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504 loan helps father-and-son company open new doors to success

Bob Hunter Sr. and Bob Hunter Jr.

If you walked into S&J Door and asked for Bob Hunter, you’d need to clarify your request. The father and son team who started the company share not only a name, but adjacent offices, decades of industry experience, and a firm commitment to customer service. To simplify communications, the men have long gone by the nicknames of Senior and Junior, which inspired their company name of S&J Door.

The Frankfort, Illinois, commercial door supplier installs, maintains, and repairs automatic doors, steel security doors and frames, commercial hardware, commercial overhead and high-speed doors, and bathroom partitions and other related accessories for clients throughout Chicagoland.

Bob Hunter Senior and Junior previously worked together at another door company, and Senior had more than two decades of experience. But changes at that company drove the pair to depart. “It was a difference in business opinions,” said Junior, who had been in sales. “When you come to work every day, you should feel excited.”

Although they hadn’t quit to form their own company – in fact, they felt confident they could quickly join another already in business – the pair realized that they possessed a unique degree of knowledge about their industry and customer base. With that foundation, the team incorporated, first working out of their own houses, and quickly found that their satisfied customers were referring others to them, as well. Their 24-hour repair service also guaranteed that the phone kept ringing. One of the company’s first large accounts came after five other vendors bid on pieces of a project, but S&J bid on the whole thing – and won by $500. Advertisements displaying their work on that project covered company trucks for months after, bringing in even more business. “You’ve got to be careful how big you get,” Junior said. “But we’ve never had a slowdown.”

As sales grew, the team did as well – the business now has 26 employees, including Senior and Junior. From 2007-12, the company was self-funded, but S&J began a relationship with CNB Bank & Trust of Oak Forest that would ultimately help it to grow in a variety of ways. “Larger banks wouldn’t come out to see us,” Junior said. “We didn’t fit in their matrix.”

From CNB, S&J got a credit line, which allowed the purchase of more trucks, as well as a cushion to accommodate the fact that many of their customers are sometimes slow to pay. When the owners realized they needed more physical space (the office had originally housed a logistics company), they reached out to Dan Walsh, vice president and senior commercial loan officer at CNB.

“We would have 13 or 14 vehicles loading out of just one overhead in the warehouse,” Junior said. “We were losing money with all the overtime.”

CNB saw an opportunity to expand and renovate the facility using the Small Business Administration’s 504 Loan Program, which provides long-term, fixed-rate, subordinate mortgage financing for major fixed assets such as equipment or real estate. The SBA’s 504 Certified Development Companies (CDCs) work with banks and other lenders to make loans in first position on reasonable terms, helping to reduce risk to lenders and allowing borrowers to contribute a smaller down payment and access favorable interest rates. Wessex 504 Corp. of Northfield, Ill., served as the CDC facilitating CNB’s loan to S&J Door.

“This loan transaction blends the elements that allow a 504 loan to work,” said Karen Lennon, president of Wessex 504 Corp. “We had a borrower, S&J Door, with a good management team that had a strong plan; a banker, CNB’s Dan Walsh, who recognized the potential and knew the 504 loan was the device; and, of course, Wessex 504 Corp., the CDC that could help make the possibilities a reality. The 504 loan is ideal for this type of situation.”

Senior and Junior recognize just how important the 504 loan has been to the health and future of their company. With the expansion complete, the duo can reflect on the scale of their growth – sales went from under $500,000 in the company’s first year to $3.9 million in 2015 – and the potential for the future. Above all, they value the personal connections, both with customers and employees, that staying small allows them to maintain. “Our name and our word is our bond,” Junior said.

S&J also has another built-in advantage: the contrasting, complementary styles of Senior and Junior. The differing approaches of father and son have clearly endeared them to their customers and played a key role in their success.

“I tiptoe through a minefield; he runs through it,” Senior said.

“I don’t ever want to go through life wondering what could have happened,” his son replied.

Company Name: 
S&J Door
Frankfort, Illinois