Borrower Story: Meet Maria Cruz owner of Heavenly Flowers

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Keeping The Florist Business Local

Who knew the flower business was so competitive? Most of your revenues come from just a few days out of the year and its a supply chain and logistics nightmare. Not only that, but with online ordering and distribution networks, it takes real dedication and talent to separate yourself from all that competition.

An entrepreneur that is up for the challenge

Meet Maria Cruz from Long Island. Her passion is flowers. She has the chops to make stunning arrangements and provides the kind of customer service that keeps five-star reviews rolling in on Yelp. The road to get there wasn’t easy, but she’s a dedicated entrepreneur that wouldn’t give up on her dreams.

Maria in her store, Photo Credit: EGF

Owning her own business – making it a reality

Using her retirement savings, and the lessons she learned from working in her sister’s flower shop, she opened her own store in 2009. Her business grew and she was able to open up a second shop in 2015.

Things were going well until some equipment began to fail during an uncharacteristically slow summer season. Maria needed more money, however, banks turned her down flat–they must have read that article about how competitive the flower business is.

What these banks didn’t realize is that Maria was laser focused on success. They also must have missed Maria’s artistic talent and dedication to her customers, that prevented any obstacle from stopping her.

Maria with her EGF Loan Officer, Photo Credit: EGF

Looking for funding – a bump in the road

“I couldn’t understand why no one would loan to me. I just kept running into a dead end,” says Cruz. Both shops were profitable and her credit was good, but the only loan options available to her came through the large pool of largely unregulated, high-cost online lenders. With her business in distress, and no other option, she took the loans.

Maria now had an $11,000 obligation that she owed to three different online lenders. Shockingly, for such a low loan amount, she was paying $550 per day to these lenders. It sounds crazy, but some small business lenders are extremely predatory, offering “interest rates well over 30%.”

That sort of interest, ethically questionable, is completely unsustainable for a small business. After several months of struggling to meet these onerous terms, someone pointed Cruz to the Excelsior Growth Fund.

Community Lending – Providing Access to Capital

The Excelsior Growth Fund is one of the hundreds of CDFIs (Community Development Financial Institutions) that are certified by the Treasury Department with a mission to serve talented and driven entrepreneurs like Maria. CDFIs like Excelsior can meet the needs of business owners who seek the speed of an online lending process and provide access for businesses that cannot currently qualify with their traditional banks. Excelsior Growth Fund is also a CNote partner CDFI. That means when you invest in CNote, some of your dollars are going to Excelsior Growth Fund, which distributes them to businesses like Maria’s.

Maria with her EGF Loan Officer, Photo Credit: EGF

CDFIs, more than just a check–advice and guidance tailored to the business

Without CDFIs, businesses like Heavenly Flowers fall through the cracks–traditional banks won’t lend to them so they have to take on onerous debt loads from unscrupulous lenders. By providing business loans to financially underserved communities on reasonable terms, CDFIs set borrowers like Maria up for success.

“My first thought about the loan process was, ‘What’s the catch?’ But there isn’t one,” Cruz says. “You call them, they call you right back. You email them, they email you right back. They’re always there, no matter what you need. I’m their biggest fan.”

 

After connecting with Excelsior Growth Fund, Maria was able refinance her loans and drastically reduce her debt payments from $550 per day to only $990 a month. Obviously, this reduced the economic pressure on Heavenly Flowers, and Maria. This freed her up to focus on what she does best–making beautiful arrangements and providing outstanding customer service. Excelsior also connected Maria with free business advisory services which helped her construct an economic plan for her business and formalize her financial reporting processes. This advice has positioned her to grow her business in a sustainable way.

A Win for CDFIs, small businesses, and impact investors

Maria’s story is one of hundreds. There are countless Americans, including female and minority entrepreneurs, who are struggling to secure capital from traditional banks. CNote and CDFIs are dedicated to making their dreams come true. Together we create the world we wish to see – one with opportunity and a path to success for everyone regardless of their ethnicity, background or financial history.

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