Small business partners typically first get introduced via professional connections – colleagues, networking events, community organizations. But a ballroom dance floor? What are the odds?
Amazingly good if you ask Luis Espinosa and Stephanie Roberts, owners of Party Pronto in Arcadia, California.
“We were both looking to meet new people,” recalled Stephanie.
So, one Thursday night 25 years ago, the story goes, Stephanie glided across the floor of the Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association into Luis’ arms, igniting a romantic partnership and an entrepreneurial journey for two.
At the time, Stephanie was an award-winning radio journalist in the L.A. area. Luis had just launched an inflatable jumper rental business under a different name in his backyard. Stephanie suggested they change the name to a more marketable moniker that reflected a blend of their cultures. Party Pronto was born.
Power Couple Brings Parties to the People
Building Purchase Proves Smart Move to Create Equity
The Latino-owned small business grew steadily. Luis, with his Cal State Los Angeles MBA, handled the operations and Stephanie managed the sales and bookkeeping. In 2013, the owner of the 7,000 square-foot building they leased for Party Pronto, decided to sell. He offered Luis and Stephanie the opportunity to buy it and they jumped at the chance.
Luis and Stephanie recognized the benefits of purchasing their own commercial building. They had already customized the space for the business, and they saw the value of building equity for themselves and fixing their monthly costs. With the help of a below market-rate SBA 504 commercial real estate loan secured through CDC Small Business Finance, they soon acquired the keys to the building.
Additional SBA Financing Leads to Debt Refinance and Improved Cash Flow
Settling into a more favorable financial situation, Luis and Stephanie expanded Party Pronto’s array of rental offerings to include pop-up tents, tables, chairs, lighting, food and performers. Their number of full-time and part-time employees grew to 25. Reaching for a convenient cash-flow source, they used credit cards to buy much of the equipment and found themselves in the unenviable position of paying high interest on the debt. Once again they knocked on CDC Small Business Finance’s door for help.
“Because of their excellent repayment history on their SBA 504 loan and our strong working relationship, we were able to offer Luis and Stephanie an SBA Community Advantage loan to refinance and consolidate their debt and improve cash flow,” said Susan Lamping, Vice President of Sales at CDC Small Business Finance.
At the time, Stephanie projected annual savings of $136,000, which she could use to reinvest in Party Pronto operations, including hiring additional staff as the company grew.
In 2020, Party Pronto was riding high, with seven crews working seven days a week, staging events for local universities and municipalities as well as children’s parties. Unmercifully, the Covid-19 pandemic crashed abruptly into their business. Event cancellations and postponements snowballed.
“We lost 80% of our normal annual revenue in 2020 and had to cut staff,” said Stephanie. “We had the weight of the world on our shoulders.”
Leveraging Emergency SBA Funding to Party Another Day
Fortunately, good relationships rarely die; they just get stronger. The Party Pronto entrepreneurs once again approached CDC Small Business Finance for assistance and the mission-centered non-profit answered the call, helping Luis and Stephanie secure two SBA Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans.
“CDC was so compassionate every step of the way,” recalled Stephanie. “They worked quickly to help us apply for the PPP loans and deferred our SBA 504 loan payments for a while. One CDC staffer even gave me her home phone number so I always had someone to answer my questions. We were so scared of losing the business.”
Susan Lamping offered CDC Small Business’ perspective, reflective of its empathy for the highs and lows small businesses go through: “We were delighted to help Party Pronto grow in the good times and equally pleased to support Luis and Stephanie when things got challenging during the pandemic.”