Anne-Marie Faiola turned a soap-making hobby into a multimillion-dollar business called Bramble Berry. From shea butter to lavender essential oil to palm oil, Bramble Berry now sells raw materials to soap and toiletry artisans worldwide. She practices what she preaches. “A good business comes from finding something that works and capitalizing on it…Success doesn’t happen overnight…It’s about replicating small victories every day.”
In 1998 when Anne-Marie Faiola was 20 years old and still in college, she pursued entrepreneurship-- her soap making hobby-turned-into-business quickly bubbled beyond her living room. A driving force for Anne-Marie and the company is her sincere love of the craft coupled with a desire to help others. Her mission statement is to “provide creative empowerment with LOVE – changing Lives, creating Opportunities, delivering high Value, and encouraging creative Expression through the five senses.”
With over 2500 products, Bramble Berry enables artisans to create everything from soaps to lotions to lip balms to mineral-based makeup and candles. Expanding beyond Bramble Berry’s niche, Anne-Marie also operates Otion (lotion without the “L”) - a retail store where she also offers workshops to teach customers the soap making techniques, and ELF Industrial - a soap mold manufacturing company.
Harnessing social media has strengthened customer relationships leading to increased sales because “people buy from people they like.” Anne-Marie blogs on her website, SoapQueen.com; has launched a YouTube channel called Soap Queen TV to share free instructional videos; tweets for @BrambleBerry with small business advice and soapy musings; and has a Facebook site with over 4,600 fans and loyal customers.
An SBA 504 loan from People’s Bank and Northwest Business Development Association enabled Faiola to acquire her own 13,000 square foot office and warehouse building in Bellingham, and later to expand it by 3,500 square feet. Bramble Berry has been profitable for all 13 years of the company’s existence. The sustained financial performance is a testament to her business acumen. Dynamic, double-digit growth in sales from multiple income streams now generates annual revenue of about $3 million. Faiola has 32 employees, serves on numerous boards, and annually gives back about 8% of profits to charitable causes.
With her high-energy work style, integrity, desire to connect with the business community, and passion for the soap business, Anne-Marie Faiola is likely to clean up in the soap industry for years to come!
In late 2008, Jody Hall, like her cupcakes, rose to the occasion. Increasing demand for her cakes offered at her three Cupcake Royale locations challenged her capacity to satisfy it. In addition, the volume of her catering and wholesale merchandising was also dramatically rising. New facilities were in order, and in a new location. With her confectionary imprint in almost every key Seattle neighborhood—West Seattle, Ballard, Madrona—there was one outstanding—and inevitable—opportunity for Jody: Capital Hill.
The Hill is a dense, popular, highly cultured and affluent area in Seattle, a perfect fit for the warm, communal ambience characterizing Cupcake Royale. And soshe came to pass, on the Hill, the perfect space: East Pike Street, ensconced at street level in a brand new commercial condominium complex, spacious enough not only for a new café, but also for the wholesale cupcake production facility and the office space from which she could manage the business. Perfect. And available! But there was another capital hill to climb—financing. Traditional loans were daunting (“I couldn’t find the (required) 20 percent down.”) But, as Jody had proven previouslyin her background, where there’s a will there’s a way. Initiated as a barista into the Starbucks’ habitat, Jody earned her spurs, learning much about operations and management, as well as embracing the company’s customer-driven “one cup at a time” recipe for success. It was inevitable, as she advanced through the ranks that she would branch out. Nourished visions usually do.
Taking the plunge six years ago, Jody fortunately was able to marshal her own seed capital, opening her first shop, Coffee Verite. Offering an array of choice coffees, it hit the ground(s) running. And what goes perfectly with coffee? Cake, of course, and, in Jody’s case, cakes. Specialty cupcakes originated in New York City in the late 90s, their popularity marooned there—UNTIL Jody took the plunge in 2005. Novice that she was in the world of commercial baking, she had confidence that quality would sell itself, and resolved to offer the best possible cakes available to complement her coffees. With quality as her guiding principle, she pursued a variety of original, unique flavors—Orange U-glad (introducing citrus into the mix), coconut bunny, chocolate triple threat— for the regular menu, as well as introducing seasonal selections such as (for the current year) eggnog (real eggnog butter cream swirled onto vanilla butter cakes topped with holiday sprinkles and freshly ground nutmeg), candy cane (wintry peppermint butter cream cresting vanilla or chocolate cakes topped with starlight mints), among others. And confidence, when well placed, always pays off.
In just a couple of years, by word-of-mouth, shrewd marketing, and savvy business know-how, she tripled her locations, and enjoyed solid success. So much so, that by late 2008, it was bursting at the seams. It was at this point that Jody recognized the need to expand and with it the need for financing. In the matter of just connecting the “dots” (the “do’s” and “don’ts” in accessing the appropriate funding), Michael Gaberman at Pacific Continental, was crucial. He introduced her to the SBA 504 loan program (a low down payment and fixed rate) via Evergreen Business Capital. “The down payment was only 10 percent, plus the terms on the 504 loan were locked in for 20 years.” The entire process turned out to be a capital experience all around. Jody raves about her negotiations with Evergreen’s loan officer, Pat Rogers. “I LOVED my experience working with her. She was thorough, up front, nice to work with and great at clarifying any questions. It was a stellar experience. Honestly! Thanks, Pat!” Eighteen new employees can also add their thanks to Pat. The funding enabled Jody to add them to her payroll, and, in turn, increase revenues by 28 percent at the new location. Prior to receiving her 504 loan, Jody had already been enjoying the sweet smell of success with her gourmet coffees and one-of-a-kind cupcake creations (which topped a 2008 Seattle Weekly’s poll for the “Best Cupcakes” in Seattle). With the financing, being able to address a panoply of needs with one fell swoop, has just been frosting on her cake(s).
Ace Hardware of Silver Lake opened its doors in July thanks to SBA’s 7(a) loan program. Gary Skrla was laid off from his corporate job and headed to the SBA office in Seattle to discuss his business ideas with Ed Milan, a SCORE representative. After a few counseling sessions, he decided to follow his dream and open a hardware store. His past hardware industry experience helped him decide the ACE Hardware franchise would be a good fit.
He found the perfect location in Everett – a new strip mall in the Silver Lake neighborhood and worked out the tenant improvements details. Timing is everything. Skrla took advantage of the new lending incentives of increased guarantees and reduced fees. He worked out the details in his loan application and received financing through Seattle-based Fortune Bank and the SBA 7(a) Loan Program. Lisa Forrest, vice president with Fortune Bank said, “Gary is a perfect example of what can be done with an SBA loan. He has an incredible range of experience including working in the hardware, lumber and nursery business. He has always wanted his own business. The Silver Lake area is growing and was ready for additional services and the 20 jobs the new store will generate are welcome, too.”
As part of the Recovery Act, SBA temporarily eliminated fees paid by the borrowers in the 7(a) program. The bank decision to provide an SBA 7(a) loan for $879,000 resulted in a savings of $19,777 in waived fees. This helped to get the inventory needed and provided the working capital to have the store open on time. “I wish I had done this sooner,” Skrla said. “It’s not that difficult; we are not six months into it and look where we are at.” Hard work and perseverance paid off for Skrla. He did his research, knew the industry, hired experienced staff, and sought out business assistance.