government. To qualify for the program, a small business must be owned and controlled by a socially and economically disadvantaged individual belonging to a minority group. As an Haitian-American, Baptiste qualified to participate in the program.
“SBA’s 8(a) program has a way of opening the door and leveling the playing field for small disadvantaged companies who want to do business with the federal government,” said Titone. “Participants of the program are eligible to be considered for sole-source contracts up to $4 million for services and $6.5 million for manufacturing. Contracts higher than those amounts must be bid on competitively amongst 8(a) firms.”
For Baptiste the program is starting to pay dividends. Last year 24/7 Enterprises, LLC received smaller 8(a) contracts with the IRS and General Service Administration. Recently Baptiste received a contract from the Air Force for $900,000 to provide mail services at the McGuire Joint Base. A recent teaming agreement with a former 8(a) company, Madison Lawrence, has allowed the company to diversify by adding food services to its repertoire. This agreement recently helped the company land a major contract with the Air Force to provide food services to its base in Pennsylvania.
“It’s exciting to see a small business owner like Al Baptiste utilize the many programs available to him through the SBA and its network of resource partners,” said Titone. “The partnerships we have established with the Kean University’s SBDC and UCED allow us to help firms like 24/7 Enterprises, LLC reach their potential and achieve the next level of success.”
According to Baptiste the company has nine employees and since 2007 sales have increased 25 percent every year. “My goal is to expand the company nationwide and my strategy is to invest in areas where we have long-term contracts already in place,” said Baptiste. “This way we can maximize the resources that we already have in place and be able to strengthen our position in the marketplace.”
“I feel so grateful for the opportunities and for the help that I have received along the way,” said Baptiste. “Other than the United States, there is no other country on earth where you can make it on your own.”