Small Business Makeovers in 2015: Advice taken to heart after makeovers of 3 Miami-Dade companies

In 2015, Miami Herald makeovers gave small business owners across Miami-Dade County the opportunity to work, free of charge, with retired business experts to make their companies better. The Herald partnered with certified counselors from the Miami-Dade Chapter of SCORE, a nonprofit organization of volunteers who have been successful entrepreneurs. SCORE volunteer counselors use their experience and expertise in business to offer free mentoring services that help small businesses grow, improve and succeed. For each makeover, SCORE put together a team to dispense advice and assistance that helped small businesses like AAA Million Auto Parts in Little Havana, A-KiD’s Party Express in Hialeah and C.S. Orchids in Miami to develop comprehensive business plans, embrace social media and find new ways to engage their customers.

Recently, the Herald sat down with Orlando Espinosa of SCORE to take a look back at how a few of these small businesses that received a makeover in 2015 are doing today.

A-KiD’s Party Express

Back in March, SCORE counselors Doug Shavel, CEO of Galante Studio Distribution; Jorge Gonzalez, founder and principal of Vermis Analytics; and Senen Garcia, a Miami-based attorney, helped Daniel Guzmán and Isabel Arias, owners of A-KiD’s Party Express in Hialeah.

As often happens with small businesses, the owners do multiple jobs within the company. Guzmán and Arias were no different. They were so busy running the business day-to-day that marketing often fell by the wayside. They purchased the company from its previous owners in 2004 and never looked back. The SCORE team recommended that Guzmán and Arias use social media to market their business. The team advised Guzmán and Arias to create a Facebook page and to get a Twitter account. They showed Guzmán and Arias how easy it is to use these free options to reach out to customers. The team also suggested that Guzmán and Arias revamp their website and enable online payments.

Although the business had been around for over 25 years, Garcia also recommended a name change to take advantage of the history of the old name, A-KiD’s Party Express, while introducing a new one. Garcia recommended rolling out the name as a new division of the company as this would enable a slow transition out of the old name while building the brand of the new one. Guzmán and Arias were hesitant about changing the name and weren’t committed to doing it.

“This business is a great story of what you accomplish when you buy a company from someone else,” Espinosa said. “They have revenue between $500K to $1 million annually and that is due to their hard work. With the SCORE counselors as part of their team, Mr. Guzmán and Ms. Arias were able to get a clear picture of what they needed to do to grow their company and promote it using social media, which is relatively cheap to do.”

At their first meeting with SCORE, Guzmán and Arias admitted that they did almost everything related to their business, which was tough. After talking with the counselors, they both realized that social media would be a great way to get their business out there without incurring much cost.

As a result of working with SCORE, Guzmán and Arias created a Facebook page and integrated their existing website with PayPal to take online payments. They did not, however, change the name of the company.

AAA MILLION AUTO PARTS

In July, SCORE counselors spent three weeks working with Margarita Hernández and her daughter Cristina, owners of AAA Million Auto Parts in Little Havana. The SCORE team included Espinosa; Althea Harris, assistant district director for Marketing and Outreach for the Small Business Administration Area 1 in Miami; Julio Canas, business development director for Harbor Ithaka Wealth Management; and Raju Mohandas, senior business consultant for International Services Inc.

Hernández was tasked with accomplishing three key things to grow her business: revamp her website; create a business plan; and consider automating the manual processes that were consuming a great deal of her time.

“With Margarita, we were able to take someone who had an interesting business with a long history that began in Cuba and work with her to do the things that were needed to see real future growth in her company,” Espinosa said.

Today, nearly five months later, Hernández has taken the SCORE counselors’ advice and is working with the team to implement their suggestions.

“We are helping Margarita develop a new brand identity and a new business plan that serve as a road map for her in the future,” Espinosa said. “We are also working on a new logo, a new website and delegating the work that is involved with running the company day-to-day so that she can concentrate on marketing her business.”

“Working with SCORE has been an amazing experience,” Hernández said. “The caliber of experts that small business owners get to work with is excellent.”

C.S. ORCHIDS

In September, SCORE worked with Carmen and Carlos Segrera, owners of C.S. Orchids in Miami. When they contacted the Miami Herald for a makeover, the Segreras were looking to expand their company, which offers a variety of services including custom arrangements that can be purchased or leased and maintenance of private orchid collections. They also wanted advice on how to develop a business plan, use social media to engage their customers on a consistent basis and apply for government grants and contracts.

The SCORE team for this makeover included Sandi Abbott, the owner of Xpresso Content Café, a digital marketing agency that specializes in helping small businesses grow their sales and referral network by using the latest online marketing tools; Lorinda Gonzalez, a grant writer and owner of Grant Ink, a firm that provides clients with access to quality grant-writing services; and Sam Shirley, an associate with Prudential who has worked in the financial sector for major banks including Wells Fargo and Bank of America.

“It was great working with the Segreras,” Espinosa said. “The SCORE team is working with them on improving their cash flow so that they can expand in the future. We’re also helping them apply for grants and identify opportunities for government contracting.”

Now, anyone interested in orchids can check out the company on Facebook. “The Segreras were able to get their Facebook page going quickly,” Espinosa said. “We helped them with a content strategy and they have been posting on a consistent basis, which has resulted in an increase in followers for them.”

WHAT’S AHEAD?

For his part, Espinosa is looking to seeing what the 2015 class of makeovers will accomplish in the future.

“It’s exciting to see these companies take the advice they’ve been given and run with it,” Espinosa said. “What’s great about SCORE is that businesses don’t just get advice, they get a partner. Our counselors are with the business owners every step of the way, offering guidance and support.”

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