America has long been known as the land of opportunity when it comes to realizing the dreams of those that make it their home. Startup companies created by entrepreneurs in the United States offer promises of a better life and success for immigrants and natives alike. For a tenacious self-starter, opening and owning a business in America can be both profitable and fulfilling.
What kind of qualities must a budding entrepreneur possess in order to make those dreams a reality? What makes one business successful compared to another? How do ingenuity and hard work compel some small businesses to turn an idea into a full-fledged empire? Let’s look at a case study of one individual that grabbed an opportunity to catapult his vision from small business to a huge independent corporation in just a few, short years.
Benjamin Armand was born in Eastern Europe in the early 1960s. His parents immigrated in the late 1970s to America, bringing their entire family to the United States, the land of opportunity. They settled in Santa Fe, NM, a place that felt like home with its deserts and mountain views. It was a difficult transition for them, as they spoke no English and knew very little about living in America at that point.
The patriarch of the family had been the head of transportation in their country’s government before civil unrest toppled the regime and upended the stability that many business owners had come to enjoy. When a more conservative, authoritarian government was installed, many residents fled the oppression in search of a better life. The Armand family brought over a dozen immediate family members with them to the US and applied for green cards and ultimately citizenship in a country that welcomed them with open arms.
Ben had always been a self-starter. As a foreigner in the American school system, he worked hard to excel in his classes, while learning the English language and customs during his teenage years. When he was only 20, he dreamed of using his knowledge of transportation learned from his father to open his own auto dealership. He vowed to become the largest independent auto dealer in New Mexico. By the time he graduated college with honors, he was ready to open his first business.
Ben started small. One day, taking just $1,000 to an automobile auction, he purchased his first car. He and his best friend, Sam, took the car home, detailed it, changed the oil and filters, tuned it up, washed and waxed it, and got it ready to resell. The car was sold just one week later for $4,500. With the small investment of the cost of the car along with a few hundred dollars in parts, combined with a little elbow grease, the two of them split the profits, coming home with several thousand dollars. They both decided to reinvest their quick cash into a couple more vehicles at the next week’s auction. They repeated their success over the course of the next few months.
Within the first year, Ben and Sam rented a lot in one of the best industrial park areas in the city. Granted, they were not on the main drag, but on a side street near one of the busiest intersections in that area. It was a small lot, with an even smaller building that had previously been a carpet cleaning company. There was room for an office, a backroom, one bathroom, and a carport for auto detailing.
Ben hired two more of his buddies, one to clean the vehicles and one to answer phones and do paperwork. Ben took care of customers on the lot and did all the purchasing of the cars to be sold. He had a real knack for finding little gems around the county, having his finger on the pulse of the kinds of vehicles that would bring in the most profits. Mercedes, Porsche, Jaguar, BMW, and other imported, exotic cars were his usual choices. Those kinds of cars were in high demand with the locals that wanted reliable, fashionable brands for their daily commutes.
Ben did not want to have a huge staff with tons of overhead, so he relied upon partnerships that he formed with other local businesses to outsource some of his services. He worked with a local mechanic nearby to repair cars that needed more than just a few filters and hoses. He hired an accountant to handle all their books at an off-site location. He looked to a local print shop to create flyers, advertisements, and media, long before the Internet was invented.
Ben’s reputation for fairness and honesty made him a hot commodity in a market that was dominated by shady car lot owners on every corner. By 1994, Ben had over 50 cars at any given time on his tiny lot. He had outgrown his small, hidden location in just a few years and had bankrolled his first $100K. With those profits, he continued to reinvest in his business and purchased a corner lot just 1 block from that busy intersection.
Ben’s staff grew to over 10 employees in those first few years and he started to run TV and radio ads to increase his visibility. He fixed up the new location with banners, flags, a new mobile trailer office, and a car wash. He regularly went to auctions every Tuesday and Friday, handpicking each and every vehicle based on what the market demanded.
His customers began referring their family members and friends and pretty soon, Ben was one of the most successful independent auto dealers in the county. When the Internet was created, he was the first local car lot to have their entire inventory online with a website and social media presence. Within a decade of buying his first car, he opened three other locations within a 100-mile radius and made his first million in profits. His auto dealerships are still going strong as he continues to be a hands-on manager of all his locations.
Ben is the perfect example of how tenacity and hard work, along with business savvy, honesty, and integrity can make for a magical combination when it comes to creating a successful startup. What kinds of things did he do that made him so successful? How did he go from being an immigrant dreamer to being the most successful small auto dealership in New Mexico in just one decade?
Ben held to high standards when it came to buying and selling cars. He was fair, honest, and forthcoming with his clients. He always backed his cars with a personal guarantee of safety and mechanical stability. He never knowingly sold anyone a lemon. Over the first few years, people talked about him with an air of respect and admiration. Not only was he well-spoken and handsome, but he had a heart for his business and a determination to be the best.
Ben chose a business that he both loved and had some education and experience from learning about cars from his father. He was passionate about helping to fit the right car with the right buyer. He had an eye for choosing hot items at auction and being able to turn those quick purchases into fast cash.
Ben enjoyed living the good life and spent his money on things that made his life better. He bought his parents a new house, bought one for himself, and both of his sisters. He was generous and smart with his money. In a growing real estate market, his entire family benefited from his business savvy and they all made money on their properties within the first three years. They were able to buy and sell properties every few years to bankroll huge profits from the real estate he helped them to buy.
Ben didn’t ever leverage himself. He paid cash for things when he could and had very little need for bank financing. When he did finally begin to expand, his credit and business assets were so large that he could have borrowed a million dollars if he had wanted to, but instead, he opened extra locations over the course of several years. Ben was cautious, measured, and calm in his expansions so that he would never overextend himself in any one operation.
Ben hired family and friends that he had known all his life. He trusted his compadres and was able to rely on them to run the business when he went away on vacation or went to auction. He demanded excellence from all of them without having to use a heavy hand to achieve it.
Ben utilized local businesses to provide him with services and goods that he did not want to handle himself. He knew when to work with a professional outside his wheelhouse of expertise to get things he needed. Ben forged long-term collaborations with reputable businesses that are still in place today.
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