A Small Business Grows in Morovis

MOROVIS, PR -- For almost two decades, Edwin Ortiz has dedicated his professional life to the business of supermarkets.

In the heart of Morovis, a town with a population shy of 30,000 in the central mountainous region of Puerto Rico, Supermercados Selectos Mr. Cash serves close to 2,000 customers a day.  Its success is largely due to Edwin, who bought it from his brother Ovidio in 1995 and turned it into a service-oriented, customer-friendly shopping venue.

The supermarket wasn’t always thriving.  In fact, Ovidio acquired it at public auction in 1983, shortly after its previous owner declared bankruptcy. Ovidio saw an opportunity to re-establish the store as a profitable business and named it Mr. Cash. True to its namesake, the supermarket generated $6,000 in sales on opening day and began growing steadily, employing 30 people.  Soon after, Mr. Cash required additional space, and Ovidio moved it to a bigger commercial lot across the street. Mr. Cash had indeed begun to thrive.

After 12 years of successful operations, however, Ovidio decided it was time for someone else’s turn at the wheel, and he asked Edwin to go work with him at the store. Ovidio’s plans were to employ Edwin and later sell him the business, which he did in 1995.

“I had no money and no idea how I was going to buy the supermarket,” Edwin says.  “But my brother set forth some reasonable conditions and gave me a term of five years to pay him. I accomplished it in a little over four.”

Edwin was already well-familiarized with the food industry. Years before, he had worked as a sales rep for a meat distributor and his routes included supermarkets, butcher shops, restaurants, and cash and carry warehouses.  His experiences served as a basis for his future success in the supermarket business.  Edwin was also well-trained as an administrator.  At the time his brother called on him to join the supermarket, Edwin was the manager of credit union Cooperativa de Ahorro y Crédito Moroveña. In that position, he got to know the people in the area and establish a direct relationship with his customers.

During Edwin’s first year as Mr. Cash president, sales increased by 17 percent.  In 2000, Edwin decided to join Supermercados Selectos, a local supermarket chain that allows its members to partner in making purchase negotiations in bulk and offer more competitive prices to their customers.

“The Selectos concept relieved me from having to pay for advertising or a warehouse,” Edwin indicates. “I don’t have to design or distribute my own shopper.  The Selectos chain has an in-house advertising team and a central warehouse that serve all member stores.”

But renaming the supermarket wasn’t an easy task.  The townsfolk saw Mr. Cash as the supermarket in Morovis, and Edwin felt that by changing its name he would somehow be taking from its identity.   A deal was reached with Selectos’ board of directors, and the supermarket became Supermercados Selectos Mr. Cash.  The chain of Supermercados Selectos has a track record of excellence in its industry.  Upon joining Selectos, Edwin’s supermarket experienced an increase in client demand, resulting in a 10 to 12 percent increase in sales, figures that have remained steady throughout the years.

Sales continued to rise to the point where the supermarket needed bigger space.  In order to solve the problem, Edwin visited Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, who referred Edwin to Marketing Small Business Finance Corporation, a Certified Development Company (CDC) authorized to deliver the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 504 Loan Program.  Also known as the Certified Development Company Program, the 504 Loan Program’s main purpose is to provide long-term, fixed financing to purchase land, machinery and equipment, and for business expansion.  A 504 loan originates through a CDC – a non-profit corporation that invests in its community’s economic development and helps generate jobs—together with a bank.

With the loan proceeds, Edwin purchased four cuerdas of land –or 16,000 square meters- outside the urban center of Morovis and built several commercial buildings.  In 2003, Supermercados Selectos Mr. Cash moved to its new facilities, occupying close to 30,000 square feet and leasing the remaining space, which is occupied by a restaurant, a beauty parlor, a dry cleaner, and a cake decorating school.  Also, the stores share a parking lot that accommodates close to 300 vehicles.

Today, Supermercados Selectos Mr. Cash’s sales are four times higher than when Edwin bought it from his brother, and 80 people are employed.  Successful as he is as a small business entrepreneur, when asked about his most satisfying moment Edwin laughs and says “the day I paid off my mortgage”.  But then, he grows serious.

“The most satisfying thing is to see my family well positioned,” Edwin declares.  “My oldest son owns a bakery, two daughters are engineers and another a dentist, and my youngest son will soon graduate as an engineer.  All that was possible thanks to this business.”

Edwin is also quick to attribute his success to the dedication and commitment of his wife Carmen.

“I have been married for 30 years to a wonderful woman who has always supported me and has shared with me an entire lifetime.  Her name is Carmen M. ‘Mary’ Rivera and nothing of what we have achieved would be possible without her unconditional devotion and disposition to work alongside of me.”

For more information on SBA’s 504 Loan Program or other programs and services, visit: www.sba.gov/pr.