Just about three years after venturing into an area in which he has always dreamt about getting involved, Ferniehurst, St Michael resident Kenroy Bowen came very close to the brink of going out of business.
However, with perseverance, encouragement from friends and being able to access financing through the state-run Trust Loans Fund, the father of four is instead today casting his sight on expanding his operation.
Bowen is the proud owner of Cubb’s Fruit, Veg & Variety, trading in root crops, fruits and vegetables.
Unaware of the challenges that small businesses face and with no formal training, the tradesman said he decided approximately three years ago to put his tiling on pause after “things started to slow down”, and pick up the trading of fruits and vegetables.
“I had a friend who told me he had some people who have some produce and would like to get them sold. So I took a try and then my girlfriend’s uncle do the same sort of stuff, so he gave me a chance too and I fell in love with it,” Bowen recalled in a recent interview with Barbados TODAY.
“It wasn’t all this. It was like picking piece by piece, but eventually the broker told me that for the amount of money I was spending and the things I am bringing in is not going to add up – so I would not make back what I put out,” he recalled.
Bowen said he had managed to form linkages with some cook shops, supermarkets and hotels early out, pointed out that this was not easy and he had to partner with other vendors to help fill orders.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started just over a year ago, the entrepreneur lost his link with the hotels due to their closure, but he said he was still able to supply restaurants, hawkers and supermarkets.
“So I was still cool because at least I was getting back what I put out and a little profit. As a man that came from nothing you got to accept what happens and give thanks for it,” he said.
However, as the year progressed he started to witness a continuous decline in business and towards the end of 2020 his business was on the verge of becoming a victim of the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic.
It was then that he was introduced to the Trust Loan Funds by two of his friends, who also took the time to get more information for him and reach out to officials of the facility.
The $10 million Trust Loans Fund, which was established at the end of October 2018, provides loans of up to $5,000 to qualifying applicants, with an opportunity for them to borrow twice that amount upon successful repayment of the initial loan.
Recipients have a six month grace period before they start repaying the loan.
In addition to the capital, entrepreneurs are offered the opportunity to sharpen their skills through a training and mentorship programme under the Financial Literacy Bureau, in an effort to better manage their business processes and promote their operations.
Bowen said he wasted no time in jumping at the opportunity to tap into the loan scheme in order to save his home-based business.
“I was glad for the Trust Loan. The Trust Loan really gave me that push,” said Bowen, who thanked the operators of the Trust Loan Fund and Minister of Small Business and Entrepreneurship Kerrie Symmonds for their role in helping micro and small businesses.
“We must give credit to them because they make it possible so I can exist and expand,” he said.
He explained that prior to getting the cash injection he would receive orders from clients some weeks and was unable to fill those orders.
“Sometimes I would get the orders and I don’t have the money and that offsets business and makes you look sporty as a businessman. When people give you an order they are looking for it from you,” he said.
“With this Trust Loan now I was able to take orders and fulfill them for the people. So everybody was happy again,” he added.
The former St Lucy Secondary student told Barbados TODAY that while in school his desire was to either get involved in some aspect of agriculture or another trade “to help myself”.
“I love the wholesale business I am in now. And it is helping me to handle my responsibilities better,” he said.
“I love the trade and sometimes dealing with the customers they make you feel that you are doing something good because of the talk they give you. So it encourages you,” he said, as he reflected on what he appreciates most about what he does.
The most difficult thing though, said Bowen, has been the lack of transportation and better storage, which he said was currently limiting his ability to do a lot more.
He said he had major plans of expanding his operations, but acknowledged that he may need to take small steps at a time.
He told Barbados TODAY his next move will be to get a new location from which to operate, as well as transportation to make it easier for him to do his deliveries.
“I am trying to build the business so I can get a good location. Where you position yourself and the people feel comfortable they will come,” he said.
He currently sources his items from farmers in Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines. Bowen said he was thankful that despite the La Soufrèire volcano eruption, he was “still getting through ever so slight”.
“I have farmers that were not in the red zone area so they continue to supply me. God is great,” he declared.
He also served up some advice to anyone who was hoping to own their own business. “You have to be focused and stay positive. There are no shortcuts in anything. Put in your work and work hard and you will see results. That is what I did and will continue to do.”
Bowen said he was getting increasingly comfortable with better understanding customer behaviour to a certain extent, and this was helping to influence his decision on what items to source and how much.