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QAdisaster_Body.jpgby Susan Caminiti.


In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which caused billions of dollars of damage in the Northeast, it’s important for small business owners to know where to turn for help. Carol Chastang, a spokeswoman for the Small Business Administration in Washington, D.C., explains to business writer Susan Caminiti what kinds of insurance coverage businesses should have and where entrepreneurs can turn for help.



SC: Let’s start with the kind of insurance coverage a small business owner should have. What would you consider essential?

CC: To start with, business owners should have liability insurance for their machinery, equipment, and any other business assets. That’s an essential. Of course, a business owner should have property insurance if they own the property where the business is located.


There’s also business interruption insurance, but often times there’s a tendency for business owners to view this as an extra expense that they don’t want to, or have to, incur. But in the long run, business interruption insurance really does pay for itself.



SC: Why should a small business have this form of insurance and what does it cover?

CC: Let’s just look at what happened on the East coast with Hurricane Sandy. Even if there was no physical damage to many small businesses, there were massive power outages. A power outage is the Achilles’ heel for any small business. You can’t operate and bring in revenue but all your expenses are still there. That’s why we recommend business interruption insurance.

It basically provides money for working capital. The expenses that the business incurs even while it’s shut down—rent, payment on equipment, for example—can be covered with this kind of insurance.


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SC: We’ve covered the insurance part. Now what happens if there’s a disaster? What’s the first move to make?

CC: If it’s a presidential declaration of a disaster, we recommend that businesses and homeowners get in touch with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). They are the first stop in getting into the recovery food chain, so to speak, and will provide information about recovery grants available for businesses in various states. However, as a small business owner you need to keep in mind that FEMA does not offer aid to businesses directly. You can get FEMA aid as a homeowner or renter who suffered damage to your residence, but the FEMA aid is for that, not for your business.



QAdisaster_PQ.jpgSC: What help is available for the small business owner?

CC: [Help] comes in the form of a direct low interest loan from the SBA. The insurance companies are dealing with thousands and thousands of claims and we can’t say what the wait time is going to be to have a claim processed. So we recommend that small business owners don’t wait and instead file a disaster recovery assistance application with the SBA as soon as they can. Of course, during this time we encourage businesses to also be working with their insurance companies. But the SBA loan is going to come through faster. Once you settle with the insurance company, you can then use those proceeds to pay off the SBA loan.



SC: What’s the turnaround time for a small business to get a check from the SBA?

CC: From the time they submit their application it’s roughly 20 days until the business owner gets a check in hand. They file the paperwork through the SBA. We have recovery centers set up in all the states that were declared disaster areas.



SC: Is the process complicated?

CC: It’s not as complicated as one would think. The application is about three pages, front and back. There are just a few basic numbers the business owner needs. In addition, we have an arrangement with the IRS so that when a business owner is filing a disaster loan application they will submit a form giving us permission to obtain two to three years worth of federal tax returns. With Hurricane Sandy, no one was prepared for the amount of flooding or fires that occurred, and in many cases, important business documents were just gone. The onus of providing those tax returns is not on the business owner, who has just gone through this harrowing experience. If financial papers are lost in a fire or flood, we can still obtain the information and get the loan process underway.



SC: What kind of loans do you provide and what are the terms?

CC: We have two disaster loan programs for small businesses. The first one is for physical damage to the business. The loan limit is $2 million and we offer up to 30-year terms with a four-percent interest rate. The business owner can use it to repair or replace real estate, equipment, machinery, inventory, and furniture—anything that was damaged or lost. It is used to make the business as it was before the disaster. It’s not to be used to expand the business. The deadline for filing this application is December 31, 2012.


The second loan is an economic injury disaster loan. This loan provides working capital for the business that might not have suffered damage but was nonetheless unable to operate due to a power outage, for instance. It covers expenses that continue to accrue during the time the business was shut done or not operational during the disaster. It too carries a four-percent interest rate, the limit is $2 million, and the term is up to 30 years. The deadline for filing this loan application is July 31, 2013. Most of the business disaster loans we make are at the four-percent interest rate. There are some exceptions based on access to credit or additional assets that a business might have.



SC: Can a small business be approved for both types of loans?

CC: Yes, but the cap is still $2 million overall. So if you’re approved for a $1 million loan for the physical damage, you can only be approved for $1 million for an economic injury disaster loan.



SC: What other help does the SBA give small businesses on disaster preparedness?

CC: For the past two years we’ve been in partnership with Agility Recovery, a company that provides business continuity solutions for businesses. With them, we do free, live monthly webinars that are hosted by a business continuity expert. They run the second Tuesday of each month. We’ve gotten tremendous positive feedback from business owners on the webinars because we give useful tools they can utilize today and not just when a disaster strikes.


This interview has been edited and condensed.


The opinions expressed above are those of the individual interviewed for this article. Since each situation is unique, you should seek the advice of a qualified professional to address your specific circumstances.

QAgenefairbrother_Body.jpgby Susan Caminiti.


Operating a home-based business comes with its own set of do’s and don’ts. Chief among them: Be discreet. Round-the-clock package deliveries and clients who park in your neighbors’ driveways will garner ill will and make it more difficult to run your company, says Gene Fairbrother, president of MBA Consulting Inc., a Dallas-based firm that counsels small businesses. He recently spoke with business writer Susan Caminiti about how to work—and live—in harmony from home.



SC: What types of businesses have to be most concerned about upsetting the neighborhood?

GF: Businesses with two or three employees that have to park their cars in front or near your house, come to mind. Also, businesses that have a separate office for clients or customers need to be aware of their impact. An example would be a photography studio where people are coming in for appointments throughout the day. If you run a home-based business that gets frequent deliveries you need to be aware of how that impacts your neighbors. In short, any business that generates visual traffic should take care to minimize their impact on the neighborhood.


SC: Do towns and cities typically have rules or regulations for home-based businesses?

GF: Yes, there are two regulatory areas to look at. The first one is with the town. It can have restrictions on how many employees a home business can have, so you need to know what you’re dealing with. If you have three employees and your city or town says that you can have one employee working out of a home-based business, they can shut you down.


The other groups you have to look at, which are becoming more and more prominent these days, are homeowner associations. It’s very common for homeowner regulations to have specific language about operating a home business. You want to know the restrictions so that you don’t cross that line.


QAGenefairbrother_PQ.jpgSC: Are there other types of businesses that need to be concerned?

GF: Think about a plumber or electrician who needs to have a large van for work. They’re not operating the business out of their home, but they might want to park their van there at night. Well, some towns have restrictions on parking commercial vehicles in residential neighborhoods. If that’s the case, you’re going to have to find an alternate place to keep these vehicles.


SC: Generally speaking, how strict are towns and cities in enforcing these rules?

GF: Most take the position that if no one complains they’re not going to go out and press the issue. They’re not interested in going out to investigate individuals that are running home businesses. But if they get a complaint, they’re going to have to act on it.


SC: What are some tips then for keeping neighbors happy while still being able to run your home-based business?

GF: First off, be considerate. You may be running a business out of your house, but it’s still your home and you’re part of a neighborhood. Stay involved in neighborhood activities or become part of your homeowners association.


Secondly, be discreet. For example, if you’re the type of business with ongoing meetings with customers, don’t do them all at your home. Most small businesses don’t want clients coming to their house anyway, so arrange to meet them at a local coffee shop or restaurant. The point is not to have a steady stream of people coming into and out of your house all day. Now if you operate a business out of your home like a hair salon, that’s a little more difficult.


SC: What’s the solution in that case?

GF:  Don’t schedule clients so that their appointments overlap. Let one customer leave before another person comes in. And ask customers to help you out by requesting that they don’t park across the neighbors’ driveways or in any way block their house. Most clients will understand because you’re operating out of your home.


SC: You mentioned business owners that get frequent deliveries. What’s the best practice there?

GF: If you get a lot of deliveries you don’t want a UPS truck coming to your house two to three times a day with one package. Arrange with your suppliers to get deliveries on a certain day so that you’re getting 20 boxes at once instead of one.


SC: Does it make sense to have the packages sent somewhere else?

GF: Sure, you can set up an account with a UPS store or Mailboxes Etc. to have packages delivered there. Now, if you’re getting 50 boxes you might not necessarily want to have them delivered somewhere else and then worry about getting them into your car. But otherwise, it might be a good idea to arrange to pick these packages up elsewhere.


SC: What if you get a complaint from a neighbor? What’s the best way to handle it?

GF: You can certainly talk to them and ask what might appease them. Ask what bothers them the most and how to work it out. If they say they just don’t like living next door to someone who runs a home-based business, it might be time to move into a separate location for your company.


SC: What’s the biggest mistake a small business owner can make with all this?

GF: You can’t adopt the attitude, ‘It’s my business and I don’t care what the neighbors think.’ That’s not going to go well. Even if you’re following all the rules for your town or city, you don’t want to live in an area where you’re miserable because your neighbors complain about you. Owning a home-based business isn’t just about enhancing your livelihood, but your lifestyle as well. If you’re upsetting all the neighbors and they’re on your case, you’re not going to have a good lifestyle.


This interview has been edited and condensed.

ContinuityPlanning_Body.jpgby Heather Chaet.



A disaster striking your small business and the community in which it operates is a scenario no one wants to think about. Yet not thinking about what you will do in the event of a hurricane or flood can end up costing you much more than just rebuilding costs. Michael Bremmer, CEO of, likens disaster preparedness to planning for a funeral: “You know it's going to happen, you just don't know when, but you're much better off if you've taken the time to have a plan.” In fact, as the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy on the east coast so clearly demonstrated, preparing your company for a disaster, natural or otherwise, needs to be an integral part of your ongoing business planning. Beyond buying insurance, having safeguards and continuity procedures in place are among the most important actions you can make for the health of your company.



Get set up virtually and remotely

Virtual storage and remote desktop systems have transformed the ability of businesses to continue to work even if their physical location is unavailable. It is essential to develop daily and weekly procedures for all of your employees utilizing these capabilities. Having data backed up via off-site servers (preferably in a location far from where your company is), as well as on a cloud storage system that can be accessed remotely allows your employees to work from home or a temporary location should the situation arise. Though you may have minor delays and slower output, you can still meet the needs of your customers if you invest in the technology.


During and after a disaster, your company will not only need access to data, but also to assets. Richelle Shaw, entrepreneur, author, and president of the National Association for Moms In Business, says one of the ways she prepared for a disaster was to have a relationship with two banks—one local and one national. “My cousin was located in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina,” she recalls. “Her local bank was flooded out, and she did not have access to money. When I heard her story, I immediately opened an account at a national bank.”



ContinuityPlanning_PQ.jpgDouble (or triple) up

Though you have copies of your important documents protected off-site, other elements of your business should also be duplicated. Jan Decker of Crisis Management Consulting suggests having alternate suppliers and ways to deliver your products. “If shipping is interrupted or specific products are not available, strategize alternatives and keep in contact with [your] customers,” Decker says, “Small business owners that depend on a single source [of] suppliers should have replacement or contingency providers.”


Justin A. Meyer, an attorney with Meyer and Associates who works with small businesses on Long Island, New York, takes the idea of doubling up one step further. “There should be at least two people with keys to the front door and at least two people who know the passwords to the computer systems,” Meyer notes, “Small business owners, because they may only have a few employees, are in a more precarious position. The most important thing they can do is to have some redundancy.”



Know who to call and who’s in charge

Whether your company has three employees or 300, the same priority holds true during a disaster: communicate with employees. “Have a current, updated list with contact information for each employee,” says Jeff Garr, founder and CEO of HR Knowledge. “It could be a chain of phone calls where the supervisor alerts his team, or it could be a website with centralized information. Whatever the plan is, be sure to communicate where the information can be found and how
it will be communicated.”


If the main person in charge is unable to resume control after a disaster, designate in advance  who will step into that role. “Small business owners need to have a power of attorney agreement with a trusted surrogate in the event the owner is unable to take care of business,” says Decker, “Good candidates are attorneys, CPAs, banking officers, trusted family members, or friends. This is to keep the business in operation until the owner can return or other suitable arrangements are



Make a detailed emergency plan and review it

Having a specific, written emergency plan is key for every business, and being sure everyone knows that plan is vital. “Review the plan with everyone in your company and trusted advisors, [and] confirm everyone knows their roles in case of an emergency,” says Bremmer. “Bad things happen, but confusion and fear make them much worse.” He adds that, just like your annual budget review, look over your disaster plan at least once a year. “Review your plan as appropriate for your business. Last year's plan may not be viable any longer,” he says.


Michael Marchese, CEO of Tempesta Media, had a comprehensive review of all of his company’s business continuity procedures, which led to a revamp of operations. “We broke it down into increasingly perilous scenarios. For example, what would happen if our headquarters went down for one day? What would we do? How would we deal with a one-week interruption, one month, and
one year? What happened if we lost a key member of the team? How would
we react?” Marchese says. “We ended up creating about a half dozen scenarios ranging from a minor inconvenience to a potential company-killer.” This review of the plan led to several company-wide changes including cross-training of staff at all levels, moving operations to the cloud, implementing back-up mobile connectivity, and more. “Beyond being better planned for interruptions to the business, the improvements have helped make Tempesta Media more nimble and better positioned for growth,” notes Marchese.

A few years ago I did a series of columns for USA TODAY about how to be a successful franchisee. Although I have started two businesses, I had never owned a franchise, and so I spoke with several people in the franchising industry, including a few very successful franchisees.Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png I wanted to know what the successful franchisee does right.


Some of the things were self-evident: Great franchisees tended to be great bosses, they understood marketing and advertising, they took advantage of all of the perks that came with the franchise system and so on.


But one trait that came out of this research was unexpected: Successful franchisees are good at managing their cash flow.


Cash flow? Yes, cash flow.


A Subway franchisee explained it with this story: A competitor had opened an ice cream franchise near him one spring. The store had been very busy all summer but by the next February, it was out of business. The gossip on the street was that the owner did not manage his cash flow properly— he hadn’t planned for business to slow down in the winter and had not budgeted to make his summer windfall last through the colder months.


Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss


When discussing entrepreneurship and small business, plenty of big, fun ideas get bandied about, but cash flow usually is not one of them. And yet, the fact is if you want to be successful then you have to manage your cash flow well, period. It is one of those unglamorous, yet completely necessary, things that make a business work.


Consider this sobering statistic from Dun & Bradstreet’s Failure and Startups Analysis: Businesses doing cash flow planning once a year have only a 36 percent survival rate ovnov 13 pull quote.pnger five years compared to those that plan monthly, which have an 80 percent survival rate.


(A side note: It is important to understand that cash flow is not the same as profit, though they may seem similar. Cash flow is the cash position your business is in every month as funds come into and out of your business. Profit is the excess of income after expenses.)


My friends here at Bank of America and I presented a webinar on November 8 (if you missed it, check it out here), where we discussed cash flow management and highlighted just how important cash flow is to the success of a small business. We also developed a white paper (An Introduction to Cash Flow Management), which is accessible here on the Small Business Community.  These materials were designed to help you better understand how to manage your cash flow, which can essentially be divided into two categories – inflow and outflow.  If you can get a handle on each of these, your cash flow situation will be solid.


Inflow is simply a matter of making money and getting paid. To increase your inflow, you need to:


  • Invoice on time
  • Get your invoices paid on time (no more Net 60!)
  • Have enough sales to generate enough ongoing income to handle your debts (your outflow) in a timely manner


Outflow is your costs. It is the combination of your debts, expenses, overhead, taxes, labor and so on. Aside from maximizing your inflow, the other way to increase your cash flow situation then is to get a handle on your outflow. This would include:


  • Keeping your overhead low
  • Cutting back on non-essential expenses
  • Reducing labor or other costs where possible


So being good at cash flow management essentially requires two things: First, you need to increase your income and decrease your expenses because that creates positive cash flow. Then, you need to forecast your cash flow position on a consistent basis. How often? The Dun & Bradstreet study above suggests that monthly is the right answer.


If all of this seems difficult, rest assured you can easily learn how to manage it. If you watch the webinar mentioned above and read the white papers, you will be a cash flow expert before you know it.


Have questions? If you watched the webinar and still want to know more, be sure to check back later this month and visit our e-learning module.

About Steve Strauss


Steven D. Strauss is one of the wo's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

Disaster-Recovery.jpgIf your small business was impacted by Hurricane Sandy, you might need help navigating available programs and finding assistance.

Click here to read some ideas and tips to help recover quickly and get your business up and running again. And if you were fortunate enough to avoid Hurricane Sandy, this is still good information to keep on hand in the event you are affected by disaster in the future.

QAchrishale_Body.jpgby Robert Lerose.


The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal that military veterans owned 2.4 million businesses in 2007. It isn't always easy to go from a structured military environment to managing a civilian company. But veterans can bring a highly specialized skill set, discipline, and drive to help them excel in an increasingly competitive job arena. As the 43-year-old chairman and co-founder of Victory Media, a Coraopolis, Pennsylvania-based company that has marketed the military population to corporate America through different media since 2001, Chris Hale is intimately acquainted with both worlds. Business writer Robert Lerose talked with the former Navy officer about leadership and the "strategic advantage" that veterans offer.


RL: After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1991, you had a distinguished career in the military. Tell me about that.

CH: I went into the Navy Flight Officer Program, which is for people who don't have the vision to become pilots. I spent about a year and a half after that as a navigator and communicator on a P-3, which is an anti-submarine warfare airplane. Then I moved up and became the tactical coordinator. He's like the quarterback. When pilots fly the airplane over a submarine, the tactical coordinator handles the whole operation. I worked my way up to mission commander and was with the squadron in Jacksonville, Florida for a little over three years.


RL: When was this?

CH: The fall of 1993 through January of 1997. During this time, I did two six-month deployments to Keflavik, Iceland. I also spent some time in Sicily. After that, I did a three-year recruiting tour in Pittsburgh, which is where I'm originally from, and then left active duty at the end of 1999.


RL: Around the time you left the Navy, you co-founded a web-based military media company. You also worked as a manager for a Fortune 50 company. What was the transition like for you from military command situation to civilian management?

CH: I went through a civilian business school at night when I was at recruiting duty in Pittsburgh. There were a few things I had to learn. There are a lot of similarities, quite frankly, [between the military and civilian expectations]. In the private sector, projects require people with propulsion systems.


QAchrishale_PQ.jpgRL: What does that mean, "propulsion systems?"

CH: To take ideas, projects, and concepts to a point where they're properly executed takes a propulsion system, or an engine, so to speak. It's one of the core traits of leadership that you learn in the private sector. A lot of the skills I learned in the service were very, very transferable—leadership, teamwork, working in diverse teams, mission accomplishment, performance under pressure. In the military, there are serious consequences for not succeeding on a mission. In the private sector, you're very accustomed to pressure-filled situations or performance under pressure or pulling all-nighters, if you need to, to get the job done.


RL: And the differences?

In the private sector, you don't know where everybody stands. Some of the subtleties of corporate culture were new [to me]. It's hard to tell where the rank structure is, where the social structure is, where the cultural structure is. It's not visibly apparent.


RL: Your company bio says, "your principles have transformed corporate perspective on hiring military veterans from one of entitlement to one of strategic advantage." Could you elaborate on that?

CH: Most organizations that exist to benefit veterans are based on the premise that there is at least a part of that veteran that is worse off because of their service. We take a very, very opposite approach—that you're far better off because of having served. Those skills are so transferable. The things that you learn in the military prepare you for success in the private sector as an employee of somebody else, as a business owner yourself, or as what we call a hybrid of those two things, which is perhaps opening a franchise.


RL: You also believe "that military service is the best training regimen in the world and corporate America benefits from this every day." How so?

CH: Don't hire veterans because you feel it's your moral obligation to do so. Hire veterans because these guys and women can transform your company and make it better. They're model employees. They are like alumni of one of the greatest training organizations in the world—the U.S. military. When you hire a veteran, your company is benefitting from the training that the federal government has already invested heavily in. It's a tremendous workforce development expense that companies don't have to incur.


RL: Is there a specific example of a lesson you learned in the military that helped you in civilian business?

CH: I could talk to you for the next three days straight. Let me give you one: competitiveness. I wanted to be involved in the P-3 community as opposed to carrier-based aircraft. In order to achieve my first choice in platform and in where I was going to be assigned, I had to graduate first in my class in flight school [which I did]. Everybody, of course, wanted to graduate first because everybody wanted to have full control over where the Navy was going to send them. I went in as a relatively competitive person and the military made me even more so—but it's competition within a team framework. It has served me well, and I would argue it serves many veterans well.


RL: What advice would you give a military veteran who is thinking about starting his own business?

CH: Leaving the military and entering the civilian workforce is all based on fear of the unknown. [But] once you are out and competing in the private sector, you realize that you've been very well trained. Be confident you can do anything.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Army Staff Sergeant Robbie Doughty was only 32 when a bomb in Iraq cost him both his legs. Honorably discharged from the Army, Doughty and his young family faced a very uncertain future as he endured months of rehabilitation - he had no idea how he would be able to care for them. Steve-Strauss--in-article-Medium.png

And then he received the phone call that changed his life.

On the other end of the line was Michael Ilitch, the owner of the Little Caesars Pizza franchise (as well as the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings.) Having read about Sergeant Doughty in USA TODAY, and even though he had never met Doughty, Ilitch simply wanted to thank the sergeant for his service and give him some words of encouragement.


Yet after a while, moved by the young man’s grit, determination, and story, Ilitch offered Doughty a remarkable opportunity: to open his own Little Caesars Pizza franchise in his hometown of Paducah, Kentucky. Amazed at his turn of good luck, Doughty accepted the amazing offer and today is a successful entrepreneur, taxpayer, father and husband.

Click here to read more articles from small business expert Steve Strauss

And he is not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, veteran-owned businesses represent 9% of all U.S. businesses, roughly 2.5 million strong, employing almost 6 million people.

If you think about it, it is not surprising that veterans make great entrepreneurs. Their experience gives them the leadership skills, organizational abilities, commitment and work ethic that are the hallmarks of small business success. But the thing is, while veterans have the talent and drive needed to own a small business, very few of them have a Michael Ilitch in their lives. So where do our returning veterans go when they, too, want to become entrepreneurs?

Both the government and businesses across the United States have realized that helping veterans helps the country, and as such, there are a variety of very good programs available these days to assist in the transition from soldier to small businessperson:

The Center for Veterans Enterprise (CVE) (part of the Department of Veterans Affairs): CVE is dedicated to helping Veterans start and build their businesses. Its website serves as the federal government’s portal for all things related to veteran-owned businesses:

The Verification Assistance Program: There are many benefits to having a veteran-owned small business be certified as such, including being able to bid on government and other contracts. The problem is that getting certified can be a complicated process. That is where this program comes in – visit their website here to get the help you need.

The Small Business Administration: Of course, the SBA is very involved in veteran-owned business affairs and has a plethora of resources to help veterans find capital, build a business plan and more. The relevant website can be found here.

Even more significant is a new SBA program called Operation Boots to Business: From Service to Startup. This public-private partnership “uses a multi-phased approach to introduce transitioning service members to the fundamentals of small business ownership and to the SBA tools and resources available to them. The SBA aims to ultimately provide entrepreneurship awareness and opt-in training nationwide to the 250,000 service members from all branches of the military that transition each year.”

Veteran Fast Launch Initiative: SCORE, in conjunction with the Wal-Mart Foundation, has launched this initiative to help veterans become entrepreneurs.

Business Matchmaking: Business Matchmaking is another public-private partnership. Here, the idea is to match government and corporate procurement people with small business owners, including veteran small business owners. Over the years, almost 100,000 of such meetings have resulted in several billions of contracts being granted.

Nov 6 Pull Quote.png

The National Veteran Owned Business Association: Says NaVOBA, “NaVOBA’s Mission is simple — to create opportunities for all of America’s veteran-owned businesses. More than 3 million men and women who have defended our nation’s freedoms by serving in America’s armed forces have made the choice to start their own small businesses after their military service. We call them vetrepreneurs. Whether they are looking to start a pizza shop on Main Street, open a franchise, sell to large corporations, or contract with local, state or even federal government agencies, NaVOBA is here to help.”

The Veterans Corporation ( This is a great organization that helps all vets, including service-disabled veterans, obtain the tools and resources they need to be successful entrepreneurs.

So with Veteran’s Day approaching, here is a message for all of our veterans out there: Thank you for your service, and if you take advantage of any of these programs and start your own business, there are many of us that would be happy to pay you back by becoming your customers.

Are you a veteran who has opened a small business, or are you a small business owner that has helped a veteran become an entrepreneur? Share your stories with us below.

About Steve Strauss


Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.

3bros_Body.jpgby Susan Caminiti.


In our latest installment of the SBC’s small business of the month series, we meet Robert Jucker, 52, second-generation owner of Three Brothers Bakery in Houston, Texas. Jucker recently spoke with business writer Susan Caminiti about the challenges of running a family-owned business, the need for change, and why he’s pushing his own children to find careers outside of the bakery.


SC: With your parents and two uncles running the bakery, did you think you might have a different career as your were growing up?

RJ: I graduated from the University of Texas and thought I’d go into the oil business. But in the early 1980s, that industry wasn’t doing too well, so I started working at the bakery.


SC: Did you think that was just a temporary move?

RJ: I really did. But then when I got there, I saw that they could really use my help. Then I thought this really isn’t such a bad place. I think I’ll try to make it work and try to take it to the next level.


SC: In what way? Where did you see the need to improve or modernize the bakery?

RJ: My dad, Sigmund, and his two brothers started the business in Houston in the 1940s and were really bread bakers. That’s what they knew. They really didn’t take advantage of their cake business. I saw that we could revamp the whole cake aspect and make it more exciting and creative, especially for kids. I didn’t want to keep doing the 1950s style wedding cakes with the little figurines on top.


SC: What did you do to make it more creative?

RJ: I looked to see what was popular with the kids. One thing that was big in the 1980s was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We went to the toy shows and bought a ton of them. I’d then create a backdrop scene on the cake to make it look like the Ninja Turtles were in the sewer. We sold a lot of cakes like that. We were making so many cakes with toys on them—Barbie’s for instance—that we had accounts with Hasbro and Mattel in order to buy the toys in large quantity.


3bros_Sidebar.jpgSC: Was there pushback from your Dad and uncles about making these types of changes?

RJ: Absolutely! It was like pulling teeth all the time with my dad and his two brothers. I’ll give you a great example. Back in the early 1980s, I met a salesman who was pretty sympathetic to what I was going through in terms of trying to modernize the business. He sent me three machines worth about $40,000 just to try. They were designed to do what we had always done by hand. I had to wait until my dad went on a six-week vacation to Poland to actually pull the machines out to start to use them. Meanwhile, I had my dad’s brother, Sol, yelling at me that customers were never going to buy Kaiser rolls made by a machine. Finally, I said to him that I wasn’t going to sit there for four hours a day making Kaiser rolls by hand when I had a machine that could do it faster. I said we’re going to try the machine.


SC: What was the outcome?

RJ: We started making the rolls with the machine and we’ve been using one ever since. The customers didn’t know the difference. Maybe in the beginning the rolls were more perfect in shape, but the taste was the same. Plus it saved me three hours a day. Now when I’m away for a few days, I have the younger people who work for me doing the same thing.


SC: How so?

RJ: For example, almost all of our cookies are non-dairy because when my Dad and uncles started the business the bulk of their customers were kosher. But over the years, we’ve had a lot of people ask that we put butter in our cookies. And they have a valid point. Butter makes things taste better. So when I was away one weekend, my younger employees started making dairy-based chocolate chip cookies. And they tasted so much better. Now we offer both dairy and non-dairy cookies, but keep them separate. It’s just so funny that they’re doing to me what I did to my dad and uncles.


SC: Is there an aspect of the business that you still find particularly enjoyable after all these years?

RJ: I really like doing the cake decorating. It’s creative and artistic. I like to invent stuff. Let’s face it—a bagel is a bagel. But cakes allow you to be very creative. The stuff that you see on TV now on the Food Network, well, we were doing those kinds of elaborate cakes back in the 1980s. To make a cake that is unique and that people come to Houston to buy is a really nice feeling. About 30 percent to 35 percent of our business now comes from those specialty cakes.


SC: Three Brothers has truly been a family-run business for decades, but you recently hired an outsider to be part of management. How did that come about?

RJ: My wife, Janice, and I hired a business coach in 2009 and learned that we’re terrible managers. We also learned that a business coach for a family business is pretty much a therapist. I’m good at the baking part and Janice is great with the marketing and sales, but we discovered that we’re just not great managers. So we hired a general manager in 2010 and that was a really big step for us. Making that move is the reason we started expanding again and why we were able to open our second location in February.


3bros_PQ.jpgSC: What other changes have resulted in having a general manager onboard?

RJ: He changed our inventory mix and helped improve our packaging. He’s also done a really great job of making sure we have the right employees to put out high quality products. In the old days, Three Brothers had no competition, but times have changed. Now we have to provide a good experience for our customers and create a sweet memory for them. He’s brought us back around to that way of thinking.


SC: Are any of your children interested in getting involved in the business?

RJ: I have two kids and I have strongly pushed them away from the bakery. It’s tough. This is a weekend and holiday business. I haven’t had a weekend or holiday off since college and that’s about 30 years ago. It’s not fun when everyone around you is off celebrating and you’re working. I don’t want my kids to experience that.


SC: So if passing the business on to your kids isn’t in the cards, what do you see for yourself down the road?

RJ: We’ve had offers from people to buy the business, but we’re just not ready to sell or get out of it yet. Maybe we can franchise it—I’m not sure. Right now we’re trying to grow the business. When you’ve put so much time and energy into something you always want to see what it can become.


This interview has been condensed and edited.

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