After 20 years of service in the Navy and an accident, while serving that left him 100% disabled, Al Kroell found it extremely difficult to find employment. His wife, Christy, was disabled too and the pair struggled to earn income to support themselves. Luckily Al’s hobby of woodworking, combined with new state-of-the-art technology turned out to be a lucrative business opportunity. ChristyAl Plaques now creates custom laser cut, etched, and engraved plaques and gifts.
ChristyAl Plaques has found a niche market by creating “going away” plaques for military members who are transferred off-base. With 62 bases in the state of California alone and nearly 3,000 transfers at each base every year, it is a sizable target market.
The business turned a profit within its first month. The business was chosen as a winner of the Sam’s Club Holiday Cheer initiative in December 2012, receiving a $1,000 grant and a trip to Dallas to attend a high-speed growth marketing workshop hosted by SCORE. Of the workshop, Al said, “It was like winning the jackpot for small business.” Through the session, they learned about specifying a target market, trying it out for a period of time, and then modifying that target.
Starting out, Christy and Al found it nearly impossible to secure a loan due to their lack of current income. Their mentor, Peter Fong, helped them to write a business plan that was so professional, clear, and convincing that a bank finally approved their application. The loan allowed them to purchase the machinery necessary to create such a beautiful, high-quality product. Al says he tried other programs aimed at helping veterans transition into civilian life but none were as helpful as SCORE. He says, “SCORE has been there for us. If it wasn’t for SCORE I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Al speaks highly of mentor Peter Fong who worked with the team for over 2 years; “He pushed me along, got me on the ball, and told me what I needed to do. The military doesn’t teach you about marketing or running a business but my SCORE mentor did.”