Friday, September 1, 2017

An Interview with Nancy Barnhouse, Island CERTS Corporation President

Interviewed by: Denise Mendiola
Senior Business Advisor/Bank of Guam WIB Program Coordinator
(Guam SBDC)

Head shot photo of Nancy Barnhouse
Nancy Barnhouse, President
Island CERTS Corporation
David A. Barnhouse moved his family to Guam in 1987 to work for International Bridge Corporation and worked for that corporation for more than a decade. After many years in the construction industry, David believed that he had much to offer the industry and wanted to be his own boss, so he opened Island CERTS, a sole proprietorship, in 2000. Thirteen years later David and Nancy married and decided to incorporate. In October 2014, Island CERTS Corporation began. From two employees to 13, the company has grown substantially in three years. Their employees do heavy machinery inspections and repairs, safety training, all NDT weld inspections, DOT fuel tank inspections, and above-ground tank inspections. Island CERTS Corporation also has a general contractor’s license and focuses on jobs that require the use of one of their two cranes. They also rent their two cranes with operators as well as their telehandler and soon will offer NACE coating inspections. The SBDC caught up with Nancy to talk about her experience with the business expansion. 

What experience do you have in this type of business?
While expanding the company might have been natural for David, who had years of supervisory experience and a history in running his own business, I had been a journalist and a teacher and had no business experience whatsoever. Because of that fact, I sought out three things: Business courses, business seminars, and mentors. For example, taking three accounting courses taught me that we needed an experienced bookkeeper. The Guam Small Business Development Center (Guam SBDC) provided training, specifically a seminar on Profit Mastery taught me how to understand the “break even” point of our business. The Guam Procurement Technical Assistance Center (Guam PTAC) helped us become woman-owned, HUB certified. Along the way, I also learned that I had a knack for running our company with David. Expanding the business has been a natural consequence of having customers who have asked us to do more work for them. During the past few years, the economy had picked up on Guam and more of our customers have asked for more services, and in turn, we have hired more people to help our customers. In the middle of that rosy business trend, however, the H-2 worker crisis has stalled most businesses and the downturn has hit us and most of our customers hard. Without a skilled labor force, contracts cannot be fulfilled and those companies do not need our services. From expansion to keeping even has been stressful. Families on the payroll have car payments and rent payments and mortgages whether the economy is ticking or still.

How did the Small Business Development Center and other resources help you?
Whether the business is ticking or still, it is always necessary to strengthen the core foundation of any business, and the Guam SBDC has helped our company immensely. Since I began working with Denise Mendiola, I have felt that our business has had a gentle hand to guide our company. First, she helped me learn to do a professional business plan. From there, she helped us get bank financing to buy land and build a shop. During this downturn, she has helped us analyze the business and see what steps we need to take to sustain ourselves until the economy takes a brighter turn. Still, even in this downturn, we have sustained our expansion plans. This has been frightening and exciting, like flying through turbulence while sipping champagne inside the cabin. What has made this feel safe and sustainable, we have had people with a lot of business experience help us. Besides the Guam SBDC and the Guam PTAC, Jerry Paulino, a local realtor, has mentored me from start to finish, from understanding due diligence to warranty titles, from reminding me to be kind and calm to helping me see the joy in each step. Dave Burger, a local accountant, has helped me understand the financial steps the company has needed to take. Ho Eun of Coretech, has patiently guided us through the buying steps of owning our own property. Renee Wade and the Bank of Guam has helped us steer through the complicated loan process. Kim Anderson at Security Title has counseled us to understand the legal language that surrounds land quick claims and government agreements. If it was not for these more experienced business people, I believe that we would have crashed in the turbulence.

What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced throughout the process?
Photo of Nancy Barnhouse pulling a lever to lift a white truck for a vehicle maintenance checkThe biggest turbulence in this expansion has been my basic lack of knowledge. While my husband is an expert in construction and cranes, and I have a Master’s Degree in English Literature, these are not skills that teach a person how to expand a business, buy land or get financing. Because of these challenges, we needed help, and fortunately, Guam is a culture of kindness and generosity. Many people have opened doors for us, listened kindly to our questions, offered wise answers and guided us through every step.

What is your most memorable triumph?
While we have made mistakes like all entrepreneurs, our triumph has been to get financing for our land, new shop and office building and to buy a second crane. In addition, our triumph has been to continue to enjoy running our business together and to continue to see the joy in being business owners. With all kidding aside, the highest divorce rate among couples is when they go into business together. Fortunately for us, it has made our marriage stronger, and we have enjoyed each other’s individual talents. I tend to be the air-traffic controller and he tends to be the pilot of our plane. It works for us and hopefully it will continue to help our business thrive.

What are your short-term and long-term plans for your business?
Our short-term plan to help our business thrive is to build our warehouse and move into our own office space we own. We want to train our people into management positions, so the company is less of a “key man” operation and more of a company that can run whether we are there or not. Eventually, like most business people, we want to sell our business at a profit and retire.

What advice would you give to others who want to start a business at this time?
Looking back on the last four years, I would say that it has been a turbulent ride, but it has been rewarding and invigorating, and I would not trade this experience. If I were to tell anyone who wanted to start or expand his or her business, I would say to find good mentors and take advantage of the great resources available, including the SBDC and the Guam PTAC along with other business associations. Do not be afraid to ask for help and find mentors along the way. These people have insight, and they can help you with each step of the process.

For more information on the Guam SBDC Bank of Guam Women in Business Program, contact Denise Mendiola at