Thursday, August 9, 2018

Plan B Corporation on Guam

By: Jane Ray
Certified Business Advisor/Training Program Coordinator

     1.      Introduce yourselves.
My name is Bernadette Espaldon, I am the president of Plan B Corporation, of which there are of two branches: Plan B Cleaning Services and Plan B Distributors.

Plan B Cleaning Services, we provide housekeeping services to residences we specialize janitorial services to business facilities like offices and stores by cleaning carpets, upholsteries, tiles and grouts, and other general cleaning and maintenance necessities.

We at Plan B Cleaning Services prides itself on the use of high-quality green carpet cleaning products that are safe for the environment, for our customers and for our cleaning staff.

With this initiative to employ cleaning practices with safe cleaning products, we fulfill our mission to reduce environmental and human health risks associated with common cleaning practices and products. Plan B Distributors was established to bring safe cleaning products to Guam.

Plan B Distributors is the leading distributor for several innovative and high quality and practices cleaning products:
  1. Diamond Magic Cleaner, a multi-purpose cleaning product that removes rust, hard water, and alkaline stains, and cleans different types of surfaces such as glass, metal, or porcelain.
  2. HOST Carpet Cleaning Products, which ranges from stain and odor remover to carpet brushes designed to clean carpets thoroughly.
  3. Encore Cleaning Products, consisting of products that remove mold and mildew, oxidation, and dirt build-ups on many different surfaces.

2.      Why did you decide to start your own business?
My passion has always been to operate my own business. Although there are many types of businesses that I explored, I chose cleaning services not only because of high demand but also because of the service aspect that is involved in this type of business.

With household members having busy schedules, they do not have the time to take care of their homes. Even if they do have free time, most likely during their days off, they do not want to spend them cleaning, but rather prefer to use their free time to spend with their families and friends.

Likewise, businesses need cleaning services to maintain the facilities, a positive environment and overall good customer service experience. While there are businesses that employ a custodian to clean their facility, these businesses still hire cleaning services to take on difficult cleaning task(s) that their custodian may not be able to do solely.

Within the one-year operation of Plan B Cleaning Services, I researched effectively and cutting-edge cleaning products to assist my staff,, as well as to introduce Guam new cleaning products that can ease their household cleaning tasks. Thus Plan B Distributors was established.

The cleaning service business is difficult, but I, along with my hardworking staff, are committed to this service profession and type of business. It has been rewarding the first year and we are excited about the future.

3.      What experience do you have in this type of business?
Prior to forming Plan B Cleaning Services, I had no experience with the cleaning service business. Before becoming a multi-faceted cleaning service, Plan B Cleaning Services started as a green carpet cleaning service using the HostDRY Carpet Cleaning System. Our clients expressed that they were experiencing difficulties with their upholstery and area surfaces that common household cleaners were unable to clean.

From these client comments, I researched how to clean upholstery, tile, and grout, and various other surfaces properly and without causing damage. Through this research, I learned about cleaning products recommended and used by professionals, which I tested myself.  Through this method of research and testing, Plan B Cleaning Services expanded from a one-dimensional (though unique and innovative) green carpet cleaning service to a full service cleaning business and a new cleaning product distributorship, Plan B Distributors.

4.      How did the Small Business Development Center help you?
SBDC helped me tremendously with networking, marketing, and even setting up accounts in payroll. Networking is an important aspect of business as they foster new relationships with clients and consumers, who are essential to the development and expansion of a business. By learning how and with whom to network, new opportunities open up. Marketing is vital to a business because by effectively and aggressively promoting products(s) and/or service(s), your client and customer base grows. 

5.      What is the start-up process like?
Starting a business is always a difficult and meticulous process.
In order for Plan B Cleaning Services to succeed, I had to plan everything correctly, with little to no room for error. From the business plan to hiring qualified employees, I had to assure that the main focus was on ensuring that the services would be provided to my own high standards and that my staff would meet and even exceed my own and more importantly, my clients’ expectations. 

For Plan B Distributors, I had to assure that the products that I was introducing works, as well as I and my potential customers, would expect them to.  I had to painstakingly research and test for myself the efficacy of the products before I would consider putting them on the market for public consumption.  I have to believe in my products myself before I can get others to believe in them as well. In the end, I knew that customer satisfaction with the quality, effectiveness, and value of the product would determine if and whether the business would succeed.  

6.      How did you fund your business? 
Initially, I had to fund my business with savings. That is why careful planning is so important.  Early on for a startup, funding is often tight and precarious, so the business plan has to be as precise as possible to minimize waste.  This is all the more important when you are using personal savings to start up!  I also believe that wasting time, energy, and products are akin to wasting money.  Funding your business does not happen only at the start-up phase; it is a continuous process as operational costs are constant and unexpected costs are not uncommon.  

Aside from monetary funding, I firmly believe that moral and emotional support from others is another vital resource when starting a business. This business would not have been possible without the support of my family and the dedication of Plan B Corporation employees. There are so many things going on when starting a business, and it would be so difficult to do it alone without a supportive network of family, friends, and employees.  I’ve been fortunate in all those respect and count them as initial “investors” in me and the business. 

7.      What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced in the start-up process?
Competition is the biggest challenge that Plan B Corporation has experienced during the start-up process. There are numerous cleaning services on Guam that has been operating for years. Many of them are well known by businesses and residents and have built both name and client base. However, in business, never let the competition intimidate you. Let it challenge you instead. Always have confidence in your services and products and show your target clients and consumers that your business can go head to head with the best in the business. As for Plan B Distributors, competition comes in the form of a known brand name household products. However, the products we distribute are different from the rest as they are safe for the environment and users.

Another challenge that I experienced during the start-up process is finding the right people. My success is dependent upon the people I work with. Finding the right people whom you can trust and depend on is vital to the development and success of your business. However, finding the right people is always a challenging aspect of starting and maintaining a business.

8.      What is the most memorable triumph in your start-up process?
The everyday appreciation and approval of our work from our clients is our most memorable triumph at Plan B Cleaning Services because their words are the best testing we have that we are doing our job well. For Plan B Distributors, we are always pleased when our customers use and like our products so much that they spread the word and essentially a market for us on social media. That is truly satisfying!

9.      What’s one short-term and one long-term goal for your business?
For a short-term goal, Plan B Corporation is set on making the business known throughout the island. Plan B Corporation is competing with other cleaning services and distributors that are well known with businesses and residences on the island. We have already marketed Plan B Corporation through social media and local radio, but we look to expand promoting the company further, such as with this newspaper article, and other forms of traditional and non- traditional marketing.

For a long-term goal, Plan B Corporation aims to apply and be a part of the 8a Business Development Program in order to expand Plan B Cleaning Services with more employees and network with more businesses and residences for cleaning services. The application process is tedious, but Plan B Corporation is seeking assistance from business development professionals in order to get the application process going, as well as seeking advice from the SBDC and other small business assistance organization.

10.  What advice would you give to others who want to start a business at this time?

Starting a business requires determination. Even if the business has a great plan and adequate funding, it will not succeed without determination and persistence. A business owner must be determined in developing his/her business, determined that his/her business will succeed regardless of the challenges ahead. A determined entrepreneur will take the necessary steps to discover and take advantage of all the opportunities that present themselves. 

Hubert Lemong Mangrove Crab Farm Opens in Ngersuul, Ngchesar

By: Ltelatk Fritz
Palau SBDC Director/Business Advisor

One of Palau’s traditional delicacies is the mangrove crab, Scylla serrata, or locally known as “chemang.” The demand for mangrove crab surged in recent years due to the significant increase in visitors to Palau. As more hotels and restaurants sold mangrove crab to the tourists, the local demand to fulfill filial rites and tradition also increased.

Mr. Hubert Lemong is a humble man who lives in Ngersuul, Ngchesar - located on the eastern coast of Babeldaob. Hubert first approached Palau SBDC in late October 2016, requesting technical assistance to complete his aquaculture loan application to start a mangrove crab farm. When Hubert showed up for his initial counseling session, he brought a rough draft of his business plan and a letter of support from the State Governor showing support for the aquaculture project. Palau SBDC accepted Hubert’s request since he and his aquaculture business qualified for the free one-on-one counseling sessions.

Mr. Hubert Lemong 
Hubert Lemong was inspired to start his mangrove crab farm from the initiatives established by the State Government of Ngchesar in promoting aquaculture projects. Although Hubert is still a novice crab farmer, Hubert is getting additional assistance from experts in the field: PCC-CRE Multi-Species Marine Hatchery, business management assistance from Palau SBDC, and support from the leaders and community of Ngchesar state.

Palau SBDC provided assistance in helping Hubert develop financial projections to help him understand the cost structure of the aquaculture project. SBDC assisted Hubert understand the level of monthly expenses of operating the farm, such as the loan payments, cost of fuel (both land transportation and coastal transportation when he goes fishing for feed), import taxes (because Hubert was importing his vehicle from Japan), and gross receipt taxes, once he starts selling the mangrove crabs. Palau SBDC also facilitated in the acquisition of a used vehicle online to be used by Hubert in his farm business.

Once the loan application package was complete, Hubert submitted it to the National Development Bank of Palau. According to Hubert, the process was easier than he had expected because his application was complete and easy for the lender to understand. Hubert was able to get an unsecured aquaculture loan to launch the mangrove crab farm business. The funding enabled Hubert to excavate the ponding system, create access to and around the farm, netting supplies to keep the crabs within the farm, purchase a small boat used to find food for the mangrove crabs, a van to transport materials during the construction phase and to be used in bringing crabs to the markets.

During this initial year of operation, Hubert has taken note of the lessons he had learned from the daily operations, from talking to fellow aquaculture farmers, and communications with PCC-CRE. Hubert introduced milkfish into the ponds, but because of the drought-like conditions Palau is experiencing this year, many of the fingerlings could not survive the heat. Hubert admits he sometimes felt discouraged in the first couple of months during the growth phase because he could not easily see the tiny crabs in the farm. Now that the crabs are much bigger, he can see the crabs moving in the water or basking on the mini islands scattered in the pond.

Hubert plans to excavate one side of his pond deeper to allow the animals to seek cooler waters during severe low tides and high temperatures. To ensure the safety and security of the farm assets, Hubert has even built a small home on the farm and integrated a small garden to support him and his mangrove crabs.

In the long run, Hubert wants to expand his farm and create up to three ponding systems to have a staggered supply of mangrove crabs and milkfish. Hubert is also learning about shrimp farming because he plans to incorporate shrimp into his aquaculture farm in Ngersuul, Ngchesar.

When Hubert was asked, “What advice would you give to others who want to start a business at this time?” His response was, "If you want to start a business, you have to prepare yourself. Learn by asking for help. Learn from people who know about the business. Start small and grow your business as you learn and grow too.”