If you're a company in Nebraska importing key components of your small manufacturing business, there's a bunch of things that can mess up your supply chain, costing you money and perhaps even employees their jobs. Fortunately, thanks to a loan from the SBA, there's a small business in North Omaha which takes special care to smooth out those kinks in the chain.
New Venture Brokers, off 30th Street in Omaha's historic Florence neighborhood, is a woman-owned business which supports inbound shipments for around 80 different firms across the Cornhusker State each month. And from the moment you walk in their modest storefront, you know this is a different kind of business--for one, as they answer the phones and track shipments, there are a couple of pet cats roaming around the modest office furniture.
"We handle all the documentation to clear customs in the port of Omaha," explained co-owner Jill Lorsch, "but we can do the job for any firm in any location in the country." Some are big firms; many, Lorsch said, are "little guys who maybe do a shipment a month." Along with the firm's three co-owners, they also depend on another full-time employee and a part-timer to help with the paperwork.
Doing a little extra to help Nebraska businesses
Among their clients is Great Finds, a business in Holmesville, southeast of Beatrice, which offers whimsical and colorful home decorations for the holidays and year-round. In getting their products to about 75 craft shows across the country each year, Great Finds sends designs to 30 factories in China to produce prototypes for importing back to this country; the company's owners spend up to 100 days in China ensuring the prototypes match their design's quality.
Then there's Automatic Equipment Manufacturing in Pender, an SBA certified HUBZone participant and serves as the towing products division of Blue Ox, a huge fabricator of steering, towing, hitching and braking systems. The company imports raw material parts from Taiwan and China to manufacture loaders, lifts, motorcycle and sport carriers, towbars and much more to a network of retailers throughout the country and around the world.
New Venture Brokers also works with area department stores Gordman's and Nebraska Furniture Mart.
"Our clients do the importing, we just handle the documents," Lorsch said.
That means this small firm assumes all debt for an import shipment, including the duties, or tax charged by the government on imports. Lorsch said her company "babysits" the freight through each step of the complicated process, often finding a "forwarder," an agent arranging cargo movements to an international destination, and ensuring the shipments make it on a steamship for the trip to this country. But the job doesn't end there.
"You only have so much time to pay the duties and costs for customers on their behalf," Lorsch said. "Under no circumstances can you miss that." And because New Venture Brokers tracks their customer's inbound shipments so carefully, they end up saving their client's thousands of dollars in storage fees.
But assuming the cost of the shipment and import duties until their clients pay their invoice can be scary. There are freight costs, trucking fees, courier charges—and import duties add up quickly.
"If I showed you our receivables," co-owner Pam Feyerherm said, trailing off. "... it's a lot."
"We do quite a bit of alcohol importing," said co-owner Traci Woolsoncroft. "The internal revenue tax could be as much as $25,000 on one shipment. Even though a normal importer will pay just duty fees. We have a lot of money going in and out every month."
Turning to the SBA to help with cash flow
Realizing that the brokerage business needed a line of credit to handle those bumps in its cash flow, New Venture turned to First State Bank and Tom Clabaugh, vice president for commercial lending at First State Bank.
"Our banker was one who could read between the lines of our application," Lorsch said. "He trusted us from the get-go and was on board in the first 30 minutes of meeting us. He was bound and determined to make this deal happen."
As a result, New Venture Brokers was approved for a line of credit under the SBA's 7(a) program in Sept. 2009. First State Bank remains a strong supporter of small business in Nebraska, shepherding more than 17 loan approvals through the SBA process since.
Clabaugh credited Amy McCabe, assistant operations manager, with helping New Venture Brokers set up their depository needs with a “remote deposit capture,” to allow the owners to scan their checks into their account, saving them a trip from Florence through traffic to suburban Ralston.
"You run into so many bankers, sometimes you find the personal angle is all gone," Lorsch said, "but this bank and Tom Clabaugh really did care what we had to say."
No matter the size of the company, New Venture Brokers is proud of the personal touch and dedication they've offered since the company started in 2000 out of a huge red barn off 156th and State in the city. And those cats? They moved from the barn along with the company to its present location six years ago, as the company's import business purrs right along.