Jul 30, 2009

Turning Green Into Gold


Lillian and Adam Cannon are a happy family of five. They’ve spent years looking for the best products for their children. Like many other parents, going with green choices for their children was a priority for the Cannons. They’ve tried all cloth diapers available on the market to make their best selection. And when you have learned so much, why not share it with other parents and help them choose the perfect products for their children?

Lillian and Adam decided to open their own baby product store. An online version seemed the most appealing for them: less start-up costs and the flexibility so needed for a family with three small children. Today people buy more and more online, but deciding to make the switch to cloth diapering can be intimidating, so the couple also does in-person consultations.

Assistance Provided

Starting a business can be overwhelming. The Cannons decided to seek assistance at the Duquesne University Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Their consultant provided an overview of the start-up process and guided them through online resources available for small business owners. Furthermore, the Cannons were advised on starting an e-commerce business and how to market it.

The Cannons rushed to get going and as early as in January of 2009, three months after the initial meeting the website was up. Their consultant was at their side to provide ongoing advice: how to improve the website, how to develop financial projections, what software to choose for bookkeeping, what’s new on the regulatory side. Lillian was full of questions and very appreciative that her consultant was always ready to address her concerns, and direct and support her on her way to success. It was also important that Lillian could receive assistance via e-mail correspondence and telephone conversations. Their consultant’s moral support and cheerleading was instrumental in helping them push through the many difficulties facing a new business.

The Cannons were able to start the business with their own money, investing $10,000.00 to cover their start-up and inventory expenses. As the business grows the family is looking for other financing options. The client and consultant are currently working to identify potential funding sources to finance the company’s expansion.


Business picked up fast - maybe too fast - and created some growth challenges: how to finance, how to select inventory, how to find enough time to learn and run a business and still be a loving mom and wife. March 2009 sales were well over $3000, doubled in May, and are now on track to hit $10,000. With their consultant’s advice, the family coped with the challenge and the further growth became less intimidating: with bookkeeping software in place, Adam is able to take care of the orders, the website is being constantly updated and product line continues to grow.

The online store is up and running, Lillian provides free in-person consultations and the family is thinking about expanding into manufacturing. They are exploring an opportunity to bring their own cloth diapers to the market. They have already identified an overseas manufacturer and are looking forward to continuing their work with the SBDC on this project.

Though Pittsburgh Cloth Diapers is only a few months old, they are already working on building their name in the community. They donate to local parenting organizations such as the La Leche League and The Midwife Center, and are producing a Pittsburgh diaper and donating part of the sale proceeds to The Midwife Center.

“As a busy mom of three and small business owner, I don’t have time to research every problem and issue. Svitlana has been there helping me every step of the way. Thank you! ”
- Lillian Cannon

Jul 16, 2009

For 3C’s Vinyl, All Signs Point to Success


Like many others, for Cathey Sirna, the third time’s a charm. Originally starting her company, 3 C’s Vinyl, in Pittsburgh in 2005, with startup costs totaling approximately $25,000 funded by a term loan, Cathey’s major capital purchase was a wide format printer/plotter. Cathey then moved operations to Sarasota, Florida, to start anew. After an informal “apprenticeship” in Florida, Cathey decided to return to Pittsburgh, armed with much greater working knowledge of the sign industry. Utilizing this knowledge, and an overwhelming ambition to succeed, Cathey started her company for the third and final time in June of 2007. She became certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise by the state’s Department of General Services in June of 2008.

Located in the Hays area of Pittsburgh, Cathey operates a full service sign shop out of her home. As Cathey explains, this has its advantages and disadvantages. Because of the reduced overhead, it allows her to be very price competitive. On the other hand, she admits she doesn’t benefit from walk-in traffic that a retail location would offer. To combat this disadvantage, Cathey spends a significant amount of her time cold calling and networking, both of which benefit from her friendly demeanor.

“What we offer to our customers, in addition to fair pricing, is fresh ideas for graphic design”, says Cathey. “It’s amazing the difference that a new eye-catching sign outside even the smallest retail shop can have on their business. The return on investment for new signage is typically quite obvious.”

3C’s Vinyl offers a wide variety of sign solutions including traditional cut vinyl and full color printed vinyl signs, window and fleet vehicle lettering, custom logos and decals and view-thru vinyl. They have also found success with full vehicle wraps and provide race car graphics to a number of area racing outfits.

Assistance Provided

Cathey came to the SBDC initially for assistance with completing her business plan. Upon completion, she worked with her consultant to complete her application to the Department of General Services for WBE certification. Since then, she has worked with her consultant in a variety of areas including updating her website to ensure that it is search engine friendly.


In April of 2009, Cathey was able to quit her full-time job to concentrate on growing her sign business. Her current clients have been very supportive of her decision to become a full-time owner and have been diligent in referring new business to her. Her customer base continues to grow and a profit and loss comparison shows her sales are up 61% from 2008 to 2009. In the meantime, Cathey says she is enjoying the benefits of being self-employed and focuses on creating a better quality of life for herself and her family.

“Duquesne SBDC has been with me since the beginning. My first workshop was the 'First Step' workshop in 2005. The help that I have received has been invaluable, and I am grateful that I got to work with such great people. Melissa Aird is wonderful!"
– Cathey Sirna, Owner

Client Name: 3C’s Vinyl
5137 Doerrville Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15207

Website: www.3csvinyl.com

Industry: Vinyl Graphics & Signs

Year Founded: 2005

SBDC Assistance: Provided assistance with business plan and financials preparation, preparation of materials for WBE certification, marketing materials

Jul 6, 2009

SBA unveils new economic stimulus program – America’s Recovery Capital (ARC) Loan Program

June 29, 2009

SBA unveils new economic stimulus program – America’s Recovery Capital (ARC) Loan Program

If you own a business that’s at least two years old and are having difficulty making debt payments because of the economy, you may be eligible to apply for the new ARC Loan program announced by the SBA on June 15, 2009. Under this program, a borrower can obtain a loan from a participating lender up to $35,000 which will be disbursed in installments to make up to 6 months of principal and interest payments on qualified debt. The loan can be used for payments on traditional debt such as mortgages and lines of credit, but can also be used for payments on capital leases, notes to vendors, home equity loans used for business-related expenses, and for business credit cards. Note, however, that SBA 7(a), 504 or disaster loans made or guaranteed on or before February 17, 2009 are ineligible.

Besides temporary relief to the business’ cash flow, the loan is interest free to the borrower since the federal government is subsidizing the loan interest. The loan has a 100% SBA guarantee and there are no loan fees. Repayment of the principal is deferred until 12 months after the last installment is disbursed and can then be repaid over five years. The expectation is that the business climate will improve by that time so the business can easily handle the debt payments.

To qualify, the business must pass two tests – (1) be viable and (2) demonstrate a hardship. With respect to viability, annual financial statements provided as part of the application must show positive cash flow in at least one of the past two years, and that the establishment is and will continue to be a going concern.

Hardship can be demonstrated by showing declining sales and/or revenues, increasing expenses, cash shortages due to frozen inventory or receivables, accelerated debt or reduced or frozen
credit lines, difficulty in paying employees or operating expenses.

The borrower will also need to have "an acceptable credit score as determined by the SBA."

At this time, many lenders are only offering the program to their current customers. Some analysts predict that the $255 million set aside for the program will be used before the September 30, 2010 program deadline.

For more information contact the Pittsburgh District Office of the SBA (412.395.6560) or the SBA website at http://www.sba.gov/recovery/arcloanprogram/index.html.