Alaina James and Jose Medina know what goes into creating a wellness-based business with a healthy financial foundation, too. As co-owners of Blend Smoothie and Salad Bar, Alaina and Jose opened their first shop in New Windsor, NY in 2014. Based on what Alaina describes as a “go with your passion” plan, they provided delicious and nutritious meals, snacks and shakes as alternatives to the typical fast foods that they saw all around them.
“When we started, it was almost impossible to find something as simple as a ginger-carrot juice that wasn’t also loaded with sweeteners or preservatives,” explains Alaina.
Today, they’ve grown their enterprise to four locations in the Hudson Valley region, including independent shops in New Windsor, Middletown and Monroe, and a partnership location with ShopRite in Mohegan Lake.
Alaina explains that after studying criminal justice and nursing, her passion for helping people evolved into an idea to help people get better from the inside out. “We’ve got to put nutritious foods in the tank,” she explains. Blend’s loyal customers agree, from people looking for healthy fast-food alternatives to others who have had life-changing diagnoses and want to give their bodies the nutrients to heal.
Scaling a business takes vision, ambition and funding
“When we started, we were typical new-business owners, doing whatever it took to get open and operating as cost-effectively as possible,” explains Alaina. “We purchased used equipment and did a lot of the setup ourselves.”
By the time Alaina and Jose were ready to open their fourth location in Monroe, their days as a startup venture were behind them: They had solidly proven that Blend has the potential for substantial growth.
They were determined to make the new shop their standout, flagship location – the one that would set the standard for every Blend location going forward. This vision includes a longer-term plan to eventually franchise their business.
To realize their vision, everything had to look great, operate efficiently and exceed customers’ expectations at every level. And to accomplish that they needed money.
At first – and like so many entrepreneurs – they were going to use up their personal savings and reserves.
As luck would have it, though, before making a common – and very costly – mistake, Alaina ran into one of her neighbors, Raphael, who works in finance. He advised her not to burn through her savings because, he warned her, there are always “bumps in the road.”
Through his professional networks, Raphael knew about several lenders that can help small businesses – and he recommended that Alaina and Jose contact Pursuit.
Bumps in the road became major detours – but Pursuit helped Blend through
In 2019, Blend was approved for a loan through Pursuit and soon, Alaina and Jose had the funds they needed to bring their vision to fruition.
Fortunately, their passion carried the team through some rough spots on the road to success: While the flagship location in Monroe was scheduled to open in 2019, construction delays pushed the opening into 2020.
“Thank goodness we took my neighbor’s advice and got a loan,” admits Alaina, “or the construction issues would have completely blown our budget. There were so many unanticipated things that needed fixing. The store had water damage, the plumbing and electrical systems had to be updated and just about everything else needed to be fixed or replaced. There’s no way we could have covered all the costs. And on top of that, the pandemic-related closures meant that life around town was essentially at a standstill.”
Despite the challenges, Alaina and Jose opened the new location in mid-May.
“Having the business loan from Pursuit helped us cover construction and operating costs,” Alaina says, “which meant that we could keep moving forward. Our business was open for take-out and we offer subscription services, too, that can be delivered or picked up.”
Blend also received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan to help them through the healthcare crisis and keep most of their team together, which includes about 30 employees. And while Blend was allowed to stay open, their locations were impacted by the lack of people heading to their offices, to stores and to gyms near their shops.
“Business went down significantly at first,” says Alaina, “but after the initial shock, I think a lot of people became more conscious of what they’re putting into their bodies, and they wanted the healthier foods and smoothies that we offer.”
She continues, “Working with Pursuit has been great. They made the process really easy for us and they’ve stayed in touch throughout the pandemic. We know they’ve got our backs. And now that we’ve got the new location underway and we’re looking to the future, we’ll go back to Pursuit for help from their consulting services, too.”
A bright future for Blend
The Blend team is excited and relieved to be open in the new space and already, the location is generating impressive revenue. Business is strong in the existing locations, too.
“When it comes to funding, in the past I was uncomfortable taking out loans,” admits Alaina. “But now I realize how essential they are for a good foundation – and even more so if you want to grow. I’m really happy that we decided to get our business funded and that we went with Pursuit. The next time we need help, we’ll definitely go back.”
“Clearly, Pursuit wants small businesses to succeed and they set you up for success,” Alaina says.