While small businesses across the U.S. are reopening and adapting to the new normal, we’ll be highlighting stories of OnDeck customers who are facing these challenges head on. They share ways they changed their business operations to deal with new realities and how they used financing from OnDeck to help along the way.
We recently spoke with OnDeck customer Wade Gilcher, who owns Cleveland Corporate Limousine Service. He has used his OnDeck financing to invest in adapting his business to continue to operate safely during the pandemic.
Tell us about your business. How did it come about?
We’re an executive concierge service with a focus on discreet luxury experiences catering to higher profile individuals. I was a chauffeur for 25 years before I opened my business eight years ago. I was done with the less-than-glamourous part of chauffeuring, and I knew I could offer much more.
We take our business to the next level. We’re not just planning travel logistics with transportation: we’re the conduit for traveling politicians, entertainers, executives and athletes. We do the dry-cleaning, grocery shopping, meal planning, after-school activities, and pet sitting.
What have been some of your biggest challenges as a small business owner?
The biggest challenge was getting capital when I started out. Starting with limited financing was tough: banks don’t want to deal with new businesses, and the SBA had too many check boxes. It was especially hard for me to get financing because the concierge industry is considered high-risk, so companies were reluctant to lend to us. Then again, it was an opportunity to do things myself. I did my own marketing and video production and set up a mobile office to save money. I learned a lot on the fly.
Why did you choose OnDeck and what’s been your most memorable experience working with us?
I used merchant cash advances in the past, which were all miserable experiences. You felt like you weren’t trustworthy enough for their money and they treated you like it.
A friend of mine in the same industry had used OnDeck and he said he never had a bad experience working with someone from there. I went with my friend’s recommendation and my experience was great. I did the initial loan in 2019 when I had taken on billing accounts with 30-day terms, which isn’t our norm, so I needed cash to keep up with payroll.
Initially with COVID, I had a few weeks where I was nervous financially. OnDeck was understanding and gave me some flexibility on my outstanding loan. Once that initial loan was paid off, it made sense to reach out for additional capital to prepare for growth once the economy opens back up again.
How have you used the money?
Some of my funds went to paying for the plexiglass cough partitions, PPE, and cleaning supplies, but a lot was used for recapitalizing my marketing so we can prepare for growth. We had to pay off some of the debt we incurred when we had such a huge drop off in business this spring.
How has the coronavirus impacted your business? Have you had to do anything to adapt to COVID in the long term?
We started out the year looking at a 45% increase over last year’s revenue. January was a crazy busy month and February was the same. Then March hit and our industry just ceased. Corporate travel bans cut our airport work, and that usually accounts of 35%-40% of our revenue. With the stay-at-home order, we lost concerts, restaurants, weddings, proms, and graduations.
At the same time, we had to adjust to the new sanitation requirements. All our SUVs are now outfitted with cough partitions. We removed glassware and no longer provide bottled waters. Drivers have spray alcohol solutions and disposable towels to wipe contact surfaces. My employees wear gloves and masks when working with clients.
One thing we did to keep our brand top of mind was partner with high-end restaurants to serve customers who had reservations on the books for months. We have one large executive coach and we’re offering it as a restaurant on wheels. Since there is a ban on indoor restaurant dining, we park the coach in the restaurant’s lot and a small group can eat there while we serve them ourselves.
While the pandemic has certainly cut into my business this year, it also presented an opportunity to expand our service offerings. We recently opened up a security service to complement our concierge services. With all the economic uncertainty, I saw that many of our clients were more concerned with their safety – especially if they were a more visible decision maker.
What do you love about being a small business owner, specifically in this industry?
I like the flexibility and the freedom to create. Not only do I create opportunities for others, I feel that my most important job as a business owner is to educate the people who work with me and nurture them to find their own path. I’m always looking around for unique talent.