Thursday, December 18, 2014

Client of the Month: Javier Garcia, Pinnacle Civil & General Contractors, LLC

“The assistance that the FSBDC provides us has been instrumental in our ability to respond to government solicitations and contract requirements.” – Javier Garcia, Pinnacle Civil & General Contractors, LLC., Jacksonville, Florida

Javier Garcia has been steadily growing his Jacksonville company, Pinnacle Civil and General Contractors, LLC since he started it in 2007. The company’s initial focus was in providing construction services and has gradually expanded into providing full service civil construction, facilities maintenance, landscaping and general horizontal and vertical construction services.  Javier credits much of his success to hard work, dedication, and exceeding expectations.  As he says, “I strongly feel that by working together with the folks at the FSBDC, we will continue to meet our goals and growth objectives.”

As the company began to grow, Javier recognized the strategic importance of obtaining various small business certifications for government contracts.  Javier enlisted the support and expertise of the FSBDC at the University of North Florida to assist and support him in realizing success through the SBA 8(a) Business Development Program and the Jacksonville Small and Emerging Business (JSEB) program. After obtaining these certifications, Javier more fully engaged the resources and consulting support of the FSBDC through the support of its professionally certified business consultants, Paul Arrington and Marge Cirillo, and Government Contracting Specialist, Don Zavesky. 

As a team, Javier, Paul, Marge and Don have worked together in supporting the growth and success of Pinnacle Civil and General Contractors. The FSBDC consultants worked with Javier on developing a business plan, responding to government solicitations, developing strategies for marketing and business development, securing business financing and contract bonding, networking with prime contractors and government agencies, utilizing bid matching services and discussing various business teaming ventures.

Javier’s success is a great illustration of what can result when a hardworking, visionary entrepreneur engages area business support resources.  Some of his successes have included receiving the following business certifications:

•             SBA 8(a) Business Development Program
•             Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business
•             Small Disadvantage Business (SDB), Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), Disadvantage Business Enterprise (DBE), and Jacksonville Small and Emerging Business (JSEB)
•             Underground and Excavation Contractor License
•             General Contractor License

Recently, Javier Garcia has been enrolled in the new FSBDC Bid Matching Service.  This is a no-cost service, offered to select FSBDC clients, that identifies and delivers federal, state, local and worldwide government contracting opportunities relevant to the client’s business.  Every day through email alerts, Javier receives potential government contracting opportunities, specifically researched for his business.  Before submitting a proposal, Javier and his team have the ability to review each opportunity, make go/no-go decisions, and prepare proposals for government contract awards. Recently they have been awarded government contracts with the National Park Service and the U.S. Navy, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast.  As Javier says: “We are proud to be a successful Jacksonville based construction company that supports our local community and Nation.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Who is your Target Market?

One subject that always seems to come up when working with small businesses and business start-ups is the target market.  The identification of the target market is one of the most important exercises for the business owner.  The target market drives many other business decisions and the lack of target market identification can lead to costly mistakes.

A business can have more than one target market.  It is usually good for business owners to identify at least three.  Sometimes one target market will have a completely different product or service mix.  Other times a target market will be a different group of customers served with the same products.

When I ask the business owner: “Who is your target market?” I often get the answer: “Everyone in Suwannee County,” or “Everyone in Cross City.”  This is not true and I can prove it.  Let’s say a natural gas business owner provides service to Gilchrist County.  Is all Gilchrist County the target market for this business?  No.  He does not sell to children under the age of 12 in Gilchrist.  Nor does he sell to homeowners in Gilchrist who only have electric ovens and electric water heaters.  Sometimes it helps to make a list of non-customers when identifying a target market.

The best question to identify a target market comes from Joe Abraham, author of Entrepreneurial DNA.  “Who is the person and situation for which your company is always the best choice?”  A Small Business Development Center colleague expressed it this way: “Who do you hit a home run with every time?” 

There are some customers that love your business; and you love them.  They never complain about your prices and you are always happy to serve them.  It is what some business owners call their “sweet spot.”  On the other hand, most business owners can name a few customers who are a pain.  The work is never right, the price is always too high, the product isn’t exactly what the customer wanted and you are seldom happy trying to make them happy.

When both parties are very satisfied with the transaction, it lifts the quality of the work and strengthens the relationship between business and customer.  These are the people you like to serve.  These are the customers you want to have.  This is the group you want to target.

Knowing specifically who your target customer is will make other business decisions easier.  The story is told of a barber who was successful at cutting elementary boy’s hair.  Mothers loved to bring their boys to him because the barber was able to do a good job without the drama they encountered in other shops.  The boys didn’t mind this barber because he had a cool spaceship chair and played corny old black and white space shows while he cut their hair.  The barber didn’t mind because the appreciative mothers were glad to pay a couple of dollars more than the going rate for his service.  He had identified elementary school boys as one of his target markets.  One day, the local Parks and Recreation Department called to see if he wanted to advertise on the outfield fence of the T-Ball field.  He didn’t have to think long about that decision because it would be a great venue to reach his target market – elementary school boys.

Knowing your target market will drive decisions that affect the product mix, employee training, advertising, location and expansion as well as a host of other small and big decisions that an owner is faced with every day.

Your Small Business Development Center Consultant can help you figure out your target markets and brainstorm with you about how to reach them.  The SBDC has 250 consultants and 40 offices in Florida.  Mark Yarick is a certified business consultant with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in North Central Florida and is hosted by the University of North Florida in the offices of the Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce.  SBDC confidential consulting is available at no charge.  Please call us (386-362-1782) if there is any way we can help you start and grow your business.

Mark Yarick is a professionally, certified consultant with the Florida Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in North Central Florida and is hosted by the University of North Florida in the offices of the Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Melinda Powers: The Lawyer Who Bakes!

Our client Melinda is passionate about baking and her new business has gained steady attention via word of mouth. We caught up with her yesterday to talk about baking and Melinda's Confections...

As an attorney by training, what made you fall in love with baking?

Well, first of all, I am a foodie! I love food and have always loved cooking. My mother is an excellent home cook and she taught me everything I know. If I remember correctly, the first thing she taught me to cook was pancakes when I was about 7 years-old. I actually begged her to because on Saturday mornings I didn’t want to wait for her to wake up before I could eat.

What is your vision moving forward in the next few years?

Moving forward in the immediate future will mean no longer being a home cook and having the freedom to bake in a commercial kitchen as a licensed caterer. This will allow me to take on larger jobs that my kitchen simply cannot handle. Beyond that, my desire is to see my brand, Melinda’s Confections, grow to be very strong in the market, which will make opening a storefront practically necessary.

What makes your desserts different than others in the marketplace?

Though banana pudding (which is the signature item) is a classic dessert many know and love, I have taken the concept to a new level that many have not experienced. I began by creating a vanilla wafer from scratch rather than use store bought wafers. I have also began to incorporate other flavors such as chocolate, strawberry, raspberry and mixed berries for an added layer of flavor. These new flavors are getting great feedback. I would say that strawberry and chocolate are the current favorites. The next flavor I’m experimenting with is salted caramel. There are so many ideas I have yet to explore, but they will all be new and creative twists that people enjoy just as much (or more) than the Originale. And last, but certainly not least, everything is made with love.

What are you doing to let the world know about what you do?

There is the Facebook page, which is used to share photos that promote and chronicle the different events around town that I visit. I try my best to attend a variety of events with samples to share with others. These events have allowed me to meet so many different people. I have appeared at open mic nights, a BBQ cook-off, The Taste of Black Jacksonville (BlackExpo) and most recently, the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Jax Kitchen.

What advice would you give to someone who makes food and wants to go into business for themselves?

First, I would suggest that they have a signature dish/item, master it and add a personal touch. For instance, as I mentioned, I make vanilla wafers from scratch but I also stamp every wafer that I make with the signature ‘M’ of the brand. When people see that, they love that I went that extra mile to make it my own plus they enjoy the taste. These simple things, when taken as a whole, make the end product very memorable. I want them to remember. Without that recognition, I don’t have a brand. Beyond that, I would tell them to be prepared for the adventure of entrepreneurship.

How can I order?

You can call Melinda’s Confections at 904.357.0557 and place your order. However, it must be placed no less than 12-24 hours prior to when it is needed to ensure quality. But hurry, because our current pudding sale (25% off) is over by December 23rd.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

New UNF Assistance Program Targets Small Businesses Looking to Grow!

Jennifer Marko is the Program Director for ScaleUp North Florida, a new Small Business Administration (SBA) program based at the University of North Florida. Jacksonville was chosen as one of eight ScaleUp communities across the country. It is a year-long program that focuses on helping growth-oriented small business owners “scale up,” or grow, their businesses.

Q: Jennifer, tell us about ScaleUp. How is it different from other small business programs?
A: We are fortunate in Northeast Florida to have many resources for small business owners, especially for startups or stage 2 companies. ScaleUp focuses specifically on companies right in the middle of those: businesses that are primed for growth and are looking for guidance on how to grow in a smart way. Specifically, ScaleUp participants must have been in business for at least three years, have annual revenue from $150,000 - $500,000, have specific growth goals and be willing to commit to the program for a year. That there is no charge to participate. This program is all about economic impact through improving small businesses in Northeast Florida.

Jennifer Marko
Q: What do you mean by specific growth goals?
A: Growth means different things at different times when you own a small business. One entrepreneur may be a sole proprietor and want to grow her business by incorporating and hiring her first employee. Another may want to expand their business, and they need access to working capital. A different company may want to add a new product to their line or even take manufacturing or shipping in-house in order to add to their bottom line. Other examples are increasing sales, entering a new market or buying real estate. ScaleUp can support small business owners in achieving their unique growth goals, and that is unique.

Q: OK, describe the program. What would participants expect to be doing throughout the year?
A: ScaleUp starts with six four-hour classes, which are taught by professionals from the Northeast Florida community. We will have class every other week for 12 weeks on topics specific to the needs of growing businesses, including strategic planning, leadership, brand development, human resource management, financial management and marketing. Then, each business will get an assessment, and they will describe what their specific growth goals are, and we will make a plan to reach those goals. The instructors, most of whom are small business owners themselves, will continue to consult with the program participants throughout the year, and they will also have access to any of the SBDC resources that they need. We can do things like create a fast-pitch event for lenders if they need a loan, involve them in a CEO Exchange group for peer support and connect them with other people and resources to ensure that they are successful in achieving whatever goals they set for themselves. It’s a very comprehensive program, and it will be so valuable to them.

Q: How can people apply for the program, and what will the schedule be?
A: The application is available on the program website at We plan to select participants by late January and start classes in mid-February, so now is the time to submit the application. We are already seeing a lot of interest in this program, and we will take 50 businesses for the first year. I encourage anyone who meets the qualifications and can commit to the program to apply now. Questions or comments can be sent to me directly at  

Monday, December 08, 2014

Small Business Facts and Figures

A business starts with an idea.  The idea concerns a product or service that can be sold to a consumer.  The good ideas make the life of the customer easier, better or allow him/her to do new things. 

The Small Business Administration defines a small business as an enterprise having fewer than 500 employees.  There are 28 million small businesses in the United States.  More than 75% of these (22 million) are known as “non-employer” businesses, which means that they have no employees other than the owners.  85% of non-employers choose to operate without a formal business structure.  These business owners are known as “sole proprietors.”  Non-employers account for almost 1 trillion dollars of revenue (GDP) each year.

One-half of the United States workforce (60 million) work for small businesses and two-thirds of all new jobs are created by small businesses.

The fastest growing sectors are auto repair facilities, beauty salons and dry cleaners.

One in 10 Florida residents own their own business.  97% of these Florida businesses have less than 20 employees, create 80% of Florida’s jobs and are responsible for 75% of Florida’s revenue (GDP).

Do you have an idea for a product or service that will improve the lives of others?  Your local Small Business Development Center consultant can help you evaluate the feasibility of your concept.  Statistics show that entrepreneurs who seek business assistance stay in business longer, hire more employees and generate more revenue than businesses that struggled along on their own.  

The SBDC has 250 consultants and 40 offices in Florida.  The newest addition to the SBDC network is the North Central Florida office.  Our confidential consulting is available at no charge.  Please call us (386-362-1782) if there is any way we can help you start and grow your business.

Mark Yarick is a certified business analyst with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in North Central Florida and is hosted by the University of North Florida in the offices of the Suwannee County Chamber of Commerce.

Friday, December 05, 2014

JumpXtreme: Taking Your Event to New Heights!

 Tiffany Chapin has been a small business owner for many years. Recently she has decided to go into the excitement business. She made the leap and invested in an amazing free fall stunt jumping device that lets almost anyone experience something new and different.

At the FSBDC at UNF, we are going to be helping her get the word out about JumpXtreme. There is nothing like this in any part of North Florida! We are looking forward to trying this very soon. We caught up with Tiffany who is clearly passionate about her new business.

1.    How did you get into this business?

I’ve been involved in the family entertainment business now for almost 3 years.  My friend has owned and operated multiple family entertainment facilities for the past 5 years.  I have a close working relationship with an international franchise in the family entrainment business as well.  Over the last few years I have worked to develop knowledge and capabilities in this field.  I’ve been researching this product for 2 years now and decided now is the right time to make the investment.  I have the experience, knowledge and client base to facilitate generating business.
2.    Describe how this works...what the experience of climbing and jumping like?

Ever wonder what it feels like to jump out of a plane or free fall from a building like in the movies?  We have the best of both worlds.  Our free falling experience of a lifetime, combined with our super safe, patented air bag! 
JumpXtreme’s Stunt Jump gives you the adrenaline rush of free falling through the air like a Hollywood stuntman. 

3.    Who’s the customer for this?

All ages!  The only person that can’t do this is a person with a physical handicap that would preclude their jumping.
4.    Where can we expect to see this?

Anywhere and everywhere!!!
All we need is a space that is at least 30’ x 55’.
We are targeting a wide range of events that include:

Private Parties
Corporate Events
Spring Break Events
Trade Shows
Team Building Activities
Block Parties
Vacation Bible Schools
Reunions / Family Picnics
Holiday Parties
Company Picnics
College Events
End of Season Sport Parties
Fund Raisers
Church Festivals
School PTA Fund Raisers
School Carnivals
End of School Year Parties
Fairs & Carnivals
Business Promos  
Grand Openings
You can imagine that this would be a show stopper at almost and event you can think of.

5.   How would someone contact you for more information and bookings?
(407) 416-7985


Businesses and Online Reviews: Understanding the Good and the Bad

Almost every consumer business is subject to online reviews that they can’t control. Depending on the industry, anywhere from 73% - 90% of consumers read online reviews before buying a product or service.

So, how can we make sure to leverage the good reviews and respond to the bad? To help us all better understand this issue, the SBDC will present a workshop presented by UNF professor Dr. Matt Corrigan, who will help business owners with the following issues:
   • Understanding online reviews and services such as Yelp and TripAdvisor
   • How businesses respond to online reviews
   • How companies should respond to online reviews
   • How companies can generate more positive reviews
   • How online reviews can reinforce your brand

December 9, 2014
1pm - 3pm
Cost:  $20
Place:  UNF Herbert University Center

For more information call 904.620.2476 or go to

Gem City Cottage: A dream come true for these business partners

Wendy Beeson and Valeria Ingamell quickly became friends upon meeting each other while volunteering for a local arts organization in Palatka years ago. Wendy, a world traveler and an accomplished artist, that has mastered watercolors and acrylic painting as well as being a collage crafting sculptor, is well known for her many award winning paintings and her murals in Palatka. She has always dreamed of having her own studio. While Valeria, no stranger to the crafting world, learned to sew and embroider as a child from her grandmother and later went on to assist her mother, a seamstress, with embroidery work on clothes, handmade for the local women in town. When embroidery machines came on the market, she scooped up a six-needle machine that she still uses today in her embroidery business. Upon retiring from Publix Supermarkets she delved deep into enhancing her crafting skills to create items for the home.

When Valeria’s son-in-law purchased a building in downtown Palatka, both ladies thought it would be a great opportunity to take their home based businesses to the public with a store front. Not only that, because of their love of arts, crafts and antiques, they wanted to create a space for other local aspiring artists and crafters to display and sell their work all year round and not just at festivals and special events.

They had a name, Gem City Cottage, a location, and they had artwork and crafts along with dozens of other artists willing to display their items, but they didn't know where to begin with combining their businesses into a partnership. “As soon as we realized we were going to team up to do this business, we knew we had to call Cheryl Lynch, consultant for the FSBDC here in Palatka, to help us navigate the steps of setting up a new business, understanding all the paperwork and licensing needed, along with the agreements and contracts we had to come up with,“ says Valeria. 

“It only made sense,” says Wendy, “we had sought help from Cheryl in the past on other projects, and if anyone knew what we were facing, it was her! She guided and advised us on everything, from contracts to branding and logos, to marketing and so many things we didn't even know we had to do, along with preparing us for the steps after we opened and beyond.”

“It’s always great to see people coming together to do something they are passionate about, but also providing others with opportunities that may be out of reach” says Lynch. “Once the doors opened to Gem City Cottage, I knew the ladies were hitting the floor running and I look forward to working with them through their continued growth and hopefully expansion!’

Gem City Cottage opened its doors mid-August 2014 at 220 St. John’s Ave Suite 1 in downtown Palatka. They are open Tuesdays-Friday 10am-5pm and Saturdays 10am-2pm, and showcase original art, handmade crafts, jewelry and soaps, intricately embroidered pieces and unique antiques from local area artisans, that would make great gifts and accent any home. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Client of the Month - Accessibility Services

"I knew that SBDC at UNF was the resource I needed to help me navigate the process of applying for a multi-million dollar government contract and assembling related financial contingency plans." 

Since 1989, Accessibility Services, Inc. (ASI) has been providing assistive technology and adaptive equipment for disabled individuals, hospitals, businesses, schools and universities throughout Florida and in recent years at a national level. They design and provide environmental control units (ECU's), sometimes called electronic aids, for daily living enabling their customers with physical or neuromuscular disabilities to gain control of their environment.

This family-owned company was started by Fred Thompson and is now operated by his wife, Maggie Thompson. When Maggie took over the operation of the company, she knew there was opportunity for growth but wasn't sure where to start in her expansion efforts.  She learned of the Florida Small Business Development Center (FSBDC) location in Citrus County and first met with consultant Mike Orlito in late 2011. During that initial meeting, Maggie learned the FSBDC could help her develop marketing strategies, compete for and win government contracts, assemble financing options and find qualified candidates for employment.

Early in the summer of 2013, new opportunities for increased capacity arose for ASI, so Maggie arranged a meeting with Mike to help her company determine how to make just the right preparations. With Mike's help, they developed a plan that would utilize the expertise of additional SBDC staff members throughout Northeast Florida.

Mike arranged a video conference with Don Zavesky, the SBDC's government contracting specialist. It was the first of many interactions between Don and ASI during this process. Regarding the services provided by Don, Maggie said, "Don guided us through a gauntlet of preparations before and after we submitted our application for the contract. It's uncertain if we would have been successful without Don Zavesky in our corner."  Mike also arranged for Peter Rivera, SBDC's Ocala area financial analysis expert, to conduct a thorough analysis of the company's financial records. Maggie was impressed by the depth and breadth of Peter's work saying, "Peter's analysis and presentation of trends in our financial history has helped us identify procedures to further strengthen our finances."
Maggie was impressed with how Mike arranged the right players among his colleagues at SBDC to meet all of her needs and more saying, "Mike left no stone un-turned in this process by engaging several SBDC consultants to help with technical aspects of applying for the government contract, providing detailed financial analysis, market research and industry benchmarks to support our application for financial assistance should we succeed in winning the contract."

Maggie Thompson and her staff at Accessibility Services are pleased to have been awarded the multi-year contract and secured the financing necessary to service the contract seamlessly. Since learning of the contract award, Maggie has added two full-time administrative positions and added two full-time technicians as well, a total of four new Citrus County jobs. They are looking forward to their next meeting with Mike at FSBDC is to discuss strategic planning and to revise their five-year business plan.