Friday, August 28, 2015

Shenanigans Restaurant Saipan: Five Years and Growing

By: The CNMI SBDC Staff

Growing up in a restaurant environment, the exposure to the hotel and restaurant industry from her grandparents and father, and then later studied the business aspects of the industry in college, Belen Busby was destined to open a restaurant of her own. She stated, “It’s kind of a childhood dream that needed to happen.” Belen was born into the industry where her grandparents owned a restaurant in the Philippines and then having worked in F&B businesses since the age of 18. She went to college and earned a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration and a Bachelor’s of Science in Information Technology and Network Engineering. Belen has resided on Saipan for 21 years with her husband Michael Busby and son, Rafael.
Five years ago, Belen and Michael opened Shenanigans Restaurant located in Orchid St. Beach Road, Garapan serving up pasta, sandwiches, and other delicious entrees. The business was funded through their personal savings and personal loans. Belen recalls back on the obstacles they faced during their start-up years that not only affected the CNMI throughout but their business as well. Shenanigans Restaurant was opened during a period when the government and private sector were cutting hours, during the unfortunate and unforeseen disasters in Japan (one of the CNMI’s main tourism markets), and the increase in prices and utility rates. Other challenges have been obtaining CNMI-only Transitional Worker (CW) permits for workers, finding experienced U.S. Citizens to replace CWs, and maintaining operating capital to meet the shortcoming of the low season. However, the Busby’s survived and Belen stated that if they could survive those years, especially in an industry as tough as the restaurant business, she believes they can survive another five years and more.
As their five year mark approached, their equipment reached its mark as well. With the guidance and assistance of the CNMI SBDC, the Commonwealth Development Authority (CDA), and City Trust Bank, the Busby’s were able to obtain funding to purchase new equipment and repair their old ones. In addition, they were able to access additional operating capital and gained the knowledge of creating a formal financial portfolio for their company. One of the most difficult years for the Busby’s and Shenanigans Restaurant was the hardships they faced in 2014 and making it through that served as their most memorable triumph. Belen shared her gratitude and appreciation of the patronage of their customers and the support of their vendors and the trust that they have instilled in them over the years.

With her experience Belen advises entrepreneurs, “Follow your instinct and keep praying for guidance. Know who to trust and stay away from the ones that project negative vibes.” She continues on to say that a business is a gamble. You will never know if you are going to succeed unless you try. It is also a test of self-control and knowing when to stop. Before Belen and Michael opened Shenanigans, she shared her possible venture with others. They questioned her decision with the condition of the economy. However, she responded that [the economy] is in the bottom and that there is nowhere for it to go but up. She also stated that if she did not do it now then she might not have the chance to do it again and she will never know if it failed or succeeded.
Shenanigans Restaurant is located in Garapan, Saipan. They are open for breakfast at 7:30am on Saturday and Sunday only and every day for lunch from 10:30am – 3:00pm and dinner from 5:30pm – 10:00pm. Contact Shenanigans Restaurant at 670-233-8324 or e-mail
For more information on how the CNMI SBDC can assist you start or expand your business, contact their office at 670-664-3018 or visit 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Sari Sari Outlet Open at the Agana Shopping Center

By: Fred Granillo
Business Advisor
(Guam SBDC)

Robert & Filipina “Pina” Rabago are the husband and wife team that own Sari Sari Outlet.  Sari Sari in Tagalog basically means everything, but right now they’ve been focusing on cell phone covers and accessories.  Robert and Pina have been married for 10 years with two children (girl and boy) ages 9 and 7, respectively.  Robert is from Guam and Pina is from the Philippines.
Their business is truly a family run operation with Pina and Robert handling the day to day operations after work hours while their oldest daughter, Hazel Aulerio, runs the morning shift.  Even the children are there to help out after school – cleaning up, and putting the products in the packages.  Pina and Robert still have a full time job and consider this venture as their part time job after work and on the weekends.
Pina is the driving force behind Sari Sari Outlet. She had been planning and dreaming that one day she would own her own business. She had been working part-time at different retail positions and gained some knowledge on product placement, promotion and distribution.

Her last position was working part time for a small business at the Market Place in Agana Shopping Center that sold retail electronic accessories.  She liked and understood the various products and felt strongly that she could start up the same type of business but achieve a better market penetration and establish herself in this business. Having never owned a small business before, Pina had enough retail experience, customer service and product knowledge that she was convinced she could open her own business.  Robert was not so convinced that it could work.
Although Pina was confident that the business could work because of her knowledge of the other shop at that time, they realized further assistance was needed in developing their financial projections for the business. Robert knew Fred Granillo, Business Advisor and asked for assistance in developing their projections. The Business Advisor helped in clarifying how to develop and determine their total startup costs, operating expenses and projected sales. Robert noted he wanted to see what the numbers looked like but after working with the Small Business Development certainly opened his eyes to the real potential for his business financial operations.
Pina was now more focused on establishing the business and she never looked back.  She worked with her husband and had many discussions on planning, opening the business and committing to the daily operations. This business would be a meaningful part of their livelihood so she was going to see it through and give it her full attention.
With a husband and wife team, the stress level was at an all-time high during the initial set up of the business.  But the start-up process was very interesting and a real business education. For instance, the areas that they encountered were working with the suppliers to bring in the product and build their inventory, understanding the shipping process and costing, establishing the leasehold location including the leasehold improvements, and the business license process. Other items they had to learn were the setup of the credit card to enhance their sales and the recordkeeping function that they would handle on their own.
The business was started with their personal funds and a personal loan that they took advantage of to pay off another current loan and the difference used to start the business. They are conservative people so they wanted to limit the amount of debt used in the business that in turn to have a low monthly payment. Some of the biggest challenges were understanding the ordering part process as there are many product items offered by the supplier and each with a particular code. Any error in the coding process could produce the wrong product received. Further, trying to build up their inventory in a short time so they can have a sufficient opportunity to capture sales during the holiday season.  Pina was and is the only one with the retail eye for items that customers will want to purchase in the shop.
Owners of Sari Sari Outlet,
Pina and Robert Rabago
Their opening day and having to experience the first customer sale was the ultimate experience in establishing the business. That feeling was the best confirmation of all their efforts had come to fruition. Plus Pina noted there is a sense of freedom of operating your own business and she is happy that she took the step.
Pina and Robert’s short term plan is to refine the product mix within the store to identify the products most in demand form their target market. Further, they desire to enhance their marketing budget and increase an advertising strategy to attract more customers. So sales is the key focus. In the long term they want to eventually expand in to a second location so as to leverage their knowledge from the first store and further increase sales and potentially net profits. They want this business to be a long term sustainable business.
Pina and Robert’s advice for other small business startups is once you commit don’t look back.  Stay positive and get started on that business license.  Everyone will give you advice, but it’s really on you to make it happen.  Plus take advantage of free resources like the Small Business Development office that offers sound business advice to make sure you’re on the right track.