Minority Entrepreneurs

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Ashtae Products Finds Success With Help From SCORE Mentor

In 1996, Michael and Ramona Woods decided to turn their mutual experience in the salon-servicing industry into an opportunity to become business owners. They launched Ashtae Products, which sells multicultural hair products to professional salons and beauty schools.

Owner/Founder
Michael Woods and Ramona Woods
My Location
Greensboro NC
United States
Employees
9
Year Company Formed
1996
My Successes

Unlike many other newcomers to the world of business management, the couple had no problem attracting customers. Thanks to their previous experience, Michael and Ramona doubled Ashtae’s sales each of the company’s first three years. The problem was that the couple had little profit to show for their efforts. “We failed to realize that knowing how to sell and make money doesn’t mean you know how to keep it,” Michael recalls.

Michael and Ramona have been able to augment their sales know-how with sound business planning and management. Ashtae has moved to its own location in Greensboro, added staff members and increased its market share—despite the nationwide economic slowdown of the past two years. More importantly, the company’s financial picture is very strong, rewarding Michael and Ramona with a healthy profit. The couple can now focus comfortably on building an aggressive long-term strategy for Ashtae, and their own future as entrepreneurs.

What's Great About My Mentor?

Michael and Ramona made an appointment with SCORE volunteer mentor Eric Indermaur, a CPA and former corporate vice president of finance. A review of the company’s financial and accounting data helped Eric pinpoint Ashtae’s problem: The company was growing too fast.  Its inventory supply chain was out of sync with the normal ebbs and flows of the business cycle.

Eric helped Michael and Ramona better understand where Ashtae’s money was going, how to scrutinize the financial data and how to calculate sustainable profit margins. He also helped them secure a loan from the Greensboro Venture Capital Fund to provide a stable source of funds to finance inventory growth and turnover.

How SCORE Helped

Michael and Ramona continue to have regular meeting with Eric and other counselors at SCORE. “Their greatest asset is the ability to help a company understand the business cycle, and to plan for the various stages of growth,” Michael says. “Eric and SCORE opened our eyes to the real deal about running a business instead of the business running you. If we had never met them, we’d probably be unprofitable—and out of business.”

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Ameravant

Ameravant, Inc. was established as a web design and development company by Michael Kramer in 2001. No stranger to business, Michael had an impressive track record in real estate sales and business consulting. The name Ameravant - a combination of America and “avant garde” – was intended as a symbol of the forward-looking business he was creating.  Michael had already identified an important business opportunity arising from the rapidly expanding role of the internet in commerce - hence his decision to set up a company which would design and develop customized websites and, specifically, empower owners to maintain their own content without paying a webmaster. Websites would be faster, cross browser compatible, and most importantly, search engine friendly, and customer support would be offered.  Ameravant also commenced its own web hosting operation, and thus enabled the company to support its customers even more effectively.

By 2004 the company began hiring, and the number of employees grew to seven as the business became increasingly successful.  However, by late 2008 the market was declining, and where previously the company had been able to turn a very high percentage of enquiries into business, the closing rate had dropped to 20%. The company was running into difficulty.  As the key salesperson, all of Michael’s time was spent on selling, and he had less time to work on daily operations or even send out business quotes.  This resulted in fewer sales and less business.

At this point Michael met with SCORE. He attended a business seminar where he listened to various presentations, and subsequently met two of its counselors, Henri Bainou and Gary Kravetz.

One of the best pieces of advice I was offered by SCORE was that when a client walks through the door with money in his hand, make sure you sell him something.

The advice was simple. See if you can come up with a product you can offer on a turnkey basis at a very competitive price. For Ameravant, this meant offering a basic website package, which offered all the important features required for a simple business, at a low price. To this, additional customized options could be added according to the clients’ business requirements.  The effect of this was twofold.  Firstly, the cost of the basic package made Ameravant extremely competitive in the local market. Secondly, by standardizing the package on offer, Ameravant was able to streamline its quotes, and make these available to customers almost immediately. These changes had an immediate impact, and Ameravant was able to convert a higher percentage of enquiries into business. Now the company was able to readily quote a price for everything from the most basic package to the most sophisticated, with any number of “add on” options, e.g. billing and payment systems, 360 degree panoramic tours, testimonial systems, event registrations, catalogs, online stores, etc.  This range of choices enabled the needs of a wide range of industries to be met.

As a result of this business turnaround, the company was able to retain almost all its employees and Michael was able to devote more time to business growth.  This led to the development of business-to-business operations. Because of the level of sophistication of Ameravant’s products, local competitors are now purchasing these to sell to their clients. This is particularly beneficial to Ameravant as this lowers support costs.

Now Ameravant combines the most advanced technology with the most rapid of turnovers.  New websites can be created within three days (in some cases even less) and its clients now include some major Santa Barbara institutions. The company website at www.ameravant.com illustrates the wide range of customers who have used its services. Michael continues to draw on the services of SCORE periodically.

And the future? Michael is optimistic. The company’s goals now include plans to expand its business-to-business commercial activities and also target more clients who need larger, more complex websites for their business operations. He has no doubt much of the company’s current success is due to SCORE.

“SCORE’s professional advice came at a crucial time for the company. It changed everything, and set us on a great path to further business success.”

  

My Location
Santa Barbara CA
United States

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