Small Business News
Aviation is in William Ketcham’s blood. A retired US Navy Gulf War veteran, for over 20 years Ketcham served as an aircraft mechanic and flight engineer at Naval air stations around the world. After leaving the service, he returned home to the Southern Tier and became an aircraft mechanic at FirstAIR, the sole-provider aircraft repair facility at the Greater Binghamton Airport. Over several years, Ketcham’s unique expertise and reputation for quality, federally certified repair on both commercial and private aircraft made FirstAIR one of the most respected companies in the field. Ketcham was also responsible for the repair and certification of ground support equipment at the airport. When the owner of the business decided to explore opportunities elsewhere, Ketcham saw an opportunity. Working with the Binghamton SBDC’s Doug Boyce (himself a former Navy aviator), Ketcham developed a business plan and set of financial forecasts for his own company, North Country Aviation Services, that allowed him to arrive at a fair purchase price with the owner as well as to convince commercial lenders to help finance the purchase. The $135,000 package consisted of a conventional bank loan, an SBA-guaranteed loan, a revolving line of credit, and the client’s equity investment. Says Ketcham, “Doug Boyce and the SBDC worked with me to develop a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Gust Freeman was referred by the bank to the Binghamton University SBDC to discuss the purchase of Heatall, Inc. a retail seller of outdoor wood furnaces. With the growing trend of homeowners searching for lower cost fuel alternatives, the business had expanded to become one of the largest wood furnace companies in upstate New York. Gust developed an interest in the business when he actually purchased his own wood furnace four years earlier and installed it himself. The timing appeared right for Gust and his wife, Yvonne, to purchase the business. When Gust found out that the previous owner was looking to retire, Gust decided the time was right to take a chance on owning the business. The Freeman’s belief in the business and the product made this the perfect opportunity.
Working with Business Advisor Steve Amell and after visiting five different financial institutions, they were able to structure a proposal that made sense to the Freemans, the bank and the seller by restructuring the purchase in order to make the deal “bankable.” The opportunity came together in August with the purchase and plans are underway to resolve zoning issues associated with a relocation of the business to a site where they hope to be able to build a new showroom, office space and warehouse facility. They hope to begin construction in the spring and be in our new site by June. “None of this could have happened without Steve Amell and the SBDC.” Freeman said.
Les & Jan Swartz founded Federal Safety Equipment (FSE) in 1979. A disabled veteran, Les established the company in his residential garage to meet the needs of fire departments and ambulance services in the Southern NY region. Federal Safety Equipment became a corporation in 1980 and in 1981 purchased property located at 23 Kinney Street in the Village of Candor, NY. A steel building was constructed which allowed the company to have offices, a showroom, and several garage bays for the repair and installation of equipment on emergency vehicles. FSE now is expanding the bay areas to enable the assembly of “Hard Attack” fire vehicles.
In the summer of 2007, FSE added the manufacture of small “Hard Attack” fire fighting apparatus to its product lines. The vehicles are based on the chassis selected at the customer’s preference then necessary components for the various options are assembled from local and regional sources. These “Hard Attack” vehicles are essentially custom built for a variety of purposes. The vehicles are then assembled in the Candor facility and delivered to the customer as a turn key unit ready to be put into service. The uses range from brush fire fighting applications to emergency aviation crash vehicles.
As FSE President, Mr. Swartz has shown intuitive management abilities through foresight, dedication, consistency and daring in the growth of his business from a simple start-up in a garage to a 38,000 square foot facility generating revenues in excess of $1.5 million and employing six (6), with plans to hire two (2) more, in a small town sorely in need of employment opportunities. The company is a major employer in its small town location.
“Working with Les and his staff has been a real pleasure for me.” says Ken Homer, SBDC Business Advisor. “They have an exciting new product and are continually exploring new markets.” and “Hard Attack is something we have wanted to do for a long time. Ken and the SBDC have been terrific in providing direction and mentoring as we have developed this avenue of our business.” adds Les.
Under the leadership of Mr. Les Swartz and his family, FSE has an exciting and dynamic future.
3i Graphics and Signs manufactures, installs, and services vehicle graphics and wraps, banners, yard signs, interior and exterior signs, point of sale displays and a number of other signs and graphic products. It also provides ink jet lamination, color copy and other related services. When the founding owner chose to retire in 2008, Eric Olsen, a sales executive, approached the SBDC for assistance with funding to purchase the company. The business was stable but funding the acquisition was challenging because banks were tightening lending requirements and the recession was impacting potential partners and investors.
Eric consulted the Binghamton SBDC for help in fine tuning his business plan in preparation for approaching lenders. Eric decided that he wanted a partner to help run the business. Nick Taro's wife, who worked for one of the company's customers, found out and discussed the opportunity with her husband. Nick has more than 30 years of manufacturing and management experience in the printed-circuit-board industry, which complements Eric's many years of sales and marketing expertise.
Eric and Nick agreed to become partners and together worked with the SBDC, several commercial lenders, and a local revolving loan fund to assemble the funding needed to complete the ownership transfer. Under the direction of the new partners, 3i Graphics and Signs continues to stress quality products and service. They are gaining new customers in new advertising market segments and new geographic areas. After weathering the effects of the '09 recession, sales are rebounding and the owners plan to add several employees in the future.