Small Business and Franchise Success Stories

The Mallett Family (photo credit: Chrys Rynearson)
“Life is too short to drink bad coffee.”

Jacki Mallett, wife of Brad Mallett, echoes this saying often, and with good reason. She and husband Brad own and operate Coastal Coffee Roasters, a Summerville, S.C. organic coffee company that emphasizes sustainability and fair trade practices.

Before venturing into entrepreneurship, Brad was an operations manager for Verizon in the northeast, but the corporate atmosphere was unhealthy, and the weather in the region wasn’t the greatest, so the family decided it was time for a change.

He and his wife approached a roaster in New York and spent a few days learning the craft of coffee bean roasting hands on.

With that knowledge, they took the skill a step further and modified the process to their specifications. Coastal Coffee Roasters was born.

So, how did they find Guidant Financial?

Brad read an article about using a 401(k) to self-invest. He investigated and researched extensively (at the recommendation of Guidant), then decided to use their services. He cites the “no pressure approach” as what helped them decide to take the risk.

His advice for those who may be apprehensive about starting their own business is this:

“Over capitalize by a large percentage. The government seems to be embedded very deep in regulations. We have very expensive codes to work with—Energy Code, Seismic Code, International Building Code, etc. You become frustrated when you see the guy next door able to operate under different rules because he was open earlier.”

Of course, there are great benefits to owning a business as well. Brad says, “After more than 20 years in customer service it feels AWESOME to be doing something that truly puts a smile on people’s faces. When we see our children enjoying the same results, we know it is the right way forward.”

Up next for Coastal Coffee Roasters are additional building renovations and a continued commitment to providing the freshest coffee around.

In his spare time, Brad likes spending time with his family. He says his motto is “Everything happens for a reason…We just have to figure the reason out.”

A clever philosophy for sure!

To learn more about Coastal Coffee Roasters, please visit their official website.

Have you ever attempted to kick a bad habit? Maybe you’ve tried hypnosis or just going cold turkey—but have you ever tried a miniature coffin?

That’s the method behind Bury the Habit, a product created by Guidant Financial client John Immen.

With 25 years of experience under his belt, working in sales and marketing with a Fortune 100 company, Immen was confident he could start his own business successfully.

So how did the idea for such a novelty come about?

Immen says, “I was a business marketing major in college and one of our case studies was learning about appealing to consumers with either a ‘functional’ or ‘emotional’ attribute. The examples at the time were Nike running shoes (didn’t claim their sole was thicker or stronger) and how they appealed to consumers on the emotional level to ‘Just Do It.’

We were challenged to come up with our own examples and submit a paper on this topic. I chose cigarette companies and how they were very much marketing ‘emotional attributes’ for the many different brands. At an early age I realized just how effective/deceptive some marketing campaigns can be and their potential good/bad consequences for consumers. It really made me want to market a cigarette on a ‘functional’ attribute basis with full transparency … like we will kill you faster than any other brand just to let consumers know they were being bamboozled by big tobacco marketing. I had to laugh 20 years later when the Thank You For Smoking film was introduced because I feel like I could have written a lot of the content.

Our item is not smoking-centric as we respect that there are many other bad habits which can be addressed in a similar manner, but the inspiration was the result of decades old cigarette marketing.”

Once the idea and plans were in place, Immen turned to Guidant for funding assistance. He read an article about Guidant’s ability to help entrepreneurs start their dream business by tapping into their retirement funds without incurring early withdrawal penalties and decided to go for it.

So, how was the process?

“My Guidant experience has been fantastic. The quality of individuals and responsiveness to questions/needs has really been exemplary. The only advice I would offer others is to be certain about the level of risk and funding they are willing to take to pursue their dreams.”

When asked if there are any challenges associated with owning a business vs. working for someone else, Immen notes, “It is important to expect some unanticipated reactions and be open to new learning and skills, which take you outside of your comfort zone.

I didn’t fully anticipate some of the challenges/biases of being a single item company (for the time being) and challenges that could bring both gift brokers and selected retailers as one example. There are also unexpected upside surprises that I wouldn’t have expected. [Specifically] there are some casket makers and funeral homes that have purchased our item in larger quantities (not sure why I thought people in the funeral industry would not have personalities).”

And has Immen ever used his own product to kick a bad habit?

“I have dabbled with each and every habit we list on our package so I’m not a stranger to bad habits, that’s for sure! I still have a few bad habits, which won’t fit in the coffin. ;)

Seriously, there are people I’ve known who have put their credit cards in a block of ice in their fridge or who have scheduled a party at a bar to celebrate the last day of smoking so more inspiration was derived elsewhere. Although, I do have a Bury the Habit coffin on my desk right now—I’m using it as a candy dish reminder to go easy on the sugar leading up to Halloween.”

What’s next for Bury the Habit?

The product will be featured in most major national catalogs for the upcoming holiday season and Spencer Gifts will test the product in their stores in 2012. Immen says, “We want to continue to grow the brand with our current item through increased distribution in major retailers. We also have two other very fun/topical items in different stages of development, which we hope to bring to market soon.”

If you’d like to kick a habit and want to give Bury a Habit a try, visit the official website.

Randy, at the winery.
Transitioning from a career in law enforcement to owning a winery can’t be an easy thing, but Randy Biehl is living proof it can happen.

He was a United States probation and parole officer for almost 25 years and developed a passion for wine in his early 30s. He later decided he wanted to plant a vineyard and open a winery, which he would call Eveningside.

Why that name?

Biehl explains, “I live in Western New York (Buffalo area) and due to our close proximity to Canada we pick up radio stations from Toronto. Many years ago I would hear traffic reports on a Toronto radio station talking about how traffic was backed up on ‘Morningside Rd.’ I liked the name, so I flipped it to Eveningside.”

After an 18-month search for the perfect property to plant the vineyard, he was on his way.

To get his winery going, he turned to Guidant Financial after hearing about the company through his son, who had received a recommendation from a colleague.

“I have been very impressed with the level of service, the professionalism, and friendliness of Guidant staff and management.”

He also recently endured an IRS audit, but came through with flying colors.

“An IRS audit is very unsettling but Guidant stood by me every step of the way and that brought me great comfort. We were successful!”

On being his own boss, Biehl states, “You need to be very orderly yet creative in your thinking. Working for someone else is easier in many ways but that never gives you the freedom and ownership we all seek.”

He likens caring for a vineyard to gardening because “a great garden takes great care and so does a great vineyard,” and mentions that his life and his spare time are all consumed by his love for wine. “You know you have a passion when your hobby becomes your vocation.”

Eveningside wines are currently available online and in various fine dining establishments and stores throughout New York.

Biehl has aspirations to expand into building a facility to host events such as weddings at the vineyard.

Learn more about Eveningside at their official website.

Since he was a teenager, Scott K. knew that he wanted to own his own business. He just didn’t know what kind of business, where it would be, or when he would make it happen.

He was content in his role as an insurance broker with The Graham Company (where he’d worked for eight years) when as a result of the economy, his biggest client went bankrupt. That set off what he calls a “chain of events” that made him think about how he wanted to spend the next 25 years of his career.

“I started brainstorming and put together the draft of a business plan. Over the course of several months I had something that I thought would work out well,” he said.

“I wanted to stay in the insurance industry and continue working with the people that I’ve spent so much time getting to know. If possible, I wanted to cooperate with, rather than compete with, my former company. I settled on the idea of putting together insurance solutions for niche industries to be distributed through other insurance brokers.” Shortly thereafter, Wahoo insurance was born.

So where did he come up with the cool name?

“A ‘Wahoo’ is a game fish found off the coast of New Jersey. It’s fast and aggressive, sort of like a barracuda. I want our business to be fast and aggressive. ‘Wahoo’ is also a popular model of fishing boat that was made in the 70s. I bought a carefully restored 1978 Pacemaker Wahoo from an engineer who, coincidentally, works for one of the best infrastructure contractors in New Jersey.”

When asked about how he found Guidant’s services, he explains that he just “couldn’t get comfortable” with the idea of giving up so much ownership to investors to get the cash he needed to start the business. He says he explored the idea of going a more traditional route using debt financing through banks, but that “wasn’t very attractive.”

Scott noticed an ad from Guidant while reading an email about businesses for sale and spent two weeks doing research on the 401(k) rollover concept. He says that in the end he was willing to risk losing his retirement savings in order to start his business, and he believes that’s the true test of how much an entrepreneur believes in his or her idea. He states, “If you don’t believe [in the idea] 100%, it’s going to be hard to convince anyone else to believe in it.”

Describing his Guidant experience, he says it “has been great.” He goes on to note, “It’s allowed me to start a business and have some operating capital without taking on crippling debt or suffocating investors.”

As for the difference between being someone’s employer and being self-employed, he says “When you own your own business, it’s all up to you. No one’s going to tell you what to do or how to do it—that’s the biggest blessing and challenge.”

In this spare time, he enjoys surfing, fishing, playing the guitar, basketball and even yoga. He claims that yoga helps him reduce anxiety by “letting go of that which does not serve me.” (By the way - he credits that mantra to his trusted yoga instructor, Nicole).

Up next for Wahoo is stabilizing the Infrastructure Contractor segment and then adding solutions for the Human Services niche.

Founded in 1986, The Teriyaki Experience franchise was created to provide a delicious meal experience that was fast, but also healthy. Food at every store is prepared with water instead of oil on a steel grill, which reflects authentic Japanese simplicity.

Started in Canada, with locations also in Europe, Central America, the Caribbean and the Middle East, the chain only recently arrived in America, and one of our Guidant clients, Zia Hassan, was among the first to open a domestic location.

A resident of Texas, Hassan had a background in restaurant management and wanted to explore the option of franchising. “It has always been my goal to own a business,” says Hassan. “The Teriyaki Experience was a brand new concept in the U.S. and I knew I could have an edge on providing consumers with a healthy choice.”

Hassan heard of Guidant Financial through a friend who had seen a magazine ad. When asked about how the process went once he called for a consultation, he replied, “Very smooth—I’m very happy with my experience at Guidant. Obtaining adequate financing was my biggest challenge getting the business started. This gave me a solution.”

Area Developer Bryan Littleton, who worked with Hassan to get the location up and running, was also pleased at the opportunities Guidant provided. “It’s a great thing for folks to have 401(k) rollovers as a [financing] option. Mom and Pop operations don’t always have the money necessary to start their businesses and this is perfect for people like them.”

Littleton goes on to say, “When I tell people about Zia’s experience [and how he was able to fund his franchise] they always raise their eyebrows and think it’s very cool. I see huge opportunity in this [financing method] and am definitely recommending Guidant to other folks.”

Candy Budyta with her Lil Baby Cakes creations.
For over 21 years, Candy Budyta juggled a lengthy commute and hectic schedule working for General Motors (GM). Toward the end of her career there, the conference calls and meetings that took away from her family time really caught up with her.

"I felt I was missing out on my children's lives. I was never able to take a field trip with them; they were waking up, getting ready, and getting to school all on their own. As they were approaching their high school years, I knew it would only be a matter of time before they would be on their own life path. I knew I would look back and regret not being able to share prior [time] with them."

Tired of missing out on these milestones, and also wanting to visit with her ailing father who had been diagnosed with cancer, she and her husband decided it was time for her to resign and start her own business.

For five months, the two worked with business brokers and reviewed companies for sale before deciding on, an Internet company dedicated to making gift cakes out of diapers for expectant mothers. The business appealed to Budyta because of its creative opportunities and the time freedom it would allow for her to attend her children's activities. She named her corporation LAGM ("Life After General Motors").

Her husband researched a variety of financing options and decided on Guidant Financial. Of their time working with the firm, Budyta said, “The people at Guidant were very accessible, answered all my questions—even the same ones I asked over and over, were very patient and very organized.”

Of the continued relationship she maintains with the company, she notes, “I appreciate all the annual reporting and how they keep things on track in terms of filing required paperwork. This includes giving me a ‘nudge’ when something is due. As a small business owner in this economy, I have a ton of things to manage on a daily basis. With Guidant I only have to respond to their requests for info and they do the rest. It’s one less thing for me to worry about.”

Budyta credits her time at GM for giving her a great work ethic and teaching her many lessons that have translated well into small business ownership. Having worked in purchasing, she understood inventory control, supply base and logistics. She admits she took for granted "having a staff to prepare reports and not having to worry about paper for the copy machine."

Though every business owner faces bumps in the road (continued financing is a challenge for Lil Baby Cakes in light of the recent economic climate), there are also tremendous joys that come with being in control of your own destiny. Budyta made a list of her favorites:

  • Customers who like our product
  • Businesses that use us for their clients and employees
  • Using my creative talents and also still using my analytical abilities
  • Having been part of the kids' high school dances, matches and having the time to be with my dad
  • Having the best "free" partner, my husband Alan
She's also had time to recently pick up one of her previous hobbies—crocheting, which allows her time to relax and brainstorm on themes and products for her business.

Budyta looks to expanding her offerings in the future, possibly launching a sister site to Lil Baby Cakes called Lil Baby Gifts, which will offer more boutique gift items for the new baby, siblings, parents and grandparents.

In the meantime, though, she is enjoying her youngest child's senior year of high school and all the athletic events that go along with that—in fact, she plans to attend every varsity tennis match!

To learn more about Lil Baby Cakes, visit their official website.

Dr. Susan Lin with Actor Billy Zane at the Golden Globes
Delivering babies in the middle of the night can get tiresome, especially when you’re part of a large HMO and allowed little opportunity to think outside the box. That was exactly the situation that Dr. Susan Lin found herself in when she was a full-time OB/GYN.

She and her husband, Dr. Isaac Choy, a general and thoracic surgeon, both had an interest in business and decided that he would continue with his practice while she went in a new direction that would allow for more opportunities and expansion.

With Issac’s support, Susan soon started her own cosmetic and anti-aging center, where they established private labels for various cosmetic products. They did initial work with lash extensions and noticed that customers were intrigued by the up-and-coming lash conditioners on the market, so they saw an opportunity to develop their own product line and conduct further research on the formulas.

A few months later, MD Lash Factor was born. The product is an eyelash conditioner that enhances the appearance of natural lashes, giving them a longer and fuller look. Better yet, the formula contains no harmful ingredients, such as prostaglandin, and is paraben-free.

Choy and Lin admittedly had different ideas about how to fund MD Lash Factor, but a friend of theirs recommended Guidant. They looked into it and decided that it seemed like a good idea.

“Our experience with Guidant was great,” remarked Choy. “They guided us through the process, which was very involved, and have been with us the entire way. They have provided the technical expertise required to be successful.”

He recommends that others new to starting a business should be sure to know what they want to do and have a “clear and defined plan, then charge ahead.”

Since their launch in 2007, MD Lash Factor has enjoyed much success, expanding to over 20 countries outside the U.S. It was also named Product of the Year USA in the Cosmetics Category by TNS in 2011.
The couple has also had a taste of Hollywood since starting their company—MD Lash Factor was a featured item in the Golden Globes Celebrity Goody Bag, and has appeared twice on the Home Shopping Network (HSN). 

Discussing the HSN experience, Choy said it was “great,” and they learned a lot about the industry and sales from participating. They also gained “tremendous mass market exposure” broadcasting to 70 million viewers in the U.S.

Even when the road became bumpy, becoming the subject of an IRS audit, the couple pulled through.

When asked what the process was like, Choy replied, “It was OK, not terrible, [a] little stressful, and kind of a pain. We had great attorneys who handled most of the nitty gritty so [that] took a lot of [the] direct pressure off of us.

Of course, the result of the audit was a Favorable Determination Letter, so all was well that ended well.
Looking ahead, Choy and Lin plan to continue expansion of the brand to several other South American countries (they’re already selling in Peru and Chile), and will appear on HSE24 (the German equivalent of HSN) next month. They have their sights set on broadening their European customer base and promoting the other MD branded products that were recently launched.

Says Choy, “Ultimately, we would like to reach that tipping point!”

It seems they’re well on their way.

To learn more about MD Lash Factor, visit their official website.