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

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

Miami Herald Makeover: MoonAmie

Emineo Media Moonamie Miami Herald MakeoverA lifelong love of contemporary dance, a stint as a journalist and a chance encounter at the Miami Children’s Theater brought two entrepreneurs together to create what they say is a unique experience for singers, actors, scriptwriters and musicians of all ages, particularly children, looking to hone their craft without breaking the bank.

But for Tara Allen, 26, and Monica Rosell, 28, owners of MoonAmie in Palmetto Bay, the decision to open a business focused on several different fine arts disciplines wasn’t easy.

“We’re really a dance conservatory,” Allen said. “It is a unique concept in that we cater to the goals of everyone interested in the arts — from singers auditioning for Broadway plays to students trying to secure the lead in their high school play. All the training you need is under one roof.”

Allen, who began dance lessons at the age 5, went on to graduate from Miami Dade College, try a stint as a journalist — “I wanted to see the world and document it” — and traveled extensively. She ultimately returned to her love of dance: “Seeing the world I think actually made me a better dancer. In every country I visited, I ended up learning the traditional dance and culture. I was able to bring a lot of that back to my students, exposing them to new art forms.”

She met Rosell three years ago at the Miami Children’s Theater. “Tara happened to be there for a class and I was directing a play,” Rosell said. “We hit it off immediately and found that we had a lot in common with each other, including a dream to one day turn our passion for the arts into a business.”

Rosell has a master’s degree in fine arts from SUNY-Stony Brook, has directed nine plays at the Children’s Theater over the past two years, and has even worked as a stage hand in an off-Broadway plan. She also was assistant director for the musical Rock Odyssey at the Adrienne Arsht Center in 2011.

To get MoonAmie off the ground, Rosell and Allen each gave up their freelance businesses. “We basically took all of the clients we were working with individually and brought them here to MoonAmie,” Rosell said.

Using money they earned giving private lessons over the years, Allen and Rosell upgraded MoonAmie’s studio, in a 3,000-square-foot industrial space in Palmetto Bay just off U.S.1, in June. “In order to realize our vision of creating a space where you can take a voice lesson, sharpen your piano-playing skills upstairs and rehearse for a musical on our stage, we needed to renovate,” Rosell said. “It’s a project we had just 30 days to complete,” with a very limited budget.

Now, on any given day, there are as many as 10 to 12 classes held at MoonAmie in a variety of disciplines.

They’re also preparing a production of the musical Rent at the Mandelstam Theater in South Miami. “This will be our first major MoonAmie production,” Rosell said. “The musical opens on Jan.8, so it has been hectic for the both of us.”

Allen’s and Rosell’s lofty goals for their business also including opening a conservatory in New York City — an expensive prospect. “We know we have to put the work in now to make a name for ourselves locally before expanding nationally,” Allen said.

But for now, both Allen and Rosell agree it’s time to focus on the 50 to 60 clients they have at their studio, most of whom are from South Miami, Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay.

“It’s weird to say, but we actually have too much business in Miami,” Rosell said. “It’s hard for us to handle the clientele we have,” she said. “As it is, we have a waiting list now of people trying to sign up for classes. We keep our classes small, around 6 to 10 per class, so we want to make sure we have the resources to keep up with that demand.”

To do that, the duo sought help from the Miami Herald for a Small Business Makeover.

The Herald turned to Miami SCORE, a nonprofit organization of volunteers who have been successful entrepreneurs. SCORE volunteer counselors offer free mentoring services to help small businesses expand and succeed. The SCORE counselors who sought to arm Allen and Rosell with a solid plan to serve their current customers have experience in business, law and fine arts:

Jane Muir is an attorney at the law firm of Gersten and Muir in Midtown Miami. Muir, a former ballet dancer, studied musical theater at the Miracle Theater. She was admitted to New World School for the Performing Arts for musical theater, but ended up attending a private school in Connecticut, where she studied formal operatic vocal music with Ruth Lansche, a former soprano with the Metropolitan Opera. Muir even fronted a jazz band once and has acted in several play productions. Today, she fronts a law practice that focus on commercial litigation and business transactions. And she helps small businesses develop successful solutions to handle rapid growth.

Yuliya LaRoe is an attorney who owns Confident Entrepreneur, a Miami-based company that provides private coaching to small businesses. LaRoe started Confident Entrepreneur in 2011 and has helped at least 100 business owners each year. Through its private coaching, seminars, workshops, and group coaching courses, Confident Entrepreneur helps business owners grow by recommending solid growth strategies.

Luis Zuniga is a seasoned entrepreneur who built a strong 35-year career marketing multinational companies. Most recently, he ran the Latin American division of Apple. He has also bought and sold small businesses and is an expert at teaching owners how to manage and market their companies. Today, he spends much of his time providing advice to small businesses in need through SCORE.

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.

At their first meeting with the SCORE representatives, Allen and Rosell explained what they needed help with.

“Tara and Monica shared that their biggest challenge is not how to attract clients but how to handle all the clients that they already have. They have been placing people on a waiting list,” LaRoe said. “While some might say that this is a great problem to have, it could also negatively impact the business.”

SCORE counselors quickly identified a few issues Rosell and Allen faced in solving their problem. First, the company’s pricing for services needed an adjustment.

“The owners have indicated that their schedule is constantly filled and that it’s becoming challenging to service all of the current clients,” LaRoe said. “The demand for what MoonAmie offers is high. This is typically a good indicator that their prices are below the value that they are delivering to their clients.”

Another issue Allen and Rosell had to address was their website. While the business has built its success on word-of-mouth, SCORE counselors agreed that having a website is a must-have.

“We are very active on social media and online,” Allen said. “In fact, it’s been one of the ways we promote MoonAmie along with word-of-mouth from our existing client base.”

“We noted that there was a dance studio with a similar address nearby,” Muir said. “So we suggested that they improve their web presence by adding a registration for Google Places, Yelp and advertising their address prominently on the Internet. Tara and Monica also said that the majority of their clients came through referrals, so we suggested that they leverage the referrals by requesting reviews online.”

But social media is a tool to bring more business in the door. To get MoonAmie on track to handle the influx of clients, the SCORE team had this advice:

Raise prices. Right now, MoonAmie charges $65 for a private lesson, $40 for a two-student lesson, and $25 per person in a group of five or more; there’s a discount if a package of 10 lessons is paid for in advance. “The recommended strategy would be to raise their prices by 15 to 25 percent,” LaRoe said, noting that other area dance studios in the area charge more. “The price adjustment can Jan.1. MoonAmie should, however, begin notifying its current clients base of the upcoming adjustment. In fact, this is a great promotional opportunity as it allows MoonAmie to offer its current clients a chance to pre-purchase class packages at the current price before it goes up, thus saving them money in the long run.”

Hire more staff. Right now, the two owners are teaching full time. MoonAmie also has a freelance voice teacher and two interns. With the increased income from raising prices, the SCORE counselors agreed that MoonAmie needed more staff to handle the demand. “You can’t build a business like this without having adequate staff,” Muir said. “It’s not efficient for the two owners of the business to do the bulk of the lessons. Tara and Monica need to look at supplementing their staff with additional instructors. If they can’t hire more personnel right away, they should consider creating partnerships with qualified freelancers.”

Make sure to manage cash flow. “This business is very popular now and making money,” Zuniga said. “But there needs to be a system in place that allows Tara and Monica to manage cash flow for the long haul. They need to address things that what happens when a customer is late paying or doesn’t pay at all. Hopefully, this will never happen, but they need to create a plan for it in case they find themselves in that circumstance with a client.”

To help the business grow, the counselors recommended the following:

Get the proper partnerships agreements in place. “Tara and Monica have an LLC, but they don’t have a formal partnership agreement,” Muir said. “Both of them said they had a 50/50 partnership and didn’t need to formalize it, but that they should definitely consider formalizing their dispute resolution procedure to help in the event of a deadlock between them. Even if they were to sign an agreement to let a flip of a coin decide a question that they could not agree on, that would be better than having no agreement.”

Develop a strategic growth plan. “MoonAmie would benefit from developing a strategic growth plan,” LaRoe said. “They can begin by conducting a SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) analysis. In other words, what you as a business are good at, what you are bad at; what sounds like great opportunities for growth, and what risks you have to be aware of and minimize if you can in order to make it happen.”

Whittle down the waiting list. “It’s important for Tara and Monica to spend time handling their waiting list,” Zuniga said. “They need to call each person on the list and work with them to schedule classes. The list contains people who want to spend money with this business. So we have recommended that they pay attention to this group of people who want their service.”

Allen and Rosell said they would implement the advice. “Their advice will help us plan the future of our business,” Allen said.

Read more here: Miami Herald