Lifelong Battle Creek resident Margaret Kirk had a problem.
Her business, Massage Green SPA, was running on outdated computers that regularly broke down, causing lengthy delays for her customers and staff. In addition, the massage room equipment carts were rickety, unreliable and unappealing.
She didn't have the necessary capital in hand to replace the equipment herself, so she set about looking into available options for securing financial assistance.
She knew she didn't want to apply for a bank loan because she knew the paperwork can be complicated and the process can take a long time. Her business needed a quick fix.
"We have a very tranquil atmosphere here at Massage Green," Kirk explains. "It's very relaxing. Those who come here love to experience the moment.
"When our equipment is down, our business isn't running smoothly and our customers are unhappy because we can't book appointments for them or check them out properly."
Kirk had heard about the Community Loan and Grant Fund (CLGF), created last September by BCVision's Small Business Action Team as an alternative funding source for Battle Creek-area small business owners, and decided to give it a try.
She was pleasantly surprised to find the CLGF application process to be relatively easy. She was thrilled when her request was approved in just a short time.
"We were able to buy new computers with the loan," says an enthusiastic Kirk. "A grant paid for our new equipment carts."
Massage Green SPA was outfitted with its new computer system last October and her business has been running smoothly ever since, she says.
"It's definitely an improvement," she added. "I definitely notice a difference.
"We don't have a lot of downtime anymore. Our clients are happy that we can get them checked in and out without delays."
Alternative funding: Different strokes for different folks
Devon Gibson, Community Initiatives Associate at BCVision, says the CLGF was founded to help remedy a problem that was identified in a study done a few years ago.
"We looked at ways to get money to the small business community that use a simpler and less complicated process than a bank loan," Gibson says. "It's also a way to help small business owners who might not qualify for a bank loan."
The CLGF was seeded by a $10,000 investment from Chemical Bank in September, 2018, and has since accrued $30,000.
Battle Creek-area small business owners can apply for loans and grants up to $10,000 per each business owner or project.
Kirk says the CLGF application process is perfect for small business owners, and people looking to start a business, who might be afraid to apply for a bank loan or feel intimidated by all the requirements.
"Sometimes you don't want to go to a bank and say, 'Oh, I need a couple of thousand dollars for some equipment,'" she says, "and then have to go through a long process. With a bank loan, there's a lot of paperwork and a lot of waiting.
"The atmosphere was a lot more relaxed when I was filling out these forms. Basically, the Community Loan and Grant gives you hope. That's what it did for us."
Small businesses are extremely important to the economic health of the United States, says Gibson, also a lifelong Battle Creek resident.
"People like to think that companies like Apple and Amazon have the most impact on our economy," he says. "But small businesses actually make up the majority of the employers in the country.
"Small businesses add variety to a city. They add character. "We wanted to create an opportunity to help small businesses to grow and prosper. This fund gives them something else they can utilize to help their businesses out."
Kirk, who employs eight people at her Battle Creek spa, says that small businesses are pivotal to the overall success of any community and she has a strong sense of responsibility to contribute to her hometown's economic health.
"The importance of small businesses is that you're really helping your community," she says. "You employ people within your community. You bring money in for those who are here, and also help to build a future for the next generation."
Looking ahead: Wellness industry?
Massage Green SPA has three office staff, including Kirk's daughter, Tyla Wade, the spa manager, as well as five therapists who offer a variety of massages and facials. The spa also boasts an infrared sauna.
"We offer the Swedish, deep tissue and sports massages, and we do the prenatal massage," Kirk says, noting that the deep tissue massage is the most popular with her customers.
"The deep tissue massage is there for those who have aches and pains," she explained. "They want work done on trigger points that help relieve stress, aches and pains, and inflammation of the body. We focus on those trigger areas and work to release them."
Kirk's business is all about wellness, which fits in nicely with Battle Creek's storied past, she says. In fact, she would like to see more wellness-promoting businesses open their doors in Battle Creek, with the goal of building a strong, vital wellness industry that is true to the community's roots.
"With Kellogg's being founded to promote a healthy diet, and so on, I think my business fits nicely into that niche," she says. "I would like to see more collaboration towards the wellness industry in Battle Creek."
She also hopes to see more small businesses in the downtown area, particularly restaurants, she says.
"We need more Mom and Pop businesses downtown," Kirk says. "This kind of loan is the type of funding that can really give a boost to people who may want to start up a business downtown. It could at least help them get started."
Massage Green SPA is located at 5568 Beckley Road in Battle Creek. For more information, visit their website here
Small business owners interested in the Community Loan and Grant Fund can contact the Small Business Development Fund at (269) 966-3355 x1193 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.