Juan C. Vera and his wife are the owners and operators of a thriving small business, Best Waiters of Chicago, Inc. (BWC). Their company, founded in 1999, provides Chicago caterers with trained and experienced waiters, bar staff and customer service professionals. BWC employees work weddings, birthdays, corporate parties and other events throughout the Chicagoland area and nearby suburbs.
Vera and his wife are chemical engineers who immigrated to the states from Mexico to start their small business dream. Early on, BWC was fortunate to partner with Blue Plate, Chicago’s premier catering company. “Blue Plate is the biggest and the best in the Chicago area. We started out by providing them with just 15 waiters,” says Vera. BWC soon expanded. “We now work with over 10 top Chicago caterers and other clients, for a variety of events.” From intimate gatherings to large affairs, BWC employees help every event run smoothly. “We’ve provided staff for a 1.5 million dollar wedding. Every BWC employee that worked received a $100 tip. That shows the quality of our team,” he says.
In the beginning, BWC didn’t have the software in place to handle a large payroll. However, today they can hire up to 250 waiters a day to work up to 30 events. Vera is very proud that BWC provides so many professionals with flexible working options. “We now have over 350 available staff members on payroll. Over the years we’ve employed over 4,000 people. Even during the 2008 recession, we were able to put people to work.”
Vera tells his employees that they are in a 50/50 relationship. “We need them and they need us.” His training program is comprehensive and sets up his staff for success. “We rent out a banquet hall and gather 50 – 60 people. We mimic an event and show employees how to handle any situation – from folding the napkins to everything else.”
The BWC office runs lean and mean. Only 3 people work in the home-based office, one being his adult son. “We saw our competitors go out of business during the recession,” Vera says. “They had too much overhead and ended up bankrupt.” Small businesses like BWC are a vial part of the U.S. economy. According to the SBA, small businesses created nearly 2 million of the roughly 3-million private-sector jobs generated in 2014. More than 7 million of the 11 million jobs created during our recovery have been generated by startups and small enterprises. “I love this country and love contributing to the economy,” Vera says with conviction.
Although business is booming, Vera needed funds for day-to-day cash flow. “Just one client can put in an order for $50,000 for a week. Our payroll is big and we needed capital.” Vera was using invoice factoring for funds. Factoring is a financial transaction and type of debtor finance where a business sells its accounts receivable to a third party at a discount. Vera was paying an average of $20,000 per year to access the extra funds. He also received two loans but realized that the terms and interest rate were cutting into his cash flow. He paid those loans off and began looking for a lender with affordable rates and terms.
Vera found that it was a challenge to find a reputable company. “We received two or three dozen offers for financing but SmartBiz was the best deal. Once I started working with my relationship manager, I was very happy. He walked me through the process, was there every time I called and answered each question I had about the loan.”
Vera’s organization and use of technology helped the loan process proceed quickly. “We have all of our paperwork organized. Our son works in IT and he helped to scan everything into the cloud. That way important documents are very easy to find. We were funded in under 3 weeks.”
BWC secured a $300,000 SmartBiz SBA loan with a 10-year term. “We’re going to save a lot of money. I can offer my clients more credit and I don’t have to be so pushy about past due invoices. This will give clients a bigger window to pay.”
When asked the best thing about being a small business owner Vera said, “Freedom. Although we work long hours and every weekend, during slow seasons we have the freedom to take vacations or simply wake up late and just watch TV.”
Vera has a few words of wisdom for those starting a small business, “I believe everybody has opportunities to start a business. The most important thing is to be prepared. If you are not well prepared to launch a company, that opportunity can disappear.”
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