Consuelo Castillo knows a few things about long-distance travel. Like many other Latin Americans who have come to the United States, the native of Peru had experienced the difficulties of making travel arrangements and dealing with immigration issues while also trying to overcome a language barrier. With the Hispanic population in and around her new home in Lakewood, NJ, growing steadily, Consuelo set her sights on starting a travel agency that specialized in serving Spanish-speaking customers.
Consuelo realized that she had much to learn first. She spent several months working as an unpaid part-time employee for another travel agent to gain experience while also building her English skills. In 1998, she felt ready to take the plunge. Drawing on her personal savings and the part-time assistance of her husband, Orlando, she launched Conseulo’s Travel.
“We soon found that customers were asking for help for other things such as money transfers, translations, tax returns and immigration counseling,” Consuelo recalls. “My husband and I quickly learned as much as we could about them so we could add those services.
Consuelo soon found it necessary to hire another part-time employee, and to seek financial assistance for new equipment and leasehold improvements. While researching information at the local library, she saw a notice for a SCORE-sponsored seminar on business start-ups. That led to one-on-one mentoring with Bob Miesemer, the former president/CEO of a business machines company.
“We needed help developing business plan, our marketing strategy, and legal requirements,” Consuelo says. “Bob took us through each one step by step, showing us what elements were needed and why they were important.”
With Bob’s help, Consuelo received her loan and continued to grow her business. Unfortunately, the rent on her leased space began to take off as well. That challenge simply created a new opportunity. In 2002, the couple purchased a three-story building ideally located across from the Lakewood municipal building. Consuelo’s business occupies the ground floor, with the remaining space leased to tenants that include a lawyer, employment agency, and a newspaper. With her fully bilingual staff, which includes Orlando, Consuelo enjoys steadily growth in both her revenue and customer base.
One frequent visitor to her business is Bob Miesemer, who drops by to check on their progress and answer questions. “I really appreciate his counseling and support,” Consuelo says. “When you talk with SCORE, they are as interested and excited about your business as if it was their own.”
“When you talk with SCORE, they are as interested and excited about your business as if it was their own.” says Consuelo Castillo.
With Bob’s encouragement, Consuelo is working on becoming a SCORE volunteer so that other Hispanic entrepreneurs will benefit from her experience. “I tell them that if I can succeed after being in the United States for only seven years, anybody can,” Consuelo says. “You just need to be sure of what you want to do, and where to go to get help.”