POMPTON LAKES, NJ---There is no question that Cheryl and Joel Finger have their designs on success. As owners of Graphic Innovations, a full-service graphic design company based in Pompton Lakes, the couple has had their share of successes as entrepreneurs since they started their business in 1986.
After receiving their degrees from the School of Visual Arts, they started as freelance graphic artists in the early 80’s and eventually worked together at an ad agency. When the agency lost a major client, Cheryl and Joel were let go. They continued to work together, eventually forming a partnership in business and later in marriage. Cheryl is the president of the company and Joel is the creative director. “Joel came from the corporate side working for Mercedes Benz and I came from the ad agency side,” said Cheryl. “We both have different styles, yet we each bring something to the table; it works for us.”
Cheryl has always been the one to market the company’s services to potential clients. “Marketing to prospective clients and getting client referrals were all we really needed,” said Cheryl. “That all changed quickly for us when there was a sudden downturn in the economy three years ago. We found that we had to ask ourselves some tough questions. Questions like where are we? And where do we want to go? We opted to stay in the game.”
“We realized that corporate work was changing and that we were losing ground there,” said Cheryl. “So we looked at different revenue streams and we started to look into government contracting.”
To help them sort through the maze of different government contracting programs, Cheryl turned to the New Jersey Small Business Development Center’s (NJSBDC) Procurement Center located at Rutgers University in Newark. The program receives funding from the U.S. Small Business and the state of New Jersey in order to help small business owners who have questions on how to obtain government contracts. It was there that Cheryl met with center director Stephanie Burroughs who provided Cheryl with some guidance and advice on how to get started.
One piece of advice that Burroughs provided Cheryl with was to get registered on the GSA Schedule. “Becoming a Schedules contractor involves significant investments of time and resources,” said Burroughs. “I tell all our clients that their first step is to think it through and to ask themselves the following questions: Do the products and/or services you offer fit with a Schedules solicitation? Can your pricing structure compete with current contractors on GSA Schedules?
For Cheryl and Joel, the answers to those questions were a resounding yes. In order to expedite the process they hired GSA consultant Bob Griffin of Keynote Connections of Dobbs Ferry, NY to make sure they got on the GSA Schedule. “By working with Bob, we were able to get on the GSA Schedule in 10 weeks,” said Cheryl. “We are now on the GSA Schedule 541 with ..erervices Administration and are able to compete for federal contracts in our field.”
The move has certainly paid off for Cheryl and Joel. “Being on the GSA Schedule has allowed us to receive three contracts from the U.S. Department of Justice,” said Cheryl. “The contracts called for us to do photography work of the different departments under the Department of Justice. One contract was quite an elaborate set-up at the Brooklyn Court House involving 150 Department of Justice employees.”
Cheryl and Joel hope it is just the first of many contracts that they receive as a result of being on the GSA Schedule. Today, the firm offers its government and corporate clients a wide array of graphic arts services from their boutique design studio that includes logotypes, branding, illustration, photography, advertising, newsletters, annual reports, point of purchase materials, website design/development, environmental graphics, digital graphics and flash design. Some of Graphic Innovations’ clients include Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Glatt Air Techniques, and Ridgewood Dentistry to name a few.
“We help our clients by bringing extensive industry experience to the table without the high price tag of a large agency” said Joel. “Savvy buyers are thrilled to find the high quality work and personal service that have become synonymous with the Graphic Innovations name.”
According to SBA New Jersey District Director Al Titone, the GSA Schedules program offers great opportunities for small businesses. “The U.S. government is the world's largest buyer of products and services,” said Titone. “Nearly $200 billion a year is spent on purchasing everything from complex space vehicles to janitorial services and paper clips; so why not graphics arts services? Being on the Schedule makes it easier for federal agencies to do business with small businesses like Graphic Innovations.”
“The process can be daunting, but our partnership with the New Jersey Small Business Development Center’s Procurement Center enables us to offer the proper guidance that small business owners like Cheryl and Joel Finger need,” said Titone. “The real credit belongs to them for taking the necessary steps to get on the Schedule and for positioning their company to compete for federal government contracts.”
“Our strategy going forward is to actively seek teaming partnerships with other small businesses who will afford us the opportunity to work and compete for additional federal contracts,” said Cheryl. “Sometimes teaming and subcontracting can lead to receiving additional contracts, as the government likes to award projects to those who provide total solutions.”
It’s a great strategy for seasoned entrepreneurs, who have their designs on success.
FLORENCE TOWNSHIP, NJ---Success is on display everyday for David Dunigan and his employees at Modern Store Equipment, a Florence Township manufacturer and distributor of custom wine racks, shelving and walk in coolers used by retailers of alcohol beverages.
Back in 1958, when the company was first started by Dunigan’s late father Thomas Dunigan, in the basement of his grandmother’s house, the focus was on refrigerated supermarket display cases. While attending Hamilton High School West in 1979, David started working on an installation crew for the family business.
By 1980, Dunigan was working full time for the company, while earning his business degree at Mercer Community College. “By the time I started full time at the company, my dad recognized that our market was shifting from the mom and pop supermarkets to retail liquor stores,” said Dunigan. “Because supermarkets were becoming major entities, there was no way we could have kept up with the growth of that industry; so it only made sense for us to grow with and service retailers in the alcohol beverage industry that were small businesses like ourselves.”
The strategy has certainly paid off for the Dunigan family and Modern Store Equipment. For 32 years, the company had operated out of a space that it owned in Bordentown. However Dunigan realized that the company was outgrowing the space and felt in order to take the company to the next level he needed a larger facility.
After finding the perfect spot in Florence Township, Dunigan realized he was going to need help with financing the project. When he approached his lender First Choice Bank, they immediately put him in touch with the Regional Business Assistance Corporation (RBAC) of Mercerville. RBAC’s Director of Financial Programs Nathalia Giraldo discussed the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 504 Loan program with Dunigan and walked him through the application process.
“The SBA 504 loan is designed to assist small businesses like Modern Store Equipment 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.”
RBAC, an SBA Certified Development Company partnered with the SBA to provide Dunigan with financing for 40 percent of the project, while First Choice Bank provided financing for 50 percent of the project. Dunigan was required to put up 10 percent of the project, which allowed him to purchase the building, rehab the facility and add solar panels to the roof.
“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 First Choice Bank allow the SBA to make 504 financing available to business owners like David Dunigan 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, Modern Store Equipment and its 35 employees are now thriving in their new 24,000 square foot facility in Florence Township. With the SBA loan Dunigan was able to purchase, rehab the building, and add clean solar energy to the facility through the installation of solar panels on the new facility’s roof. It also allowed him to keep the company’s Bordentown facility, which is now used for warehousing.
Together with his wife Lisa, who is the company’s Secretary and Treasurer and his sister Lynda who is the company’s Vice President, Modern Store Company is doing 50 to 60 store installations per year. “Our main customer base is New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland,” said Dunigan. “However some of our work with major chains has taken us to Washington State, Fort Worth, Texas, Colorado, California and Florida.”
“We have done 25,000 square foot designs, layouts and installations for some of the chains,” said Dunigan. “We worked with Total Wine & More when they started in Delaware with one store. They are now the largest wine retailer in the country with 80 stores and we have been involved in every one of the designs and installations.”
According to Dunigan, tractor trailers pull up to the company’s loading docks and custom woodwork displays, fixtures, metal shelving and walk in refrigerators are loaded up and shipped off to the next destination. If the job is outside the area, installers are flown to the location where they coordinate with local crews that the company works with to complete an installation.
“When the economy slowed down, instead of retreating, we took a different tack by aggressively investing in the business,” said Dunigan. “We added a salesman; purchased new automated equipment that makes production faster and more efficient, and we revamped our website, all of which has helped us to substantially grow the business while others were contracting.”
“SBA financing came at a time when we were outgrowing our Bordentown facility and it was the only way we could have expanded into this facility,” said Dunigan. “The building was an eyesore and the SBA funds allowed us to purchase the property and rehab the building. The solar panels also allow us to produce clean energy and have helped us reduce our monthly utility bills and overhead measurably. It has been a win-win for us financially.”
Dunigan also credits the Florence Township officials for making the transition seamless.“They were very supportive of the project and helped us expedite the process so we could get up and running.”
“The business continues to grow,” said Dunigan. “We have positioned ourselves as the experts in the equipment business for the wine and spirits industry. We have doubled the production out of the shop this year and are looking for faster equipment so we can do even more next year.”
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ--- Bruce Lefebvre can now add restaurateur next to his name. A loan he received from the U.S. Small Business Administration in April allowed him to purchase and become the new owner of The Frog and The Peach Restaurant in New Brunswick.
No stranger to the kitchen, Lefebvre has spent the last 11 years as the Executive Chef at the renowned eatery. The opportunity to own the restaurant came about when he was approached by the original owners, the husband and wife team of Betsy Alger and Jim Black, who started the restaurant back in 1983.
For Lefebvre owning a restaurant has been a lifelong dream. His interest in cooking began at age 10, when he and his sisters started making breakfast from recipes they found in their mom’s New York Times Cookbook on Saturday mornings when their parents were fast asleep.
However it wasn’t until he graduated from Wake Forest University with a bachelor’s degree in English that Lefebvre found his true calling. While on a summertrip across the country he decided that he wanted to be a chef. So he enrolled in The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.
Ironically, his first job after graduating from the CIA was at The Frog and The Peach as a line cook. After spending two years at the restaurant, Lefebvre realized that he needed to learn more in order to further develop his skills and career. So he left for New York City, where he worked for Charlie Palmer at Aureole; doing stagieres at Daniel, Lespinasse and other NYC establishments.
In 2000, with more experience under his belt, Lefebvre returned to The Frog and The Peach as a Sous Chef. In 2001, he was named the restaurant’s Executive Chef. So with the opportunity to purchase the restaurant this year, Lefebvre took the necessary steps to turn his dream to reality.
First, Lefebvre had the business valuated by his accountant Roy Kvalo of the Curchin Group. Satisfied with the asking price and confident that he could makethe jump to entrepreneur, he then approached his lender at Two River Community Bank, an SBA Preferred Lender. Paul Orzechowski, the bank’s Vice President for SBA lending walked Lefebvre through the application process. As a result, Lefebvre was able to secure an SBA-backed loan in excess of $750,000 from Two River Community Bank in order to purchase the restaurant.
“Restaurants continue to remain the number one industry that the SBA lends to in New Jersey,” said SBA New Jersey District Director Al Titone. “This loan program is meant for entrepreneurs, like Chef Bruce Lefebvre, who have the experience and the opportunity to take over a restaurant with a following and successful track record; it is a perfect fit.”
According to Titone, the SBA New Jersey district office has approved 89 loans to restaurants for a total of $72.1 million, during the agency's fiscal year 2012 (Ocober 1, 2011 thru September 30, 2012).
“For me, the key to making this a seamless transition was the ability to keep the existing management team in place,” said Lefebvre. He credits and thanks Jim Mullen, general manager and wine director, Jack Tagmouti, banquet and events manager and Marion Palumbo the restaurant’s bookkeeper for keeping everything on track.
Today, the 130 seat restaurant with its 45 employees is still thriving and bustling in a 200 year old industrial building that once housed printing pressesfor The Home News and most recently a manufacturer of leather suitcase handles. Lefebvre is still creating delicious fare like Day Boat Sea Scallops with mango, hot pepper, duck confit, cashews, lemongrass and coconut broth or Pan Roasted Griggstown Chicken Breast with dirty rice, Blue Moon Acres radishes and avocado salad and a mole sauce.
Lefebvre is well known for his modern take on American Cuisine and for staying true to the authenticity of The Garden State’s amazing agriculture and fisheries. He describes his personal cooking style as one with not only a respect for his classical training but also an eagerness to explore and share influences and ingredients from cuisines and cultures across the United States and the world.
“Whenever possible I try to use local ingredients,” said Lefebvre. “We use local purveyors like Blue Moon Acres Farm in Pennington and Griggstown Quail and Farm Market in Somerset County for our poultry. People are savvy of where their food comes from. Certainly, they aren’t looking to overpay for something that is not authentic and great.”
The restaurant is open seven days a week. Monday thru Friday lunch and dinner are served. On the weekends, the restaurant is only open for dinner. “We work hard to cook delicious and creative food, and serve it alongside smart wines and well-crafted cocktails in an energetic and convivial atmosphere,” said Lefebvre. “We change the menu within seasons and let our loyal and diverse clientele round out the vibe.”
“While we are considered an upscale restaurant, we try to appeal to our varied customers,” said Lefebvre. “We have a $19 price fixed lunch menu that attracts corporate clients. We also have a pre-theatre fixed price menu from 5:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. for $42.”
According to Lefebvre, The Frog and The Peach also offers Tapas in the Garden with Spanish Wine and Sherry every Friday starting at 5:30 p.m. in the summer.
“Our Tapas events are a way for our diners to get two of three bites of food, but also allows them to try eight or more offerings at a time,” said Lefebvre. “We also offer our annual 5 Course Peach Tasting for $59. I like to think there is a little something for everyone.”
While the rigors of running a restaurant seven days a week can be challenging, Lefebvre says he doesn’t take his work home with him. Living in New Brunswick also allows him to occasionally leave the restaurant in between servings to spend some time with his wife and children.
“I think the biggest change for me since taking over the restaurant is that I am checking daily and weekly financial reports,” said Lefebvre. “I come out of the kitchen and interact with the customers more, but other than that nothing has changed all that much for me. I am still passionate about cooking and providing a hospitable dining experience.”
“I am truly fortunate that I have the ability do something that I love,” said Lefebvre. “Certainly being an entrepreneur can be a wild ride. Owning a restaurant is more like a rollercoaster.”
Lefebvre is still able to create in the kitchen and serve his signature dishes. Only this time as an entrepreneur he finds that success is now on the menu.