SBDC SUCCESS STORIES
"A Clear (and Clean) Idea!"
Often, one of the biggest hurdles facing would-be business owners is finding the financial resources to start a business. For many, this has become the deciding factor in getting a business off the ground.
Manny and Ann Margaret Aaron are two of the many small business owners who have used resourcefulness, perseverance, and hard work to overcome financial challenges. With the technical assistance of the Northern Marianas College (NMC) Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and a loan from the Pacific Islands Development Bank (PIDB), the Aarons are on their way to making their business start-up a reality.
As homeowners in the village of Kagman, the couple has had to do laundry weekly at coin-operated facilities in nearby villages. Seeing the need for such an amenity in their growing and expanding community, the couple, after talking to others during weekly laundry visits, decided that they would like to offer the convenience of a coin-operated laundry facility that would be clean, safe, and convenient for residents in the area.
In addition, the couple saw the operation of a business to be advantageous in several ways.
“Not only would starting the business provide us another source of income, it would give Ann Margaret the chance to manage a business while taking care of our sons, and something for me to look forward to when I retire. Plus, we wanted to instill in our boys- Mathew, Malcolm, Myron, Manny, and Edward the value of hard work,” Manny said.
Ann Margaret quickly added, “This is for them.”
After being referred by the Commonwealth Development Authority (CDA) to SBDC in August 2002, the Aarons worked with former SBDC business consultant Larissa Savares in addressing the different phases of a business concept.
According to Manny, a key benefit of seeking assistance from the SBDC was having someone actively listening. “Larissa really helped us to pick which road to take and helped us in packaging our business plan so that we could secure a loan. Ann Margaret went on to say that “Eric Plinske (SBDC business consultant) came in later after we had gone to PIDB and he helped make changes to our financial projections, while Robert Suzuki, the Office Manager, assisted us whenever we came to the office.” We couldn’t have made it this far without them and the support of our family,” Manny said.
Manny added that it was through the SBDC that they received advice about alternative funding sources, such as PIDB.
“This was something we didn’t know about and had we not visited SBDC, we would never have known about the financing offered by PIDB. We’ve always known about the MicroLoan program at CDA but there’s a moratorium in effect and even with that, the amount one can borrow may be quite low depending on the business’ needs,” he said.
The Aarons knew that they needed to secure outside sources of capital for start-up money the business required.
To raise the money, they had to convince PIDB of the merits and potential of their idea. Thus, the Aarons spent time, researching the competition, talking to potential customers and equipment distributors, working out financial projections, and finally composing all the pieces into a solid business plan.
They worked hard to ensure that their business proposal was sound and able to convince the lender that they are a good credit risk.
In March of this year, the Aaron’s hard work paid off when they were informed that their loan request to PIDB had been approved. The Aarons are very grateful to PIDB and CDA for their trust and confidence in their business venture. The Aaron’s expect to close on the loan in May and begin construction of the facility and acquisition of equipment right away.
The construction and planning of the new laundromat comes at a time when the Kagman community is experiencing tremendous growth with families moving into their homestead lots.
Construction of the laundromat is anticipated to begin in June. Once completed, the full-service laundromat will feature 21 coin-operated washer and dryer units.
The Aarons said they will provide their customers a clean, well-lit, and safe environment, plus offer reliable and well-maintained machines and equipment.
Several tables will also be available for customers to fold their laundry and laundry supplies such as detergent, fabric softener, and bleach will be available for purchase. For the convenience of customers, Ann Margaret, who is an Avon Representative, will also be selling and taking orders for Avon products while customers do their laundry. The Aarons realize that convenience and price are very important and plan on becoming price competitive with other laundromats in the area.
Upon completion of construction, the laundromat will operate daily, including holidays, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Equipped with determination and thorough planning, the Aaron family’s new venture smells like a winner.
If you’d like more information about getting your business off the ground, contact the NMC SBDC at 235-1551.
"Business Success Takes Hard Work!"
Do you remember the old Smith Barney television advertisement, “We make money the old fashion way, we earn it.” This quote couldn’t be more applicable to any other small business owner on Saipan than Francisco Alfonso, owner and operator of Action Locksmith. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he’s traveled a long road towards acquiring and making Action Locksmith a successful small business.
Prior to acquiring Action Locksmith, Mr. Alfonso owned a local food market. Fresh fish was a key component of the business. However, when local and regional demand for fish dried up, he cut his losses and closed the business. But ever the entrepreneur, Mr. Alfonso was on the prowl for a new challenge. In April 1995, the NMC Small Business Development Center (SBDC) hosted an American Disabilities Association workshop. The SBDC invited Mr. Alfonso to attend.
Ooops, I forgot to mention that Mr. Alfonso is disabled, not a problem. At the meeting he was introduced to Mr. & Mrs. John Tincher, then owners of Action Locksmith. They wanted to sell the business. Mr. Alfonso was a little apprehensive but decided to observe the business operations for one week. He liked what he saw and decided to buy the business.
But it wasn’t as simple as it seemed. Mr. Alfonso didn’t have deep pockets and needed to develop a plan of attack to purchase the business. Selling and buying a business takes time, and Mr. Alfonso was patient. During the planning phase Mr. Tincher could not afford to pay him, who wanted to continue working beyond his initial week. So, he decided to work for FREE and learn all he could about the locksmith business.
Mr. Alfonso enrolled in correspondence courses with the Foley Belsaw Institute and earned certifications in professional locksmithing and advanced locksmithing. While working for free and studying for locksmith certification, he also found time to work with the SBDC in developing a business plan and loan package to the Bank of Hawaii. He earned his trade certifications, received a membership in the National Locksmith Association, received his loan in March 1996 and opened for business the same month with two employees. Now that’s hard work!
Mr. Alfonso enjoys small business ownership and the community in which he lives. “I really feel close to my customers and the business,” he recently stated in an interview. He has some lessons he’s learned along the way that he’d like to impart to other entrepreneurs. First, thoroughly educate yourself and the customer about the business. Understand the needs of the customer. Second, learn how to read and interpret financial statements. Be especially knowledgeable about expenses and watch for positive and/or negative trends. Know what goes into pricing your product and/or service and make certain it is a fair price. Third, keep close tabs on the competition. He jokingly commented that a while back, someone opened a locksmith business in Garapan. He noted, “They weren’t in business very long because they didn’t have the education and skills to be locksmiths.”
Mr. Alfonso is continuing to thrive as the owner/operator of Action Locksmith. He’s proud that his business is stable in these tough economic times. He cites “word of mouth” and “quality service” as his best sources of building a customer base. He’s also gratified that he’s never missed a loan payment! How many small business owners can make that claim!
However, he continues to face challenges along the way. He cites being a local entrepreneur and coming out of the shadows of former Action Locksmith owner John Tincher. “He was a mainlander and when I bought the business, some people didn’t trust I could do the job. That changed with time and quality service,” he added. Finally, he quipped, “Even burglars like my product line, I had a break-in last month but I recovered and am doing fine.”
There is little doubt that Mr. Alfonso will continue to grow his business. According to Mr. Alfonso, “Action Locksmith is my baby, and my customers trust the quality of products and services I provide.” For all your locksmith and key needs performed by a certified professional, contact Francisco Alfonso of Action Locksmith in Chalan Kanoa at 235-5541!
Auto Glass & Bike Pro
“Turning Your Mad Skills into a Profession”
When you’re single, have skills and a desire to succeed, it doesn’t take long to turn a buck. But when you factor in a career minded spouse and children, the plot tends to thicken. Dual professionals encounter numerous challenges throughout their lives and with regular communication and a lot of give and take, it can be thoroughly rewarding. There are many examples you’re no doubt aware of and one such couple and how they’re accomplishing success can be found right here on Saipan. Their names are Romeo “Romy” Lanuza and Cynthia Mendell.
Romy was employed in the auto glass industry and Cynthia worked in visual merchandising for Nickolodian TV in Texas. Cynthia had an opportunity for career advancement at DFS, but it would involve relocating to Saipan. After family discussions and a visit to the CNMI, they decided to relocate in 1999. The relocation meant that Romy would be without a job, but as they say, he had mad skills! Romy was a U.S. trained technician in the auto glass industry, listed bicycling as a hobby, and had a lot of desire to succeed in whatever he put his mind to.
After settling in Saipan, Romy began researching pricing and the quality of work done on auto glass projects by CNMI body shops. He noticed the low quality of work and high prices that consumers were regularly being charged. He believed that his technical skills earned in the U.S. mainland coupled with quality service and competitive pricing could give him an edge over his competition. Romy’s entry into the market was enhanced by affordable rental space that was becoming the norm in the late 1990s. It certainly reduced his start-up expenses.
After conducting his feasibility study, negotiating rental space, and bringing in initial inventory, he opened up Auto Glass Pro on Beach Road, just across from the 13 Fisherman’s Memorial on Beach Road in 2000. Being relatively new to Saipan, Romy also attended several free NMC Small Business Development Center workshops to learn the nuances of marketing in the CNMI. Working on a tight budget, Romy created numerous computer-generated flyers and spent countless hours placing them under the windshield wipers of cars in all the parking lots he could find. Additionally, he was quick to make friends and word-of-mouth quickly spread about the reliability and quality of his work. Moreover, if you couldn’t make it to his shop, he’d bring his business right to your door. And don’t forget, there is a lifetime warrantee on the installation of the auto glass as long as you own the vehicle…now that’s service!
As the auto glass business grew he still found time to dabble in his hobby, repairing friends bicycles. He started ordering parts via the Internet and catalogues to satisfy the needs of this growing recreational sector. In January 2004 he made space available for new bicycle inventory, related parts and accessories, and a repair area. It grew into Saipan Bike Pro. Romy provides free warranties on all new bikes purchased from the business for three months. According to Romy, “Bicycle sales and service have remained steady through the year and the market segment is growing. Hotels and other related tourist businesses are buying bicycles and helmets in an attempt to provide customers a wider range of activities while visiting the CNMI. Business in this segment is better than I expected.” It certainly helps that Romy is visible in this market segment. He’s regularly repairing or enhancing the bicycles ridden by local and off-island racers in the popular Xterra and Tagaman triathlons and regularly hosts rides during the week starting from his shop. His shop has really become a bicycle enthusiast’s hangout.
If you’re having trouble catching up to him, his telephone and cell numbers are 235-9037 and 287-1244 respectively. His email address is email@example.com. If you’d like to visit his shop, it is located across from 13 Fisherman’s Memorial on Beach Road. You can’t miss it as his bright red truck is parked right in front of the shop! Finally, when asked about his keys to success he commented, “Quality work, earning people’s trust and the ability to back it up is what keeps my business running and growing.”
Del Benson Photography
Technological change can really impact an industry and perhaps none has been more influenced than photography. From large boxy cameras with blinding flash bulbs to today’s pocket sized digital cameras, you never know what you’ll find on the store shelves from one year to the next.
One person who’s just about seen it all is professional photographer, Del Benson. Guiding me to his web page, www.delbenson.com, he noted, “From the time I can remember there was always the smell of photo chemicals in my home in Northern Utah where Dad had a darkroom. He was my first and most memorable teacher and mentor. Since then, my life has been filled with images I have created. I feel a great sense of fulfillment when people love their portraits and share them with others."
For any entrepreneur, having a teacher and mentor is invaluable. Mentors can provide technical expertise to knowing how to market your product and/or service. But growing up in a profession with a teacher at your side won’t shield you from all the traps, especially when you’re on your own. As a professional acquaintance of Del once noted, “I wanted to hone my skills as a photographer too so I hooked up with a burned out professional who just happened to be teaching at Marianas High School in 1992. Although Del was burned out, I was seeking a mentor to further develop my skills. My persistent questioning about photography, requesting use of his equipment, and his patience in answering my inquiries really helped me become a better photographer. I think it re-energized him as well…and it is similar to what the NMC Small Business Development Center (SBDC) does with its Incubator tenants at NMC…educating small business owners and helping them to grow!”
As business picked up the acquaintance, Del and Dr. Jack Hardy decided to join forces and better manage their costs by applying for acceptance into the SBDC Business Incubator Program at NMC. After being accepted as a tenant in the SBDC Incubator Program in 1993, Jack and Del reconfigured their Incubator office space into a photography studio that also included a darkroom. Asked why they chose the Incubator, Del replied, “…the economy was strong and rents were high, so we decided that low lease fees and daily access to SBDC business consultants to enhance our business skills was the best alternative. Moreover, the daily interaction with the professional business consultants at the SBDC really enabled both of us to grow our businesses.”
Growing Del’s business at the Incubator became a greater challenge as the advent of digital imaging and related computer software hit the mainstream. Striving to be unique while maintaining a high quality product, Del bought an IMac computer, Adobe Photoshop software and started experimenting by taking and creating images of a friend’s baby. Del noted, “I finally felt that my capabilities and creativity were finally being unleashed.” It was during this time that Del moved his business from the SBDC Incubator to his home.
With the continued assistance from the SBDC, via a U.S.D.A. Rural Business Enterprise Grant, he expanded his digital portrait business to the Internet and now has a site where customers throughout the world can view his work. One SBDC staff member noted on the positive effect of Del’s web page, “We don’t see Del as often because he’s been doing more photo shoots off-island, particularly in Japan.” Finally he’s finding new opportunities outside of portraiture as his commercial photography is gaining wider recognition. ”Business is up 40% over the past few years,” he noted. He also grins when commenting that his images of the islands are attracting new visitors. Those new visitors will quickly notice Del’s work as upon clearing immigration at Saipan’s International Airport, his images literally jump out at you while walking through the corridors to retrieve your luggage.
When asked how he’s managed to stay in business during a flat economy, Del noted, “I keep abreast with and incorporate new technology, keep my images fresh and unique, utilize my creative energies in each shoot, provide a quality product to the customer and continue to talk to my friends at the SBDC about my business ideas.”
If you’d like to view Del’s custom images on-line, go to www.delbenson.com. He can be reached at 256-3686 or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"SBDC Incubates $MILLION Business!"
One of the most successful local businesses ever to hatch from the Business Incubation Program at the Northern Marianas College (NMC) Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is now Micronesia’s largest screen printing and embroidering business. Island Apparel, owned by the husband and wife team of Cliff and Denice Shoemake, was founded in August 1991, as the SBDC’s first Incubator tenant. What started out as a two-person operation with a loss of $32,000 in the first year has grown into a dynamic, multi-national company that employs twenty-five individuals with annual sales in excess of $1.5 million.
Cliff and Denice, originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, credit their decision to move to Saipan to a fellow Cajun and close personal friend, Roland Johnson. Roland moved from Louisiana to Saipan in the late 80’s and opened Micronesian Marine, the island’s most renowned boat building and repair business. Shortly after settling in, Roland convinced the couple that island life in the Marianas was not something to pass up. The Shoemakes’ desire for a change and fascination with the tropics led them to packing up the family and claiming Saipan as their new home in June 1989. Cliff started off by teaching computer classes at NMC while Denice took a management position at Coral Ocean Point Resort. In the meantime, the couple started looking for business opportunities to satisfy their own entrepreneurial aspirations.
In 1991, the two founded Island Apparel with a $25,000 start-up loan from the Commonwealth Development Authority (CDA) and approval for tenancy at the NMC Business Incubator facility. The business started off as a “cut and sew“ operation specializing in the production of aloha shirts, muumuus and uniforms. By 1992, the company began experimenting with t-shirt printing. Cliff commented, “It didn’t take us long to realize that the sewing business was a money loser and that silk screen printing was the place to be.” After losing thousands of dollars in the first year of operation, the company divested out of sewing and focused on printing. From that point on, the business grew at record pace. In 1994, Island Apparel became the first graduate of the College’s Business Incubator program and relocated to a commercial space in the Chalan Kiya Industrial Park. In less than a year, the business required additional space to accommodate its growth, and moved to a larger facility on Airport Road. By 1998, Island Apparel’s reputation for quality products and outstanding customer service allowed them to penetrate the Guam market and other islands in Micronesia, making them one of the CNMI’s few export companies. Denice reflects, “As I was reconciling the books at the end of 1998, I had to let out a scream of joy in the office as I realized that we had reached our first year of a million dollars in sales.”
“If it wasn’t for the support we received from the NMC SBDC and its Incubator Program, we would never have had the courage to take that leap into small business ownership,” emphasizes Cliff. When asked what their recipe for success was in relation to small business ownership, the couple explained:
- “If you’re doing it to get rich, you have the wrong attitude. Your focus should be on going into something you have the passion for and making absolutely sure that you believe in the product or service you are providing. The money will be sure to follow;”
- “When you go into business with a partner, or spouse, you must define each person’s responsibilities (in writing) and respect each other’s ability and authority;”
- “Treat your employees with dignity and respect, and consider them to be members of your family;”
- “Have faith in God, strong support from your family, and be committed to improving your community.”
After being successfully nurtured by the Business Incubator Program at NMC, Cliff and Denice have taken on their own business incubation project by assisting their oldest son, Cliff Jr., with setting up his own small business. Digithread specializes in custom design digitizing for computerized commercial embroidery machines. In other words, converting graphic images, such as logos and artwork, into digital images that will be embroidered onto shirts or caps. Cliff Jr. plans to become a leader in the digitizing industry by offering fully interactive ordering and delivery services via the Internet.
This family of successful entrepreneurs plans to continue generating profits and giving back to the community that made their ambitions a reality.
Juanny’s Hair Salon
"A Snip Here, A Snip There!"
A snip here, a bit of color there, and seven years later, Juannet Torres is a genuine business success. The owner of Juanny’s Hair Salon never planned to open her own business when she first started out. An U.S. trained and licensed cosmetologist since 1981, Juanny worked for various salons with other U.S. licensed cosmetologists while perfecting her skills.
There were several reasons behind Juanny’s career choice. First, she sincerely enjoys her work. Second, she gains satisfaction by enhancing her clients’ beauty. Juanny assists in the transformation of her clients not only physically by changing their look, but also emotionally by making them feel good about themselves and how they look. The client simply steps into the salon and is greeted by an effervescent smile. In about an hour or so, he/she looks in the mirror and emerges with a grin on their face. Pure satisfaction! Needless to say, it really peps up Juanny’s day.
Juanny’s Hair Salon grew out of a dream to have the perfect facility and the right beauty products for her customers. Wanting to do everything properly, Juanny approached the NMC Small Business Development Center for assistance with a loan application package in 1994. With that loan application package, Juanny was able to acquire a loan from the Commonwealth Development Authority and began operations by late 1994.
One of the few U.S. licensed cosmetologists on island, Juanny is constantly striving to learn more. To maintain her cosmetology license, she needs to continuously undergo training and stay on top of all the new products and tools being developed, in addition to the new trends in the beauty market. This is important, especially as many skin and hair products are chemical based. Knowing the different skin and hair types and how they react to the various products used in beauty salons is vital to her success.
Starting a business and succeeding is not that easy. According to Juanny, “Don’t be discouraged by obstacles. Think of obstacles as challenges to better improve yourself.” It has taken a lot of hard work and effort, but according to Juanny it was worth it.
Seven years later, Juanny’s is a thriving business with countless satisfied customers. Currently, Juanny’s offers everything from haircuts and hair dyes to facials and manicures/pedicures. Located on As Lito Road (across from Valley Inn), Juanny’s is open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and on Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. To make an appointment, please call 235-7686.
Kin’s Auto Center
"Auto Doctor''s Prescription for Success!"
Celebrating five years in business, one of Saipan’s most reputable auto doctors, Joaquin S. Tudela (Kin), would like to share his entrepreneurial memories, lessons learned and prescriptions for success as a local small business owner. Kin, the owner and lead mechanic of Kin’s Auto Center in Dandan, specializes in automotive engine and body repair, fleet services and preventive maintenance.
After serving 14 year’s in the U. S. Army, Kin and his family returned to Saipan in 1994, with the dream of one day opening his own business. Tudela’s desire to start his own auto shop stemmed partly from his career in the military as the platoon sergeant of the motor pool…in laymen’s terms, the manager of all the vehicles and mechanics in his military unit. Kin laughs as he explains, “Taking the advice of my cousin, a Vietnam veteran, I signed up to be an auto mechanic in the army since it was considered as a rear echelon position…away from the front lines in case of war. However, I later found out that during war, the enemy usually targets vehicle and ammunition installations to try and cut off supply lines.” Luckily, Tudela never had to face wartime during his term in the military.
Since he wanted to settle back into the island before pursuing his entrepreneurial aspirations, Tudela decided to accept a position as general manager of the former Blueberry Hotel in Garapan. The mid-90’s were some of the CNMI’s most successful tourism years, and Tudela spent a year and a half guiding the hotel through that prosperous visitor industry period. Then, he was aggressively recruited by CUC to serve as the assistant supervisor of the mechanics shop. It only took another year before Tudela could no longer resist the temptation to run his own business and be his own boss.
While driving down Middle Road on an afternoon in early 1996, Tudela heard an ad on the radio about the free consulting services and workshops that the NMC Small Business Development Center offers to residents interested in starting a business. Tudela says, “I literally pulled a U-turn on the road and drove directly to the SBDC.” A SBDC business consultant provided Tudela with free assistance in the preparation of his business plan, auto shop financial projections and loan application for start-up funding. After being turned down by a local bank, Tudela submitted his loan package to the Commonwealth Development Authority (CDA). About a month later, he was notified that his loan was approved and his dream was about to come true.
As he began to make preparations to construct the auto shop on his property along the main road in Dandan, Kin’s Auto Center formally applied to become a tenant in the SBDC’s Business Incubator Program. His rationale for locating to the Incubator is that he needed a small administrative office during the twelve months of facility construction. That fits nicely with the SBDC Incubator’s mission and that is to provide tenants a safe haven to start and grow their businesses in a facility that provides favorable rental terms along with free access to administrative support, office equipment, Internet access and a conference room. In May 1997, Kin opened his auto shop and relocated his office from the SBDC Incubator to his newly constructed building.
When asked what advice he had for local entrepreneurs trying to start a business in the current economy, he offered the following four critical recommendations:
- Don’t offer credit – Tudela emphasized, “One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned over the years is that offering credit will hurt you more than it will ever help you.” According to the NMC Small Business Development Center, local small businesses have been reporting that more customers are asking for credit as the economy has declined. “Unfortunately, many people do not know how to budget so they end up spending more than they make. This results in some of their creditors getting paid late…or in many cases, not at all,” comments SBDC consultant, Dirk Sharer. “The best remedy for this problem is to not offer credit to anyone,” Tudela adds. “Sure, you may lose some customers, but many times those customers would be the ones that were not going to pay you anyway.”
- Don’t quit your day job – Tudela commented, “Transition slowly to your entrepreneurial dream because as in life, success isn’t guaranteed.” The NMC SBDC reports that many local entrepreneurs have a full-time job in either government or the private sector at the same time that they are looking into starting a business of their own. Tudela reflects back to his start-up days, “I quit my job at CUC to start developing my business plan, obtain financing and build my auto shop.” In retrospect, Tudela says that if he were able to go back and change anything, he would have continued working while developing his business plan with the staff at the SBDC and constructing the auto shop. This would have allowed him to maintain his household income until the business opened and started generating revenue. Tudela says that he never realized that it would take as long as it did to open the business. The planning phase took approximately three months, followed by several months trying to obtain financing and finally one year to construct the building. “Having the extra cash from my job would have helped me avoid depleting my savings and would have allowed me to make interest payments on the loan during the construction process,” says Tudela. However, he admits that the pressure to get the business open so that it could start generating income kept him focused and motivated toward seeing his dream come true.
- Keep a lean staff – Tudela mentioned, “Although I’ve had to layoff two mechanics since the economy started heading south, my staff, for the most part, has been lean.” He emphasizes that having a lean staff has kept him in business.” Kin also credits a lot of his success to his wife, Delores, who works by his side as the company’s administrative and bookkeeping officer. He suggests that entrepreneurs should start their business with as few employees as possible to keep operating costs down as the business builds a customer base. Tudela suggests that a business owner can always hire additional employees as the business grows and the revenue is sufficient to cover the additional wages and payroll taxes.
- Owner gets paid last – Tudela stresses that he always pays his employees first, and himself last. “My staff is loyal, so I rarely need to go through the hassle of hiring and training new employees. Your business is only as good as its people, and if you don’t pay them on time, you won’t be in business long,” Tudela concludes.
Tudela highlights what he feels are his most significant competitive advantages at Kin’s Auto Center:
- Owner is a U. S. certified mechanic;
- Owner speaks English and Chamorro;
- Owner is always on site to educate customers about their vehicle problems while offering accurate repair solutions;
- You don’t need an appointment to bring your car in;
- Oil changes and lube jobs will be done in 30 minutes…you can wait;
- Well trained staff of mechanics that follow manufacturer recommended repair procedures;
- Offers a Preventive Maintenance Program;
- Repair services include general overhaul, brakes, transmissions, under chassis and body.
You can make an appointment by calling Kin’s Auto Center at 235-4420.
Saipan Child Care
"Days, Nights and Holidays Too!"
Days or nights and holidays too, Saipan Child Care is open to meet your childcare needs. Owned and operated by Elphidia “Piding” Kase in San Vicente, Saipan Child Care provides childcare Monday through Saturday during the day from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and at night from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
According to Kase, “Our philosophy at SCC is to provide a safe environment to the children coming into the center. We will provide early childhood education such as big and small muscle coordination, social, emotional and spiritual development of a growing child.” Saipan Child Care was designed to not only care for children but to educate them as well. This care extends to disabled children as well.
For several years, Kase has worked with children. Her experience ranges from teaching at Mt. Carmel Elementary School and Sister Remedios School to babysitting informally for relatives. In addition to all of this experience with children, Kase is a mother with a child of her own. With all of this background, Kase wanted to move from informal babysitting into a full-fledged childcare center. With business plan development assistance from the NMC Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and loan generation through the Commonwealth Development Authority (CDA), Kase turned her idea into a successful business.
Like many entrepreneurs, starting a business was not easy because Kase had to overcome several challenges on the path to success. Several days before Christmas and one month prior to opening, her business was vandalized and all of the supplies and appliances she had purchased for the business were stolen. Not only had a major portion of her business investment disappeared, but, Kase had only one month to repurchase and prepare the business for its grand opening the following month. According to Kase, this was a setback, but “I really wanted to open a business, so I worked hard to succeed.” Hard work, perseverance, and dedication are just some of the qualities this local entrepreneur brings to her business on a daily basis. These qualities also helped Kase to succeed despite the aforementioned challenges.
Several traits set Saipan Child Care apart from all of the other daycare centers on island. It is locally owned and operated with childcare providers that have fluency in the local languages of the CNMI. If parents are interested, the staff provides bilingual instruction in basic educational concepts such as colors, shapes, and numbers. A low caregiver child ratio also ensures that each child is given an extensive amount of personal care and attention. High quality childcare is a top priority for all of the staff. To maintain this high quality of care, the staff and management regularly attend workshops and events that will assist in operation of the center and care of the children enrolled.
Saipan Child Care is also the only childcare facility on island that provides childcare at night. Between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., the staff of Saipan Child Care is available to care for your children at night. Saipan Child Care is located in San Vicente approximately two blocks behind Tudela Enterprises and on the right. For more information about Saipan Child Care, please call Piding at 235-1985.
Saipan Photo Lab
"Photographic Eye of a Surgeon!"
At the NMC Small Business Development Center (SBDC) we are often asked by clients, “What kind of business do you think I could start?” We turn the question around and ask the client, “What skill sets do you have, what are your hobbies, what do your friends or family say your good at,” and alike. This line of questioning can often arouse the client’s creative juices. It certainly must have some years ago with Jack Hardy of Saipan Photo Lab.
As a medical resident and later as a practicing surgeon, Jack often found himself working eighty-hours per week in Cincinnati, Ohio. That didn’t keep him from learning and practicing his favorite hobby, photography. He enrolled in adult education classes that ranged from black and white photography to studio work. The photos he began taking started making their way into medical education slides. After fate interrupted his life in Ohio, he found himself on Saipan.
On Saipan, Jack found that working only forty hours a week at the hospital had its benefits. He had more time to refine his photography skills. In addition to snapping photographs on Saipan, he tagged along with Ted Parker, a pharmacist at CHC, on a trip to Bali, Indonesia. After returning, Jack displayed some of his photographs at a winter art show on Saipan and surprisingly enough to him, “…someone actually bought them!”
After several years he moved from honing his skills in the classroom and on his own to hooking up with Del Benson, a “burned out professional photographer,” who just happened to be teaching at Marianas High School in 1992. According to Mr. Hardy, “Although Del was burned out, I was seeking a mentor to further develop my skills.” He went on to say, “My persistent questioning about photography, requesting use of his equipment, and his patience in answering my inquiries really helped me become a better photographer. I think it re-energized him as well…and it is similar to what the SBDC does with its Incubator tenants at NMC…educating small business owners and helping them to grow!”
In 1993 Jack successfully negotiated a contract with DFS Galleria to produce a line of postcards. Not only did he take the photos, he went the extra mile by delivering the postcards to DFS and placing/maintaining them on the display racks. He later extended his market to include Joeten and the numerous mom n’ pop stores. As business picked up, Jack and Del decided to join forces and better manage their costs by applying for acceptance into the SBDC Business Incubator Program at NMC. After being accepted as a tenant in the SBDC Incubator Program in 1993, Jack and Del reconfigured their Incubator office space into a photography studio that also included a darkroom for slide film. Asked why they chose the Incubator, Jack replied, “…the economy was strong and rents were high, so we decided that low lease fees and daily access to SBDC business consultants to enhance our business skills was the best alternative. Moreover, our darkroom at the Incubator was the only facility on island. We were really able to grow our business.”
Jack continued to grow his business and in 1996, he purchased Saipan Photo Lab. The location was convenient and he was close to his market. He also gained control of his photo processing and expanded his operations that enhanced his revenue streams. In 1999, Jack found a partner and opened a studio in Guam. He has since relocated his Saipan facility to its new location on Middle Road.
When asked to reflect on his lessons learned from transforming a hobby into a business he replied that there were two central reasons. “First, I took a number of classes to enhance my skills. Second, having Del as a mentor was invaluable. I was able to hang out with a professional photographer, use his equipment, pick his brain and eventually develop my own style.”
When he was further queried about how he has grown and maintained his business through the economic downturn he had the following answers. “I believe that people are basically good. My physician background and people skills greatly assisted me in developing good relationships with the CNMI population and it continues to this day. Good communication skills translate into quality customer service and sales growth. My employees are also happy.”
He went on to say, “Over the years, I also bought used equipment, maintained a small staff, re-negotiated rent, and saved 40% on various equipment and film costs by developing a quarterly surface shipping schedule from the U.S. mainland. All of these steps keep my costs down and the doors open. At the same time, I also believe in expanding during a recession as I’ve implemented new technology such as digital imaging. It is interesting to me, I want to learn it, and more people are using this medium for their photography needs.”
You can find Saipan Photo Lab on Middle Road next to Pacific Trading. They offer studio session, school portrait, wedding, dinner show and commercial photography, and growth oriented digital imaging services. Their telephone number is 322-7753. You can also visit Saipan Photo Lab at its web site www.photographypeople.com.
Sine & Muna Tax and Accounting Services
“By the Numbers at Sine & Muna!”
Building professional friendships over time can lead to rewarding consequences down the road. Antonio “Tony” S. Muna previously worked with Sablan Enterprises and during that time the business had worked with Len Sine, then a sole proprietor accountant, on various tax and accounting matters. Wanting to test the small business waters, Tony and Len formed Sine & Muna Accounting and Tax Services around 1992.
Tony commented, “Len was a sole proprietor and worked out of his home while I had an employment oriented work history. My general practice experience was limited so our strategy was to find low cost office space until word could get out that we were in business. We leased office space at the Northern Marianas College Small Business Development Center’s (NMC SBDC) Business Incubator because the cost was low amidst the high rents of the early 90s. We weren’t sure the business would work out so we played it safe.” When asked how the location suited their needs he replied, “Len had an established clientele and I didn’t. However, with word of mouth it didn’t take long for us to grow our business. People were visiting regularly and we had customers from the College as well.” It didn’t take long for the business to graduate from the Incubator, a mere six months. After operating out of the Joeten Dandan building for several years, they moved their operations to its current location in San Vicente village.
When asked how they’ve stayed in business through the lean years Tony commented, “We’ve been very sensitive to our customer’s needs and work with them on a one-on-one basis.” He further noted, “As our client base grows, it has become more diversified…so we’ve had to expand our own skill sets. We grew from primarily a tax oriented firm and now provide a greater range of services that includes accounting and financial consultation to small businesses, partnerships and corporations.”
The bottom line is “being diversified keeps you going when times get rough.” He finally added, “We continue to be involved in the community as a means to grow our business, keep a lean staff, pride ourselves in doing quality work at competitive rates, and maintain a very hands on approach.”
Should you have a need for quality accounting and tax services, contact Tony or Len at Sine & Muna. Their telephone number and email address is 235-1655 and email@example.com. Or simply stop by at their office in San Vicente village.
S.T.a.R. Water, Inc.
"Taste the Freshness of S.T.a.R. Water!"
Saipan, CNMI – About one and a half years ago several old acquaintances got together for a social gathering in Japan. It turned out to be more than a few friends trading stories when the Japanese friend started inquiring about the situation with the drinking water in Saipan. He had traveled to the island on numerous occasions so he new what he was talking about. When the two gentlemen from Saipan, Dino M. Jones and Herman Q. Guerrero, started discussing the topic of reprocessing CuC water with their Japanese friend he commented, “No, we’ll use sea-water!
The idea sounded interesting to Jones and Guerrero but they were doubtful, “CuC has tried for years to accomplish this task but concluded that the expense was prohibitive.” Then they asked, why seawater? The Japanese friend mentioned because the supply of water is limited and it is even more so during the dry season. Second, re-selling CuC water that people should already have access to but may not be getting it for whatever reason just isn’t right. Three to four months after their social get-together, they submitted their formal documents to incorporate.
The equipment was ordered from Japan and was scheduled to arrive in late March 2002. During this time, they applied for permits from Fish & Wildlife (F&W), Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and Costal Resources Management (CRM). Guerrero stated, “That’s when the difficulties started. I’ve never run into a more bureaucratic process. We initiated the permit process on March 1, 2002 and it wasn’t until October 2002 that we got the go ahead.” He continued by saying, “The Japanese investors were getting very annoyed with the permitting process. It reached a point where we drafted a letter to Governor Babauta, and although we never submitted it, the letter explained our frustrations. After we showed the draft letter to the agencies, they started to act.” He concluded by saying that “the permitting process and the bureaucracy is the number one drawback towards starting a business in the CNMI.”
Closely following the permitting process difficulties were “getting the two guest worker exemptions from the Department of Labor.” Guerrero mentioned that because “the equipment was made in Japan, we needed someone that had experience and could manage it on a daily basis. We received the exemptions, however the Department of Labor said the person we identified to manage the equipment didn’t have enough experience…even though he was certified to do so! After a lot of frustration, the guest worker was permitted to join our team.”
Through the challenges, S.T.a.R. Water did open with a sizeable investment from the partnership in Japan. The business started out strong and they needed additional capital to finance the purchase of three additional vehicles, bottles and other expenses. That’s when they turned to Eric Plinske at the Northern Marianas College Small Business Development Center. Guerrero commented, “Eric was a great help as he put together financial projections (income statements, cash flow statements and balance sheets) for a $100,000 loan package to the Pacific Islands Development Bank (PIDB). While we had a good feeling that the loan package would be accepted for approval, we didn’t submit it. But Eric’s work really laid out our financial future for the next ten years.”
S.T.a.R. Water continues to aggressive in the marketplace despite the challenges it has faced. Their current prices, $1.50 for a delivered five-gallon bottle of water and $1.00 for a pick-up at the facility is the lowest price on island. Moreover, $1.00 for a delivered three-gallon bottle of water and $.60 for a pick-up at the plant can’t be beat. Overall, the company’s sales volume is increasing considerably since the doors opened, especially institutional accounts. Home delivery and pick-up incentive purchasing programs are also being developed. The company is also more nimble on the roads of Saipan as they’ve added smaller trucks.
Guerrero stated, “We’ve also been a good corporate citizen as we’ve been contributing to the community in which we serve. Recently, Garapan Public School’s water was deemed contaminated by DEQ and as such, unusable. S.T.a.R. Water stepped in and supplied 700 gallons of water at no cost to the school. Additionally, thirteen of the nineteen employees are local residents and are paid wages beyond what is currently mandated.”
As for the future, Guerrero commented that S.T.a.R. Water might venture out into the small bottle water business. He finally said, “You may find us soon on your favorite convenience store shelf and manufacturing bottles and labels might also be in the near future.” In any case, Guerrero said he’d be back at the SBDC for any technical business advice the company encounters now and in the future. You can contact S.T.a.R. Water at 235-2020 from Monday through Saturday for all your water needs, or better yet, visit them along Beach Road.
Thai House Restaurant
"Some Like It Hot!"
At the NMC Small Business Development Center (SBDC) we are often asked by clients, “What kind of business do you think I could start?” We turn the question around and ask the client, “What skill sets do you have, what are your hobbies, what do your friends or family say your good at,” and alike. This line of questioning can often arouse the client’s creative juices. It certainly must have some years ago with Jack Hudak of Thai House Restaurant.
Jack and his wife Bang-on (On) arrived in 1990 and determined there was a need to establish a Thai restaurant on Saipan. Jack had prior experience as a cook on the pre-positioning ships and On knew the intricacies to Thai cooking. Noting the swell of tourists to the CNMI, plans were finally hatched and Thai House opened with six tables and a shared kitchen in what used to be the 19th Hole in Garapan in 1993. Hudak fondly expressed that “Thai House was the first and the original Thai restaurant on Saipan.”
Following a series of typhoons in the fall of 1997 that devastated his restaurant, he relocated to his current location on Beach Road in Garapan, ironically not far from where the business started. Now, Thai House can comfortably accommodate approximately 55 customers. Although business is solid, “its nothing like it was when we started in 1993.”
Jack and On’s menu is laced with a variety of original Thai dishes and caters to all ethnic groups who like spicy food. Jack notes, “Our food is gourmet style and cooked to order. Every person gets their order as they requested, be it spicy (four stars) or not too spicy (one star). Moreover, our lunch buffet is a favorite of our long-standing customers and is done for their convenience on a daily basis.” Menu items range from $5.95 on up.
Asked how he’s managed to stay in business through prosperity and recession, he cites “Paying close attention to the consistency and quality of our food and customer service methods.” He added, “We also have a very good customer base that are advocates of the business.” Finally, he mentioned, “Businesses should make it a point to participate in community events such as the Taste of the Marianas and The Garapan Street Market. We do quite well at those venues.” This stability has also allowed him to maintain a loyal staff of six employees.
When asked about the help Thai House has received from the NMC SBDC over the years he remarked, “You guys have been invaluable, from the early years in learning how to price our menu to loan assistance we received via a SBA guarantee when the typhoons struck.”
This July will mark the restaurant’s tenth anniversary so pay a visit to a Saipan original, Thai House. You can make your reservations or order carry out at 235-8424 (235-THAI). Or better yet, simply stop by Thai House on Beach Road in Garapan.
Sebastian Camacho Crafts
“Saipan’s Master Craftsman!”
In the December 26, 2004 edition of the Saipan Tribune, Agnes Donato introduced the CNMI community to Sebastian Camacho and all the activities that keep him busy from dawn to dusk. Among the interesting activities that occupy his time is the carving of coconuts, shells and alike into highly unique necklaces, earrings and rings.
Judging by the reception and interest he received at the 2004 Festival of Pacific Arts in Palau and tourists crowding his booth on a regular basis during the Thursday evening Garapan Street Market, he decided to begin working with Eric Plinske at the NMC Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and make his hobby into a bona fide business.
As is the case with many other entrepreneurs the SBDC has assisted, Sebastian Camacho channels an abundance of energy and creativity into his work but nurturing it into an organized and formal business entity is another story. Camacho commented he’s been advised to quickly secure a business license and tax identification number. The next step is to begin creating a realistic plan for the venture.
Camacho firmly believes he’s one of the few indigenous artists whose product is in demand. His immediate interest is to get his crafts into the retailers around Saipan that cater to tourists. The SBDC recommended that Camacho’s supply of crafts remain unique, high in quality, and consistently supplied to the retailers that are interested in carrying the product on a regular basis.
Towards that end Camacho will be working with the SBDC on developing a regular work schedule, pricing policy, distribution system and networking with retailers so they can view the unique advantage his crafts can add to their business and subsequently their bottom line.
Camacho plans to continue nurturing his artistic talents and tapping his creativity to produce even more exotic island works of art. If you’d like to view his collection or work with him to create a unique piece of your own, visit his booth on Thursday evenings at the Garapan Street Market or contact him at 322-0939.
Marine Tech International
"Anchors Away at Marine Tech International!"
In March 2002 the NMC Small Business Development Center (SBDC) hosted fourteen students that were in the process of enhancing their career options through a unique four-week intensive boat captain-licensing course. According to Marine Tech International Corporation (MTI) the primary objective of the course was to help the students obtain their boat captain license, improve their lively hood, and kick start their career in the marine industry. MTI is devoted to serve as a training/document center for Merchant Mariners that work and live in our area that hold United States Coast Guard Licenses.
Jervy Babauta who recently graduated from the Captains Course mentioned, “I got hired full-time with Saipan Crewboats Inc. and will be making three times more money with full benefits when my license comes in a week.” Jervy continued by saying, “I really enjoy my work as it takes me to Guam, Rota, Tinian, Alamagan, Pagan, Agrihan, Wake Island and the Philippines. I also wish I could have been involved in a recent rescue operation the company did to China but I wasn’t able to due to being in the captains course.”
The professionally certified staff and management of Marine Tech International is continuing to offer CNMI and Guam residents that are age 18 and older the opportunity to get quality training to start a career in the maritime field working in the deck department as an Able Body Seaman. This is a very large industry that welcomes you to start a professional career and travel the world. These professional positions are very well paid and advancement is unlimited so that you can obtain your desired goals.
For example, you might have seen opportunities in various newspapers about employment with Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCI) that operate cruise ships in and around the Hawaiian Islands. They are currently looking at hiring several thousand people over the next two years to work onboard their cruise ships. The Seaman’s International Union has an office in Guam that hires for NCI and other large shipping companies.
A good friend of ours Justin M. Reyes just came back from working an NCI Ship in the Hawaiian Islands the “PRIDE OF ALOHA” after working in the deck department for four months. Listen to this success story, “This is to all my CNMI friends that this is a great opportunity to start a career with benefits that will go towards advancement, not just a job to work for a couple months. This is where all interested applicants need to concentrate in order to better & improve their lives. My next contract will be four months on & one month paid vacation with a ticket home, four months on & so on being advanced with more marine training and to give me an opportunity to make more income. I’m looking forward to relaxing for the next month and going back to work strong.”
MTI recognizes the favorable circumstances for offering maritime career opportunities to local residents in the CNMI and Guam and will devote the time and energy to work closely with schools and colleges. MTI also works closely with government agencies like the NMC SBDC, CNMI Work Force Investment Agency (WIA) and the CNMI Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) to best suit and promote training for local citizens to improve their lives.
Eric Plinske, Director of the NMC SBDC, noted that the formation of Marine Tech International and the overall course objectives blend in nicely with the SBDC’s mission of assisting local entrepreneurs to grow their skill sets. He added, “When you think about it, enhancing your professional growth during a recession makes sense because the graduating students will be well positioned to immediately increase their salaries and take advantage of new job opportunities.”
Several of the boat captain students had similar thoughts. “We enjoy being on the water and interacting with the tourists. We’ll have a greater opportunity to achieve that goal by getting our captain’s license.” They finished by laughing, “…and the pay is much better!”
MTI has a strict school code policy. Prior to enrolling the student will need to acknowledge and abide by the codes that cover enrollment requirements, attendance policies, and student conduct policy. Prospective enrollees are encouraged to visit or contact the NMC Small Business Development Center at 235-1551 to view and collect materials relative to Marine Tech classes. Give us a call today to start your career!
Other Success Stories
Good Day Coordinating, Inc.
Island Grip Services, Inc.
Rota Cave Museum
Talk Story Studios