By Howard Dyckoff

For this third  part of our series, we profile  four clients being helped by Kiva loans, three through Centro Partners and one from the Kiva Zip program of the City of Oakland.

RB Squared Solutions

Vincent Hayes is an East Oakland resident and the founder of RB Squared Solutions.  His business provides a suite of services for small business, including building and management of an eCommerce web site and low-cost credit card processing. His client businesses range North from the Fruitvale district.

To handle credit cards,  he works as an agent for a credit card  ISO, or independent sales organization. This results in small fees that are only a few basis points above the rates of credit card issuers but with full insurance for small businesses.

“Getting the loan was tremendous for me because it allowed me to buy the equipment I needed to service customers.  This included credit card terminals and also access to computer processing power,” he said. RB Squared uses virtual servers on Amazon Web Services (AWS) that run 24/7.

Hayes praised the Centro program for small businesses.  “It was very instrumental in helping me get up and going and getting a better understanding of how to assess the market I’m in.  I’d recommend Centro to other others as much as possible.”

Skincare by Feleciai Favroth

Feleciai Favroth attended Centro’s first entrepreneur training and used the funding to expand her business of making and selling  skin care products which include soaps, shea butter creams, body butters, brown sugar scrubs and bath salts.

Favroth described her product line, SkinCare by Feliciai, as, “…handcrafted with the finest natural ingredients including organic Nilotica Shea Butter from Uganda, essential oils, raw sugar, and jojoba oil.” Her first $5000 loan from Kiva helped her double her sales by building a new eCommerce web site and improving her packaging and labels. She is now on her Kiva second loan, this one for $15,000,  which allowed her to increase her production and higher a part-time assistant.

Favroth is happy to have worked with Centro.  “They had a very supportive atmosphere.  They also had someone who helped me write my loan application… and go through the normal underwriting process.”  These were the graduate students who interned at Centro and tutored Centro’s applicants.

“I do attribute a large portion of my success to Centro,” Favroth said.

Dustin Page of Platinum Dirt

“I’m now running my own Eco-ethical leather apparel company, Platinum Dirt,” said Dustin Page.  His company, Platinum Dirt, is part of the 25th Street Collective.

Dustin Page received his $10,000 Kiva loan 8 months ago.  It allowed him to obtain another leather sewing machine and to do a second version of his web site, which will be going live this week.

The loan also helped him open a retail location in North Beach which exposes his products to tourists from the US and abroad. “I have been shipping products to other countries because of vacationers who have come into my store.”

“I personally believe that, as a society, we need to phase out our ‘disposable’ mindset and go back to one of ‘built to last’,” Page said. Platinum Dirt does this by reusing leather from seats and interiors of old luxury cars in junk yards.  This is boutique recycling.

Page explained that his new website is very customizable and allows people to easily pick styles and colors when ordering.  “I am not stockpiling items; I’m doing made-to-order.”

His studio is in Oakland and he may consider an Oakland retail location as the market develops for his products, which are primarily re-purposed leather backpacks, handbags, and jackets.

He makes all his products in Oakland and also spends two days a week at his retail location.  “I’m very busy,” Page added.  He is a member of the 25th Street Collective but said the growth of Art Murmur into the monthly First Friday extravaganza has gradually reduced the number of buying customer for his leather goods. “More people are coming out to party, and to drink,” he explained.

Page has paid back over a third of his loan, and thinks Centro was important to his business development.

“The loan was huge for me and Centro was very educational.  It guided me and opened my eyes … to steps in the loan process, and also figuring out my cost of goods and what the retail price should be.  Some of the items I was selling were priced too low and some were priced higher than I needed so I adjusted all of my prices.”

Page said, “It was good for me to have this information in my arsenal… I feel like I am now making better decisions for my business….. I would definitely recommend it to someone who is just starting their own business.  They really help guide you in the right direction. ” Page added that the most important takeaway for him was the help and practice in developing a detailed business plan.  “Before working  with Centro, I didn’t have that.”

Loretta Nguyen and lOAKal Gallery

Loretta Nguyen moved into the space formerly used by SWARM gallery his past September, but was already in the space next door as a temporary pop up business. So the lOAKal Gallery and Boutique has been housed in different pars of the same building for 18 months.

Her suppliers are artists and craftspeople from all over the Bay Area, providing unique and art-oriented creations that she sells in her boutique. That includes many artist labels that live and work in Oakland, including: Gorilla Rino, Indie Craft terrariums, and Lazy Lotus, among others.

Also included is her own first business, T-shirt company 5733, which features eclectic designs. “I have over 100 designers and I think they are all amazing….”

She had always wanted to include art books from the beginning of lOAKal but was concerned about bringing in extra inventory into her short term, pop up store. “I didn’t know how to do that, with my money tied up in so many other necessities. The $5000 loan helped me buy a collection of these art books,” she said pointing around the shop.

The books feature both big name artists like Banksy and lesser known artists who are self-published. She pointed to a photography book by Ryan Dunden, about his 6 years in China, as an example. “No one would probably know about him if they hadn’t come to the gallery,” she said, noting that they had a show of Dunden’s work in January.

She added that she had books from other artists around the US whom she hoped to exhibit or work with in the future.  lOAKal Gallery also carries cards by local artists.

Nguyen said many people like coming to the more subdued atmosphere of the Jack London area because its more about Art, rather than the larger festivities of First Fridays. She noted that Jack’s Night Market happened several times this past summer.  “And if you go there on a First Friday night, there’s a ton of people there.”

“In 2010, we had an opportunity to work with [the East Bay Express in] a Pop Up Hood gallery and boutique for the summer.  It was a lot of fun, and a lot of work, but so many people came out.  It was pretty impressive… We did a pop-up again in 2012, and lOAKal took off.”

She said people in the neighborhood seemed especially excited about the boutique. “There are no stores like the store we have here. There aren’t a whole lot of shops here, mostly restaurants and office space.”

Nguyen was also positive about locating in Oakland : “There are a lot of organizations that help men and women start their business and do a business plan.  I also think that the City of Oakland really wants merchants to thrive. I think if you seek out the help, you’ll get it. And we need more businesses down here.”

An on-line collection of these and related photos and screen shoots can be found HERE

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