Innovation and Growth in Work and Business Love a Vacuum (Breakdown)

My husband Joel’s business, The Best Framing Company, celebrates its 18-year anniversary this month.

The Best Framing Company was conceived early in 1994 when the owner (Joel’s boss at the time) of the local Deck-the-Walls franchise decided not to renew his 10-year franchise.  Before he closed the store down, the franchise owner offered Joel and me the opportunity to renew the franchise for $350,000, at a 6% interest rate.  The franchise owner offered to hold the 10-year note, and we would make the astronomical and discouraging monthly payments to him, with little hope of making any profit.  No, thank you.  Joel had had enough of mall working life.  And we had just purchased our first home, so our savings account was a bit thin and our bills were much more substantial.   Joel and his boss proceeded to make arrangements to close the store by April 1994, and Joel commenced his job search, a bit discouraged at the thought of working for one of the competitors.

That offer from Joel’s boss sparked an idea.  Why not open our own store, in a small strip mall, and Joel could make his own hours?  As a skilled custom picture-framer, Joel had a healthy client list of happy customers.  Armed with that unique selling proposition and our respective skill sets and smarts, Joel and I proceeded to complete the four months of research and legwork to build a business plan to obtain a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan to open The Best Framing Company’s bricks-and-mortar storefront.

By the time Joel was laid off, we completed the business plan.  Joel continued his job search and fixed up our new 1944 house while I shopped our 40-plus-page business plan around to SBA loan providers.

One of the local nonprofits at the time ran an SBA loan program:  I sent the business plan to the nonprofit, and the 21 year-old pisher loan coordinator said that 1) our business plan was great; and 2) we were a shoe-in to get our loan.  The Pisher assured us we would be on the May 1994 loan review committee agenda.  Armed with that information, I made arrangements to lease a store space effective June 1, 1994 and order the materials Joel would need to open the store, using a $6,000 credit union line-of-credit.

The day before the loan review meeting, I called the Pisher to ask when we would appear.  “Oh,” he said, rightfully embarrassed.  “I forgot to put your loan review on the agenda.  He heard me choke.  “But don’t worry,”  he hurriedly said, hoping to avoid my expected outburst.  “We can get you on the July agenda.  I was deadly and sadly, calm. “You’ve just put my husband and me into financial jeopardy,”  I carefully said.  “What are you going to do to fix this?”  The Pisher did not man up.  “I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do,” he said.  “But let me give you the phone number of Manny Choi at Fleet Bank, who is on our loan committee.  He may be able to help you.”  I hung up the phone and cursed loudly, dropping F-bombs for 15 minutes straight.  When I was done, and calm again, I called Manny Choi.  He agreed to meet me the next morning.

I did not sleep at all that night.  And while I’m not normally a crier, I cried bitter tears all night long.  Joel tried to console me, but I was inconsolable.  “Who the hell do I think I am,” I wailed to Joel.  “What business do I have thinking that I can put together a business plan?”  Now I’ve pushed us deeper into debt.  $6,000 will not cover all of the initial carrying costs.  I’m so sorry I’ve gotten us into this!”

Joel knew better.  “It’s a great plan, and we’ll get a loan somewhere else, I know we will,” he said, 110% solid in his belief in my abilities, and his own.  “We can definitely do this.”   I took a much-need break from the tears, sniffling.  “You’re just saying that because you love me,”  I said, whimpering a bit around the edges – also unlike me.  Joel hugged me.  “No, I’m not,” he said, firmly.  “I would tell you if I thought we should quit.  We haven’t explored all of our options yet.”

The next morning, calm from lack of sleep and all cried out, I donned my best blue navy suit and met with Manny Choi.  I watched him for nearly 45 minutes as he read all 40 pages of our business plan, occasionally nodding.   He closed the plan, and looked up at me.  “What do you think?” I asked him.  He smiled.  “I think we can get you a loan.  I’ll just need current résumés for you and Joel.  You have a good plan here.”   I exhaled.  Joel was right.  We got the loan.

As I learn and grow incrementally wiser from these wonderful adventures, I’m quicker to remember my Daddy’s advice:  if you make 30 calls and you get one sale, you’re doing well.  In order to start The Best Framing Company, we only needed to make two calls before we got the sale.  Or as my friend Barb Wisnom would say:  just try and collect 20 “no’s.”  We were only able to collect one “no” before we got the “yes!”

Good hunting for your “yes’s” this week, and every week.  And savor the creativity and growth that you will produce when faced with the vacuum of a breakdown.  For that – and you – are the gift and the breakthrough in the face of every breakdown.

Happy Anniversary, hon!


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