Opportunity is when hard work and luck collide. No one knows this better than Jason Cohen, President of ILM Corporation, a Fredericksburg, Va., company that provides document data entry, scanning, indexing and clerical services to large corporations, banks, universities and federal agencies.
ILM has experienced many ups and downs since Cohen’s father founded the company in Jamaica in 1976 with two other partners and entrepreneurial support from Cohen’s mother. In 1978, ILM relocated to Fredericksburg, establishing a sales office that supported the Jamaican data entry operation. The business eventually grew to 600 employees in multiple offices.
Cohen joined the family business after graduating from Old Dominion University in 1991 and entered into a difficult phase of the company’s history. By the end of the decade the bottom fell out on the industry due to a seismic shift in technology and work place attitudes. The company was reduced to six employees with one office and the Jamaican operation was closed.
Learning from past mistakes, Cohen bought the business in 2001 and rebuilt it using a different business model, taking advantage of technological advances, outsourcing and a changing workforce. Seizing upon Fredericksburg’s central location and close proximity to Washington, D.C., he shifted its focus toward federal contracts.
Cohen gained extensive expertise in the government contracting arena through his certification in SBA’s 8(a) business development program. Recognized as leading expert in document conversion and management, he expanded his private sector client base with federal agencies, including Homeland Security, the State Department, Department of Defense, Social Security and NASA, among many others. As he approached graduation from the 8(a) program in 2012, he again repositioned the company by relocating its office to Fredericksburg’s newly designated city-wide SBA HUBZone, becoming its first HUBZone certified firm.
Despite the company’s contracting success, Cohen faced more obstacles after expanding too fast into a new document shredding venture. A high overhead led to heavy debt which ultimately impacted the core document scanning business due to decreased investment in sales and marketing. After several years of declining sales, Cohen sold the document shredding business and restructured two major contracts to strengthen cash flow and once again turned around the company. Since 2005, ILM’s sales have increased more than threefold, reaching $2.6 million with 29 employees in 2011.
ILM launched the economic revitalization of a key business district in downtown Fredericksburg when it relocated to the city’s new HUBZone last year. Utilizing a SBA 504 loan in collaboration with local real estate and Technology Zone tax credits and a façade improvement grant, Cohen redeveloped a dormant service station into a modern office space.
Cohen has been active in numerous business organizations throughout his career, including Rotary, the Fredericksburg Technology Council, The Association of Work Process Improvement, Entrepreneurs Organization, the Association of Imaging and Information Management, the Fredericksburg Triathlon Club and his church. The company has actively supported the Fredericksburg Academy and the Community Foundation.
Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. Jason Cohen and ILM Corporation have faced adversity head on and learned many entrepreneurial lessons along the way. Today ILM Corporation is positioned for sustained growth with a seasoned leader who is better prepared to face every challenge ahead.
Building A Legacy – Clem’s Garage
For Dennis Clem, running a service station has always been a family affair. It started when he was a young boy sitting next to his father in a tow truck responding to calls from stranded drivers. Years later Dennis’ own son, Bill, would sneak down and sleep across the front door so his father would have to wake him up when a call came in.
Clem’s Garage was opened back in the 1940’s when servicing tractors from the local farms was bigger business than servicing cars. Dennis remembers whole families would come into town with the tractors and spend the day visiting friends and picnicking next to the garage while the technicians completed their repairs and maintenance. But Dennis’ fondest memories were of the pool table his Dad had at the garage where farmers would play to pass the time. Dennis learned how to play pool from one of those farmers and enjoyed spending time watching and playing with the men who visited his Dad’s garage. Clem’s garage was more than just a service station, it was a gathering point for the community, and the center of the universe for Dennis and his six other brothers and sisters.
As a teenager Dennis received his qualifications to conduct state inspections and started working for his father. Eventually his father retired and turned the garage over to Dennis and three other of his siblings. The technology changed, cars and not tractors became the mainstay of the business, and the service station expanded into a larger garage, more tow trucks, but the same family with the same commitment to the community. Eventually Dennis’ two sons Bill and Craig had started working for Clem’s Garage. Like their father, they started by sweeping floors and running errands until they were old enough to get their state inspection license and starting working on cars. The small family garage became a growing mainstay in Winchester and by 2010 had become a repair and maintenance garage with 4 bays, a towing service with 8 trucks, and employed close to 30 people.
The Clem family believed in paying for everything in cash so with each expansion or new building they saved and bought what they could afford. But in 2010 Dennis saw an opportunity to create more than just a great family owned service station; he saw the opportunity to create a legacy. After talking with his siblings it was decided that Dennis would buy out his brother and sisters. While that decision was simple enough; to complete the buyout Dennis would need to do something that Clem’s Garage had never done its more than 60-year history, borrow money. To reserve working capital and maintain its flexibility to expand and grow in the future, Dennis looked at acquiring a loan to complete the buyout and retain ownership of the company. He looked to his local banker to help guide him through new challenge of obtaining a loan. Due to the size of the loan and the collateral requirements, Dennis’ local bank contacted Dave Phillips with Wells Fargo bank to help complete the deal. Clem’s Garage was in a good financial position, had plenty of collateral with equity, but being in a service industry made it a risky loan for most banks. Dave recognized this and called upon the Small Business Administration’s lending program to provide the guarantee that would make the buyout possible. The 7(a) Program is SBA's primary lending program. It provides loan guaranties for small businesses unable to secure financing on reasonable terms through normal lending channels. The program operates through private-sector lenders who provide loans which are, in turn, guaranteed by the SBA. A maximum loan amount of $5 million has been established for 7(a) loans. The eligibility requirements are designed to be as broad as possible in order that this lending program can accommodate the most diverse variety of small business financing needs. Thanks to the Small Business Jobs Act, the loan to Clem’s Garage carried a 90% guaranty to Wells Fargo Bank and business was not required to pay the SBA guaranty fee, a savings of over $30,000 to the business.
Today Dennis Clem owns and operates Clem’s Garage with both his sons and five grandchildren as part of the overall staff. The operation has truly become a family affair. Dennis and his sons Craig and Bill built homes on the 10 acres that include the service station and main office building. And one of the best upgrades to the location is the conference room that Dennis remodeled this year. There is a conference table and chairs where Dennis meets with his grandchildren once a week to provide mentorship and hear their ideas on how to improve the business. There is a kitchen for large family meals that often happen when someone has to work late. He’s even built a room above the office to serve as an apartment for one of his grandchildren. But with all the changes and remodeling, the pool table that served as the hub of activity some 60 years ago still has a place in the corner of the new room and still draws a pretty good crowd. What used to serve as a gathering place for the community, now serves as an ongoing legacy for one man’s family. The art of passing down a trade to multiple generations in one family is becoming more and more a thing of the past. And that might have been the case for the Clem family if Dennis had not had the vision to create a business centered on just that. Dennis Clem has built a successful business that has continued to serve the community for over 60 years, but what he is most proud of is building a legacy for his family.
Martin-Star Cabinetry and Design, LLC
1610 W. Main Street
Richmond, VA 23220
Martin-Star Cabinetry started as a sole-proprietorship in 2005. The owner, Joshua Kayer, had no formal training as a cabinet maker but loved the creative process and challenges from taking pieces of wood and turning them into functional and beautiful pieces of art. Prior to starting this business, Mr. Kayer was a member of a very successful rock band, traveling the country, and recording under Madonna’s record label. He always knew he wanted to eventually settle down and have a family, and that he needed a “Plan B”. His “Plan B” evolved into Martin-Star. Mr. Kayer has entrepreneurship in his blood. His great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were entrepreneurs, running Mama Kayer’s bakery in Norfolk for over 100 years before selling it in 2007. Josh said that he always knew that one day he would run his own business.
Like most small businesses, sales and profits were meager in the beginning, and for most of the first few years, the business consisted of Josh and 1-2 creative folks he employed on an as-needed basis. Revenues began to grow in 2007, at which time he converted to a LLC and hired more staff. He also took on some of his first commercial work, providing cabinetry and seating for area restaurants. It was during this time that Fulton Bank began to work with Josh, using an SBA guaranteed loan to provide the financing he needed to grow his business.
His reputation for quality craftsmanship and timely completion of his jobs helped Josh grow the business even through a time of unprecedented economic turmoil, and in 2010 the bank provided him additional funding (again on a SBA-guaranteed basis), to enable him to update his shop and purchase additional equipment to help him meet the needs of his clients.
The 7(a) Program is SBA's primary lending program. It provides loan guaranties for small businesses unable to secure financing on reasonable terms through normal lending channels. The program operates through private-sector lenders who provide loans which are, in turn, guaranteed by the SBA. A maximum loan amount of $5 million has been established for 7(a) loans. The eligibility requirements are designed to be as broad as possible in order that this lending program can accommodate the most diverse variety of small business financing needs.
According to Mike Austin, senior vice president of Fulton Bank, “It has been exciting to watch Mr. Kayer grow this business from an idea to a viable small business, and none of the funding he needed to grow would have been available without the support of the SBA via its various loan programs.”
Mr. Kayer noted that without the SBA loan programs he would not have been able to secure the financing he needed to grow his business and he also added, “Mike Austin has been a great asset to our business.”