As your business grows so does the space needed to power it. Linda Fong, the owner of a rapidly growing FASTSIGNS franchise in Oakland, has twice outgrown her production and showroom facilities and has twice secured an SBA loan to purchase a larger property.
“There’s nothing like the security of owning your own building,” said Fong. “You don’t have to worry about rent going up, or having to move, which is expensive, especially when you have large equipment. When you don’t own your building, you don’t get money back from making improvements, which is a good way to build equity.”
Fong opened her downtown Oakland FASTSIGNS franchise in 1995 and a second showroom in Hayward in 2007. Her company manufactures visual communications solutions, including banners, building signs, trade show exhibits, point-of-purchase signs, and window graphics with an emphasis on accessibility, wayfinding and compliance, ADA, Braille, and tactile signage.
In 2017, Fong had outgrown her Oakland location and was looking to purchase a larger facility, and she needed a way to finance it.
She had heard of the SBA 504 loan program, which enables small-business owners to purchase, renovate, construct, or refinance commercial real estate with only a 10% down payment and long-term, below-market, fixed interest rates. But even though she had been buying and selling real estate since 1999, Fong was hesitant to apply for an SBA loan, because she had heard that the paperwork and bureaucracy would be overwhelming.
A client referred her to TMC Financing, where she met Executive VP Kurt Chambliss, who led her through the process.
“TMC knows what they are doing, and Kurt asked really good questions,” said Fong. “The SBA application process is pretty intense, but it plugs the holes in your business plan. It asks all the questions up front and tells you what you need, which gives you a better understanding of how healthy your business is.”
She secured a loan, which allowed her to purchase a 3,000-square-foot building in a convenient location near downtown Oakland where she could consolidate her Hayward and Oakland production operations.
One of the goals of the SBA 504 program is to allow companies to retain working capital so they can continue to grow. And that’s exactly what Fong did.
“Being in our own building is part of why we grew as quickly as we did,” said Fong. “I had the confidence to know that I could do what I needed to do to the building to make it work for me.”
Business was booming, and soon her two independently owned FASTSIGNS centers were running out of space in the new building. Fong consulted with Martine Neider, SFMade’s Director of Manufacturing Operations, to maximize efficiencies in the production process to leverage the existing space. Neider provides operations, production efficiency, supply chain management, and modernization consulting support for manufacturers throughout the Bay Area.
“We help manufacturers make the best use of their current space by doing a manufacturing assessment and an efficiency review and recommended ways to make production easier on them and their staff,” said Neider. “At FASTSIGNS we helped Linda and her team see where in the production cycle they could make things more efficient.”
Although her operations were now more efficient, demand continued to grow, and Fong simply didn’t have the room to accommodate her production equipment and staff. It was once again time to look for a bigger building.
In 2019 Fong began the search, this time around making a wish list of criteria that could accommodate future growth. The list included a location near public transit, a loading zone, and higher ceilings to allow for vertical expansion. Her commercial real estate agent found a 6,000-square-foot building located between Jack London Square and Chinatown. Now she had to figure out how to finance it.
“If I didn’t have the 2017 experience with the SBA 504 loan I don’t know if I would have had the guts to go into a 6000-square-foot space that was more than double the size of my existing building,” said Fong.
She again reached out to Chambliss at TMC Financing to see if she would qualify for a second SBA loan, not sure if she had to sell her existing building first.
“I called Kurt and he looked at the numbers and said I can get another SBA loan and I don’t have to sell my existing building,” said Fong.
“We went through a process of getting Linda’s first deal completed, and when she saw how easy it was, she was eager to buy the larger property in Oakland,” said Chambliss. “The SBA prefers manufacturers, as they have several policies that allow manufacturers to obtain multiple SBA loans, without the limitations placed on most other industries. SBA loans are vital resources for our borrowers.”
Fong bought the larger, $1.9M building by securing a second, 25-year-term, 504 loan with 10% down at a record-low interest rate. She closed escrow on the property on March 27, 2020 – 10 days after shelter in place orders went into effect.
“I closed my eyes and said I could walk away from a six-figure deposit or I could hope for the best,” said Fong. She did the latter and fortunately that decision paid off.
FASTSIGNS was able to continue operating during the pandemic, but there were considerable delays in the renovation. They were finally able to move into the new building in January 2021.
When preparing for the move, Fong consulted with SFMade again, this time on hiring and employee issues.
“Knowing Martine is there gives you the confidence that you have a team to help stretch yourself and move to that next level,” said Fong. “SFMade is a great resource because it is local and understands the local market and manufacturing challenges, whether it be real estate or talent.”
Throughout 2020 Fong was able to maintain operations at her existing 3,000-square-foot location and retain her staff without any layoffs. Orders from her many long-term clients kept the business afloat as did savings, PPP loans, and a dedicated team of long-term employees.
“I have learned to surround myself with really strong, good people who can help me think, plan, strategize, and be very nimble,” said Fong. “I think I am very lucky.”
SERVICES FOR MANUFACTURERS
SFMade provides industry-specific services for manufacturers at every stage of their development. We serve FASTSIGNS through the California’s Manufacturing Network’s California Manufacturers Accelerator Plus Program (CMA+), of which we are a Bay Area service provider. The CMA+ program is a FREE growth and profitability program designed to help small and medium sized manufacturers in the Bay Area succeed.