100% Disabled Veteran Starts a Business
100% Disabled Veteran Starts a Business
Disabled veteran entrepreneur Al Kroell served more than honorably in the Navy, but is quite private about discussing it. When he retired from the military in 2004 after 20 years of service and 100% disability, he vowed he would not give up and wanted to start a business. Because of his injuries sustained in the military he was classified as a 100% disabled veteran and among many other health issues he could not use his hands.
He knew he was not ready to start or run a business, he needed to educate himself about business and find out what his body would let him do. Al is always in pain, when I talked to him after being out of the military for 10 years, he had suffered through 53 surgeries, has had two strokes, his heart has stopped twice, has serious back problems, hip problems, ankle problems, vision issues, and not to mention he cannot use his hands. And they even gave him the wrong blood type in a transfusion once that almost killed him. His medical problems are not over and he continues to have problems. Of course none of this would be possible without Al’s wife, Christy, as his caregiver. They decided to sell their house that they had lived in for 17 years when Al retired. Then they moved and got all their expenses down as low as possible.
Veteran’s Skills Need Business Skills Added
Al’s mind and spirit had set a goal of owning a business, but he did not know what kind to start. He started college courses to learn how to start and run a business. Al stated that “Twenty years in the military and I learned a lot, but they don’t teach you how to run a business, how to market yourself, or even how to write a business plan.” He took marketing, accounting and the other courses necessary for a business degree. He had always done woodworking before his injury, but never dreamed his business could be done around woodworking until he learned of a very high tech, state of the art, $100,000 computerized laser engraving machine.This machine had to be programmed, but he knew with the help of his wife this machine could do anything his mind could think of, he would not need his hands. After Al learned about this he had a goal, to get this machine and go into business. He talked to the Veterans Vocational Rehab. Their job is to help disabled veterans get back into the workforce. They had Al do a business plan and kept sending him to financial institutions that would say “No” to the loan for $100,000 for the machine he needed. All of this took time and Al keep taking classes. After his business classes, he took classes on manufacturing, and on engraving machine operation. But he knew to be well rounded, so he also took courses on public speaking, art classes to help him better design creative works for his future clients, and even grammar and writing to be able to express himself as professionally as possible. This was not easy; often he would have to reset his hip before sitting in class, and over the years he often showed up with different casts from surgeries-he was always in pain.
Veteran Finds Right Advice
Then Al switched seeking advice from the Veterans Vocational Rehab Advisor to SCORE, his mentor took a big interest in Al and helped him redo the business plan. They made a few presentations, but could still not find the loan. Al had made a small carving for his counselor to thank him. The counselor set the carving on his desk to keep Al in his mind, but nothing happened for a couple of years.Then one day he got a call from his counselor, he thought he had found a place that would loan him the money, the Fresno Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).
With the loan in place Al and Christy were in business, ChristyAl Plaques and Engraving opened in July 2012. They got some orders right away from people they knew like an engraved marble sign for an optometrist they knew and some other smaller orders. Their sales have been meager through 2 years, but not because of the quality of their product. They are producing great products, but I feel they are having trouble finding a market and with marketing in general. They do not have a store front, and it is probably not necessary and they have no real marketing campaign. I feel they are very close to breaking loose, but that has not been done yet. They are a pent-up machine, with the technical skill and the creative imagination to put themselves on track to be making the kind of revenue to be millionaires. They need an event or the right contact.
Al is gung-ho and wants to have a super successful business and is doing what he can to make it happen. But Christy told me she is just happy to see her husband be so happy and involved in the business. She said it is great for his mental health and because it keeps him so engaged he probably benefits physically too as much as possible. They really do not have the extra funds to pay for aggressive marketing, but they should do everything they can to market.
Part II is all about Al’s trying to grow his company with his community involvement and marketing. Read about one of the biggest problems every new business owner has – marketing. Can Al find the answers to make and save $1,000,000?