When Colin Burgos left the Marine Corps in 2005 after eight years of service as an infantryman, including a deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he knew there was a need for the type of business he would later start in 2007. Camp Pendleton-based Marines were flocking to off-base retailers and online stores to purchase tactical equipment such as load bearing vests, ammunition pouches, slings, holsters, and hydration systems to help make their jobs easier, spending hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets on mission-specific gear that they feel is more customized to suit their needs than basic issue gear from the military supply system.
“Those that serve in the military during a time of war, like now, can undergo multiple combat deployments and have a better idea of the gear that works for them and the gear that doesn’t,” Colin elaborates. “The basic issued gear list is sufficient, but, on the other hand, it is what it is: basic, and not customized to suit each individual.”
Colin knew that the idea made good business sense, as the needs of these customers were not being fully addressed by the military surplus stores that pepper the vicinity around Camp Pendleton. Some of the gear was available online, but a common complaint was that there was no physical location to allow the Marines to handle the gear before making their purchase decision.
Armed with this knowledge, Colin spent nearly a year researching the business he wanted to form and about six months drafting a thorough business plan. Not knowing anyone who had gone through the start-up process, Colin went about it in typical Marine fashion, by doing everything himself – from branding the store to generating the financial pro-formas.
He readily admits that he didn’t know what to expect while trying to obtain financing for his start-up, having never applied for a loan other than for a vehicle. “Quite frankly, I didn’t know the ins and outs of running a retail operation, but I did learn how to set up and accurately fire a 60mm mortar as a 17 year-old “boot” Marine. I figured I could learn anything if it was something I was interested in.”
Though his first attempts at getting his start-up business financed were rejected by several lenders due to a lack of collateral, a call placed to the SBA’s Santa Ana District Office informed him of a then-new loan guaranty program, called Patriot Express. The next day he spoke with a small business loan officer at US Bank, and within two weeks he was approved for a $250,000 SBA-backed small business loan. Combat Ready USA (CRUSA) opened the doors to its first retail location in San Clemente, CA on December 16, 2007.
Three years later, he’s been pleased with the overall sales growth, having added three employees and a handful of independent contractors along the way, many of which were hired from the Wounded Warrior Battalion. “By working with Combat Ready they get to work with like-minded veterans and remain close to the brotherhood we all enjoyed while on active duty.”
“I’m a strong believer in allowing customers to influence how we do business,” Colin adds. It’s for that reason that he set up a sponsorship program to allow private donors to support individual troops and units. “There are a lot of patriotic organizations that send out food, hygiene products, and magazines to our front line troops, but our records show that each troop spends $200-$300 on new equipment within thirty days of their overseas tour. This program relieves troops that are financially challenged and allows them to attain the gear they need without sacrificing quality.” Twenty percent of the proceeds from this program are donated to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, a 501c(3) dedicated to providing immediate financial support for injured members of the U.S. armed forces and their families.
With this focus on providing superior customer service, it’s no small wonder Colin’s company is flourishing.
“In five years I see Combat Ready USA becoming a bigger player in our industry, yet remaining a small business. I’ve been pursuing a few programs and certifications to enhance our eligibility for more government contracts, and I think those will be instrumental to our growth.”
SBA’s Patriot Express loan guaranty program has helped thousands of veterans like Colin to start or expand their business. Featuring one of SBA’s fastest turnaround times for loan approvals, Patriot Express loans are available for up to $500,000 and can be used for most business purposes, including start-up, expansion, equipment purchase, working capital, inventory or business-occupied real estate purchases. Eligible individuals include veterans, active-duty military members eligible for the Transition Assistance Program, Reservists and National Guard members, as well as the spouses of any of these groups. Established on a pilot basis, the popular program was recently extended for three more years. For a list of our participating lenders, please contact the Santa Ana District Office at (714) 560-7420.