After losing her job to budget cuts, Lori Volk had no way of helping her children with their college expenses. So, she marketed her homemade lavender lemonade recipe and her products now grace the shelves of every Whole Foods Market. Here’s how a credit union loan and business credit card helped Volk achieve sweet victory.
What could be more refreshing than a tall glass of real lemonade? Not much, discovered Lori Volk, the Ojai, California-based founder and “chief believer” of Lori’s Original Lemonade.
At the age of 50, while training for an Ironman triathlon, Volk decided to adapt a homemade lemonade recipe for the retail market. She intended to pay for her children’s higher education expenses with the proceeds.
“I became a new empty-nester [at the same time] I lost my job due to budget cuts [at the local school district],” says Volk. “I became desperate to earn money and help contribute to the college housing and food expenses that my husband and I promised to our three kids. So, I came up with the idea to bottle my signature lavender lemonade recipe that I had made for my kids’ lemonade stand years ago.”
Working with mentors from SCORE, a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Volk’s beverage company took off. Lori’s Original Lemonade now has five unique flavors and is sold at Whole Foods Market and local grocers across the country.
Both Volk and her products have received numerous accolades – most recently The Specialty Food Association’s Silver sofi Award where her Wild Strawberry Lemonade took home the silver award in the Cold Beverage, Ready to Drink category. As an entrepreneur, Volk has been featured in major publications such as Forbes and Kiplinger.
Here’s how it all started, and which type of card she’s been using to make sure she steers clear of sour debt.
How did you kick off your company when you were in a financially tight place?
I didn’t have any money, so I took out a $5,000 loan from my local credit union to start up my company. Eight years later, after taking out additional loans to fund the startup, I stopped borrowing from the bank and now use my American Express card to fund our inventory purchases when I need to.
I am currently using The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, which is a charge card, not a credit card. In addition to having to pay off the balance so that no interest is added (which would cost me extra in financing fees), it comes with a lot of perks. Mainly, though, I like the fact that I have to pay back what I borrow on a strict time schedule. It forces me to only take out what I know I can pay off in a short time period.
See related: Credit union cards: Weighing the pros and cons
Can you explain more about how you have been borrowing for your business?
In the past, when I’ve been in a pinch, I did take out cash advances from my credit cards; but not these days. Now I mostly use my card to pay direct to my vendors.
I am also using the American Express Working Capital Terms account. With it, I pay my vendors so I can fund the company’s inventory needs. It’s simple and easy to use and it is currently helping my cash flow.
Becoming debt-free is a top priority of mine. In the beginning, we grew too fast and I had to take out money to fund our growth. Since then, we have scaled back and completely changed our business model to one that’s more profitable. It allows us to have a much better cash flow, and we are now able to manage our expenses without taking on more liabilities.
Did you experience any financial surprises?
Of course, everything about starting my company caught me off guard! Because I had never started a lemonade company before, I had no idea how much it was going to cost to open and run.
Just as importantly, I did not know how to grow it so I could stay in business, so I learned as I went along. The fact is, I was not financially prepared for the enormous undertaking that it was to be in the beverage world.
I was also surprised to learn that most of the large banks don’t lend small businesses any money at all, so I was lucky to get started with a small, local bank that did help us in the beginning.
Now, I am paying off those early loans and do not plan to take any credit lines out after they are paid off.
As a business owner, what have you learned about borrowing money along the way? Can you offer any advice?
I wished I had not taken on any lines of credit or small business loans. Unfortunately, at the time, it was the only choice. It did enable me to get to where I am today, though, so I’m grateful for that.
Borrowing money without a plan is wasteful. But know that even the best-laid plans can change. That’s what happened in our case. So, I made a commitment: My goal is not to borrow any money that I can’t pay back in less than 30 days, and to design the business so it is self-sufficient.
My advice to other entrepreneurs? Be aware that when you’re starting out, your business will almost certainly take more money than you project. Be prepared for that!
And get good guidance. The regular meetings I had with SCORE from the very beginning were focused on developing my business plan, projections and budgets. My mentors provided a sounding board and held me accountable to achieve my goals during each visit and pushed me to make the progress each month.