A power boost
By all appearances, John Robertson, owner of Data Communications Inc., was a successful businessman in 2011. His company, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based business that designs and installs low-voltage cable (think alarm and surveillance systems), was stable and enjoying revenue of a little less than $1 million a year.
But Robertson wasn’t satisfied: His low-voltage company needed a power boost.
Plugging family into the business
"I was satisfied with the direction my business was going, but I realized my sons had taken an interest in what I did," Robertson said. "How was I going to create a career path for them to enter my business? How could I benefit them in the future?"
Robertson had an answer, and although it may have seemed simple, it wasn’t easy.
"My business needed to grow," he said. "To do that, I needed to take some risky steps. One of those risks was to identify a lending institution to work with me. I knew I had growth opportunities, but I couldn't take advantage of those opportunities because of financial obstacles that stood in front of me."
From the bottom, the only way is up
Robertson had experience with obstacles. He'd worked in the industry for many years, starting when he was young.
"I was just looking for a job," he said. "I found one and kind of started at the very bottom—trust me, the very, very bottom. And I stayed at the bottom for quite some time."
Robertson eventually got tired of life at the bottom and decided he might do better if he worked for himself. That was the genesis of Data Communications. The business went well—until he decided it was time to grow.
Two strikes, but not out
"To be quite honest with you, I was challenged," Robertson said. "I had a couple of strikes against me, and it was hard for me to find a banking partner who would work with us because of the organization's size. We had gone to larger and smaller institutions—with no success at all. But BB&T saw past that and was eager to help." What did that help look like?
- Financing that allowed Robertson to employ higher-skilled (and more expensive) technicians
- Business credit cards that made travel easier for employees
- Commercial insurance
- A business line of credit to expand the Data Communications vehicle fleet
- Another business line of credit to help the company take on new, larger projects
- A commercial real estate loan for a new facility
Eric Bowers, small business specialist at BB&T, worked with Robertson through the years.
"I really enjoy helping a company grow up as they go through the startup phase and start to grow," Bowers said. "They generally don't have the resources to bring on advisory staff, so they rely on their accountant, attorney and banker for advice. In those conversations, we address where they are, where they're going and how we can help them get there."
Losing sleep, but not much
During the past seven years, Data Communications has experienced 15 to 20% growth per year and worked with a number of associates at BB&T.
"During this period, our banking relationship manager changed multiple times, but despite this we still received a high level of service that, honestly, we didn't receive anywhere else," Robertson said.
That good service comes in handy when high-powered growth gets to be a little nerve-wracking.
"We won a job on a Friday," Robertson recalled. "It was a million-dollar-plus job, and it was a great Friday. But I woke up Sunday night or early Monday morning and wondered how we would fund this job."
Monday at work, he contacted Bowers and additional financing smoothed the way.
“It’s allowed us to bid on projects we wouldn't have normally gone after because now we know we've got the resources to chase any size project," Robertson said.
Home sweet (business) home
These days Data Communications sees several millions of dollars a year in revenue and employs 35 people (including Robertson's wife and two sons) who have settled into a new facility, purchased in the summer of 2017.
"I think it's really huge for a company to own the building the business works at," Robertson said. "It's a good feeling—it really is. I couldn't have done it without BB&T."
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