By Lisbeth Calandrino Imagine if you had companies calling and telling you they had a job for you if you met certain state or federal requirements? They also told you there were no other competitors, and they just needed to purchase flooring products from you? It sounds amazing, right? Well, in some ways, it is. Women/Minority Business Enterprise programs have been around since 1998.
This is something I’ve thought about writing, but it seems like it never comes up in any of the flooring groups that I’m in. I now realize the reason it never comes up is because most business owners don’t know about it. The ones that do know about it, don’t talk about it! My hunch is the reason they don’t talk about it has to do with the fact that it’s such a competitive advantage.
I recently interviewed Kristen Smith, president of Smith Flooring (listen on Spotify) who is a W/MBE in suburban Philadelphia. We discuss what it took to be certified and what it means to her business. Her store was the first stop on President Biden’s “Help is Here” tour (FCNews, March 29/April 5, 2021).
It was years ago that I found out about the WMBE programs. When I was in the flooring retail business, the Small Business Administration reached out to me looking for a woman-owned business that could fill flooring contracts. I was told there were contractors looking to do business with me if our business qualified for the WBE status. I had no idea what they were talking about, but then I found out it was a gold mine for our little businesses.
We were always bidding against the “big boys,” even for small contracts, and couldn’t compete because our credit lines weren’t large enough or we didn’t have a long enough track record. Once I understood what it meant, and that we were qualified because we were 51% women owned, we began the laborious process of getting ourselves approved by the State of New York. It took us one year to complete the paperwork, and I was off networking in a profitable, new arena.
Being a Certified WBE opened a whole new world of jobs, funding and connections that gave me a huge advantage over my competitors. Large construction companies needed us and were willing to help us with funding. We became important in the construction industry with huge construction companies who needed us to fill their women-owned contracts.
To be a certified minority-owned business, at least 51% must be owned, operated and controlled by a minority group member with U.S. citizenship. For minority owned, the list of ethnic backgrounds is extensive, so you will have to research which category you belong to.
I spoke with a flooring business owner in New York who found out there were set aside contracts for Asian-Americans. Once certified, it skyrocketed his job connections and profit.
If you’re a business owner who happens to be a woman or member of a minority group, the right business certification can help your company in attracting better customers and obtaining jobs. In addition, there’s training and funding available.
Ready to get certified? It isn’t easy and takes time; you must prove you meet the requirements for the WMBE statutes and can run your business. Check with the SBA or give me a call.
Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at [email protected]