Clearwater's Steve the Faucet Guy replaces Joe the Plumber as icon of small biz frustration
Wake up and good morning. Is Clearwater small businessman Steve Gordon this year's Joe The Plumber? Joe, you may recall, is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher who briefly won gobs of attention during the 2008 U.S. presidential election. As an employee of a plumbing contractor, he was given the moniker "Joe the Plumber" after he was videotaped questioning then-Democratic candidate Barack Obama about his small business tax policy during a campaign stop in Ohio. (Photo courtesy of University of Tampa.)
Last week it was Gordon's turn. When President Obama came to the University of Tampa to announce funding for high-speed rail projects (including $1.25 billion for the Tampa-Orlando link), Gordon stood and asked why small businesses, like his, can't get basic credit to grow when Wall Street gets billions in bailouts. "I’m frustrated because I can create 500 jobs," Gordon told the president -- if he could only get a bank loan.
Gordon, 53 and an entrepreneur, sells a product called Instant-Off, a water-saving device you can screw on to the end of a faucet. It requires the user to push against a small plastic stick that extends from the faucet; stop pushing on the stick and the water stops coming out of the faucet. Here's the Instant-Off's Web site and a video short that shows how it works.
Gordon's now basking in his moment of fame. The Tampa Tribune covered him, twice, at the town hall meeting with the president, and the next day when all that TV time made him the momentary symbol of small business frustration. Here's WUSF radio capturing the audio exchange between Gordon and the president. Here's more coverage by ABC News, Fox News and the Washington Post.
Yesterday, Gordon surfaced again in the New York Times, in a question and answer column. Gordon started Instant-Off in 1991 and now employs two people full time and 30 part time to make an inexpensive valve for faucets that conserves water automatically. The valves are sold to the food-service industry and to consumers through Home Depot. Gordon says he lacks the capital to expand. Last year, Instant-Off’s revenue was about $350,000.
Here are the two best Q&A's from the New York Times column:
Q. Did you try to get an S.B.A. 7(a) working capital loan?
Gordon: "I met with SunTrust and Bank of America — Bank of America was my bank — and they told me that I would not qualify because my credit score was not high enough. I came out of the building industry, and I lost my company during the real estate crash in 2006. I was right in the middle of a beautiful, $35 million town home project when the meltdown occurred. So when I lost all that money, it put me in a capital vacuum, and my credit score suffered.
"But it wasn’t just the credit score — they needed hard assets on the floor. They either needed equipment or they needed to secure it against inventory. All of our stuff is hand-assembled; the equipment we have is probably worth $50,000. But I need $250,000, and they said, "No, you’re not going to be able to get $250,000 with $50,000 of assets."
Q. What’s been the reaction from banks since you asked the question?
Gordon: "It’s been really good. I have a bank meeting this afternoon, from a bank that called me and said they want to help. And then I talked to someone yesterday who said he’s on the board of directors of a community bank, and I’ve got a meeting with them on Friday. I got another call from an investment banker who wants to meet me Thursday. So I did get three calls from banks.
"And I had 15 or 20 calls from across the country from businessmen that called just out of the blue to thank me for asking the question."
Move over, Joe the Plumber. Steve the Faucet Guy's got the limelight now.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist