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SBA Helps Unify Company Under One Roof


When Elliott Henry arrived in St. Louis in the late 1950s, he had $35 in his pocket and a burning desire to land a factory job. With patience and a lot of determination Elliott landed his dream job at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Company as a utility worker. But despite, good pay and benefits and constant recognition for his work, something was missing. Little did he know that a call for help from a local cleaning company was about to take his life in a completely different direction.   

After responding to a help-wanted ad in his neighborhood, Elliott took on a part-time job at a local janitorial company. He enjoyed the work so much that he often worked a full 8-hour shift after leaving his day job at McDonnell Douglas. He learned the cleaning business first hand and attended evening seminars to expand his leadership skills. His hard work and dedication paid off in the form of a promotion to vice president of the janitorial company, enabling Elliott to leave his day job at McDonnell Douglas. He learned the business so well that when the company’s owner was ready to sell, Elliott was ready to buy. When the deal fell through he decided to give notice and branch out on his own. He developed a business plan, received a business license and had networking cards printed. To help fund his new business, Elliott received a small SBA 7(a) loan of $10,000. The 7(a) Loan is the SBA’s primary business loan and is the agency’s most frequently used loan program because of its flexibility. It was just the final ingredient Elliott needed to launch Maintenance Unlimited Janitorial, Inc.

“I had gotten my foot in the door of large businesses and got a lot of large contracts. Things were rolling along great,” Elliott said.

The janitorial company was doing quite well when another opportunity presented itself.

More than words

“We had a janitorial contract with an oil company at the time and I was in their office one evening and noticed everyone was running around trying to get water brought in for the weekend,” Elliott recalls. “In the early 80s, unions would completely shut down a job site if no drinkable water was available to employees working outdoors.”

Elliott knew how to fix the problem and without a second thought he confidently uttered words that would launch his business in a profitable new direction.

“I told them if they let me bid on the water contract they would not be running around on a Friday evening trying to get water brought in,” he said.

Those were just words at the time as Elliott had no experience as a water distributor.

“I didn’t know a thing about water but I did know a company that would help me and push me over the threshold.”

Fueling Elliott’s confidence was his belief that he could do a better job than the company that had previously held his client’s water contract.

“They would call the office first thing in the morning and report that their truck had broken down and they would not be delivering water that day. Plus, their equipment was so dirty it looked like they were hauling junk instead of water.”

With the bar set so low, it wasn’t difficult for Elliott to figure out what to do.

A water processing company is born

He worked with a local dairy company that agreed to package clean water and haul it in by the truck load to be iced down and placed in coolers by Elliott’s crew.

“They packaged water for me until I could set-up shop and get a building,” he said.

Elliott purchased two trucks and placed refrigeration bodies on them and named his new venture Unlimited Water Processing, Inc. Before long his company was making its own plastic bottles and delivering water by the truckload to such companies as Conrail, Union Pacific and Metro Rail in Chicago.

Two companies, two headaches

The birth of Unlimited Water Processing did not mean the end of Elliott’s janitorial business. In fact, both businesses were doing exceptionally well and he personally oversaw the operations of both. But by 2011, one blistering problem had come to a head.

“We were operating out of four buildings that were down the street from each other. Productivity would drop when employees would see me leave one building to go visit another. Communication wasn’t very good between the four locations either,” he remembers.

SBA to the rescue

It was very apparent that the two companies needed to be merged under one roof. But an unexpected road block threatened to prevent that from happening—the need for additional funds.

“The banks just said no. You can have millions of dollars running through your bank and $1 million in retirement funds and they will still tell you no,” Elliott said.

His real estate broker led him to Great Southern Bank, based in Springfield, Mo. Great Southern, an SBA lender, introduced Elliott to the SBA 504 loan.

“Dealing with the SBA made the banks want to be our friend. When they found out the SBA was backing a portion of our loan, suddenly they all wanted to be our banker,” Elliott laughs. 

“Once the SBA was involved the process was so easy. Everything just fell in line.  When you’re arguing with contractors all day about paint and other elements of building a new facility, the last thing you want to worry about is whether or not the bank is going to cover you when the contractors need to be paid.”

Elliott has nothing but praise for his working relationship with the SBA and for the constant communication with the St. Louis District Office.

“They’re always checking in to see if there’s anything we need and they always let us know about upcoming events. We’re so happy to have met the right people at the right time,” he said.

So happy together

In addition to making it easier to continue making payroll while paying for the construction of his new facility, Elliott’s 504 Loan had an even more lasting impact on his employees.

 “They feel like they’re part of a team now. When we were operating in the four separate buildings it was a hassle and we had such a communication gap. Now they’re happier, more unified and their performance is outstanding. SBA is the way to go!”