Small Business and Franchise Success Stories

How many people enjoy paying bills and taking care of the myriad details of personal finance? Not many... but Alison Salisbury does, so the entrepreneur turned a personal skill into a thriving small business.

“I’m known as a daily money manager,” Alison says. “It’s a fairly new industry on the West Coast, but it’s much more common in the east. Daily money managers are like personal financial assistants: We help people pay bills, open and sort mail, reconcile check books, organize tax records... all the paperwork of running a household.”

Think of her small business as household financial administration; she does not offer financial planning or investment advice.

So where did the idea for starting her small business come from? “I’ve actually done it all my life,” Alison laughs. “In my former career I worked in financial administration, and my former husband was a professor and owned a business – so I know all about being in a two-income family with kids and a nanny. But then I was a stay-at-home mother for eleven years, and it was hard for me to get back into the regular workforce; every time I applied for a job I was told I had too much experience... which I think is secret code for ‘we would have to pay you too much.’”

A conversation with her ex-husband turned on the entrepreneurship light bulb. “His taxes hadn’t been paid, his bills weren’t getting paid... he said it was a mess. He had hired two professional organizers to come in and straighten things out, and according to him all they did was put papers in different piles, tell him what to do... and leave. I realized someone needed to actually work the piles – and if I did, people would be happy to pay for the service.”

Instead of seeking to purchase a franchise or an existing small business, the entrepreneur set up her own company – even though it was her first foray into entrepreneurship and small business ownership. After graduating with an Art degree, she helped artists write grant proposals. Later she spent a number of years at MIT as a grants administrator for the Arts Council and then as the administrative officer for the anthropology and political science departments.

“The funny thing is I majored in Art because I didn’t think I was good at math,” Alison laughs. “But once I started working it was all budgets and proposals and numbers... I guess I was destined to work with numbers.”

But when she returned to the workforce she became a teacher, putting herself through graduate school and earning her teaching credentials. She taught fourth grade for two years and transitioned into a curriculum development role, developing tools to help high school and college-bound kids learn the fine art of personal financial management.

Still the entrepreneurship fire burned. “I bounced my small business idea off a lot of people and not one person said, ‘What, are you nuts?’” she Alison explains. “I’ve started to make money and I love working with people at an intimate level – the amount of trust they put in me is inspiring.”

She did have sleepless nights early on, though. With the help of Guidant Financial Group, Alison bypassed traditional small business financing by using her retirement funds to invest in her business. “I can see that if I just keep doing what I’m doing I’ll not only pay that investment back but will also grow my retirement savings at a faster rate.”

So who is a typical client for Fiscally Fit? Alison targets the upper middle class demographic. While many of the Silicon Valley entrepreneur’s clients are local, using online tools she can work with clients across the country. “I have a client in the process of moving to South Carolina,” she says, “and since I maintain their household finance online, they are ‘bringing me with them.’”

Since household financial administration is a relatively new concept in her area, spreading the word about her small business is critical. She belongs to the local Chamber of Commerce, goes to Senior Roundtable networking events, and maintains a website. But much of her business is based on referrals from satisfied clients and professional organizers. “Professional organizers tend to focus on handling garages, closets – physical spaces – and they don’t want to deal with paperwork. So I’ll step in.”

“It’s funny. More often than not, I’ll get people organized and they’ll say, ‘This is great – I can handle it myself from here!’ Then a month or two later they’ll call me back to clean up the new mess they made and have me just take over.”

Having the small business owner “take over” pays huge dividends for some clients. Alison explains, “I just went through and categorised all of a client’s expenses for the last seven months. She had plenty of money but wasn’t watching her cash flow. She was bouncing checks and incurring charges and believe it or not she had paid $4,350 in bank charges in just seven months. Not only do I make her life easier – she was amazed by how much money I could save her.”

Her family and friends were also amazed when she decided to start a small business. “They thought it was a great idea but they were still surprised I took it on,” she explains. “My ex-husband calls me the ‘best personal financial assistant I ever had.’ Because organization and financial administration comes easily to me, I never imagined it didn’t come naturally to other people.”

While the economic downturn has hurt some small businesses, it has created an opportunity for Alison. A number of clients turn to her because their income and investments have declined and they want to reign in discretionary spending and develop a workable household budget. “A lot of my clients,” she says, “realize that not only do they need to get their own spending in line, but they need to pass that skill on to their children. That, of course, dovetails perfectly with the curriculum I’m developing.”

And her five-year vision for the small business? Alison hopes to grow her client base and build a staff to service a growing market. “I’d like to have a nice little business where we take care of people but we’re still small enough to know people really well.”

“Sometimes I wish I had a normal job,” she continues, “but then I think about working for someone else and doing what they want me to do on their time... and I realize I love the freedom I have – I really love it.”

Find small business financing, and jumping on the opportunity to buy a franchise, is a lot easier when a bank is on your side – especially when an entrepreneur brings something to the table, too.

Richard Koch is living proof.

After working for Bricker International Utilities for eighteen years, the managing partner wanted to take the next step in small business ownership. As a partner in a Chili’s restaurant in Wichita Falls, he had significant restaurant operations experience – but limited profit participation. “As a managing partner with Chili’s it’s a little different than owning a franchise,” Richard says, “because you in effect work under Chili’s. You don’t have to set up a corporation; you take a portion of the bottom line. I enjoyed it, but I wanted to start my own company, buy my own franchises, and work my way up from there.”

Realizing the entrepreneur’s dream of franchise ownership started when Richard spoke with a friend. “My wife was volunteering in the school cafeteria,” he explains, “and a friend said, ‘Hey, if you know anyone that wants to buy our Quiznos franchises, we’re probably going to be selling them.’ She told me... and in the middle of the night I tapped her on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we just buy those two franchises’... and that’s what we did.”

For financing, Richard turned to a local bank that had extended financing to the previous owner. But he also came prepared. With help from Guidant Financial Group, he invested his retirement fund for a significant portion of the money needed to purchase the franchise. “So I walked in,” Richard says, “and the first thing they said was they made the loan to the previous owner, so they were very familiar with the business. And they loved the idea of me investing my retirement funds – they knew I’d have a large stake in the business.

“They said, ‘We loved doing these kinds of deals. We’ll do them any day of the week.’”

After a quick meeting, Richard provided a copy of his business plan, shook hands, and left. “They called me an hour later and said, ‘Congratulations – you’ve got your loan.’

Keep in mind most banks will not approve small business loans that quickly. As Richard explained, the bank looks for solid deals – and for entrepreneurs who bring a portion of the funds required to the table. “In effect they said, ‘If you’re putting down 35 to 40% of your own money, we’ll be glad to put up the remaining 60%.”

Richard also chose to stay local when he purchased his franchises. He looked at other opportunities, but realized that most would require a move to another city. Buying the Quiznos franchises was a natural fit for his family, since both restaurants are located in Wichita Falls where he lives.

And so far franchise ownership has met all his expectations, both financially and personally. “My goal was to stay in town, give myself a decent salary, and be active in the community. I want the kids to have a good time, stay in private school... that’s what I wanted and that’s what I’ve gotten.”

But franchise ownership has not been without challenges. “The hardest thing,” Richard explains, “was when I walked in the first day and and saw a bunch of employees eating. I asked and they said, ‘Oh, we don’t pay for our food, man.’ And I said, ‘Well, you don’t work here.’ I went from eleven employees to one employee in one afternoon. But I looked at it as a positive thing – it was time for a change and for a new culture.”

In Richard’s opinion, the key to managing employees, especially part-time employees, is patience. But that patience will then be extended to the customers. “I love working with employees and with customers,” Richard says, “and I just thrive on the restaurant experience. I love spending time with customers. I just love it.”

He also loves the additional time he can spend with his family after purchasing the two franchises. “It was tough because I was working from seven in the morning until ten or eleven o’clock at night. My kids and my family are more important than a huge pay check. So my wife was excited about the opportunity, and my wife was my biggest supporter when I said I wanted to do my own thing.”

So what does Richard feel is the best part about owning his own small business? “The flexibility you have with what kind of hours you want to work,” he says. “I’m very fortunate. I have good managers at each of my locations; it took a lot of hours to get them trained the way I wanted them trained, but once they’re trained, good quality people allow me to have the flexibility to come and go: Coach my kids’ soccer team, basketball team... do things in the community like serve on the Board of a senior citizens center... owning a small business gives me the flexibility to do things I wasn’t able to do previously.”

“Investing in yourself is one of the safest investments you can make,” Richard says, “as long as you are confident in your abilities. Using my retirement funds to help finance the business helps me diversify my investments. I now have my own business and I still have some money in retirement accounts... I can watch my business grow and my investments grow. Diversification is the key.”

What is Richard’s advice for entrepreneurs who want to buy a small business or buy an existing franchise? “Do your research on the company you’re looking at buying into. It has to be a good fit. I had been in the restaurant business for eighteen years and I knew quite a bit about Quiznos: I knew what their good points were, I knew some of the faults... there are plenty of ways to research companies. Do your homework, make sure it’s a good fit, and be prepared to work hard and stick with it. I’ve always been an entrepreneur – I sold dog and cat supplies door to door when I was in sixth grade. I’m confident in my abilities; be confident in yours.”

Many entrepreneurs say their dream of owning a small business began at an early age. John Graham, owner and President of a Bright Star franchise in Birmingham, Alabama, didn’t really start thinking about owning a small business until after he enjoyed a long and successful career in the pharmaceutical industry.

“I never really thought about being an entrepreneur or going into business for myself,” John explains, “until my view of the pharmaceutical industry changed drastically. I went from needing an entrepreneurial ability to run my district and take responsibility for growing sales... to becoming a sales manager. My role became less strategic and more tactical, in spite of the fact I could run my team my way. So I interviewed with several other pharmaceutical companies and realized they all operated the same way. I had to seriously consider whether I was willing to leave a great-paying job and try something new... so I decided to look seriously at taking the plunge.”

Keep in mind John was in no way a “job hopper.” After serving in the U.S. Army, he worked in the hotel business for six years and then shifted to a career in the pharmaceutical industry for seventeen years. His entrepreneurial fire kindled, after an extensive search he settled on wanting to own a Bright Star franchise. The president of Bright Star referred him to Guidant Financial Group, who helped him invest his 401(k) funds into his franchise without having to obtain more traditional small business financing solutions. By investing his existing retirement funds, he was able to purchase the franchise without debt, taking a distribution or paying taxes.

“I realized I could go into business for myself,” John explains, “when I saw the combination of medical experience, medical sales experience, and having the ability to invest retirement savings all came together to make owning a Bright Star franchise possible.”

Bright Star is a national company headquartered in Chicago; franchises provide medical and non-medical, private duty, in-home care. Services range from caregiver companionship services like spending time with seniors or helping with meals and light housekeeping to providing complex medical care for patients who have colostomies, chemotherapy, or multiple medical conditions. Bright Star now has over 150 franchises in nearly thirty states, with plans for further expansion due to a rapidly expanding franchise and customer base.

The customer base grows primarily through the direct efforts of franchise owners. “The model itself makes the owner the primary salesperson,” John explains. “On a daily basis I hold myself accountable for sales. Our sales team is responsible for making daily sales calls on traditional and non-traditional referral sources. Think of it this way: Every church has somebody that knows someone in the hospital and who’s sick and what all their needs are. We also call on physicians, surgeons, plastic surgeons, we call on senior centres. There are lots of different opportunities to make individual sales calls, and the goal is to make twenty-five of those calls every day, five days a week. People need our help – our goal is to find those people and make the care they need available.”

John’s focus on sales and customer service has fuelled incredible growth. In just eighteen months his small business has grown to over 140 employees; in his first year alone the franchise owner billed $1.1 billion.

One of those employees is his wife. “She’s always been really supportive,” John says, “and when we started hitting big numbers I said, ‘Honey, I need you; I need you to help me because I can’t do this on my own.’ I had to upgrade our payroll and billing skills, and my wife was the perfect person to step in and take those functions over.”

What has the transition from corporate employee to small business owner and entrepreneur taught John? “When you start a small business or buy a franchise, make sure it’s something you have a passion for. I can’t imagine wanting to get up and come in every day without it being something I feel passion for. There are lots of small businesses you can own to make a living. The small business you choose should match your skill set; find a company or opportunity that best matches you. That’s one reason I’m having success; we’ve been in the top three to five nationally for twenty-five weeks because I’m out there selling and showing my passion for the business.

“Keep in mind I was a sole income earner my entire life,” John continues. “There have been lots of times when I wanted to throw in the towel... and then I think back to my military training or playing sports and remember that true character is how you react when things get really hard.”

And while revenues are high, cash flow remains an ongoing challenge for John. “To this day haven’t borrowed any money; I’ve been able to make it on my initial investment and my retirement funds, but it’s been really close some weeks. Some weeks we have $160,000 to $180,000 in receivables, and I do payroll on a weekly basis.”

Tough times aren’t new to John, and he’s confident he can work through any obstacles. As an army officer he flew airplanes, and he has put his military experience to good use as a small business owner.

“As an officer your primary role is to lead people through difficult times,” John explains. “I remember every day that the attitude I have when I walk through the door will affect every employee... and the way they react to our customers. The biggest goal a small business owner has is to lead people through difficult times and get them on board. You can get people a lot further if you pull them instead of push them. I get my people involved in everything. I don’t mind sharing results and performance metrics because I think it’s important to show we’re in this together.

“It’s funny,” he continues, “because I’m a business owner... but if you walk in our office right now and start talking to our nurse manager or our director of clinical services or our administrative assistant, you won’t hear the word “I.”

“You’ll hear the word “we.”

Oct 13, 2009
Buy a small business or buy a franchise and the first word that comes to mind might be “new.”  Buy a thirty year-old business in a thirty year-old building... and “new” might be the last word that comes to mind.
But turning old into new was a challenge that excited Frank Czerwinski, entrepreneur and owner of two Burger King locations.

After earning a degree in finance, Frank started a career in retail banking in Delaware. “It’s ironic,” he says, “that I ended up in retail banking. Delaware is the credit card capital of the world. I thought it was exciting being fresh out of school, working with a small bank that allowed me to work directly with creditors and seasoned executives. I wasn’t making a lot but I learned so much.”

Frank’s financial education started at an early age. “Working my way through school from age fourteen on,” he explains, “meant I never went without having some source of income. Whether it was just a kid working at a car wash, which was my first job, or in the summertime waiting tables, or working at various industry jobs. Having that exposure and seeing some of the freedom and rewards and challenges that business owners face... when I jumped into the corporate world I realized quickly how constraining it is – and my learning curve really tapped out after my first banking experience.”

But he found other ways to gain knowledge... and along the way had experiences that shaped him. “I had five different positions with five different companies over twenty-two years,” he says, “and each one of those companies was acquired or merged. Each time my position was put at risk. Bad things can happen to good people... and it made me realize you could be the best at what you are but if a company acquires yours there could be somebody just as good if not better. The risk I faced was eye-opening.”

Owning two Burger King restaurants is not Frank’s only venture into small business ownership. “A few years back I jumped back into entrepreneurialism after a long hiatus, he says. “A friend and I did a few real estate jobs, taking comfortable risks and managing those risks. We were successful and had some fun, and that let me get comfortable making big financial decisions that directly impact my wallet. I learned I could assess situations, think on my feet, and make the right decisions most of the time... and I realized I was ready to go out and start looking at businesses again.”

So Frank started investigating new opportunities over six years ago. Even though he looked at a number of business sectors, including auto-related products and services, he sought a small business opportunity with an established franchise offering low ticket items that was relatively recession-proof. While that sounds like a tough combination to find...

“Interestingly enough,” Frank says, “these two Burger King locations became available literally in my backyard. I have no fast food experience, but I saw tired staff, tired owner and managers, tired buildings... so I jumped on the opportunity.”

Franked put together franchise financing in part by investing his retirement funds into his businesses with the help of Guidant Financial Group. “I felt it was more risky being in corporate America than putting my own money at risk and controlling my own destiny. I can make a burger with the best of them, I can coach a team, I know how to clean up a tired-looking restaurant and get the staff motivated. So for me it was an easy decision to [invest] retirement funds to help [purchase] the business.”

“I really don’t see it as risk at all,” he continues. “I think it’s a very intelligent decision for people comfortable managing risk and confident in their abilities. As long as your abilities match the opportunity the risk is minimized.”

As a new small business owner, his first order of business was changing the attitudes and mindset of existing employees. “I could not afford – nor would I have been smart – to fire everyone and start fresh, even though it might have sounded easy to just hire new people who agree with your approach.

"What I did was lead employees by examples; not being too firm but coaching, redirecting, and explaining. I told them we controlled our own destiny, and once we were approved by Burger King for expansion, they could take part in my vision of growth and profit from it, too. While I have had to fire employees it was as a last resort... because I want to show people that we can coach people into success.

“I just try to show we can accept limitations or challenges... or we can move forward and be what we want to be: A great fast food restaurant and the best Burger King we can be.”

What is Frank’s advice for other entrepreneurs who want to move forward and succeed? “Don’t be afraid to fail,” he says. “Study everything you can. Start small, take small risks, but definitely take risks, and be prepared to feel uncomfortable to be uncertain, and to lose some sleep at night... because you’re really expanding your comfort zone. Be prepared to be uncomfortable, be prepared to take risks, and do your research.”

And how does he feel about using retirement funds to buy a small business? “The best part is as I pay down my debt the equity of the company of course grows. So my business is growing just by existing; if I grow my top line then it’s exponentially growing my investments. I’d say that’s a good deal.”

Entrepreneurs must be bold – extremely confident and borderline arrogant. Entrepreneurs who buy a franchise that are in the process of being “demolished” must have incredible self confidence and self belief.

Gary Friedman, President of Cost Containment Specialists and a serial entrepreneur, has confidence in spades.

Cost Containment Specialists is an expense reduction consulting firm that helps mid-market companies reduce their indirect expenses through two primary approaches. As part of a larger affiliate group, his small business helps $10 to $300 million companies get better pricing by combining their volume with that of other small businesses in the network; in effect mid-market companies enjoy Fortune 500 pricing. At the same time Cost Containment audits invoices to help clients avoid “price creep” and ensure they receive the savings and service promised by vendors and suppliers.

The result: Lower prices, better service, and a partnership with a company specializing in helping small businesses get optimum prices.

Cost Containment Specialists services are provided are on a contingency basis If they can’t save a company money…they don’t get paid. “I tell people it is kind of Las Vegas every day for us,” says Gary, “because we assume a lot of risk. But we also do our homework. We do a preliminary analysis, pull invoices, release requests for proposals to vendors, and make sure vendors bid apples to apples. We compare and benchmark pricing, conduct post-audits, and get credits when necessary. In effect we’re a third-party operational expenses purchasing group. And 95% of the time we achieve savings in one way or another.”

In order to be successful, Gary works directly with a company’s high-level executives. “Some of our best clients are companies where we can deal directly with the President or CFO,” Gary explains, “which creates high-level support for cost containment initiatives. We’ve also found that mid-market businesses think they’re getting good pricing – but in reality they’re not. Plus we make darned sure they get the prices they’re promised. Very few companies have the resources to go through every invoice and make sure the price is appropriate against the contract. We do.”

“Think of it this way,” Gary continues. “Say you get 30% off on office supplies. You think you’re doing great… but it turns out everybody gets 30% off. We benchmark against national pricing agreements, and since our affiliate group creates so much volume we’re able to negotiate better agreements by aggregating spending. A small business does best they can negotiating rates with, say, a telecom company, but we bring $40 million in spending with AT&T and $50 million with Verizon to the table… so we can apply massive leverage, deal with senior people, and get significant discounts for our customers.”

Cost Containment Specialists is not Gary’s first foray into entrepreneurship and small business. “I always have been an entrepreneur,” says Gary, “even when I worked in corporate operational management I was always an entrepreneur at heart. When I left that position I knew I didn’t want to go out and work for somebody. In fact, my wife kids me. She says I never find a job. Instead, she says, ‘He always has to buy a small business so he can find work.’”

A graduate of the University of New Mexico, Gary worked with start-up companies in operations and sales management. “I’ve always liked start-ups,” he says. “I’ve always liked small, fast-moving environments… to be honest, when the companies got bigger, I got bored and left. As a result I’ve been involved in a couple of exhilarating experiences with pre-IPO small businesses – I never could have experienced that excitement working for a big company.”

After selling a company and working as a consultant for several years, Gary worked for a friend who, along with a partner, provided cost containment services. Three years ago, the owners partnership soured and Gary stepped in to buy the franchise and begin the rebuilding process.

“I actually had started looking at other small business to buy,” Gary says. “I was working with a business broker looking at some brick and mortar businesses when this franchise opportunity came along.” It was at that point that he began investigating all sorts of franchise financing options. After researching small business and SBA loans, Gary turned to Guidant Financial Group for help using his existing retirement funds to make the franchise investment. Instead of taking a distribution, Guidant showed him how he could invest his retirement funds into a small business or franchise. “It was an intriguing concept,” Gary says, “so I went to my lawyer and accountant and found it was a viable [investment] alternative to conventional [small business] financing. Then I turned to my wife and said, “I want to do this….”

“And she said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

“Yes, I’m a lucky man,” Gary continues. “My wife knew from the get-go I was an entrepreneur. I’ve made lots of money and lost lots of money and she has been behind me all the way. In fact, the couple times I took corporate jobs – making big money but feeling miserable – she was the first to say, ‘Get out of there.’”

Even with incredible support, every entrepreneur and small business owner has sleepless nights. Gary is no exception.

“What keeps me up at night is what every small business owner contends with,” Gary says. “But what I tell every would-be entrepreneur is those challenges need to energize you. Challenges need to motivate you instead of putting you in a negative frame of mind.”

“More than that, though,” Gary continues, “what keeps me up at night is the excitement of getting up the next day and doing the right things for clients and winning more business. That’s what I live for.”

The economic downturn has been great for Gary’s small business – after all, when times are tough, companies look for cost savings wherever possible – but has also created challenges of its own. Two clients have gone bankrupt, two others are in receivership, and volume is down. Gary says, “as an entrepreneur and small business owner you have to re-adjust and be excited about re-adjusting. That’s the nature of business.”

Gary deals with challenges by simplifying and focusing. “A mentor of mine used to say, ‘If you can’t do your business plan on six pages, it’s not a good business.’ In fact, if you can’t keep a report to one page, the project isn’t worth doing. Crystallize your thinking, stay focused, and keep your eye on the ball. The key to success in small business is focus.”

And passion. “As an entrepreneur,” Gary says, “you will experience phenomenal highs and phenomenal lows, so the name of the entrepreneurial game is passion. If you work really hard and the business isn’t a success, pick up your boots and get on with something else.”

Cost Containment Specialists has worked with large and small businesses in a wide range of industries: Insurance agencies, law firms, non-profits, private and public schools – the methodologies apply to almost any business. Yet when asked what he considers his small business’s greatest successes, Gary says, “We’re still standing. That’s one. I’m motivated by the substance of having a small business that’s sustainable and that’s working.”

“But our greatest success is our client list,” he continues. “Being able to build a business from referrals; when you have an undeniable, fabulous reference from a client with a megaphone saying, ‘You have to work with these people,’ is a huge success. That’s what makes any business sustainable. I appreciate how important maintaining and keeping clients fabulously happy with your work is the mark of success and of a solid, sustainable business.”

Small business financing options can often be challenging to evaluate – much less to find. For some those decisions are easier to make, especially if you are in the rare position to understand business financing from both sides of the table. Debbie Caterson exemplifies a rare breed with lending experience, entrepreneurial vision, and small business experience.

But not at first; after earning a Bachelor’s in Business Management and Accounting, Debbie started her banking career at what she describes as the lowest rung. “People think the teller position is entry-level,” she says, “but believe me there are positions below that – I started as a courier.” She worked her way into more responsible positions and in 1984 started work in the foreclosure department, focusing on small businesses defaulting on Small Business Administration loans.”

“In effect I learned what not to do as a lender and as a small business owner,” she says.

She later became a branch manager and commercial lender, making small business loans throughout the 1990s. In 1998 she left banking to work for non-bank lenders who provide small business financing to entrepreneurs, start-ups, and established small businesses.

Then she decided to take her own advice. “I realized the economy was struggling,” she says, “and I probably needed to do what I recommend to my customers – start my own business. But of course I needed financing for any business I decided to start.”

She also needed an idea for a great small business – and she found one close to home. “Our grandson was diagnosed with autism,” Debbie says. “We went to a specialist for autistic children, hoping for a recovery, and the first thing we had to do was take him off all gluten and casein.” Research shows 90% of autistic children cannot digest gluten – which is found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats – and casein – which is found in dairy products.

“We were inspired by the difference the diet made to our grandson’s world,” Debbie continues. “Within two weeks of changing his diet he stopped banging his head against the wall, he stopped spinning and slapping his hand in front of his face. From that point forward we worked hard to continue to clean his system out because there are so many things that contain gluten and casein: Shampoos, hand soap... even things like paints for school. We have to provide non-toxic paint because everything has gluten in it.”

Earlier this year Debbie and her husband planned to take their grandson to Hawaii on a family trip, so they went on a scouting trip, checking out health food stores to see what products were available. “We found the same stuff that is available here – which is not edible in our opinion,” Debbie says. “So I was sitting on the beach complaining about the situation to my husband... and I realized it was the perfect business: We’ll make gluten and casein-free products that also taste great!”

Idea in place, she returned to the issue of funding. Because she thoroughly understands small business financing, she knew precisely how to evaluate the options available. Debbie made a bold choice, deciding to invest her retirement funds into her new business. Working in the industry as a lender, Debbie knew who to turn to. She contacted the recognized leader in small business financing Guidant Financial Group for help.

And the concept of Inspiration Mixes was born. To move from concept to reality, the first thing Debbie did was investigate pre-made ingredients, but the cost seemed prohibitive. Then she bought ready-made mixes and was less than impressed. “I started playing with recipes that were terrible,” Debbie says, “but that people still have to eat because of their strict biomedical diet. We started experimenting with recipes and came up with products that taste just like foods that contain gluten and casein – except ours don’t. We’ve done a lot of research and development and have several customers who haven’t eaten bread in ten years who are excited because they love our bread.”

Inspiration Mixes launches later this month and its prospects are excellent. “We plan to place products in health food stores by the end of September,” Debbie says. “And we’ve had over 100 people contact us just based on word of mouth. That’s exciting, but we are hesitant to go too far too fast since we’re a small manufacturing facility and the Internet may take us to a level we can’t service. We’ll start out by placing ten or so of our mixes in health food stores and ramp up from there.”

Even though the entrepreneur plans to start small, she has a clear long-term vision. “We’ve seen statistics showing one 1 out of 133 people are diagnosed with celiac disease in the U.S.,” she says. “From what I’m reading, since grains are now genetically engineered our bowels can no longer process it in our system, and that’s why there has been such an increase in this disease.”

“So there are two things we would like to do,” Debbie continues. “Ten percent of children with autism overcome their diagnosis and are never autistic again – that tells me therapy and a biomedical diet are critical. Therapy is expensive, though, and is usually not covered by what we would like to do is become a successful business, make money, and use a portion of those funds to create a trust fund and help families who can’t afford biomedical treatment and therapy. They just want an opportunity to help their children’s lives improve – and we would love to help provide that opportunity.”