B U S I N E S S S P O T L I G H T
January 2016 Featured Business Owner:
Teresa Serrano, Farmers Insurance, Agency Owner
(By Robert Swartz, AHDMA)
You can’t get anymore “local” than Teresa Serrano. Three generations of her family went to school here in Alvarado. Her parents were married in the old St Ann’s church (now the Masjid Al-Huda religious center). A graduate of Logan High School, Teresa started working in insurance when she was just 20 years old. She liked the family atmosphere of the agency she worked for and decided that model would be a good one to follow.
For the past 12 years, Teresa has owned and operated her own insurance agency here. Affiliated with Farmers Insurance, Teresa acknowledged the help of Marielle Enriquez, who’s been her assistant since she opened on Smith Street in 2004. Starting a new agency was not easy and her husband, Joel Serrano, supported and worked with her the first couple of years.
“Insurance is all about contacts, and you have to build those from the ground up, and that takes time,” Teresa stated. “Plus, until recently, Farmers did not protect an agent’s territory, so you could even be competing with your own company for customers. I learned that referrals are so important. I’ve reached a comfortable, busy stage in my business, thanks in large part to my customers sending other people to me,” Teresa revealed.
The formation of AHDMA was perfect timing for her, as she was looking for ways to give back to the community and to do more volunteer work. In addition to being on the AHMDA board, she also teaches folk dancing (Ballet Folklorico) at Alvarado Elementary. Farmers Insurance helped her with matching funds so she could create costumes for the kids. Her contacts with the school have created a helpful link so that AHMDA activities/events and philanthropic focus can include the children of the area.
Teresa is the committee Chair for all of AHDMA’s events, and is busy working on the second Spring Festival Easter Egg Hunt. ‘We’ve only barely begun to explore all the potential that the merchants, schools, non-profits and residents of this area have to offer to each other by just working together. I’m looking forward to so much more from this group,” she happily revealed.
(AHDMA has been operating for 18 months now, and has expanded to 41 members.)
December 2015 Featured Business Owner:
Dr. Ann Bess Chanco, Owner of ABC Dental
(By Robert Swartz, AHDMA)
Dr. Ann Bess Chanco has been a practicing dentist for nearly 30 years, teaching and practicing initially in the Philippines, and eventually here in the Bay Area. She moved her practice from San Mateo to Union City 10 years ago, locating on the corner of Fair Ranch & Alvarado Blvd. where she over took a former dental office located in a small retail office complex.
As her business grew, she purchased and then remodeled the building at 3862 Smith Street. Her practice has grown here in Union City from at least 50 active patients after the move from San Mateo, to nearly 2,000 today. She has also been a single mom during her years here in Union City, raising two children and working her way through some difficult times.
Ann is a true entrepreneur, having dealt with many complicated issues in developing her practice. They have included learning to be a landlord (she rents out several space in her building), learning the complicated processes of remodeling an older structure, learning the hard way about mortgages and foreclosures, and also paying more attention to her own health and well-being via a regular workout routine.
This December marks a new crossroads in her life. She is getting married this month to a successful leader in the bank industry who happens to be retiring in the Philippines very soon. Her grown up son and daughter are on their way to being independent themselves.
She likes the small town feel of the Old Alvarado area, and appreciates the effort by the local businesses to work together via AHDMA to help each other improve the area. She likes the fact that the area is growing and prospering and sees ‘Parking’ as a major obstacle to its development. She would like to see AHDMA work toward examining this issue and coming up with some options to present to the City.
I asked her about her passion for her work and for the Alvarado neighborhood and her answer was rooted in her love of art, particularly sculpting with her hands and the importance of equating the finest details to delivering good work. “My dental education in the Philippines involved a great deal of training in oral anatomy. Sculpting teeth in great detail doesn’t only mean cosmetic restoration, but more importantly, bringing the whole mouth back to the individual’s health and comfort. I have always enjoyed drawing and designing things and I try and give each of my patients the best finished repair work at the smallest detailed level I can,” she relates.
“I love the fact that I have been able to really get to know my patients and treat them in a most personal manner. I cater to each patient’s specific needs and present treatment options so that they can understand exactly what is involved (informed consent), “she relates.
That theme of individual attention to detail seems to be a common thread for many of the Alvarado area health and wellness providers.
(AHDMA has been operating for 18 months now, and has expanded to 36 members.)
November 2015 Featured Business Owner:
Jeanelle Singh, Core Fitness
(By Robert Swartz, AHDMA)
Jeanelle Singh is native of Union City and has been operating her own fitness business here for just over 5 years. She graduated from San Francisco State (Physiology) and has a Masters in Human Services (Health & Wellness concentration). She made the decision to open an office in the Old Alvarado area just a little over a year ago and will soon relocate for the 2nd time in the same (Loyola) building on Smith Street, expanding from just 150 to 1,300 sq/ft.
“I chose the Alvarado area because it’s close to where I live and I did not want to have a long work commute. During the first 4 years of developing my business I have had to travel throughout the Bay Area to meet clients and work long hours to get established. Many of my clients want to workout before or after their own work hours, and that means long days for me,” she explained. “Now I am able to have clients come to me. The larger space is also allowing me to add independent health service contractors at my location, which is in turn is helping me expand my services,” she added.
Jeanelle’s client base is very diverse. She works with high school age clients all the way up to the elderly, and deals with specific health issues as well as just general well being and fitness. “No matter what is going on in my personal life, when I am immersed in working with a client, I really enjoy seeing the progress they can make, and that helps me refocus on my own needs. I am a marathon runner, and I train seriously for that with an inner focus on just my own strength and stamina, but the empathy I have with patients helps me understand that we all want to feel better and stay healthy in order to enjoy our lives to their fullest,” she explains.
She has also enjoyed being on the Board of Directors of AHDMA and has taken on the responsibility of Treasurer this year, as well as being the Board’s representative at the monthly EDAT (Economic Development Advisory Team) meeting with City Staff. “It has been very interesting learning more about how our City government works. My work on the steering committee for the recent Arts & Wine Fall Festival AHDMA organized was an eye opener,” she revealed.
Jeanelle enjoys networking with her fellow business owners, and she has found collaborating on seminars with other local Health & Wellness providers to be very useful. However, she would like to see ADHMA take on even more projects, especially ones that relate to marketing. “Marketing is complex and understanding how and where to spend money to promote your business, and how to measure those efforts, are not easy tasks, especially if your training has not been in that field,” she states. “I would like to see us work on social media opportunities and explore cooperative advertising to take advantage of our growing numbers and collective expertise.”
(The AHDMA has been operating for 17 months now, and has expanded to 36 members.)
Featured Business Owner:
Sarah Lantimo Owner of Powerful Hypnosis Healing (By Robert Swartz, AHDMA)
Sarah Lantimo opened her practice in Union City in the Fall of 2014. She chose the Alvarado District because she enjoyed the ambiance of the area, which had several holistic/health businesses close by. The friendly, calm, less than frantic pace of the streets fit perfectly with what she was planning to provide to her clients: relief from stress, anxiety and a host of other ailments, by helping her clients achieve control of their own subconscious mind through the power of hypnosis.
She has learned many lessons this past year, both on a business and personal level. While the Alvarado area is low-key in many respects, Sarah found people more conservative (less-receptive) to the concept of hypnosis as a solution to their personal problems than she had first anticipated. However, her clients have been steadily leaving her rave reviews regarding their results from working with her, and Sarah is embracing social media and the internet in general as a tool to help spread the awareness of how hypnosis can transform lives.
In addition to personal sessions with clients, Sarah is developing seminar/coaching sessions in order for her to work with groups of people as well. She will soon be self-publishing informative eBooks, tackling important topics of concern that she encountered in her practice and her recommended treatment advice, which will all be available on her website. “It has been a bit overwhelming to sort through all the marketing possibilities and channels that I could focus on, and certainly it’s hard to balance all the things you have to do as an owner while being an effective provider to my clients at the same time,” Sarah explains.
Clients are offered ‘packages’ that usually involve up to six sessions in a two-month period. With an impressive 35% client retention/return rate after a completed package, Sarah is already finding that her schedule is filling up, and her time to work on expanding her business is becoming ever more important to manage. “I want to provide my help to a larger group of clients, and I believe through seminars, eBooks and other types of group activities I should be able to accomplish that.” Sarah continues.
Sarah is on the AHDMA Art & Wine Festival organizing committee, but admits she can only attend some of the AHDMA meetings due to those very real time constraints. “I enjoy working with other local business owners, and I am learning many things from their various experiences and advice,” she stated.
Sarah is currently the only certified clinical hypnotherapist in Union City. She may have started her business without a vision for financial goals, a working budget, or any training in marketing, but she is reaching out and finding sources like the Landmark Forum, where she can network and receive training on a wide variety of quality of life issues.
If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about Sarah’s practice, visit her website at: http://www.powerfulhypnosishealing.com
(The AHDMA has been operating for 14 months now, and has expanded to 32 members.)
Featured Business Owner:
Jober Tarin Owner of Maqbool Islamic Clothing (By Robert Swartz, AHDMA)
Jober Tarin returned to Union City, his birthplace, 4 years ago and opened a retail store to accompany his on-line marketing passion: offering a line of Islamic clothing to the growing Muslim population in the area. He has been very pleased with the success his store is having and with how his old and new connections are coming together to help stimulate activity in the Old Alvarado area.
Jober joined the AHDMA shortly after it formed, and is enjoying getting to know his business neighbors. “This area had many empty spaces for lease just a couple of years ago, and I am glad to see it filling in with new, young entrepreneurs. I am working to open a restaurant across the street later this year, which will feature sandwiches and burgers.
Having grown up in this area, Jober is happy to see the neighborhood bustling and growing, safely, and is encouraging others to consider locating their businesses here. “There have been instances of tagging and hate messages I have had to deal with since locating here, but I embrace the challenge of educating others about Islamic/Muslim culture and helping us all work together to keep a positive attitude about the world we live in” he relates. “The AHDMA is working to improve the environment in the area (lighting /signage /safety /pedestrian friendly feeling) and I support that 100%.”
Jober says he has learned through experience to not overwork himself and to not expect too much too quickly in terms of running your own business. This experience is helping him work through all the complications of negotiating with the City, property owners, and contractors while remodeling historic buildings (instead of razing them).
The conversion of the old St. Anne’s Church into the Masjid Al-Huda religious center, and the conversion of the convenience store (liquor & cigarettes) into a modern deli are just two examples of saving structures that Jober has been deeply involved in. For example, there were developers who wanted to raze the old Church for residential/commercial development. While some may have found it uncomfortable to observe the facility change over from Christian to Muslim worship, it reflect the growth of Muslim influence in our local world, (there are about 5 million Muslims in the U.S. and by 2030 that number is expected to rise to nearly 12 million). The new owners are doing their best to preserve the structure, and are spending a large amount of time (mostly volunteer), effort and money to update, retrofit, and modernize the facility.
“The increase in pedestrian traffic to the area is good for all business owners here, and for the community at large, to help keep it a vital place to live and work,” Jober states. “I want to help coordinate events and activities that celebrate and educate the public, while promoting a good understanding and friendly relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. This will help bring much needed understanding and unity in our effort to enlighten all who take the time to learn about each other.”
Featured Business Owner:
Carol Dutra-Vernaci Enrolled Agent, Mayor of Union City (By Robert Swartz, AHDMA)
Serving her third year as the Mayor of Union City, Carol Dutra-Vernaci has had to put her business as an Enrolled Agent/Tax Consultant on hold, in order to keep pace with the demands of serving as our mayor. One of those demands is protecting and managing the growth of our neighborhoods – like Alvarado.
Carol has been influential in stimulating the City’s focus on this historic area, and was the first business to become a member of the new AHDMA last May (which she has renewed). “Networking is very helpful for small business owners. It’s important to know your neighbors and talk with them. You will often find you have many things in common and can learn from each other,” she relates.
Carol has been an Enrolled Agent for 30 years, and, in that time, has gathered a wealth of very useful advice based on her experience helping people with the world of the complex, always changing tax codes/laws that impact every small business owner. “You really need a tax plan/advice from the get go when starting up a new business.
Understanding how to keep your records straight on matters relating to proper bookkeeping, vehicle, phone, meals & entertainment, office & home expenses are more than just saving receipts. Even if you do all your tax work yourself (about 15% of small business owners keep all tax work in house) you need to know how to keep things in order in case you are ever facing an audit. Plus, knowing your numbers is critical to knowing how to make your business successful,” she offers.
Even if you do your own tax work, it’s a good idea to bring it to a professional every so often to jut have them check your work and make sure you are compliant with all changes. “Remember this advice, which is very much the same advice you would hear if you were before a court on a legal matter - if you do get audited, never represent yourself. Most of us don’t know what to say, when to say it, and, worse yet, what not to say.”
Small business owners report that Payroll Taxes take more administrative time than others taxes, and they also are the biggest financial hurdle to deal with. In addition, some think of those funds as “theirs” and borrow from employee withholdings or Soc. Sec. funds in order to pay for some other expenses. That makes them personally liable for those funds with potential huge penalties.
“Income tax, state and local tax compliance, corporate taxes, property tax and sales tax all are important items you need to keep accurate up to date records on. The better you are at your record keeping procedures the better prepared you will be in the event you ever do get audited. People that can demonstrate strong recoded keeping procedures are much more likely to be believed by auditors than those who don’t. And audits can drag on for along time these days, due to manpower and other shortcomings with the IRS and government agencies that do tax enforcement work. This increases stress and takes up valuable time most of us can’t spare, “ Carol states.
She also wanted her fellow members in the AHDMA to remember a life lesson she saw reinforced during her recent trip to China to promote Union City for investment opportunities. “The Chinese believe you should make friends first, and from these friendships business dealings will naturally develop. In many ways it’s an education process that is more about forming relationships with people with whom you can build trust and rely on for help or advice or just to spread the word about you and your abilities, your business.”
That is very much the thought process behind the AHDMA, which is building a great network of friends who genuinely want to help each other succeed.
Featured Business Owner:
Adrienne Realiza Realtor Legacy Real Estate & Associates, Owner of Stage & Shine (By Robert Swartz, AHDMA)
There is no shortage of licensed Realtors in the local marketplace, and most will tell you that making a living at it is not easy. Adrienne Realiza, the newest officer of the Board of Directors for the AHDMA, has done a successful job of keeping active as a Realtor while raising 4 children (ages 12, 9, 4 and 2), with her husband, Ron.
Adrienne is also in the process of launching a complimentary business, in conjunction with her mother, Diena, called Stage & Shine, which will offer full staging services. “I want my clients to know that I can service their every need whether they are buying or selling a home. Moving help, legal advice, staging, I have the contacts and vendor relationships that can help in every facet of the process,” she explains.
Adrienne has worked in Real Estate for some time, and enjoys the support of her family, in-laws, and business partner, Ingrid Crachian. Both are currently licensed Realtors under the Brokerage, Legacy Real Estate & Associates. Adrienne got her degree in Business Administration from California State Hayward University (now East Bay), and spent time working for Countrywide and then Bank of America.
She joined the AHDMA to network and make new friends, and has been surprised by the number of new, young entrepreneurs that are in the district. “As a working mother with young children at home, it’s a bit harder for me to make all the contacts I need to help my business. Groups like the AHDMA bring people together, and we are doing a good job of growing the association, keeping members up to date via all types of media and helping to revitalize the Alvarado area. AHDMA has been fun. I love helping out and connecting with the community” she said.
“For me, having a good database of contacts, building relationships and working to stay in touch with their ever changing needs is crucial. People expect more value now that the housing market has settled back into a more stable routine, both from the home they hope to buy or sell (fewer distress/foreclosure sales) and from the vendors they deal with during the selling/buying process,” she relates.
Judging by the great job Adrienne did in helping produce the first ever AHDMA Easter Egg Hunt, she is definitely good at planning, organizing and following through on a project. She is not afraid to show her passion for what she is doing, and to admitting that she is still learning. “If people can see you have respect for them, and you do your best to meet their needs, they will at least appreciate your efforts, and refer others to you when they need your services. That connection is what I strive for.”
Adrienne proudly serves the areas of: Union City, Fremont, Newark, Hayward and surrounding East Bay Areas. You can contact her at 510-479-0919 and learn more at www.BestTriCityHomes.com or www.StageandShine.com.
Featured Business Owner:
Tatum Janitorial Tatum Janitorial Services, A Small Business Success Story (By Robert Swartz, AHDMA)
Just before they reach Smith Street, North bound commuters traveling along Union City Blvd., (especially during congested rush hour traffic), might easily notice a narrow store front that has a weathered wood façade and a decent sized US Flag flying out front. 31022 Union City Blvd. is the home (store front, office and workshop/yard) of Tatum Janitorial Service, owned and operated by 73 year old Douglas Tatum.
Tatum got into the janitorial service business just before he was drafted into the Army in 1966, when he worked as a laborer for an Alameda based janitorial firm. Returning to that firm after he did his service with Uncle Sam, and while working on an AA degree from Chabot College, Douglas was given the option of taking over some Southern Alameda County accounts as his own. Tatum Janitorial Services has been operating continuously since then, relocating in 1974 to Union City.
Tatum has seen many changes to the Old Alvarado area during his time there. He raised a family, supported local philanthropic and business efforts (Chamber of Commerce, Lyons Club), sponsored youth sports teams, won recognition and awards, and helped many businesses all over the County keep their buildings clean. His wife Betty has worked along side him and supported his efforts in the business, and his sons have helped out from time to time as needed
He shared some of his knowledge with me the other day when I sat down with him to talk about the Alvarado Historic District Merchants Association, which he recently joined. He has a wealth of experience in the ups and downs of running a small business, and he shared some important lessons with me:
Always keep on top of your receivables. You can’t afford to let any customer lag behind their payments for the goods/services you have already provided.
Discounts, best pricing practices, attention to details, speedy response – use all and anything you can to differentiate yourself from your competitors, but only if it reinforces the quality of what you are providing.
If you make a promise, you’d better deliver.
There is always somebody willing to undercut your prices, but if you short-change your workers or your subcontractors by squeezing them too hard in order to be the lowest bidder/priced service, the quality of your product or service will suffer, as will your reputation. You have to stand firm and show customers that they get what they pay for. You have to know what margins you need and stick to achieving those.
You also need good vendors that support your business, and you have to treat them like you want to be treated – if you make sure you get paid on time, you can pay them on time.
Douglas hopes to retire someday, but has no immediate plans to do so. He is enjoying the resurgent attitude of the old and new businesses in the Alvarado area, and stands as an excellent example of how to build and keep a small business alive.