Since the inception of the Small Business Credit Profile series in July 2018, we’ve interviewed over 100 business owners. Here’s how they’re doing and how they continue to use credit cards to operate and grow.
By their very nature, entrepreneurs are a group of committed go-getters. They all have their own reasons for launching and individual journeys toward success. To highlight the most passionate and interesting business owners across the country, we started the Small Business Credit Profile series in July 2018. We soon learned why and how each started their enterprise, and the way they used credit cards to start, operate and grow.
While everyone we interviewed experienced bumps in the road, the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the U.S. in 2020 was a ditch unlike any other. Here is a round-up of the businesses we profiled and a sampling of the owners who are still in it to win it during these unprecedented times.
See related: Bandana-wielding Bandits and a business boom
Entrepreneurs by demographics
Of the first 100 business owners, 55% were female-owned and one was was launched by a couple. Our series thumbs its nose at the 2020 small business survey conducted by UENI, a small business technology assistance firm, which found that women comprise just 45% of all small business owners in the U.S.
Small businesses are not just a vital part of the U.S. economy – they help individuals obtain financial independence. Though minorities comprise 32% of the U.S. population, the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship found that only 18% of the small business community are people of color. In contrast, 25% of the business owners we featured in the series were minority-owned.
Small Business Credit Profile participants beat the odds
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20% of small businesses don’t make it past the first year, and half are out of business in five years. Certainly, the pandemic took a toll. As per the September 2020 Yelp: Local Economic Impact Report, 163,735 U.S. businesses listed on the review site closed at the beginning of the pandemic and 97,966 are not reopening.
Therefore, the success rate among those highlighted in the series is particularly remarkable: 98% of the small businesses we featured are still in operation today.
Where are they now?
We revisited five small business owners to learn what they’ve been doing since their feature. What became clear: Their entrepreneurial spirit remains powerful as is their positive relationship with credit cards.
Nicole Pomije, creator and owner of The Cookie Cups
Originally featured in June of 2018, Pomije opened her second retail bakery after the interview. The Cookie Cups was booking hundreds of children for birthday parties and cooking classes. And “business was booming,” says Pomije. But “around March 15, everything came to a sharp halt.”
“We immediately closed both of our bakeries until we had more news for what we should do from the state.” To stay afloat, she signed the company up for deliveries via DoorDash and GrubHub and trimmed staff. The slow period lasted for around six months, but during that time, The Cookie Cups developed a line of shippable baking kits.
“We are on Amazon and have recently been seen on the Today Show and in Entertainment Weekly,” says Pomije. “We have successfully pivoted into this new e-commerce venture and yes, we still use credit cards for purchasing inventory and supplies. My go-to is my Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card. Why not rack up some miles for future travel plans?”
David Collado, owner of Happy Howie’s
Americans adore their dogs, a fact that paved a bright future for Collado’s all-natural pet treat company. Featured in June 2019, “Happy Howie’s was thriving before COVID-19 hit, but 2020 called for flexibility in a whole new way,” he says.
To ensure that his employees were safe and could adhere to social distance guidelines, Collado made major adjustments. “We shortened and staggered shifts, and provided PPE for the team.” Then, in June 2020, business started to pick up and the demand for his products increased due to the pet industry’s surge. Suddenly, pandemic puppies were the rage. Moreover, Collado was in a Capital One TV campaign that began airing in December, exposure that caused another advance in his business.
Today, Collado is still using his Capital One Spark Cash for Business card and plans to redeem an astonishing $17,500 in rewards to place a deposit on a new machine that will automate the creation of their deli-style sausages for dogs.
Sergio Andrés Mendoza, founder and CEO of Pharaoun
Sergio Andrés Mendoza
“The reaction to my cocktail rings had already been so strong that I knew we had some momentum,” says Mendoza. “Women were spending more time online, and since that is the primary way Pharaoun is found, we were able to see accelerated growth in the first few months of lockdown.”
Knowing communicating with supporters was important, he created a series of Instagram LIVE cocktail parties where everyone dressed up, sipped drinks and chatted. “The world is ready for elegant and beautifully-made cocktail rings even though COVID took away our ability to party together,” he says. “Credit cards have been invaluable in allowing me to keep Pharaoun moving forward, even when some of our processes – such as logistics and production – were stuck or slowed down.”
Mendoza favors his Citi Simplicity® Card*, because “the flexibility and access to capital from has been critical to me.”
Renee Marshall-McKinley, founder and CEO Keep Yourself Smelling Sweet (KYSS)
Marshall-McKinley’s beauty product company was entering its eighth year when we first interviewed her in December 2019. “We were meeting customers face-to-face, in vendor events and teaching students in schools,” she says. “It was a period of high growth and a huge amount of traveling. So, when COVID started, it shut almost everything down. We’re a sensory company. People like to smell touch and feel.”
To keep KYSS alive, she suspended hiring, relied on volunteers and began to offer virtual classes. “Employers were doing it for their employees,” says Marshall-McKinley. “It saved us. Then we started offering kits, and someone asked if we do Star Wars-themed bath fizzies. We didn’t then, but I said, ‘We do now!’ People don’t realize how they can pivot to stay relevant.”
What hasn’t changed is Marshall-McKinley’s reliance on her American Express® Gold Card. She uses it for budgeting and purchasing and is racking up the points for future travel. With more products and a children’s book on the way, she’s looking forward to in-person promotions.
Caleb Shifferaw, founder and creative director of DCI Life
When Shifferaw’s leather handbag company, DCI Life, was featured, sales were steady and marketing expenses were low. Working on new crossbody bags, they traveled to Ethiopia to search for a new factory and shoot the collection. Then, production was cancelled due to COVID and Shifferaw had to rethink their entire strategy. They introduced an entirely different product: an LED thermos bottle.
“We figured since people were a lot more active, we would create a perfect product for them as they explored and spent more time outdoors with their friends and family,” says Shifferaw. The thermos is DCI’s best selling product to date. In August, they were selected to be part of the Menlo Club incubator program which supports emerging entrepreneurs. Now, they’re rebranding and launching their new product on Kickstarter. “As crazy as it sounds, 2020 was our best year,” says Shifferaw.
When we started the Small Business Credit Profile, we knew the entrepreneurs would be a creative and resilient bunch, ready to tackle unexpected hardships. Armed with an optimistic attitude, a realistic approach and helpful credit products, many were able to not just survive, but thrive under extraordinary circumstances. We fully expect the next 100 small business owners to be equally as fascinating.
*All information about the Citi Simplicity Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. The Citi Simplicity Card is no longer available through CreditCards.com.