Long Island City, NY—Like many of the nation’s manufacturers, the economic downturn had taken a major toll on Mario Fichera’s 78-year-old family-owned business in Woodside. The manufacturer and fabricator of store interiors not only witnessed the collapse of the construction environment, but he hopelessly watched jobs and clients go to his domestic competitors who were manufacturing cheaper products overseas.
“It was the perfect storm,” the COO of Visual Millwork & Fixture Mftg., Inc., said in describing the worst period in the company’s long history. “I not only had to deal with the recession, but imports were coming in at such a rate that I couldn’t replace the clients and jobs I was losing fast enough.”
In an effort to save his business, which in better times provided custom wood, metal and glass displays to such large retailers as Macy’s, Sachs, Bloomingdale’s and Lord and Taylor’s, and the jobs of his 40 employees, Mr. Fichera decided to augment his business by doing government work. To better understand how to navigate the labyrinthine process, he turned to LaGuardia Community College’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) for advice, and, with the center’s guidance, successfully secured over $1.5 million in government contracts.
The contract awards were helpful, but they did not make up the dramatic drop in revenue, which was in excess of over 30%. “We recognized the recession when it happened and looked to government contracts to fill the void, but there was just a total collapse in manufacturing,” said Mr. Fichera. “At this point I did not have any answers. I was desperately looking for answers from anybody who could make sense of it.”
Edgard Hernandez, the director of PTAC, told his client where he would find the answers: Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, which was being offered at LaGuardia. Since 2010, the 100-hour program was providing small business owners like Mr. Fichera with the tools and know-how needed to grow their businesses, which included business support services, technical assistance and one-on-one business advising and clinics.
And upon enrolling in October of 2011, he quickly got the answers that had eluded him. The curriculum broadened his knowledge of every aspect of business, from accounting to insurance to operations and hiring of staff. “Focusing on these business components really revived me,” he said.
The program, he continued, also “reeducated” him. “It married me to my previous education,” said the Bryant University graduate. “Over a period of 20, 30 years, business teaches you one thing and college teaches you something else. 10,000 Small Businesses said, ‘here is your education, here is the way it is actually done,’ and married them together. It actually made more sense out of my college education.”
The close and supportive network he developed with his 30 fellow classmates also proved invaluable. “Being a small business owner is very isolating; you become a prisoner in your own brain,” he said. “But by bringing small business owners together, the program allowed us to discover that we are all going through the same experiences and that our situations are not unique. You suddenly realize that you are not alone.”
Since graduating from the program in February of 2012, Mr. Fichera has used those tools to reverse the company’s downward spiral and to get it back on track. He has developed the company’s first-ever structured budget; he took steps to ensure that his small business is being correctly evaluated by insurance companies; and he began to better handle its costs.
And he confidently said that the time is right to begin growing the business and hiring new employees. He explained that he is not sure whether they will be acquiring a company or producing a new product line, but he is assured that a solid company will eventually be taken over by the family’s fourth generation—his sons.
What did he personally get out of the experience? “10,000 Small Businesses made me a better, well-rounded business person,” he said.
To learn more about the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses initiative at LaGuardia Community College, please:
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About Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses:
Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is an initiative to unlock the growth and job creation potential of 10,000 small businesses across the United States through greater access to business education, financial capital, and business support services. The program operates through a national network of public and private partner organizations including community colleges, business schools and Community Development Financial Institutions. The initiative is currently active in New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Long Beach, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Salt Lake City, and will continue to expand to communities across the country. Community partners in New York City include The City of New York, LaGuardia Community College and Seedco Financial Services.
About LaGuardia Community College:
LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.