The United States is currently home to more than 2.9 million foreign-born entrepreneurs, a group whose companies generated $65.5 billion in business income in 2014 alone. That year, immigrants made up 20.6 percent of all entrepreneurs in the country, despite representing 13.2 percent of the U.S. population overall. In California, the percentage of immigrant small business owners is even higher at 33% (2010).
One of these immigrant business owners is Jie Su, the owner and founder of Grace Nursery, which is one of the largest stalls in the San Francisco Flower Mart and specializes in orchids, tropical flowers and pottery. Su credits passion and preparedness for her success, and TMC Financing has been honored to lend their support to her hard work and flourishing business.
After starting her business, growth came faster than planned. “Sales have been doubling every year,” Su said. Things were going so well for Grace Nursery, in fact, that they needed their own warehouse to keep their store stocked and the nursery on an upward trajectory. “I started preparing to buy a warehouse property seven or eight months in advance,” she said. “It was the first time I had bought a commercial property.”
Su reached success in her career through a long process. Originally from Shanghai, Su was a CPA in China and worked on the stock exchange for years, teaching physical education in her spare time. When she immigrated to the United States in 2003, she became a full-time phys-ed teacher.
Su got engaged to a man who ran a retail flower shop and started going with him to the flower mart in the early mornings. “I saw, that if I were them, I would do this or that differently,” she said. “Then I started research on manufacturers and suppliers.”
Her initial attempt to break into the world of flower wholesaling was challenging. When she finally got an interview with the manager of the flower mart, he concluded: “We were just like everyone else. We didn’t bring anything new, we would just make more competition.” Su went back and prepared for a second meeting, developing a unique product to make her stand out over others. After going back to the drawing board and settling on pottery and orchids as a specialized line-up, Su got the space. That was back in 2012.
Since then, the store has kept up with changes in the flower market, supplying hotels and landscapers in the San Francisco area. She also established relationships with growers and pottery manufacturers, earning a great reputation across the industry. “Customers love to listen to me because they know I’m right,” Su said. Soon Grace Nursery had expanded to 8,000 square feet of merchandise space.
Su was referred to TMC by the broker for one of her suppliers’ warehouses, Bob Ferraro with CBRE. “TMC taught me a lot,” she said. She prequalified right away, saying it was easy, and she had nothing but praise for TMC’s Anna O’Brien “She’s young but very experienced,” she said. “She created a picture for me of what I needed to do.”
Thanks to her thorough preparation, applying for a 504 loan was not a difficult process for Su. “Start the learning process early,” she’d urge other small business owners. She also had some advice for the required financial projections:
“We had to show on paper that we were growing. This was pretty easy… You have to show your strong side. And it has to be true, not just flowery words. You have to show financial reports, and you have to show what you’re doing, what you can do and what you will do.”
Grace Nursery partnered with TMC and Wells Fargo Bank for an SBA 504 loan to purchase its much-needed permanent operating location, a 15,280-square-foot warehouse in Benecia that would be used for both storage and retail. Since then, growth has only continued. Because Su is now able to accommodate purchasing in larger volumes, her prices have become more competitive and the business is beginning to draw customers from beyond the local area, as far as Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
“Jie’s motivation is truly inspiring,” says TMC’s O’Brien. “Jie was in a tough real estate market and adding a new vertical to her business. Her sights were set high but no one was going to tell her no.”
Most of Grace Nursery’s flowers are grown locally—in Salinas and Lodi. They also get orchids from Taiwan, and because of their increased business, they have begun importing exclusive tropical flowers from Taiwan.
The pottery line has also grown from just ceramics to include porcelain and fiberglass. Su speaks with passion about her new line of porcelain pots, and with even more enthusiasm about fiberglass, for which Grace Nursery is commissioning its own container designs.
Growth brings challenges too. “This is not a small store any more,” Su said. “We have to hire people, and they need to be experienced.” With a wider selection available to her customers than ever before, an inventory control system had to be installed and the website revamped. Those upgrades are underway now.
“We say we were lucky, but when we look back, each step took a lot of energy and passion. And a lot of work,” Su observed. But her passion remains unabated. “This is one of the reasons I love the U.S.—you can do what you want.”
Su sees a rosy future in front of her. TMC will be there too, she says. “TMC is easy to work with. When it is time to expand again, I will go back to TMC.”
TMC has over 35 years of experience helping local businesses finance their growth with SBA 504 loans. Contact a TMC loan expert today to find out how they can guide you to achieving your business goals too.