Starting over in a new country with a business of any kind is difficult. Setting up a manufacturing company in a new country for both exports and domestic sales is even more challenging. Now throw in a global pandemic.
Despite it all, Carmine Colarusso, owner of Ultra1Plus, maker and seller of motor oil products, has not only survived but has thrived. Colarusso, a former race car driver, ran a similar business in his native Venezuela for 20 years, but opening Ultra1Plus in the U.S. in 2017 brought a whole “new set of rules.”
Fortunately, Colarusso has had Florida SBDC at FIU on his team. FSBDC at FIU offers no-cost business consulting to small business owners in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties.
Ultra1Plus initially opened a 5,000-square-foot facility in Doral and started tackling the export market first. “Right now, we have a presence in more than 20 countries around the world, and we’re looking to expand, probably by the end of the year, and reach 25 countries,” he said.
Last year the company expanded into a second warehouse next door, doubling its space. “We have a very strong presence in Amazon, Walmart, eBay and our own e-commerce site,” he said. Ultra1Plus is also working to get into brick and mortar stores like Walmart.
Ultra1Plus uses a co-packer facility in Houston to manufacture its products using Ultra1Plus’s proprietary formulation and producing it to the company’s high-quality standards. But Colarusso wants to set up his own manufacturing facility in South Florida.
In addition to e-commerce, Ultra1Plus also sells to businesses sells through distributors, including exclusive distributors. The company has begun pursuing government contracting too, and recently signed a contract with Pinellas County. “That was a major breakthrough for us,” Colarusso said.
Colarusso loves the marketing side of the business – and it shows in the company’s clever ads with the slogan “Love your machine.”
“I love to create products that are sexy and appealing to the end user, and I think we have all the right ingredients. All we need is to keep focused on what we do and have good quality and get people to try the product. Once they try the product, they see that we’re also very competitively priced,” he said.
“We’re the only ones in the U.S. that fills bottles completely clear. People can clearly see the quality of our product. And we’ve had more than 3,500 amazing positive reviews.”
Unfortunately, COVID is not entirely in the rearview mirror, he said. As the economy has picked up, cost increases up and down the supply chain have been crippling – in the raw materials, additives, containers, labels, caps, foils, cardboard boxes, all of it. “The increases are not 5 or 10 percent — the increases are 100 to 150 percent and there are also scarcities,” Colarusso said.
Yet, he says, you have to keep going. “We believe in this country, we believe that we have the best product that has been tested throughout 20 different countries. It’s a hurdle that we need to get over,” Colarusso said. “it’s is my business. I live on it, in it, and at it.”
Fortunately, Florida SBDC at FIU’s team is skilled at helping businesses through the good and bad times. About two years ago, Colarusso was assigned a team to help him with exporting and research, with financials and with government contracting.
Consultant Shelly Bernal assisted Colarusso with everything from marketing to writing a capability statement to finding different distributors throughout the world, as well as learning about all the different laws and how to comply. She also connected him with consultants for financials and government contracting.
“Entering the US market is very tough. The differences in building a business in another country and in the US are profound. I haven’t met anyone who even believes this fact unless they have experienced it,” Bernal said.
The FSBDC team also helped Colarusso apply and receive an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and two forgivable PPP loans.
“It’s been a life-changing experience working with the Florida SBDC at FIU, especially with Shelly, because of all the different doors she opened for us, like the SBA, EXIM Bank, it’s a long list,” he said. As an entrepreneur in a new country, he said, “you’re in a big jungle, and having that person that always is looking out for you, you feel protected, you feel secure, and then when the opportunities come, you are ready.”
What’s next? “We want to become manufacturers,” Colarusso said. “We want to set up our facility here in South Florida, because we want to use Port Everglades as our main port. The countries we serve are better served from Florida than any other place throughout the US.”