At Any Age
Business owners in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s find success in Florida.
Snipping and Clipping
Angel Santana has always loved to cut hair. Now, after spending most of his 20s working in the banking industry, he's running his own Deerfield Beach barbershop. In August 2006, at age 29, Santana opened New Era Barber Shop in a busy strip shopping center on Dixie Highway. Already, he says, "I'm touching the green," explaining that he is breaking even on expenses and working on paying himself back the $20,000 he invested to get the shop up and running.
Santana studied business in college, worked for an investment firm, Bank of America and, most recently, was a branch manager for Washington Mutual. Along the way, he kept his hand in haircutting, attending barber school with a friend six years ago and working part time at a shop in Boca Raton. The turning point came when Santana's son, now age 3, was born. "I was putting in at least 70 hours a week," he says, adding that he wanted the flexibility to care for his son if he was not feeling well.
With the shop, Santana, now 30, is still working long hours, but the difference is that he can come and go and arrange his schedule to meet his family's needs. He hired a part-time barber at the beginning, and he has added a full-time barber and a second part-time employee in recent months.
Santana consulted Maggie Gunther at the Florida Atlantic University Small Business Development Center for advice and used his savings to get New Era up and running. He has a $5,000 business line of credit as a backup, but hopes never to have to tap it. The shop does 150 to 200 haircuts in an average week at about $13 a pop.
To market the business, Santana is a sponsor for the Deerfield Beach High School football team, which gives him an ad in the football programs. He'll sponsor the baseball team this year, too. With the help of a friend in the shoe business, Santana does a weekly raffle of $70 Nikes. He has t-shirts with the name of his shop and gets walk-in business from the deli next door.
Santana isn't content with the one shop. He already has plans for a second location in Wellington next year. Also, he's working with a graphic designer friend on a line of T-shirts and smocks with 40 different designs and is already pitching them to local barbershops.
When I started scrapbooking, I was instantly addicted," says Julie Swatek, now 39. While vacationing in Utah, two years after she got hooked on the scrapbooking hobby, she got the idea to launch an online store for hard-to-find travel-related scrapbooking supplies. And ScrapYourTrip.com was born.
"I had absolutely no desire to open a bricks-and-mortar store," she says, adding, "Thank God for the Internet and the niches of the Internet."
Starting with $17,000 in savings and a home office in 2002, she has grown the company to 15 employees, a 5,000-sq.-ft. location and revenues of $900,000 in 2006. In 2007, she projects sales of $1.5 million to $3 million.
The majority of Swatek's business is mail order. In 2006, she shipped more than 25,000 Priority Mail packages -- so many that the U.S. Post Office honored her with a mailbox named for her business.
The company has about 30,000 customers, and Swatek encourages them to order primarily by sending weekly e-mails. She also advertises online and in scrapbooking magazines.
To move to the next level, Swatek recently got her first bank loan of $200,000. Even with five years under her belt, getting the loan wasn't easy. Her regular bank said no to the loan. But her ties to the Athena PowerLink program, which helps woman-owned businesses expand, helped her out. One of the sponsors of the Florida chapter of Athena PowerLink is BankFirst, a Winter Park-based community bank, which gave Swatek the loan. She enthuses, "We are poised on the brink of very big growth."
A is for Aegis
After 19 years working in state government, Pam Butler had a good income working in information systems management. She loved working with different agencies and a regular workday that let her spend time with her two young daughters. But by the mid-1990s, Butler became increasingly frustrated that state government "standards" were preventing her from putting technology solutions in place that were more efficient and also less costly.
In 1997, Butler left state government and with partner Brad Mitchell launched Aegis, focusing on computer security for small engineering firms, architects, real estate and lands management companies. Aegis, the Greek word for armor or shield, seemed like the perfect company name. "We wanted something that stood out," says Butler, adding, "We wanted something that started with an A."
Butler says that because Aegis is a services business, startup costs were minimal. She focused on managing the company while Mitchell ran the technology side. They used their contacts, worked with Tallahassee's Internet service providers and used promotional products to attract attention. They had little trouble bringing in revenue, but by 2000 they knew that something was wrong. "We were working like dogs. We knew how to make money. We just didn't know how to capture it," says Butler, explaining that the business was bleeding because of high expenses. "I was so scared. I knew I had to do something."
The turning point came, says Butler, when Jerry Osteryoung, executive director of the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship at Florida State University, looked at Aegis' books and pointed out how to cut costs.
Today, Aegis employs 14 and owns its 5,000-sq.-ft. building on Thomasville Road. The company posted $1.6 million in sales in 2006 from its 350 clients and projects $2 million in 2007. Butler says her three top managers have given her more time to focus on company strategy and, for the first time in years, take some time off. Butler, now 49, plans to continue with the business, but also spend more time with her husband Ted, 59, who is retiring from his state government job in 2007.
In the Back Yard
Fred Sanguiliano held a variety of positions in the not-for-profit world over 20 years, including the high-profile position as CEO of Volunteer Florida. It was rewarding, but by 2003 he began to tire of the frequent travel. His two high-school-age daughters would be on their own within a few years, and he didn't want to miss those last few years together as a family. "I felt that it was time for a change."
Sanguiliano's next move was unexpected, though. He opened KeyStone Design, which designs and builds outdoor patios, pool decks, outdoor kitchens and walls using pavers.
The idea came when he and his wife, a social worker, hired a company to do some work on their back yard with pavers. "It looked beautiful," he says, but Sanguiliano knew that it wasn't done correctly and tried to fix it himself. His hobbies were landscaping and woodworking and he came from a family of builders, so Sanguiliano, now 53, wasn't a stranger to getting his hands dirty.
Sanguiliano still wasn't happy with the job until he attended a class by the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute in West Palm Beach. From that point, he was hooked and continued to learn everything he could about the design and engineering of pavers.
Sanguiliano took his time getting started, reasearching the industry and putting together a business plan. Using money he had in savings, he left Volunteer Florida and launched the business, doing all the work on his own at first and renting equipment to save money. "I lost weight. I got in shape," he jokes. Still, the serious side was that the financial transition wasn't easy. He says, "I began to pay myself a salary from the beginning, but it wasn't much."
To market the business, Sanguiliano went to Tallahassee Nurseries and talked with their landscape designers about his services. From the start, he emphasized quality and artistic design rather than a bargain price. "I began to get qualified leads from them," he says, adding, "We've never been without work."
The difficult period for Sanguiliano came after a year in business. He was hiring workers, buying equipment, still didn't really know what to charge and how to manage cash flow. He turned to Chris Workman at the Florida A&M University Small Business Development Center for advice. "He gave me reassurance that what I was going through was normal," says Sanguiliano.
Then Workman got down to business, discussing a line of credit and KeyStone Design's prices. Says Sanguiliano, "We hadn't been recouping all our costs."
After three years in business, Sanguiliano is satisfied with his progress. Projects in 2007 will total an estimated $1.5 million, he says, and he is adding benefits for his workers. Starting a business at age 50 was a definite advantage for him. "I've already had a successful career," says Sanguiliano. "I can focus more on having fun."