“…We truly appreciate all the work the Alabama SBDC Network has done for us. We would not even be here if it wasn’t for Matt Wilson & Lindsay Bridges…”
Art Watson and his brother Mac – along with their mother, Sue – first approached the Alabama Small Business Development Center (“SBDC”) Network in 2013 – simply hoping for assistance with their business plan, as they were exploring capital access options for their proposed outdoor living retail space in Auburn, Alabama. What happened following that initial introduction created a relationship that has spanned over four years and continued, sustained growth. However, as with any small business, growth comes with its share of challenges, along with excitement.
By late 2013, the brothers were eagerly anticipating opening their doors, first looking at the Cary Creek development in north Auburn – off University Boulevard – and then eventually settling on the affluent Moore’s Mill area, south of Auburn University’s campus, a thriving area of the community. In October, 2014, the client opened their doors focusing on a wide range of high end outdoor furniture, grills and related to accessories. The issue of capital financing, continued to be up in the air.
While their total needs were in the range of $250,000, the client continued to work with the Alabama SBDC Network to find creative ways to raise their funds – all while bootstrapping their initial opening. Luckily, we were able to obtain $150,000 in initial working capital from Celtic Bank’s 7(a) Express loan program, with hopes to leverage some family land soon thereafter through a local bank in rural south Alabama. Additionally, the family was able to invest some $97,000 of their own funds. On October 1, 2014, they officially opened their doors.
As with all new businesses, things were slow to ramp up – although traffic in the area, coupled with football season – brought many people through the doors, intrigued by the business’ high-end feel and quality product selections. By the end of 2015, the client was seeing gross sales of some $340,000 – having a substantial impact on the local economy and invited to be featured in multiple regional publications, as well offers to assist in staging new housing developments. Sadly, this would end up being a double-edged sword.
In the fall of 2016, the Watson brothers got a certified letter from a law firm representing a company out of Cincinnati, Ohio, which claimed that the family was violating their intellectual property rights. By the end of 2016, and early 2017, the firm claimed:
“In a letter dated December 19, 2016, American Retail Corporation (“American”) proposed a solution to your infringement of its service mark. A copy of that letter is enclosed. To date we have not received a response to our proposal. Please be advised that your lack of response is leaving the Company with limited options in order to protect the good will associated with that service mark. Unless we hear from you no later than January 22, 2017, we will have no alternative but to take the appropriate steps in order to protect the validity and the good will associated with the service mark.”
Although the Alabama SBDC Network cannot give “legal advice,” we were happy to leverage our contacts and resources to advise the client, along with their attorneys. Eventually – and sadly – we felt like, on the advice of outside counsel, that the client’s best option was to rebrand and officially change the name of the business, avoiding massive legal fees and an uphill battle. Regardless, the client continues to be so very grateful for our ongoing guidance and support.
Today, the Watson’s are preparing to “relaunch” themselves as “Watson Brother’s Patio & Hearth,” which echoes other high-end outdoor living enterprises in the state, while maintaining their brand integrity. According to their current trends, they are looking to finish 2017 out with a revenue stream of some $600,000, a 57% increase since 2015.
Bottom line: the Watson family has great things in store for them, and they absolutely thank the Alabama SBDC Network for our assistance from the beginning of their endeavor to this very day.