Jeff Snell “didn’t want” to set one up GoFundMe page save his business.
But the Cariloha Bamboo business in Naples, which he owns with his wife Robin, is in a difficult position after the coronavirus pandemic wiped out sales and caused thousands to lose sales.
The Cariloha Bamboo store in the Mercato mall has been closed to the public since March 21 and money is tight as business expenses such as rent, payroll and utilities are still due.
To stay afloat, the Snells applied for several loan programs designed to help small businesses hit by the crisis.
The couple waited and hoped for more than a week after applying to the Federal Paycheck Protection Program, the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program and the US Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. Eventually, they learned they were getting nothing after high state and nationwide demand dried up funding for all of these programs.
With the loans not working, the couple decided a GoFundMe page was the best option to keep the store from closing its doors forever.
“GoFundMe is our last resort,” said Jeff Snell. “We have no choice”
The site has a goal of $35,000, which Robin Snell says is a “minimum amount” to get the store through the next few weeks through May, when the couple hopes they can reopen.
The money, if received, would be used to cover basic expenses like payroll, rent, insurance and utilities. Currently, the GoFundMe page created over the weekend has not received any donations.
Launched as part of the recent $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, the US Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program was designed to keep businesses and workers afloat during the pandemic.
The SBA makes PPP loans when all of a company’s workers have been on payroll for eight weeks and the funds are used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities.
The PPP was launched on April 3 with $349 billion in funding and ran out of funds as of April 16 after approving 1.6 million employer applications.
Businessmen like the Snells didn’t come too late either. The couple applied for the Paycheck Protection Program through their bank, Wells Fargo, and began the process in the “first hour” when PPP forms were available on the bank’s website on April 4.
“I updated the page every hour,” Jeff Snell said.
The couple said they first filled out a short form giving information about themselves and their interests. Then, after submitting the form, they waited 10 days to receive the complete application.
“They did it in order, they said, but honestly, I just think they did the big ones, and we were so small they didn’t reach us,” Jeff Snell said. “We just thought they would call the big companies first.”
congress, but reached an agreement Tuesday, which will pump more than $310 billion into the program. The new deal earmarks $60 billion of those funds for community-based lenders and smaller banks and credit unions, who will be able to help some of the smaller companies that previously struggled to get funds and don’t have established relationships with larger ones have financial institutions.
Exactly how long small businesses across the country will have to wait to receive those payments in the new round of funding isn’t known, but the bill could be presented to President Trump for approval sometime this week.
For now, the Snells are hoping to get some relief from the second round of funding, having been told by Wells Fargo that their PPP application will be held pending fresh funding.
“We assume that we will not start the process from scratch,” said Robin Snell. “We should be able to get some of that funding at this point.”
However, some are less hopeful.
“It’s devastating because I don’t think it’s going to come,” said Vollen Loucks, the chef and owner of Duval Street restaurant in Cape Coral. “It wasn’t the first time… I don’t really have confidence at the moment.”
Loucks was discouraged after the results of the first round of funding. He said his restaurant, which has been closed since March 20, applied immediately when applications were received for the PPP program and did not receive the $30,000 requested. The restaurant also unsuccessfully applied for the Florida Emergency Bridge Loan program.
He noted that some large restaurant chains received funding as part of the first round of funding when many smaller locations were let down.
Some of these larger chains included Shake Shake, which chose to do so return the $10 million receivedand Ruth’s Chris Steak House, as the parameters of the program applied to individual franchise locations.
“Ruth’s Chris got $20 million and the little people got nothing,” Loucks said. “Not getting the money is pathetic because we’re a real small business.”
He said Duval Street had lost $40,000 a week in potential sales since it closed and that the PPP funds had been used to pay laid-off employees and pay vendors.
“We care about our employees, and that would help us put a few bucks in their pockets,” he said.
He added that some of his employees have yet to receive unemployment benefits due to ongoing problems with Florida’s online system.
“They are our family,” he said. “This loan that does not go through is a great success for me, my partner and 27 employees.”
Loucks has also been without income for about a month.
“Every time I go over to clean or fix something, I raid my cooler and bring groceries home,” he said.
Overstretched and underfunded for claims
The Paycheck Protection Program wasn’t the only pandemic relief program overwhelmed by small business demand.
The Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge loan program, administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, made more than $49 million in interest-free personal loans of up to $100,000 to more than 1,000 small businesses before closing earlier this month became Paige Landrum, press secretary for the Department of Economic Opportunity.
Landrum said in an emailed statement that 944 individual loan packages to business owners have been processed and applications for the remaining $2.4 million are still being processed.
According to a press release from the Florida Small Business Development Center Network, which supported the bridging loan program, since it was first activated on March 17, the program has received more than 38,000 applications, meaning about 37,000 applicants have not been approved.
Some, like Angelo Crowell, a former NFL linebacker who owned 29 Jersey Mike locations in Florida, Alabama and Georgia as of October, received multiple credits. Crowell received 10 loans totaling $500,000 from the program.
According to Landrum, the bridging loans were “processed as they were received and checked for completeness”. She explained that once a network representative deemed an application complete, it was sent for underwriting review by a credit review committee, which is set up by each network district in times of disaster and helps determine an applicant’s “credit worthiness,” in order to reach a decision meet.
The SBA is also no longer accepting applications for the COVID-19-related Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance program “on a basis of available funds,” according to its website. The website states that applicants who have submitted their applications will continue to be processed on a first come, first served basis.
Alan Randolph, OZK’s regional director for community banking for Florida and New York, said there’s no particular trick to getting a loan, but advised companies to take their time with the PPP application and make sure everyone your documents are in order the new financing round is pending.
“Make sure your application is complete,” he said. “That was a big challenge for those who were struggling with their banks… It sounds like common sense, but it wasn’t always the case.”
Like many other financial institutions, Bank OZK works with its business customers to submit applications. In Florida, Bank OZK processed and funded more than 500 PPP applications and another 1,000 applied through the bank but are “currently being processed”.
“If and when the SBA allocates additional funds, we will be ready to submit the application,” he said.
GoFundMe to the rescue
The Cariloha Bamboo store opened in Naples in November 2018 and did “really well” as it recorded a 15% increase in sales compared to the previous year. However, like many small businesses across the country, the Snells’ livelihood began to bleed when the pandemic hit.
Sales at the store, which markets eco-friendly bamboo viscose products, fell 50% in March and is expected to fall 95% in April. The shop still does a bit of business with telephone orders and individual shopping appointments.
However, because the Snells are licensees of the Cariloha Bamboo brand, they cannot sell through the Cariloha Bamboo website.
“It’s devastating,” added Robin Snell. “And it’s also worrying because this is part of the high season in Naples. As soon as we can hopefully open sometime in May, we will go straight into the summer season.”
She stated they lost at least a month and a half of the sales they needed to get through the summer and next season.
“If we don’t get there, we have to close,” Jeff Snell said. “And we will lose everything.”
They had applied for $22,000 in PPP funds to reinstate a third worker who could not be kept and also keep themselves on the payroll.
“We use what we have left over from our own personal savings to cover payroll,” Jeff Snell said.
“Our life savings are in this store and going right out the door,” he added.
Reach Andrew Wigdor at [email protected] and on Twitter @andrew_wigdor