David Aragon, Araparts

Thanks to California Capital for this story!

davidaragonarapartsDavid Aragon is a small business owner who runs Araparts, an auto parts company. Recently, California Capital asked him a few questions.

Can you give us a brief bio?
My name is David Aragon. I’m 25 years old, and I was born in Oakland, California. I grew up in the Bay Area, and lived in Orlando, Florida for 4 years. I’m an avid car enthusiast who loves everything about anything with a motor that moves, gasoline or electric. I like working on things, and making them better. I think cars and engineering are like art. My favorite example of this is the Tesla Model S.

What got you started in your particular area of business?
I’ve always loved cars, and I’ve always wanted to own a performance racing shop since I was about 14. I bought my first car when I was 16 for $3,000 and I totaled it 7 months later in a rollover accident. I only had liability so I had to beg my parents to let me keep in in the driveway and part it out so I can get my money back. I ended up making almost $7,000 off of it. I would get my paycheck from work and think “I just made $700 this week on the side. Why am I working 20 hours a week for 450 bucks a month?”

There was a part on the car shade that several people kept asking me to separate from the entire shade. Toyota didn’t sell this part separately, and the shade was discontinued. I decided that I was going to re-engineer the part myself.

At 19 years old, I successfully completed the reproduction of the product and started selling them. It even ended up at some of the local Toyota dealerships through some resellers. I only broke even on this product, but I was hooked. I started looking for other ways to make money in the auto industry, and found out that ignition coils were a hot product, and I decided to do the traditional buy and sell in my own private label brand Araparts. In the future I will continue to re-produce new products to market when I have more money to create molds, but this was the perfect start I’ve been looking for.

What challenges did you face when starting your business?
There were many challenges. The biggest one was with myself. There were times that I would think that it would never work, but I had to fight it off. Money was a big one. I crunched my money as much as possible to save as much as I could for a better launch. I could have bought a nicer car, but I didn’t. Making it in business sooner rather than later was the only thing on my mind. I had to find a product that I could drop like fire. Eventually I found one product that was selling like hot cakes: ignition coils. I bought $10,000 worth of coils at cost, and in 30 days I sold out completely. I ended up making just under $200,000 in sales that year and used 100% of the profit to add more products and grow revenue. That has been the plan since; all while I was working as a mechanic at Les Schwab. In 2013, I doubled revenue, left Les Schwab, and got a small office/warehouse, and have been growing ever since.

How did you hear about California Capital?
I was transitioning from spark plug wires to ignition coils, and I needed a little more capital for the ignition coils. I spoke with several lenders who thought I was a joke (I still kinda look like an 18-19 year old). I was denied for every reason in the book. Nobody even wanted to hear me out. When I spoke with Anthony Rucker from California Capital, we set up an appointment and he let me come in to explain everything so they could understand it better. I was concerned with having too many unnecessary inquiries on my credit so I wanted them to look at everything from my end, decide if they were going to go forward with it, and then run my credit after they’ve made the decision (just to make sure everything lines up). Anthony Rucker was all for it, and was pushing to get the loan. It was the best experience I’ve ever had with any loan company, ever.

Abraham Lopez, YucaTech Technology Solutions

Winner, 2015 Faces of Entrepreneurship award

Abraham arrived in San Rafael, California in 1997 from Mexico. His first job was washing dishes.  Through his willingness to learn and hard work, he moved from busboy, to waiter, to supervisor at Rickey’s Restaurant in Novato.

But Abraham had a dream of owning a business – maybe a fine dining Mexican restaurant or computer repair shop as he liked technology.  He tried his hand at business ownership and opened a small catering company in 2007.  The recession hit and he had to close.

Abraham Lopez YucaTech 1He loved to fix his own gadgets and has a passion for technology, so he promised his 10-year old son, Johny: “Someday, we’re going to open an electronics business.” For an immigrant from. Yucatan, Mexico, with little English at the time, no formal technical skills or money, it was a tall order.

In his spare time, he studied English, earned his GED and took courses to get an Associate’s Degree in Computer Information Systems at College of Marin. With all this new knowledge, he started repairing electronics for his neighboring friends and family around 2011.

Abraham was in transition; he lost his house and got a divorce.  With nothing to lose, he decided to start fresh.  And start with something better.  It was time to pursue the dream.

He started by working on his finances.  He enrolled in a workshop with EARN that taught ways to save and come out of debt.  The EARN program offered a matched Independent Savings Account to start a business.  In order to be able to qualify for the match, Abraham needed a business plan and a business counselor.   The counselor referred him to the Renaissance Marin in 2011.

Abraham took Renaissance’s Como Empezer Tu Propio Negocio/Start and Grow Smart class to work on his business plan and received one-on-one advising through the Renaissance-hosted SBDC to finalize his plan.  His instructor, Fermin Alvarez, gave him an understanding of what it takes to open a business.  And his business counselor Luis taught him Quickbooks, budget management, and inventory management.

While starting his business, he continued to work 16 hour days: five nights a week at the restaurant and daytime doing maintenance for a hotel.  That left him three-to-four afternoons to work on his electronics business.

In May of 2013, he decide it was time to fulfill his promise to Johny.  His studio apartment was becoming overcrowded with computers and parts with no room to work on them. And he was eligible to withdraw the money he saved through the EARN program to put a deposit on a physical location.  He opened YucaTech Technology Solutions — a dedicated, customer-focused electronics service business on Fourth Street in San Rafael.

Abraham Lopez YucaTech 3In 2014 Renaissance recognized Abraham with the Emerging Entrepreneur of Year Award. Abraham continues to stay involved with the Center by receiving ongoing consulting and participating in Renaissance’s events.

YucaTech practices environmentally conscious business operations – the business recycles and reuses tech devices and electronics. Today, it employes 2 people, in addition to Abraham.

He has given up his maintenance job at the hotel, but still works two nights at the restaurant.  He is reinvesting in the business to create a solid business foundation with the goal of drawing a salary and opening a second location.

His main inspiration is his son, who turns 18 in July.  For the last three years, Johny worked alongside his father, and learned the technical skills and ropes of running a business.  Johny will enroll in Pomona College in the fall of 2015 to study business and environmental science.

Toni Ricci, Elite Dance and Performing Art Center

Winner, 2015 Faces of Entrepreneurship award

Toni Ricci Elite Dance 1Toni Ricci grew up in Maine in a small town, in a poor family. Even though the didn’t have a lot of money, she started dancing when she was five years old. She fell in love with dancing and yes, at the age of five, she knew that she wanted to own her own dance studio.

Dancing saved Toni’s life and kept her driven, despite a difficult childhood. She refused to let anything get in her way.

Toni became the student director of her high school’s dance company; the high school, Thornton Academy was known for its amazing performing arts program. She also took 9-10 classes a week at a local dance studio.

She was the first person in her family to go to college. She put herself through the University of New Hampshire and majored in dance.

While a junior in college, she saw an audition notice for Sesame Street Live and was hired onto the tour as Cassie in Dragon Tales Live. She left college and toured for two years. She made it to every state in the country, including a stop in California. When she visited Los Angeles, she knew that she wanted to go back. She packed up all her belongings into her car and drove to California with $500 in her pocket.

Toni wanted to finish school and re-enrolled in California State Fullerton. She put herself through school working everywhere – Target, Bath and Body Works, birthday parties, babysitting, and teaching at a few dance studios.

Eventually she landed at a dance studio in Tarzana and within 2 years went from teaching 3 or 4 classes a week to 30 classes a week. She made the schedule and lots of the artistic decisions. In 2012 the owner decided to sell the business. Toni couldn’t purchase it at that time because she was unable to qualify for the lease due to a low credit score and low cash flow. Toni had such deep relationships with her students that she thought “this is the time.” She felt that she needed to open her own studio then because couldn’t lose ‘her’ kids.

The first thing she did was to use her tax return money to incorporate the business. A few parents of students backed her with a loan, but it wasn’t enough.

She had no money, a terrible credit score, but a lot faith, hope, and persistence.

After looking for a big enough studio, she found a building on Independence Avenue in Woodland Hills that was an Iranian TV station. She showed up every day for two weeks and convinced them to rent to her. “They believed in me and finally said yes.” She signed a lease, co-signed by her cousin.

One student’s father suggested the Jewish Loan Federation. She did the same thing, returning every day until she convinced them to give her a loan. Because of her bad credit, she had three friends co-sign the loan and three friends co-sign on the financing for the dance floor.

Elite Dance and Performing Arts Center was built on a lot of faith and a lot of people believing in Toni. It finally opened in September, 2012 with 60 students, most of them having gone to her classes since they were 2 or 3 years old and and now they’re 14.

The theme for the studio is ‘living on a prayer’, taking it one day at time. But she eventually hit a wall; all the money she had went to construction. Her account was overdrawn. She wasn’t getting paid. Her managers worked for free the first year. The business got to a point where it couldn’t do that anymore.

She researched her options. Bank financing was out; she knew that her credit score was not even close to qualify her for a loan. She found VEDC. “They’ve saved us from going under over the past three years.” And she’s taken their business seminars. She says, “It’s a really good service to have. It’s really hard when you’re in business to stay in business.” She also has improved her credit score and is in good standing.

After a little over two years during this Christmas, word got around and the studio saw an influx of students, bringing it to another level. It went from juggling bills to breaking even in a month.

Today, the school has 270 students. Elite’s secret sauce is that it’s a family environment. “We went through everything together. The kids kept pushing me. I believe in the kids. I love them. My staff loves them. Parents and kids want to be there. They come here after school to be around people who love them. And they work hard.”

Elite offers a wide range of classes for those two years to adults including ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, acrobatics and contemporary. The students dance September through June with some taking more than 10 classes a week. Elite has nine award-winning competition teams.

Elite has three dance rooms and will undergo construction in June 2015 to double the smaller room (thanks to another loan from VEDC). Toni teaches over 25 classes per week and oversees the operations of the business, which employs 3 full-time and 15-part-time staff members.

Elite has more than doubled their staff, tripled their students and are making a positive impact in the community.

“There are people like me who deserve a chance. Making your dreams come true shouldn’t always come down to having money. Sometimes enough faith, hope and belief can change it all; that’s what I want to teach my students.”

Javad Yaghoubi, City Shade

Thanks to Opening Doors, Inc for this story!

javadyaghoubicityshadeJavad Yaghoubi, an Afghan refugee who came to America with his family three years ago, is the proud owner of City Shade, a sunglasses cart in Arden Fair mall. When he first arrived in Sacramento, Javad found a job at a phone accessories shop. The entire time, he was considering opening his own business to better support his family.

When a sunglasses cart in the mall went up for sale, Javad jumped at the opportunity. He purchased the business in November of 2014, but needed more capital for inventory. Javad heard about Opening Doors from his brother, and came to us for technical assistance and a loan.

Opening Doors helped Javad create a strong business plan and cash flow projections. By December, Opening Doors approved him for an $8,000 loan, which he used to purchase a variety of inventory right before the holiday rush.

He now manages the cart with the help of his brother and sister. In addition to Javad’s position as business owner, the cart has created two new jobs. Javad appreciates the help Opening Doors provided to ensure he was prepared to run a business.

Tara Cooper, ‘Ohana Organics

Thanks to North Coast SBDC for this story!

TaraCooperOhanaOrganicsNorth Coast SBDC client ‘Ohana Organics beat out 100 companies to win the 2014 NEXTY Popular Vote Award in the Beauty and Natural Living category for their innovative Tattoo Butter, a vegan blend of organically-grown herbs and shea butter, which naturally decreases tattoo healing time.

The award was presented by New Hope Natural Media and Sterling-Rice Group, and the winner was chosen by consumers, manufacturers, and retailers in the natural products industry.

“We are so honored by this award and share it with everyone who voted for us and helped us grow: Headwaters Fund, Humboldt Made, the Small Business Development Center, and Redwood Acres, who has given local producers like us a beautiful space to work,” said Tara Cooper, the owner and creator of ‘Ohana Organics.

Cooper was born in Hawaii and moved to the area to attend Humboldt State University. She started ‘Ohana Organics in 2000 and her line of hand-crafted Hawaiian perfumes, botanically-scented organic shea butters and herbal salves are infused with organic herbs grown on the Cooper’s small farm.

“Because I graduated with a Natural Resource degree, business was not a strength for me. Having help from the SBDC gave me the tools and assistance I needed to successfully grow my business to the level we wanted,” Cooper said. “It is so wonderful to have people believe in you locally to help be successful globally.”

‘Ohana Organics was featured in the Winter 2014 issue of Certified Organic magazine.

Al and Tamanna Rahman, Garden of Roses

Thanks to CDC Small Business Finance for this story!

alandtamannarahmangardenofrosesAl and Tamanna Rahman met in 2012 when Tamanna was working as a floral arranger for Roger’s Flower Shop. They were married a year later, and Tamanna decided to open Garden of Roses, her own florist shop. Al believed they could make it a success, and quit his job as marketing manager at Verizon to devote his time to launching the business. In late 2013, they decided to use Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to aggressively promote their new business, but they needed to purchase a cooler and inventory for the holiday rush.

They applied for a loan from Wells Fargo, but were declined. Al had left his job, so they didn’t have his salary to fall back on, and they had been in business for only a few months. Wells Fargo, like most banks, requires two years of financials to provide a small business loan. With few other lending options in Moreno Valley, the Rahmans were stuck. They considered using a personal credit card to purchase the equipment, but didn’t have a high enough credit limit.

Luckily, the Wells Fargo loan officer had a relationship with CDC Small Business Finance. CDC offers SBA microloans specifically tailored to newer businesses, and doesn’t require the established history that bank loans do. Instead, CDC loan officer Carla Ulloa looked at the Rahman’s banking history and savings to make sure they had the reserves to make the loan payments and still cover all their bills. Inland Empire Small Business Development Center walked them through the application process and made sure all their documentation was in order.

Thanks to an online loan application and the MMS underwriting system, CDC was able to approve them for a loan in five weeks. Al and Tamanna had asked for $20,000, but MMS underwriting offered them $10,000 due to the newness of their business and the size of their cash reserves. The cooler they needed cost $12,500, though, so Carla negotiated a deal with her underwriter to use the cooler as collateral against the loan.

Garden of Roses bought the cooler and haven’t looked back. Customers rave about their service, and especially love the text messages they receive with a picture of the flowers their loved ones will receive. Today, the business that started as a husband and wife team employs five employees and delivers floral arrangements throughout the Moreno Valley and beyond.

Xochitl Guerrero, Taller Xochicura

xochitlguerrerotallerxochicuraAccording to AnewAmerica:

Xochitl has developed the confidence to launch her businesses as an artist, and has transformed in front of our eyes into someone who has figured out how to make a living out of her passion. She is positioning herself to successfully make a living out of her art — from unpaid community projects to an artist with professional standing that can command a price for her talent.  

She spent a lot of time in the planning phase before officially launching Taller Xochicura at the AnewAmerica EXPO in August of 2014.  Many people get stuck in the planning phase because they are so afraid to get out of their comfort zone.  She is a good example of where people start with AnewAmerica — they have a lot of talent and a vision but a lack of business development skills.  AnewAmerica is in the process of helping her develop her online presence and grow her business.

Xochitl (SO-sheel) Guerrero is an Oakland artist-activist-teacher whose creations include studio fine art, murals, gourd decoration, and mosaic/tile art. She has exhibited locally, nationally and internationally.

Her career in Oakland began over 35 years ago working with youth, and she has re-invented herself by opening Taller Xochicura in 2013. To find new patrons, she uses social media and displays her work at festival booths, cafes and galleries. She has also contracted with communities and the City of Oakland to undertake mural projects. Besides the Bay Area, Xochitl has patrons and interested buyers quickly expanding to other areas including Los Angeles, New York, Florida and Hawaii.

AnewAmerica & Taller Xochicura

Xochitl sought out AnewAmerica to guide her to a successful transition after starting Taller Xochicura. She says that AnewAmerica has not only given her the confidence she needs to sell at fairs, but also keeps her accountable for the goals she sets in coaching sessions.

Xochitl participated in our Savings Match Program, funded by Y&H Soda Foundation. Once she hit her target of $2,000 saved in December 2014, AnewAmerica matched her dollar for dollar so that she could put a total of $4,000 toward purchasing a laptop, camera and printer. These business assets increase her opportunities to sell her work online and showcase her portfolio. Xochitl plans to use them to grow her social media capabilities.

Inspiring Future Women Entrepreneurs

As a woman business owner, Xochitl is proud to stand up for herself and let everyone know that she owns Taller Xochicura. She has younger artists work by her side on her murals while she teaches and guides them. She hopes to inspire other women to find ways to do what they love, follow their dreams, and not give up!

Catarah Hampshire and Shoneji Robison, Southern Girl Desserts

Thanks to Opportunity Fund for this story!

SouthernGirlDessertsI’m not sure if you and your team understand the difference your organization is making in the survival and longevity of small businesses like ours. It means so much to have real people who care and who are concerned about your success on your side. It means the world and it’s definitely a relief knowing we are finally out of the shark infested waters of cash advances and knowing we have been given a chance to succeed. So again, THANK YOU.” –Southern Girl Desserts

Catarah Hampshire began baking southern-style cupcakes as a hobby, until she realized how much people loved the comforting, delicious taste of southern hospitality. Who isn’t curious about trying a Hennessey and Coke cupcake? Or having a chicken and waffles treat for dessert? Indulging in a tiny pecan pie-cake?

Catarah began serving these creative treats to the public in 2007, when she officially opened the doors of her gourmet cupcake boutique, Southern Girl Desserts in Los Angeles. Shortly thereafter, she was joined by co-owner Shoneji Robison. Business took off quickly and it wasn’t before long until the “Dessert Divas” needed financing to purchase extra equipment so that they could keep up with demand and start selling their popular cupcakes nationwide. Catarah and Shoneji needed cash fast for their rapid expansion and turned to a merchant cash advance company (MCA), Wide Merchant Investment, for help. Even though the MCA would not give them the full amount they needed, Catarah and Shoneji accepted the high terms and got extra financing from alternative lender OnDeck Capital. Without realizing it, Southern Girl Desserts had fallen victim to predatory lending and quickly found themselves caught in a vicious cycle of debt.

Catarah and Shoneji were unable to keep up with the high payments and within three months from signing with OnDeck, they were forced to take on two additional cash advances from Yellowstone Capital and Pearl Cash. With more than 40% of sales being pulled by these four predatory lenders, costly overdraft fees began racking up quickly, further suffocating the business’ cash flow.

It wasn’t until Catarah received a flyer about Opportunity Fund’s EasyPay merchant cash advance refinance program that she was able to find someone to help. An Opportunity Fund business advisor explained to them that they had deserved something much better than what they were receiving. Opportunity Fund refinanced Catarah and Shoneji’s merchant cash advance debt with a $40,000 EasyPay loan, cutting their monthly payments by ninety percent, thanks to a longer term and a lower interest rate. Loan repayment is tied to sales at their business. They pay more when business booms and less (or none) on slow days. They repay the loan with a fixed percent of all debit and credit card sales to automatically repay the loan, a far lower amount than what their merchant advances were taking. This loan also helps them to build their credit, since it is a real, regulated business loan.

With cupcakes flying out the door and financing that fits their business, Catarah and Shoneji can return their attention to planning for the future, instead of worrying about tomorrow.

Michael Barriere, BarrierEnergy Associates

Thanks to Women’s Economic Ventures for this story!

michaelbarrierebarrierenergyassociatesLocations: Santa Maria & Santa Barbara
Established: 2011
Business Description: Energy efficiency and alternative energy consultancy specializing in State of California Title 24 Energy Code verification and certification for Federal, State and Local new and existing residential construction and programs.

What prompted you to start BarrierEnergy Associates?
My father was an architect, and, since college I had studied and worked with rehabilitating residential real estate, building and community. Having never lost interest in the challenges of housing, and then also energy, I had the opportunity to become a real estate agent and developer years later. When the economy turned down around 2008, I discovered the emerging “green economy” afforded me the chance to pursue both housing and energy. Within that emerging economic segment, I have created a niche combining several skills and abilities that are in high demand, marketable and pay a better than average wage.

What aspect of your business are you most passionate about?
As I am, California is committed to the principle of “Zero-Net Energy”. That is, by a combination of energy efficiency measures and alternative energy technologies our homes, like our workplaces, businesses, and other aspects of our economy and life, produce as much energy as they use. I am making a difference today by supporting State and Federal efforts to reduce energy waste, energy costs and improve the quality of our housing stock.

What role did WEV play in the opening of your business?
About 4 years ago, after I had completed my Rater and Analyst training, I briefly considered working for a contractor but decided instead to pursue starting my own consultancy. A dear friend, Camille Dominguez at EDD in Santa Maria recommended I pursue WEV’s SET program. Wow! I learned so much I had never even considered important! Having received positive feedback from my instructor and classmates, I submitted my resulting business plan for consideration of a business startup loan. A little more than 2 1/2 years ago I was awarded a WEV loan which I used to purchase my own test equipment and start my business. Now having enjoyed solid, continuous growth, WEV has once again assisted me, through a business expansion loan which I will use to add 1 1/2 employees, a second vehicle, and additional equipment. WEV has really made all this possible.

What specific goals have you set and achieved as a business owner? What goals will you conquer next?
In addition to pursuing a meaningful career in a field I truly enjoy and believe in, my first goal was to create a sufficient income stream to be entirely self-supporting by my own contributions. My business is now well established in the new construction and special energy programs segments of the housing market. The next challenge is to grow and support the new 2013 Title 24 Energy Codes that took affect July 1, in the area of existing housing. I am also interested in growing the non-residential segments of this business. Having worked to save energy in a commercial high-rise, a hospital and shopping center, I hope to become involved in the State’s Proposition 39 program this coming year.

What has been your most surprising lesson in business?
Flexibility! I needed to learn much more than I knew to be successful. Accepting my limits, drawing on ideas and support from WEV, being willing and open-minded enough to try new things was as much a key to success as the hard skills I had learned.

Please describe how you have helped WEV, as well as list other WEV clients you’ve worked with.
Not as much as I would like! I am currently exploring the Thrive in Five program as I pursue alternative growth opportunities. I am also actively seeking accounting/bookkeeping support from within the WEV family. I have certainly recommended the SET program many times.

What advice do you offer others who might want to start their own business?
When considering a business start-up stick with what you know and like – starting and operating a business is a good deal more complex than the good or service you offer. Realize that you know only a small portion of all that you will need to know to be a success. Accept your limitations and reach out for help – you cannot possibly do it all yourself! Be willing to modify or change your business plans on the fly because you will likely be overcome by events – circumstances are always subject to change!

Ryan Farr, 4505 Meats

Thanks to Working Solutions for this story!

ryanfarr4505meatsIn 2012, Working Solutions client Ryan Farr, founder of 4505 Meats, sought advice from a Working Solutions mentor for his rapidly expanding business. Ryan was matched with Sean Hutchinson, Founder of Strategic Value Advisors and Working Solutions Financial Mentor. Two years later, Ryan has graduated from his Working Solutions loan, obtained conventional financing, and opened a new barbecue restaurant in San Francisco! Between his many endeavors (packaged food sold in Whole Foods, his butcher shop, and the new restaurant), Ryan had created a whopping 70 jobs in San Francisco and plans to keep on growing!

Working Solutions recently caught up with Ryan and Sean to talk about their experience:

Ryan: The first meeting with Sean was like a smack in the face. Sean’s point of view from outsider looking in was an eye-opening experience.

Sean: From when we first met, Ryan is well on his way to a 4-5X increase in revenue and a dramatic increase in profit. All the fundamentals are there now. It’s a great story – and it’s because of Ryan’s willingness to listen, lead, and act. My advice may have helped – but he did all the work.

Going into the meeting, I knew that Ryan and 4505 Meats had a terrific following and very loyal customers. There was a lot to like about the company and Ryan’s leadership. The business was growing fast – a good sign – but the growth was causing some challenges. We talked in detail about those challenges and the need to streamline the business.

Ryan: By taking Sean’s advice I realized that as a leader I needed to grow and focus on my skill set as a manager. I needed to focus on specific areas instead of trying to do it all.

Sean: Getting an honest assessment from a relative stranger helped him focus. I think much of what I suggested simply reinforced what he already knew.

Ryan: Last time Sean and I worked together was roughly a month ago when he introduced us to one of his peers that can help us plan our future at a higher level. I plan on staying in touch with Sean as long as I can. He has been a great resource and friend. We are just getting started.

Have a success story of your own to share? Email us!