ODESSA — When Gil Gauthier's wife texted him to say that UPS had left 30 shipping boxes filled with shoes on their doorstep, he knew he needed more space. The 42-year-old entrepreneur had been using his garage as a warehouse to store apparel and electronic items, which he sold online as a hobby.
Before he knew it, his casual online sales turned into a business opportunity.
Gauthier started 301 Designs, Inc., which sells apparel and other items on websites including Amazon, Sears, eBay, Newegg, and Rakuten (formerly Buy.com). The company, which goes by the handle clothesoutkings online, recently signed a deal to offer watches on Best Buy's website and Gauthier hopes to one day sell on Walmart's website as well.
As Gauthier's interest in online sales grew, the Department of Homeland Security employee returned to school to learn all he could about the field. He completed a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in e-commerce and went on to earn an MBA in 2012. That same year, he rented a 1,200-square-foot warehouse to store his quickly growing inventory. By December, he was approved for a Pasco Economic Development Council microloan, and a month later he moved into a warehouse that was double the size of the first.
"(A microloan is) a loan that's given out in small amounts," said John Walsh, vice president of Pasco EDC. "So our cap, the most we would lend to anybody, would be $35,000. It's designed to help them get through a certain period of growth."
Since the EDC began offering microloans in March of last year, nine small business owners have borrowed a combined total of $211,000. Gauthier is the first to repay his loan, 17 months ahead of schedule.
"The requirements are a bit easier than it would be from a bank," said Hap Fairman of Pasco-Hernando Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), a nonprofit organization that provides support for small business owners. "They are making loans that a bank will not make."
Fairman helped Gauthier navigate the process of applying for the microloan and is now helping him explore real estate options as he looks to expand from his present warehouse.
"(Gil) has the makings of a salesman, though he sells online," Fairman said. "He is doing very well. He's a great example of an entrepreneur, the American dream. I am very proud of Gil."
Gauthier used the $25,000 microloan to cover equipment, including new software to manage his inventory.
"A microloan helps you as long as you have a solid business plan and you understand how to use the funds to benefit your company," he said.
He has since been approved for a larger loan from Synovus Bank, which Walsh says is a perfect example of how the microloan program should function. Gauthier plans to put his new loan toward purchasing in larger bulk quantities, as well as new equipment, a new warehouse to rent or own, and hiring more employees.
Gauthier loves his job with Homeland Security and has no plans to leave. Instead, he hopes to eventually set up an infrastructure that wouldn't require him to be involved in 301 Designs' day-to-day activities.
"If I have the staffing in place, if I have the infrastructure in place, if I have the logistics in place, I don't see why I can't still do my job," Gauthier said.
Samantha Fuchs can be reached at (727) 869-6235 or [email protected]