Mike Aldridge went into commercial printing in the Atlanta area just a year out of high school. After a career in the industry, he began to think about running his own business his way with a focus on printing for the rug trade.

“I had a desire to go into it further,” he says. However, he would need a capital investment of nearly $400,000 for equipment, space and personnel.

In the spring of 2014, he partnered with his brother-in-law and began looking for financing for his new business. A Calhoun resident, Aldridge approached Century Bank in Calhoun to help process an SBA loan and get funding. Century suggested he contact Richard Montanaro at the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center.

Eagel Color Calhoun, GA“Angela Hammond at Century advised us on the direction she thought would be successful in granting the loan,” he says. “The printing industry is 50 miles wide – with all kinds of businesses – and has been on the decline in the last 8 to 10 years. So we did stand some challenges explaining our business.

It was a challenge pitching Aldridge’s new business to the bank, Montanaro agrees. “Mike is an experienced production manager. He had been doing the work for years, and his experience was very helpful. But when he put together the financial projections, his numbers were from a high-volume, existing company. We took a great deal of time modifying and translating his information to what it would look like for a start-up company.”

“Richard spent a lot of time helping us prepare a detailed business plan. It gave a good and accurate representation of what we thought our new business would do,” says Aldridge. Montanaro coached Aldridge on market research, cost analysis and competitive analysis to help him develop his business plan and financial projections. And he attended his presentations to the bank.

“Richard has started several businesses in his career. He’s done it before,” says Aldridge. “He knew how to address the good, bad and ugly and give us solid recommendations on our business plan and projections and how to handle our receivables and payables.”

When his SBA loan was approved, Aldridge opened Eagle Color and Sublimation LLC in a 5,000-square-foot facility in Calhoun with five employees that August. They do business with eight regular customers, including three of the continent’s largest flooring and mat manufacturers, and were recently asked to complete an RFQ for a potential new overseas customer.

Eighteen months after Eagle Color had opened, sales had climbed to an estimated $1 million annually. This rapid growth brought another challenge Montanaro had coached Aldridge on from the beginning: cash flow.

“The faster a business grows, the quicker it runs out of cash if they don’t plan for their cash cycle adequately. I coached Mike on asking vendors for better terms and on offering his clients small incentives for earlier payment so he could manage his cash flow.”

Aldridge agrees this advice has helped him manage his growth. “Starting out, Richard warned us how hard it was going to be. He was helpful in explaining what to do. Little things like that have been a huge help in getting our money in early.”

Since the company’s opening, Montanaro has assisted Aldridge in strategic planning and provided website analysis to enhance the company’s digital footprint. “Richard’s really good about following up. We talk every two to three months. He asks how it’s going and what else he can do to help. That’s nice.”

“What stands out about Mike and his business is the seamless way they translate customers’ design needs into a manufactured product and how quickly they go from design to production,” says Montanaro. “I expect them to continue to grow and can’t wait to help them with their next expansion