Before he opened his retail store, Eric Wooden designed his own line of urban graphic t-shirts on nights and weekends and sold them from the trunk of his car. On weekends, Wooden attended trade shows and knocked on a lot of doors of Miami retailers, finally winning his first wholesaling contract with Cool J’s.
Wooden’s side hustle – The COOL Miami – was becoming a thriving business.
He had unleashed his creativity but didn’t know much about running a business. So a couple of years ago, Wooden completed a 5-week, 25-hour Small Business Training by Miami Bayside Foundation while still holding down a job at the Post Office. Bayside supports small businesses run by minority entrepreneurs.
“I took the course, and it taught me a lot of good stuff – I wouldn’t be here without that course. Accounting, money management, marketing, taxes, social media, all of it helped me so now when I face challenges I think back to that course and it helps,” Wooden said.
At end of the MBF training, participants made presentations to a panel of bankers. “It’s an opportunity for them to not only present to bankers, but they learn how to do projections and a business plan. His story was very intriguing,” said Michael Sellinger, director of loan programs for Miami Bayside Foundation.
TELLING THE BRAND STORY
Wooden believed having his own store where he could tell that story of his brand and capitalize on foot traffic would take sales to the next level. He quit his Post Office job and, with Sellinger’s help, he set out to find a location for The COOL Miami. Sellinger and Wooden looked at several spaces before deciding on 740 NW 62nd St. in Liberty City.
Wooden also applied for and received a low-interest loan from Miami Bayside Foundation.
“We are strong believers in strong branding and companies that own their brand,” said Sellinger. He was probably already doing 1,500 to 2,000 shirts a month, but he knew the business could be bigger, Sellinger explained. “We come in and help these businesses get ready for the next step – formalizing their financials and putting in place policies and procedures to successfully get to that next level.”
Wooden opened his Liberty City store on Feb. 9, 2018, and he was right about the foot traffic. In-store sales quickly overtook his online and wholesale business.
In addition to his signature line of t-shirts he designs himself, he sells other brands, including book bags, hats, sneakers and jeans. “Online is good, could be better, but the store traffic is crazy,” said Wooden, who has two employees. The t-shirts are his best seller.
“He is doing gangbuster numbers on the retail and of course the margins are better with retail,’’ added Sellinger. “But at the same time, his wholesale business fell off.”
A SECOND LOAN TO REBUILD WHOLESALE
Wooden continues to get mentorship from Miami Bayside Foundation. The entrepreneur received an add-on loan this year from Bayside to focus on building up his online presence and wholesale business.
“He understands the urban market very well,” said Sellinger. “He understands who his customer is and he understands his brand and he owns it.”
Miami Bayside Foundation can make loans up to $150,000. If Wooden needs more capital to grow, he can apply for more in the future, Sellinger said.
Since 2011, MBF has awarded loans totaling about $4.5 million to City of Miami minority-owned and women-owned businesses, helping to create about 450 jobs. In November 2018, MBF became an administrator of the State of Florida’s Black Business Loan Program, and expanded its mission to black-owned businesses throughout Miami-Dade County.
Bayside provides conventional loans of $10,000 to $150,000 and micro-loans of smaller amounts. Companies must be 51 percent minority- or women-owned and demonstrate that the loan will aid in the creation of new jobs. Funds can be used for working capital, cash flow, inventory, equipment or payroll.
For the community, MBF provides the free 5-week, 25-hour Small Business Training about three times a year in different areas of the city and county. The next series is in October in Coconut Grove. About 350 businesses have graduated from the training program. Partnering with Florida SBDC at FIU, MBF also offers a certificate courses in finance and is offering its first marketing certificate course over three Saturdays in September. These also are free.
For more information about MBF’s loans and workshops, visit miamibaysidefoundation.org.