Makeover served up to Miami Springs cheesecake bakery

Ever since Milo Irsula, 35, was a child, he and his family dreamed of owning a restaurant. But over the years, life got in the way, and he, his father and two brothers instead ended up living in various corners of the world, including North Carolina and Peru.

“I think for the Irsula family we always thought that our passion for owning a restaurant that specialized in delicious desserts wasn’t ever going to be realized,” said Irsula, who had been a middle-school teacher in North Carolina before his father bought the business. “We called it our ‘pie-in-the-sky dream’ and even joked about it over the years as we moved around the world and started our lives.” emineo media cheesecake, etc miami herald

But the stars aligned for the family in 2012 when Irsula’s father, Orlando, decided to purchase a small, family-owned bakery that had been in business in Miami Springs for more than 40 years.

“My dad saw a great opportunity with this family-owned” business, Irsula said. “It was stable, had solid, long-term contracts and homemade recipes for some terrific cheesecakes and key lime pies. And of course, once my dad bought the business, he got our whole family involved in it right away to help grow it.”

Irsula’s father summoned his sons to Miami six months after purchasing the bakery, and the family went to work, learning as they went along.

“We really didn’t know what we were doing,” Irsula said. “My brother Erick was working in the travel industry in Peru and I was a schoolteacher in North Carolina. But we learned very quickly how difficult it is to be a small-business owner, managing the company, marketing it and doing everything else in between.”

Once my dad bought the business, he got our whole family involved in it right away to help grow it. Milo Irsula, son of Orlando Irsula, who owns Cheesecake, Etc. in Miami Springs

For the next four years, the Irsula family focused on keeping the solid clientele that Cheesecake, Etc. had, finding ways to improve the business and trying out new products. In 2015, the company grossed over $500,000 in sales. In addition to Milo, his brother Erick and father Orlando, the Irsulas employ two full-time staffers who work in production, where Erick runs the show.

In late 2015, when Milo Irsula attended a brand-building workshop held by SCORE— a national nonprofit organization of volunteers who have been successful entrepreneurs and have built thriving businesses — he realized he could get free advice to help him grow the business.

“The workshop, led by SCORE counselor Orlando Espinosa, really inspired me,” Irsula said. “The workshop helped me to understand that although Cheesecakes, Etc. had been in business for 40 years, we would have to spend time creating a solid brand that showcases the quality of our products.”

At the SCORE workshop, Irsula introduced Espinosa to his company and discussed the needs of his business. Soon after, Espinosa worked with the Miami Herald to facilitate a Small Business Makeover.emineo media cheesecake, etc the miami herald makeover

The Irsulas turned to the Miami Herald to help them find efficient ways to promote and grow Cheesecake, Etc. The Herald, in turn, partnered with Miami SCORE. SCORE volunteers use their entrepreneurial skills and offer mentoring services to small business owners free of charge. SCORE identified three counselors to help Cheesecake, Etc. streamline operations, promote the company on social media and find ways to maximize growth opportunities for the business.

The SCORE team included Jane Muir, an attorney at Gersten Muir, a local law firm, specializing in contracts and civil litigation. Rafael Iglesias is a new SCORE counselor who specializes in social media. He was in the world of advertising for 15 years and worked for a local agency. He serves as social media manager for a variety of businesses, including Parawood of the Americas, a provider of Parawood flooring. Doug Shavel is the CEO of Galante Studio Distribution and also runs Shavel Realty, a real estate investment firm.

After working with Cheesecake, Etc. for just over three weeks, the counselors helped the firm understand more about their business and how to run it efficiently. The counselors agreed that after 41 years, the Cheesecake, Etc. brand needed a facelift and some good old-fashioned word-of-mouth via social media to help promote the company and increase sales. To accomplish these goals, the counselors recommended the following:

Dedicate time to managing social media: “In this day and age, if you’re a business owner, you’ve got to have a presence on social media,” Iglesias said. “For Cheesecake, Etc. they need to dedicate time to managing their social media platforms including niche food networks.”

The Irsulas agreed, but according to Milo, none of them had time to spare.

“We have pages set up on social networks,” Irsula said. “But we haven’t posted anything because none of us really have the time to develop the content.”

But Iglesias wasn’t convinced and showed the Irsulas how they can incorporate tools like Hootsuite, a social media management system, into their routine to save time.

“Small-business owners can’t afford not to utilize social media to promote their products,” Iglesias said. “It’s an affordable way to showcase and sell directly to consumers.”

Iglesias recommended that to start out, the company should focus on three social networks for now — Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

In this day and age, if you’re a business owner, you’ve got to have a presence on social media. Rafael Iglesias, social media expert

Iglesias also suggested claiming their company page through Yelp for Business, which allows small business owners to engage with customers with reviews and special promotions.

“Yelp is a hub for consumers who want to inform others about their experiences with businesses and brands,” Iglesias said. “It’s important for Cheesecake, Etc. to take control of their brand, both off and online.”emineo media cheesecake, etc the miami herald

Explore ways to incorporate e-commerce: The SCORE counselors suggested that Cheesecake, Etc. revamp its website to power e-commerce and online sales.

“Cheesecake, Etc. needs to take a look at options in terms of selling its products online,” Shavel said. “It’s an untapped revenue stream that should be quick and easy for the company to set up.”

But the Irsulas had been down that road before with poor results because they couldn’t find a solution for the high cost of shipping.

“We tried to sell online a couple of years back,” Milo Irsula said. “We had issues because it’s really expensive to ship the product, which is frozen. It needs to be shipped in dry ice, and before you know it, you’re asking people to pay $50 for a cheesecake.”

Shavel recommended exploring alternative shipping options including using a co-packer and bringing costs down.

The Irsulas are already hard at work developing new and interesting takes on cheesecake, including introducing flavors such as salted caramel with pecan and another infused with Guinness Stout. The company is also looking at a cheesecake-in-a-cup concept that may prove profitable.

“Outsourcing production to a third party is an option that could lead to a significant savings for the company and increase profitability,” Shavel said.

Streamline operations: Becoming more efficient and finding ways to streamline processes was an area where the company needed help. Shavel offered advice on how reconfiguring their facility would make things run more smoothly.

“Their current space in Miami Springs is adequate, but it needs to be rearranged,” Shavel said. “And right now, they are on a year-to-year lease so renovating wouldn’t be prudent. You would only invest in renovation if you have a 10-year lease for example.”

Muir recommended taking a look at vendor contracts to determine where the company can realize savings or make the contracting process more efficient.

“It’s a good idea to review contracts,” said Muir, who received a Most Productive Young Attorney Award from the Florida Bar in 2015. “This is especially true when a business has been purchased and existing contracts were part of the sale as it was with Cheesecake, Etc.”

Muir recommended looking at terms such as payment times, invoice cycles and liability. She also suggested going over any contract extensions and clauses related to cancellation of the contract.

Develop a new logo: Each of the SCORE counselors advised the company to invest in revamping their decades-old logo.

“We knew that something had to be done with the brand to improve it,” Irsula said. “The idea of creating a new logo that honors the nostalgia of the past came to mind.”

Muir agreed and encouraged the family to develop and trademark their new logo.

“When you create something and it’s out in the public domain, you need to protect it,” Muir said. “It’s important to trademark your brand identity so that you are in control of how it’s used.”

Iglesias recommended using the journey of creating a new brand identity as content to fuel social media feeds.

“It would be great for them to use social media to document the process of creating the new logo and developing a new brand,” Iglesias said. “Solicit ideas from fans and followers and offer treats like a coupon for a free slice of cheesecake. This will improve engagement and improve brand recognition.”

Grow distribution channels: Over the next three to five years, Cheesecake, Etc. wants to grow beyond selling their dessert creations wholesale to bring their products direct to consumers in supermarkets and restaurants around the country.

“We would love to get into grocery stores, cafes and mall kiosks,” Irsula said. “But it’s a competitive market and we weren’t really sure how to get started. Working with SCORE I think we have a better understanding of what it takes.”

Each SCORE counselor committed to continuing their work with the Irsulas and Cheesecake, Etc. to see the advice through.

“He’s got a solid business,” Iglesias said. “He needs to work on spreading the word and innovating for the future.”

The Irsulas are already hard at work developing new and interesting takes on cheesecake, including introducing flavors such as salted caramel with pecan and another infused with Guinness Stout. The company is also looking at a cheesecake-in-a-cup concept that may prove profitable.

“We already sell key lime pie in a cup,” Irsula said. “Cheesecake is the natural evolution of that.”

The Irsulas said they plan to continue the work they started with SCORE and focus on the solutions presented by the counselors as they continue finding ways to expand and innovate.

“That’s the part of the business that I love the most,” Irsula said. “Working with my dad and my brother Erick to create something that hasn’t been done before is a great perk of working in this business.”


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 Expressemineo media A-Kid's party express Miami Herald

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 PARTSemineo media aaa million auto parts miami herald

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. ORCHIDSemineo media cs orchids Miami Herald

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.”


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.”


Entrepreneurs and Startups

In order to find success in the world of entrepreneurship and startups, you need to know what it takes to run a successful business. While it might be easy to “start” a business or brand of your own… keeping it afloat and profitable is a whole different story — especially when the market is getting flooded with more entrepreneurs and businesses everyday.

Age of Startup Founders and Entrepreneurs

  • While the common thought is that all startups are teenagers and in their 20s, reports show that the average founding team is aged between 35 and 54 years old. At the same time, the companies with an average age of 35 to 44, have the highest median funding of startup founders.
  • Based on startup founders and their previous titles, 39% were previous CEOs/Founders, while 28% were a mix of various titles outside of upper management, director and manager positions. Based on education, More than 60% of founders had little to no college experience.

Best Cities to Start a Business

  • California, New York and Florida are known as the hot spots of internet and business activity within the U.S. However, the top five locations for actually starting a new business are Austin, Miami, San Jose, Los Angeles and Denver!

Startup Finding and Investors

  • There is a massive amount of money being poured into startups and the numbers only continue to rise.
  • With $17.10 billion in Q2 of 2015, this number is expected to increase to $18 billion by Q3 of 2015.
  • The total amount of venture capital invested in 2015 will surpass $32 billion.
  • There were over 1800 venture capital deals in 2015, which an average of $16.91 million to each of them.
  • Angel investors spend the most of their time and resources on “internet” and “mobile & telecommunications” businesses.
  • California represents 18.2% of all angel investments in 2015.

The success of your startup relies in the pre-planning and actual business model of your startup. If you are still in the pre-planning phases, this startup infographic will also help you on your way.