Miami Herald Makeover: AAA Million Auto Parts

Emineo Media Miami Herald SMALL BUSINESS MAKEOVER (2)When most people think about the auto repair industry, they think about men poking around under the hood to diagnose the problem. It’s not a field that typically attracts women. But Margarita Hernández and her daughter aren’t your typical women. A strong connection to Cuba and a passion for classic cars from the 1950s led Hernández and her daughter, Cristina, to becoming owners of a 77-year-old auto repair shop in the heart of Little Havana.

“It all started with my father, José, in 1938,” Hernández said. “He owned a popular chain of car dealerships called Cadena Automovilista in Cuba.”

But that changed in 1961 when Hernández and her family fled Cuba.

“We left everything behind to come to Miami,” Hernández said. “It was a very difficult time for many in Cuba looking to flee a communist regime.”

When Hernández’s family came to Miami in 1961, her father was able to gather enough money to open AAA Million Auto Parts in Little Havana.

“When my dad opened the business here, it was very small and most of our business came in through word-of-mouth,” Hernández said. “He grew the business over the years, and when he passed away 10 years ago, he left it to me and my daughter.”

For Hernández, the prospect of owning an auto repair shop wasn’t daunting.

“I grew up in the auto parts business,” she said. “In fact, when my father passed away my daughter and I had been working for the business for years, so we knew the ins and outs of it.”

What Hernández didn’t know, however, was how to market the business and increase sales.

“We were so used to do business the old-fashioned way,” Hernández said. “But we knew we had to modernize our marketing to grow.”

To find answers, Hernández turned to the Miami Herald for a Small Business Makeover to help them determine how to incorporate social media, email marketing and take advantage of government contracting opportunities. The Herald, in turn, brought in Miami SCORE, a national nonprofit organization of retired volunteers who have been successful entrepreneurs and built thriving businesses. SCORE volunteers use their entrepreneurial skills and offer mentoring services to small business owners free of charge. SCORE identified three counselors to help AAA Million Auto Parts.

The SCORE team included Orlando Espinosa, co-founder of Emineo Media, who has more than 25 years of experience in branding and social media. He has also led training programs for entrepreneurs both in the United States and abroad. Althea Harris is the Assistant District Director for Marketing and Outreach for the Small Business Administration (SBA) Area 1 in Miami. She has more than 20 years of experience and previously worked for the U.S. Department of Commerce. She assists small businesses looking for ways to take advantage of government contracting. Julio Canas is the business development director for Harbor Ithaka Wealth Management. Canas previously worked in banking for Banvalor Banco Comercial in Caracas, Venezuela. He has more than 10 years of experience in banking and business development. Raju Mohandas serves as a senior business consultant for International Services Inc., where he advises companies on how to grow their businesses through strategic planning and financing. He has moer than 30 years of experience in sales and marketing, operations and finance. Mohandas has successfully restructured and helped small businesses obtain capital for their assets and operational needs.

After working with AAA Million Auto Parts for three weeks, the counselors identified several major areas for improvement. First, the company needed to focus on its website and bolstering its online presence, particularly in terms of search engine optimization. Another issue was the company’s need for a business plan. The company also wanted help to understand what opportunities were in available in government contracting through the SBA and how to automate their business operations in an effort to maximize profit.

The counselors agreed that Hernández needed to first concentrate on the company’s website and improving its online presence. The counselors felt that developing a business plan focused on growth and taking advantage of SBA government contracting programs will help the company achieve increased sales. To accomplish these goals, the SCORE team had the following advice to offer:

Revamp the website: “This is key area for the company to focus on,” Espinosa said. “Right now, their website is pretty basic. They need to almost immediately revamp the site, optimize it for mobile devices and for search engine optimization.”

Espinosa recommended rolling out the new website in the next 60 days.

“For the company to achieve their goals and get into government contracting, they need a website that is well-organized and easy to navigate.” Espinosa said. “The company needs to view their website as a sort of digital business card. It’s where potential customers and government entities will go to learn about the company and decide whether to do business with them.”

Create a business plan: “Because the business has been around for so long, having a formal written business plan was not a priority,” Mohandas said. “But in order to grow and move toward modernization, it’s important for the company to create a business map that will be their road map to achieving the goals set forth by the owners.”

Mohandas recommended focusing on the things the company does and realizing what they don’t do.

“You can’t be all things to all people,” Mohandas said. “It’s important for this business to focus on their strengths — unique and antique auto parts for classic cars. That’s what makes them different.”

But Hernández disagrees.

“We do focus on the antique auto parts, but we also repair modern cars every day,” Hernandez said. “So we want to continue focusing on that and making sure our services are affordable.”

Mohandas also recommended looking for potential customers outside of the immediate area of the business.

“I suggest looking for new clients outside of the shop,” Mohandas said. “Research online for antique car dealers, collectors and others looking for parts. They don’t have to only sell to the public, they can also sell to the trade. The key focus is to increase their sales margins.”

Explore government contracting: Harris worked with the company to help them understand how government contracting works and the opportunities offered by the SBA. Harris recommended that the company register as a woman-owned business in the SBA contracting program and to get their 8a certification. Harris is also working with the company to determine whether they are eligible for the Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone) program, which helps small businesses in urban communities gain preferred access to federal procurement opportunities.

“These certifications will give the business several advantages in the $500 billion federal marketplace,” Harris said. “It will also make them attractive to large government suppliers who are required to subcontract to small business.”

Harris recommended that the company ask for introductions and referrals to federal buyers looking for auto parts or other related commodities.

Consider automating business processes: Canas recommended that the company look at areas where they can automate business processes.

“The company is using Quickbooks software for their accounting,” Canas said. “But they need to take a hard look at the business and see what other functions lend themselves to automation such as inventory and orders.

Canas also suggested reviewing their pricing model to ensure competitiveness.

“The way I see it,” said Canas. “Big competitors like Advanced Auto Parts and Auto Zone have made this business a commodity. When this happens, the only dimension of competition is price.”

With an annual revenue of $250K to $500K, Canas pointed out that the company does well for a small business, but there is room for growth.

Hernandez was grateful for the advice of the SCORE counselors.

“We always knew that we had to move toward modern times and increase our marketing,” Hernández said. “Thanks to the counselors at SCORE, we are well on our way.

The makeover

The business: AAA Million Auto Parts has been in business for 77 years. The company was established in Cuba in 1938 by José R. Hernández. In 2005, Hernández passed away and his daughter, Margarita Hernández, and granddaughter, Cristina, took over the business, which provides auto repair services. The firm also offers a selection of rare parts for classic cars from the 1950s and ’60s.

The challenge: Modernizing the company’s marketing efforts to increase business sales

The experts: SCORE Miami-Dade counselor Orlando Espinosa, co-founder of Emineo Media, has more than 25 years of experience in branding and social media. Althea Harris is the Assistant District Director for Marketing and Outreach for the Small Business Administration (SBA) Area 1 in Miami. She is an expert in government contracting and has worked in the industry since 1993. Julio Canas is the business development director for Harbor Ithaka Wealth Management. He has worked in wealth and asset management for more than 10 years.

The makeover: In just under three weeks, the SCORE team developed a solid marketing strategy for AAA Million Auto Parks. They walked the owner and her daughter through strategies for improving their social media presence, automating their business processes and updating their website.

Read more here: Miami Herald
[divider_top]

Miami Herald Makeover: A-Kid’s Party Express

emineo media Miami Herald Makeover A-Kids Party ExpressFor Daniel Guzmán and Isabel Arias, the path to entrepreneurship — and eventually marriage — began in Detroit 10 years ago with a single glance.

Arias met Guzmán, who worked at General Motors at the time, when he was a customer at Comerica Bank where she worked. The two hit it off instantly and eventually tied the knot before moving to Miami in 2004 to try their collective hand at owning a business.

“I noticed him looking at me and I was smitten,” Arias said. “We started off as friends, and our relationship evolved to marriage. And then we decided to own a business together.”

The couple did their due diligence on opportunities in Florida and settled on purchasing an existing business rather than starting a new one from scratch. They decided to purchase a 25-year old event business called A-KiD’s Party Express. The company specializes in children’s parties, corporate events, fundraisers and other special events.

“My background is in banking and my husband holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering,” said Arias. “So for us, when we decided to own a business, it was important to make a sound decision on the type of business that would be successful.

“When we found A-KiD’s Party Express, we knew we had a great family-oriented business on our hands.”

With annual revenue that ranges from a half-million dollars to just over a million, the business has four employees and an estimated annual revenue that ranges between $500K to $1 million. But with so few employees, resources to market the company are limited. “We produce major events for the U.S. Navy and we have our solid core clientele, so most of the time we are all pretty business working,” Guzmán said. “That doesn’t leave a lot of time for marketing the business, but it is something that we really need to focus on.”

Arias and Guzmán had been thinking about how to take the company to the next level. They were contemplating a possible name change for the company that would allow them to move beyond kids’ parties. Arias and Guzmán do not have a Facebook or Twitter page for the company and social media was also on their minds. “We knew we had to get with the times in certain aspects of the business like social media,” Guzmán said. “We were also mulling over a name change, but we couldn’t decide and didn’t know where to start.”

To find answers, Arias and Guzmán turned to the Miami Herald for a Small Business Makeover for help.

The Herald, in turn, brought in Miami SCORE, a national nonprofit organization of retired volunteers who have been successful entrepreneurs and built thriving businesses. SCORE identified four counselors to turn A-KiD’s Party Express around.

The SCORE team included Orlando Espinosa, co-founder of Emineo Media; Doug Shavel, CEO of Galante Studio Distribution; Jorge Gonzalez, founder and principal of Vermis Analytics; and Senen Garcia, a Miami-based attorney.

After working with A-KiD’s Party Express for a little over a month, the counselors identified several issues: with the company’s marketing strategy. One of the company’s immediate problems was a lack of exposure on social media. Another factor impeding the company was a lack of a comprehensive marketing strategy and maintaining constant communication with customers to let them know about sales, discounts and special promotions. “A-Kids’ Party Express is a great concept,” Espinosa said. “They have their own equipment, rides, inflatables and anything else you can think of to have a great party. They also have a great reputation. But as a small business in today’s you can’t just rely on word-of-mouth from satisfied customers to grow. You need to develop a marketing road map and follow it to achieve success.”The counselors all agreed that Arias and Guzmán needed to first concentrate on low hanging fruit — efforts that do not require a major capital investment and offer a great return.

The counselors’ advice:

▪ Consider a name change: “One of the first things I talked about with Isabel and Daniel was how open they would be to changing the company’s name,” Garcia said. “My recommendation is to take advantage of the history of the old name while introducing a new one.” He recommended rolling out the name as a new division of the company: “I prefer the new division concept as this would enable a slow transition out of the old name while building the brand of the new name.”

Garcia advised that the new name should be trademarked at least at the state level, if not at the federal level. “While a statement of fictitious name, also known as a DBA, would offer the ability to have access to the name for things such as accepting payments, it would not ultimately prevent others from using the name,” he said. “Of course, if the name was trademarked by someone else already, it would be unavailable for use as a fictitious name, so that also needs to be considered.”

▪ Embrace social media: “It is important that A-KiD’s Party Express has an engaging presence on social media,” Shavel said. “The company needs to create a Facebook and Twitter account at a minimum. Then, create a LinkedIn account to expose the company to other businesses to grow the corporate event side of the house.”

Shavel also recommended the using social listening tools like Facebook Insights to see who is interacting with their brand and how they are doing it. To keep an open line of communication to customers, Shavel also encouraged the company to develop a branded e-blast using Constant Contact, Mail Chimp or another similar tool to send out information on a regular basis to all past and present customers.

“The e-blasts are a great low-cost tool that A-KiD’s Party Express can use to generate buzz,” Shavel said. “Including links to the company’s social media accounts in each e-blast will also increase engagement with their brand.”

▪ Develop an elevator pitch: Gonzalez recommended that A-KiD’s Party Express develop a three-minute elevator pitch that addresses customer questions and concerns: “Parents want to know about safety and making sure their kids have a memorable experience. For corporate customers, they want to know about cost and service reliability. The company needs to tell their story in three minutes and incorporate the wonderful elements of the company like the fact that it is based on family-oriented fun.” Espinosa agreed: “People don’t have a lot of time these days. The quick elevator pitch is important because you need to explain why you’re different from the competition and why you’re the best value for a customer.”

▪ Go guerrilla: Gonzalez also encouraged A-KiD’s Party Express to use guerrilla marketing techniques to market the company: “For example, at every event, they need to take the opportunity to distribute flyers and talk to people about the company. They can also use Survey Monkey to conduct a short five-question survey to existing and former cBM SMALL BUSINESSustomers. Eventually, a customer survey should be administered after every event.” He recommended the company establish a frequent-customer and referral program to benefit corporate clients and those who use the company on a regular basis: “They could also take the referral program to companies and individuals who provide services to kids or corporations such as caterers.”

▪ Measure and evaluate results: Once KiD’s Party Express implements the SCORE team’s recommendations, the counselors advised the company to measure and evaluate the results each month. “They need to get a full picture of whether their strategies and techniques are working so monitoring progress on a regular basis is important,” said Espinosa. “Analytics are key,” Gonzalez said. “Analyzing customer data and behavior can help the company get an accurate snapshot of how they are interacting with their customer base.”

Both Arias and Guzmán said the process of working with SCORE counselors on a makeover was amazing. “We knew we had work to do in marketing the company,” Guzman said.

“We also knew it was time to make the move toward social media,” Arias said. “The SCORE counselors gave us a clear plan of how to achieve our goals in that regard.”

“The SCORE counselors were very knowledgeable,” Guzmán said. “We will take their advice and see where it leads us.”

Read more here: Miami Herald
[divider_top]

Miami Herald Makeover: Overview

yaya wine emineo media Miami Herald MakeoverIn 2014, Miami Herald makeovers helped small businesses across Miami-Dade County. 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 in business and offer mentoring services free of charge to help small businesses grow and succeed. For each makeover, SCORE assembled a team of experts to give advice and assistance that helped small businesses like Roy’s Delivery Service, YaYa Wines and Heywood-Wakefield Furniture streamline operations, kick start their marketing efforts and find new ways to reach customers.

Recently, the Herald sat down with Orlando Espinosa of SCORE to take a look back at how some of these small businesses are faring today.

ROY’S DELIVERY SERVICE

Back in July, SCORE counselors Carlos Blanco and Oscar Rospigliosi helped Hada Grullon, owner of Roy’s Delivery Service in Kendall. Blanco has grown several businesses and sold his IT marketing agency, Next Level, to a multinational advertising agency based in the United Kingdom. Rospigliosi is a partner at Newport Board Group, a national professional firm that provides services to emerging growth middle market companies and private equity firms.

While Roy’s has been around for 20 years, handling deliveries of all kinds, Blanco and Rospigliosi advised Grullon to do three things to grow her small business and focus the services she provides. First, Grullon, a self-confessed workaholic, needed to hire an operations manager. Next, SCORE counselors recommended she rebrand her business online, including launching a new website. Last but not least, Grullon’s SCORE team recommended that she focus solely on building the medical delivery area of her business.

“Hada is one of the wonderful SCORE success stories,” Espinosa said. “She really dug her heels in and took what the counselors told her to heart.”

At her first meeting with SCORE, Grullon admitted she did almost everything related to her business herself something the counselors agreed was impeding her business. Grullon hired her sister to take over operations. A month after that, she revamped and re-launched her website. She also focused on social media to improve her company’s online presence and changed direction to focus more on medical deliveries for hospitals, doctors’ offices and nursing homes.

“Working with SCORE changed my life,” Grullon said. “The counselors helped me to see what I wasn’t able to see for years: One person can’t run a business alone. Because I was doing everything, there were areas of the business that weren’t running at full capacity. SCORE helped me to change that, and now I’m happy to report that since implementing their advice, my business has grown nearly 40 percent.”

HEYWOOD-WAKEFIELD FURNITURE

In May, SCORE counselors worked with Leonard Riforgiato, owner of Heywood-Wakefield Furniture. Espinosa and counselors Rosi Arboleya, creative director at Perpetual Message and Frank Padron of We Simplify the Internet (WSI), an Internet marketing firm in Coral Gables, recommended that Riforgiato focus his marketing efforts on acquiring new customers through the Web.

Riforgiato was tasked with accomplishing five things: revamping his website, creating a blog, developing a branded customer e-blast, updating the Wikipedia page about Heywood-Wakefield, and making his first foray into using social media to promote his company.

“With Leonard, we were able to take someone who knew relatively little about the Web and social media and educate him about how these tools can help him market his business,” Espinosa said.

Today, nearly eight months later, Riforgiato has launched a new website, created a blog and is sending out regular e-blasts to his customers. He hasn’t yet taken the plunge into social media, but according to Espinosa, this is something SCORE has been working with him on.

“We are helping Leonard develop his social media presence,” Espinosa said. “He has taken a lot of our advice over the last eight months and we are looking forward to seeing him create a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest where he can showcase the beautiful furniture his company creates.”

YAYA WINES

In September, SCORE worked with YaYa LeGrand, owner of YaYa Wines in North Miami. The SCORE team was made of professionals with experience in marketing, wine buying and the law, all areas where LeGrand needed help.

Hillary Metz, an intellectual property and trademark attorney at Mills Metz Law and Nora Adler, a former wine buyer with over 20 years of experience in marketing, advised LeGrand to do three things to take her business to next level: First, LeGrand had to protect her brand. Metz recommended that LeGrand immediately begin using her federally registered trademark on the wine bottles. Next, Adler recommended that LeGrand partner with a reputable distributor to gain entry into major chain supermarkets. Adler also encouraged LeGrand to foster relationships with wine buyers and store managers to boost sales.

“SCORE really made a difference in the way I do business,” LeGrand said. “I thought I had a lot of areas of my business covered, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know until I worked with the SCORE counselors. They opened my eyes to things I had no idea about that were impacting my small business.”

Today, LeGrand has implemented all the advice she was given by SCORE. “I’m using my trademark everywhere now,” she said. “I also signed a contract with a major distributor and am actively working with wine buyers and store managers to get into major chain stores. It’s been a wonderful and very rewarding experience working with SCORE. I am grateful, and it has set me on the path to growing my business with all my bases covered.”

For his part, Espinosa is happy to help.

“At SCORE, we work hard to provide real-world advice from experts who have walked in the shoes of the entrepreneurs they are helping,” Espinosa said. “Anyone can give advice, but at SCORE, we partner with the small businesses we help with one goal in mind: giving them a road map to grow and thrive.”

Read more here: Miami Herald
[divider_top]