No matter how long you have run your small business, there is always something to learn about entrepreneurship. And in times of crisis, such as during the COVID pandemic, those lessons become even more important.
Cristina Serralta is a believer in the never-stop-learning ethos. In recent years, she has gone the extra mile to refresh her skills. She has taken advantage of classes and workshops offered in the community and the no-cost consulting services of the Florida SBDC at FIU, the small business development center within the College of Business that helps small businesses in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
During the pandemic, Serralta tapped into those lessons more than ever to help navigate the uncertainty, make adjustments, and strategically chart the way forward for her business. And it shows in her business’s results.
Serralta’s business is Amazon Printers. She founded her small business over 35 years ago, at first as strictly a graphic design company. Over the years she grew the company into a full-service specialty print shop. She became sole owner of her company in 2002.
Growth through the years
In the last dozen or so years, this small business owner has added other lines to her business. “Now we do printing, promotional products, signage and graphic design,” she says.
Her clients run the gamut, including luxury hotel brands. “It’s where probably 70% of my work is. We work with Ritz Carlton, The Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental St. Regis,” she says.
Serralta recalled the time a hotel VP asked her to come to the office. “I thought, oh gosh, what could we have done wrong? But what he wanted to tell me was that through the years they have tried other print shops, and we were the only ones that were consistent in price, in service, and in quality.”
That’s the high standard of care she gives to all her customers.
“My strength is doing unique and unusual projects. I tend to do what nobody else wants to do. We’ll figure out a way of branding something or creating a unique product that is not even out there in the market,” Serralta says.
For one of her hotel clients, her company recently created beautiful custom-designed boxes with personalized stainless steel custom printed VIP card keys inside. Yet as the project went to production, the pandemic was full-blown and the specialty printer her company used in Asia was out of commission because of the pandemic so she needed to reinvent the best way to print those stainless-steel cards here in the USA – It took longer than expected but Amazon Printers delivered.
Amazon Printers services other clients, too. “We have a storefront office that brings us a lot of the neighborhood businesses. We also have CPAs, we have attorneys, we have healthcare and everything under that, we have a neighborhood mechanic, and we have marketing companies. But the bigger corporate accounts are mainly hotels and health care.”
Tapping the assistance of Florida SBDC at FIU
Serralta began working with Florida SBDC at FIU about six years ago. She met SBDC at FIU’s finance consultant Ray Juncosa early on when he was giving a class about managing cash flow and other financial issues, and then got connected with fellow consultant Raju Mohandas when she participated in an SBA Emerging Leaders class. Nile Kirec helped her develop a marketing strategy, and she most recently learned from Adriana Madrinan, another SBDC consultant who was also an instructor with the Startup FIU Procurement program she participated in.
This entrepreneur also learns from fellow entrepreneurs.
That Startup FIU cohort of about 20 small business owners met during the pandemic, and they have remained tight-knit and help one another, Serralta says. “We all stay in contact. We have a WhatsApp feed and we keep providing each other up opportunities and we do meet periodically.”
She calls Madrinan her strategic advisor. “Adriana has really enlightened me in all aspects of running my business. She has given me marketing strategies, contracting strategies, and new ways to market myself because I’m more than a printer — I run a unique boutique print shop. I’m a step above with my expertise from the 35 year span of running my business.”
Tackling the financials
Mohandas has helped Serralta keep her financials in order – and more.
“Thanks to Raju, I have hired a bookkeeper because as, as they say in the classes, trash going in is trash coming out. And, in my business, it was the blind leading the blind as I was the one telling my assistant what to put in the books and I didn’t know any better either.”
The pandemic hit Amazon Printers hard initially, particularly because the international hotel brands suffered early one — and Amazon Printers is still recovering from those effects, Mohandas says. But Serralta was able to make adjustments in order to survive and build her business back up.
Mohandas helped her initially getting her books in order and then with keeping her eye on the ball and in reading the financials. That included being able to interpret the information that the numbers provide and learn from that, so she can pivot and adjust. With a good business model and strategic maneuvers, she has been able to move forward again, he says.
“Cristina is a very persistent, positive, and forward-looking person,” says Mohandas. “She has a very good outlook and does not give up easily — she is a true entrepreneur.”