Gina Hyon and her daughter Crystal Schaefer of Unisource Graphics are very busy these days. The Fort Myers-based custom-signage company just completed a major project at Page Field airport in Fort Myers, Fla., and is now focused on the multiple subcontractor jobs it won after being awarded the Women Business Enterprise (WBE) certification in June 2013, with the help of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Since receiving the WBE certification, the mother-daughter team has bid on and won impressive projects such as Southwest Florida International Airport’s terminal and directory display signage, the waterway signage for Lee County’s boat basin, and all signage for the new Hertz headquarters in Estero, Fla. “The company’s average contract size now ranges between $80,000-$100,000,” says Millie Class, the certified business analyst at the SBDC who worked with Unisource Graphics. Previously, most of its work consisted of smaller jobs for local companies, not large-sized or government contracts.
“I was very surprised at how much work came in [after receiving the WBE certification],” says Hyon, president of the company. She credits the significant shift in business to Class’ guidance and to the SBDC. Since starting in 2011, the company went from $30,000 to $500,000 in gross revenue in the 10 months since June 2013, thanks to the new bid opportunities afforded by the WBE certification. “And we’re still growing,” says Hyon, who adds that the company now receives new bid opportunities every two days. Its staff has also grown from two to 10 people.
Shortly after starting Unisource Graphics, Hyon met with Class at the SBDC with the intention of obtaining the WBE certification. Hyon had learned about Class’ expertise at various networking events in the community, and thought the designation could be helpful to her new business.
“The WBE certification is a Florida state certification that has many benefits and it’s free. It can help get new business, but that’s not guaranteed. The company has to be ready, willing and able to do the job,” explains Class, the Lee County Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program coordinator at the SBDC.
Class then did what she does best. She advised Hyon to change the structure of the business from a sole proprietorship to a corporation to fit the Florida state criteria. At the time, there was a two-year waiting period for the WBE; however, the state of Florida began holding onsite certification events to better assist small businesses. If prepared with the proper paperwork, a business could obtain the WBE certification at an onsite event in one day, which is how Unisource Graphics received their designation. Armed with what Class calls “the perfect binder” and documentation, Hyon and Schaefer received the WBE certification on June 7, 2013 at the “Supplier Diversity Matchmaking Commemorates Rosa Parks” workshop held at FGCU.
Having achieved her goal with the SBDC, Hyon jokes that her next thought was, “What do I do now? Put the it [the certificate] on the wall and just look at it? Or can I figure out how to make this little plaque work for me?” She realized the certificate was just the first step. Class coached Hyon how to get on contractor bid lists and encouraged her to attend contractor meetings to get to know the key project decision makers. The hard work paid off. Two months later, Unisource Graphics landed its first big contract with Owen-Ames-Kimball construction to do perimeter signage at Page Field.
From there, the momentum began to build. Unisource quickly landed the Lee County terminal signage job with Chris-Tel Construction. Then Turner Construction checked references and saw the terminal signage job, which was a key factor in securing contract for the new Hertz headquarters. “Once they began to trust us, we kept getting more jobs,” says Hyon.
Class credits much of Unisource’s quick success to the team’s strong work ethic, impeccable customer service, quality product and on-time delivery to customers. “Gina took full advantage of the recommendations that I made all along,” says Class. “For example, I invited two clients to attend a private Hertz event. The one who showed up was Gina, who was able to build important relationships that evening.” Class says that she extends the “branch of opportunity” to all her clients; Hyon was smart enough to take it.
“Everybody should get to know [Class] and get certified. I think every small business should look at how our government can help your business grow. Our government really wants us to grow and be successful. It’s a great country.” says Hyon.
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