Converters Unlimited | Kinston, NC
Fred AshQ: What’s your story? Converter’s Unlimited started up 30 years ago buying scrap converters and stripping them for their precious metals. They gradually moved away from scrap and began re-building converters and selling directly to consumers out of trucks. As the company and market continued to evolve, the owner of Converters Unlimited recognized the need to move away from this type of sales and into the wholesale market. This is where I came in. The owner knew my reputation in the industry and called me for an interview. Honestly, I only agreed in order to spy on the enemy, but they ended up making me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I became the Sales Manager and moved Converters Unlimited out of the peddler market and into the world of wholesale. We began making appointments and selling to auto shops. About two years ago, I decided to make an offer to purchase the company. I knew with the right staff, we could make some necessary changes to Converters Unlimited. It was a long process but I’ve owned the company for about a year now and we are already seeing growth. Q: How did you hear about the SBTDC? After the previous owner agreed to sell me the company, I started looking into procuring a loan. I was discussing with a small group at church about what I wanted to do about buying the business when someone referred me to the SBTDC where I met my business counselor, Debbie Hathaway. Q: How has the SBTDC been able to help? Getting a loan seemed simple enough, but without Debbie’s knowledge of the system I never would have received the funding to purchase Converters Unlimited. Between waiting for answers and jumping through hoops, the first loan fell through and we had to start over. It took close to a year before I finally got the funding and there were several times I came close to giving up. It was like being in the Wild West with outlaws shooting at my feet telling me to dance. I was nervous that the owner would change his mind, that the next loan might fall through, that the paper work would just keep piling up but a lot of patience and endurance mixed with Debbie’s encouragement and knowledge of the system finally got us through. Q: Have you been able to see any growth? Well, we were able to retain 19 employees, which was really important to me. I have a responsibility to them since they’re the ones that helped make it all possible. I have also been able to bring my son, Kyle, on board, something I never would have done if the company wasn’t where it is now. Our revenue has increased by 2% in this first year, and we are selling to six states with plans to expand soon. Just recently we were one of six companies in the US to be honored as a Distributor Council Member.
Story originally featured in the SBTDC’s 2013-2014 Annual Report.
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Our international presence began the day our international business counselor called to let us know about the possibility of obtaining an NC Step grant to support travel to a trade show in Thailand. Since participating in the Thailand trade show, we’ve traveled to Hong Kong, Beijing and South America with support from grants that SBTDC helped procure. This is the perfect example of how the SBTDC counselors are constantly thinking of ways to use the resources at their fingertips to help the small businesses in their community grow and thrive.
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Probably the biggest impact on the business I’ve seen as a result of working with the SBTDC is the funding for the new office. With the help of my counselor I was able to borrow $201,000 and open up $35,000 in new credit lines. The new space is a much better fit and will allow for future growth.
I had the customers and knew the industry, but the SBTDC was able to help me come up with and implement new strategies for success.
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I have taken advice from the SBTDC counselors at every major decision point through the last couple of year and my business has benefited greatly from the sound advice and research provided by the SBTDC.
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A.W. Brinkley Hardware
One of the most important ways the SBTDC has influenced the business was by helping us receive a workforce development grant. We’re using it to send two of our mechanics to specialized training for standby generators. We will be the only business in 75 miles licensed to work on these types of generators.
Speech 4 Kidz
The SBTDC is a fountain of never-ending information. If they don’t have the answers ready, they will tell you exactly where to look to find the answers you need. I have learned more, truly, in my 30-60 minute sessions about small business and strategies than in all my years of just breathing.
Sanesco International, Inc
The SBTDC is a great program with a fantastic vision for helping small businesses succeed. We have a wonderful relationship with our mentor and advisory. She always keeps us in mind and regularly informs us about opportunities or partnerships that could positively impact and grow our business.
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We increased our revenues by over 550% in four months, we have tripled the number of direct labor employees and added three new engineers to our staff.
We were aware there was a communication issue, but we’ve been able to fully understand the deeper issues, we have a plan to improve, and assurance that those improvements would take hold. There isn’t a finish line for this sort of thing, but the improvements have been recognizable and have made an impact on the company. Since working with the SBTDC, we’ve had a 20% increase in employees, and our revenues are increasing as our changes begin taking effect.
East Coast Umbrella
Now that we’re started, it is getting even easier. We have reps in the Middle East region and with the STEP Grant to help pay for the booth and samples, our reps will be on site to handle the tradeshow. Work with the SBTDC. They held our hands through the process, and we never would have gone to those other countries without their help. Work with the SBTDC, and you’ll find out just how easy exporting can be.
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Game Theory Group
Raising capital has to be the most influential way the SBTDC has helped. Our counselor literally took us through the projections for five years and helped us get the rest of our paperwork in shape. With those in hand we’ve been able to win some local grants, which our counselor brought to the table. He also introduced us to IMAF and they’ve been our largest investor.
First Flight Adventure Park
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Mind Your Business
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Stay Online Corp
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The location of each site has been very strategic. Before we open any office, we call Johnnie at the SBTDC and he gives me demographic information about the community. We really take advantage of his expertise, which allows us to pinpoint areas that best fit our business model. Today we have 17 offices from the coast to the mountains and currently serve more than 100,000 kids each year from 64 counties in NC. We have 152 employees and will add at least 25 or 30 this year.
Our counselor, Janis Mueller, helped us find the right bank, figure out my financials, and put together our presentation to get an SBA loan. We still work with Janis regularly; in fact, I called just yesterday with some concerns. She was able to bring in an expert in the field that I had questions about while I was still on the phone with her. It was that quick. I think it’s unique that I can call her spur of the moment and get that kind of response. It has been very valuable to us and I would say we probably wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t reached out to the SBTDC. I talk about Janis like she’s magic but she is kind of magic.
Our annual revenue has grown a minimum of 10%. In the last year we have placed 35 to 40 employees with federal contracts that we received with the help of the SBTDC and we placed approximately 2000 employees throughout the Southeast. We have a total of three federal contracts, one of which is expanding and those probably generate three-quarters of a million annually.
Outer Banks Craft Distilling
We thought we had a pretty good idea of what we were doing, then we met these awesome guys and realized how far away we really were. They prepared us for talking to the banks. It’s tough for start ups and they knew what red flags to look for so we were prepared…. The SBTDC sat with us through the meetings and helped us figure out why they were hesitant and what we could change. We’ve never done this before, so it’s awesome to be able to call someone who has answers at the drop of a hat.
Baker’s Southern Traditions
When Danielle first started out, they were processing about 4,000 pounds of peanuts a year and now they are doing that every week. Her first customers were people she met at shows and festivals before eventually getting some permanent spots on shelves at specialty shops across the state. Two years ago, Danielle also picked up a distributor and can be found in more than 550 grocery stores across the state, but she is careful not to loose touch with her smaller retail shops.
Green Clean Auto Spa
John sat down with his SBTDC counselor to crunch some numbers. He was ready to build a brand new facility, but his counselor pushed instead for a retrofit. John eventually purchased a building from the city of Charlotte and describes putting it together like blocks of Legos. He expanded the existing building from 53 feet to 81 feet, saving tens of thousands of dollars. “I didn’t want to hear it when Robin said I needed to find an existing site, but it was smart. If I had been stubborn and built something new, I wouldn’t be here.
His counselors introduced him to EXIM Bank and the credit insurance that they offer before walking him through the application process. Now, Thilo is able to give customers 30-day terms, allowing the product to reach the customer before they are required to pay, or with 60-day credit terms they have a chance to sell the product before paying Versatrim. This flexibility can be the difference between making a sale and watching your potential customer walk away.
Before Benny came on board, the SBTDC helped Dignify write a business plan and SBIR/STTR grant application, landing them $150,000. Benny says, “We really appreciate the support of the SBTDC and think it’s a great organization for early-stage technology companies that just need someone to show them the path to getting the company off the ground and funded through these SBIR/STTR opportunities.”
She came across an ad for the SBTDC in Business North Carolina magazine and gave the number a call, which started her relationship with counselors Robin and Nick. “It can be so lonely as a business owner when you have to make hard decisions. They are my objective sounding board. They don’t have any skin in the game, so it has been really helpful getting their support and feedback to help me make decisions.”
Goat Lady Dairy
By 2015, they had made it. The business was profitable enough to put the dairy up for sale. There was interest from many prospective buyers, but eventually, they chose to sell to long-time employees Bobby and Carrie Routh Bradds in May, 2017. Now Steve is technically retired, though he is still invested through owner financing and helps with sales and marketing. Steve says he cannot overemphasize the role that Andy and the SBTDC played in getting to this point. “I think we would have had just to stop and then all those jobs and everything we built would have been lost. It was crucial to our success.”
Lakeside Project Solutions
“For me, internships were about getting a little bit of work done for the business, but it was more of a community service project.” Then she became involved with the SBTDC’s internship programs and her whole philosophy changed. One of LPS’ first interns created a 12-month marketing program including all of the content created, addresses loaded and ready to launch. “It was good enough to use without editing. Suddenly I realized we could be more effective and profitable with the SBTDC interns.”
Alfredo Ristorante Italiano
If they were going to award him $200,000, they were going to need some substantiated information to warrant that kind of money. They suggested reaching out to the SBTDC, so he did. Alfredo’s counselor Ron said, “Let’s shave this thing down and give a little more detail to it.” And that’s what they did. Ron sat with Alfredo several times, asked the necessary questions to pinpoint what was needed and then provided the details including market research that placed Alfredo’s Ristorante within the context of industry averages. “It was critical to my success and that grant, no doubt.”
ASI has already grown to 40 employees since working with the SBTDC, a 33% increase. Revenues are up 15%, and in the machinist division, they are up 50%. They added the new metal bonded wheel in January, and they are now in 26 countries.