When Tia Love was a 10-year-old kid living nearby the Applewood Golf Course in Ralston, she would spend summer days bolting down the fairways, wading into the ponds to retrieve errant balls to sell them back to the golfers at 25 cents apiece.
These days, she’s still hustling business for her own North Omaha-based Love Enterprises, and last year revenues for her companies under that corporate umbrella hit a combined $275,000. An owner of a retail store, salon, construction company, rental property management and lead paint abatement consulting firm, she often heads straight from work at a steamy construction site in tee-shirt, jeans and a ballcap to handle other parts of her businesses. It’s apparent she’s come a long way from selling second-hand golf balls.
“She’s very entrepreneurial with diverse interests,” said Vicki Wilson Tederman, executive director of the Omaha Small Business Network, who over the years has offered Love guidance on growth, tax filing, and advice on tracking the flow of cash through her different ventures.
From a young age, Love had a mind for business
Love’s entrepreneurial spirit grew in junior high and high school, when she would purchase wholesale candy and sell it to her fellow students at a markup. By 17, she was heading to Arizona to bring back niche items not yet available in Nebraska to resale at Omaha area flea markets and festivals. She expanded that Arizona-to-Omaha pipeline, reselling classic cars kept rust-free in the dry desert climate. Four years later, she opened a storefront in the city’s quirky Benson neighborhood where she found a wholesaler in California ship to Nebraska low-rider bikes and pedal cars, popular retail items which had caught on in other parts of the country.
She hit a snag after a move to a place on 72nd Street and adding airbrushing services to the mix didn’t work out. But Love rebounded by taking a class at the area YWCA to learn construction trades: electrical, painting, plumbing and carpentry. One instructor mentioned opportunities in lead abatement inspecting, so she eventually earned a license as a lead supervisor risk assessor inspector.
With experience running a retail and construction business, Love looked for her next opportunity. She found it in 2004 while working with another company with an office at OSBN’s Business and Technology Center at 24th and Lake, and later moved into her own space.
Love’s construction firm had won a handful of contracts with the city, but needed the cushion to handle the 60-to-90 day lag in payment; she turned to OSBN for a microloan to purchase materials and enough working capital to handle payroll expenses.
“She has a good business head,” Wilson Tederman said in admiration. “We’ve only honed those innate entrepreneurial skills she has."
OSBN offered guidance and financing
One of four micro-lenders in Nebraska to use a loan from the SBA at favorable rates to expand access to capital to start-up businesses and firms in underserved markets, OSBN has made nine microloans this year at an average of nearly $30,000 each to entrepreneurs in its target area east of 72nd Street. Wilson Tederman said the microloan program is a non-traditional means of loaning capital to businesses denied credit by financial institutions.
“One goal is to develop these borrowers into viable businesses that can then acquire financing from financial institutions going forward,” the OSBN executive director added. “We develop bankable entities.”
While OSBN offers spaces at the 24th and Lake building serving as a small business development center to up-and-coming business, there’s a limit to their generosity for area entrepreneurs. There is an expectation after a period of discounted rent for their business that tenants will grow into an “anchor,” paying market price for the office space, something Love has done.
Last year, Love’s company served as a subcontractor on a huge project excavating yards for lead abatement work as part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund declaration in Omaha, which affected some 15,000 homes in the eastern part of the city. Already enrolled with the federal government’s Central Contractor Registry, Love is pursuing further federal contracting opportunities, seeking certification as a minority-owned and 8(a) business to leverage set-aside contracts to greater success.
In addition to financing help from OSBN, Love credit’s the non-profit for offering her business accounting services and credits vital networking events for helping her continue to grow.
“It’s a great way to find out about the different things going on in the era and get others’ perspective on things,” she added.
Always on the hunt for more opportunities
Love also has a real estate business, buying run-down properties at bargain prices, “fixing them up,” she explained, making them available for rent and expanding the pool of affordable housing in the city.
Last October, Love took out another microloan from OSBN to open and hire a manager for Rare, a full-service salon and boutique on south 13th Street in the Old Market tabbed as “Hollywood in the Heartland.”
And if that wasn’t enough, she acquired a commercial building and a dealer’s license to open what she calls an “auto spa for cars,” not only to sell vehicles but provide customers with detailing and customization services.
“Sometimes, it’s just hard to find sources to give you the capital you need. That’s where OSBN came in. They were the ones there for me,” said Love, who added that she also has put “a lot” of her own money into her projects.
These days, she’s spending time on a business plan that will get larger, SBA-backed financing to expand her enterprise even further.
“Definitely have a plan and map out your goals,” Love said. “Stay encouraged, find people to support you and always look around to find new information about opportunities out there. There might be people around you who are negative, so stay true to your goals, don’t let them talk you out of what you want to do. Stay committed and work hard until you see your vision through. If you want to do something, do it. I say it’s one percent the idea, 99 percent sweat.”