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Small Business Digest


Green Case Study: Financing May Kill the Dream

A small-business owner may have to shut the doors to her earth-friendly toy company this fall if she can’t secure funding to produce her inventory for the end-of-year holiday season, Katrina T. Gathers writes.

Barbera Aimes, founder and president of ImagiPLAY, has been running her Boulder, Colo., business for 11 years, since taking over a defunct company that made cardboard building blocks. The blocks, which encourage open-ended play, were a hit at a family dinner.

Aimes says she “noticed how long and how thoroughly they held all the children’s attention, and how much creativity and imagination they inspired,” so she bought the company and ran that business model out of her basement for eight years. In 2005, when a large competitor wiled away many of her customers, Aimes decided to branch out from the single product her company made.

The result was a line of wooden toys made of Rubberwood – a tree farmed for the sap that it produces. After the trees grow on plantations for nearly three decades, the sap is removed, the trees are harvested, and new ones are planted. Aimes found that the hardwood, splinter-free tree is ideal for making toys, but was also in keeping with her world-conscious views.

“We need to create thoughtful products for our children that not only inspire their imaginations, but are produced in a manner that takes into consideration the impact on the planet,” she explains.

That first year was sketchy, but sales grew 300% in 2006, 100% in 2007 and 50% in 2008. ImagiPLAY’s toys are now sold at Barnes & Noble, Learning Express, a natural food-store chain and online through  Several consumer magazines have named the company to its top-toys lists.

But with the success came the backlash. Because ImagiPLAY is accruing so many orders, says Aimes, she needs financing now to produce enough inventory to meet her demand. However, her bank is unwilling to extend the $200,000 to $300,000 needed because of the current economic crisis.

 “It’s so frustrating,” she says. “It took a while to get retailers and consumers on board, but now that we have both clamoring for our products, I can’t fund the inventory.”

Aimes says she worked with her bank for more than a year to secure a loan through the Small Business Administration. With large customers paying their bills and the company meeting its sales projections, it was only a matter of time before the loan was approved.

“In January we showed them what they wanted, and they told us that if that had been six months ago we would have had the loan, no problem at all,” she recalls, “but with the banking crisis, they weren’t making any business loans for the time being.”

In addition to trying to work with her bank, Aimes is looking into the possibility of securing the help of an investor. For her it’s also a waiting game, she says, to see whether the new administration in Washington will approve changes quickly enough to directly help small-business owners before she is forced to close up shop.

“We’re on the verge of something big, and I know someone will see that and let the facts override their fear,” she says.


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