Natalie Graci, owner of Graci Paving, grew up learning the ins and outs of the construction industry. “I was bred into the construction business. My father and grandfather both worked in commercial and residential construction,” she says. Six years after starting her own firm, Natalie built a successful woman-owned business that’s able to compete in the highly competitive, male-dominated construction industry.
In order to stay competitive and win contracts, Natalie used the SBA’s Lender Match to find a loan that could expand her business and stabilize her cashflow. Here’s more about Natalie, Graci Paving and how the SBA Lender Match and Pursuit helped her achieve her business goals throughout the pandemic.
Taking a chance on business ownership
“I originally came to New York from Florida to learn court stenography,” Natalie says. But instead of learning stenography, Natalie learned that she didn’t enjoy working in that field. So, she turned to the construction industry for rewarding work.
For 15 years, Natalie took on project management roles within various construction companies. Because these opportunities provided Natalie with firsthand industry experience, she was able to gain the skills and understand the commitment needed to build a successful business from the ground up.
“I opened my own business in 2014, and the rest is history,” Natalie says.
Today, her company offers an extensive menu of construction-related services, including paving projects, site development and drainage system installation. From parking lots to playgrounds and municipal offices to residential services, Graci Paving is widely respected as one of the leading construction service providers in the field.
Natalie admits that it can be challenging for women in this field, and she offers some advice, saying, “If it’s a field you want to be in, you have to commit and be persistent. It’s very up-and-down. One day, you’re doing great, and the next, you’re facing huge challenges. It’s a tough industry for women, and there aren’t enough support networks. And you have to be okay with it. If you are and you do good work, you can do well.”
She says that about 60 percent of Graci Paving’s business comes from municipal work, and the rest is residential, which largely comes from word-of-mouth recommendations and repeat business. Graci Paving partners on numerous projects throughout the New York metropolitan region. As a certified woman-owned enterprise (WBE), Natalie admits she’s worked particularly hard to establish a great reputation and build her construction business.
Building a stronger financial foundation
Natalie says that since she opened for business, the company’s revenues have essentially doubled each year. Still, cash flow is often constricted due to the industry’s seasonal nature as well as the typical payment lag-time that comes with government contracts, which often means payments aren’t received until 60 to 90 days after the work is completed.
Additionally, to bid competitively on projects requires having the financial resources required to secure crews, equipment and materials.
To ensure that her business stays financially stable through its cyclical ups-and-downs, Natalie typically takes out a short-term loan each year. However, in 2020, she decided to see if she could get better terms on a longer-term working capital loan instead.
While browsing for potential funders on the WBE and SBA websites, Natalie found SBA Lender Match, a free tool that matches businesses with small lenders and community development financial institutions (CDFIs). After entering some information online, Natalie was matched with Pursuit and contacted by their team two days later.
Pursuit provides guidance through the SBA loan process
“This was the first time Graci Paving applied for an SBA loan and having an experienced team at Pursuit to help has made the process easier,” Natalie says. She was approved for a $300,000 SBA 7(a) loan that she put to use as working capital.
Like many businesses, Graci Paving was impacted by the business closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. “All residential work was put on hold,” Natalie says.
Fortunately, the municipal work was deemed essential. Natalie explains, “At least part of our business could continue, and we worked every day during the shutdown. We were lucky to be able to generate revenue when residential construction businesses couldn’t.”
Natalie received an SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan from her bank and an SBA economic-impact disaster loan (EIDL) to keep Graci Paving on track and her 20 employees busy. Now, both areas of the business are reopened, although residential construction has some capacity limitations.
Things are now looking great for Graci Paving overall. Natalie feels confident in where her business is headed because she was able to stabilize cash flow and grow throughout reopening.
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