Since he got his first job at 12 years old, Roger DeGregori's passion has been aquariums. He opened Fish Gallery as an aquarium installation and service business over 25 years ago in Rice Village. With the addition of a retail storefront, Roger believes that the diversity of the business is crucial to its success.
"We do everything. We can sell just a goldfish bowl, no problem. If you want a bigger impressive tank, great! Or, if you just want to look at them, we will provide all the services needed for larger tanks." You can hear the enthusiasm in Roger's voice when he talks about his passion. That enthusiasm led him to move Fish Gallery to a busier location in Houston, with a long lease contract.
"I really thought my new lease location was the cat's meow, and I was hesitant about owning a location. I was 100% wrong," said Roger. In 2006, he took out a loan to make improvements to his lease location. His business was doing well but the economy started to decline and his overhead was going up, since his rent was tied to the property taxes. "I was struggling financially even with a thriving business. I was working really hard for the landlord. At the end of the day, I was paying this ridiculous rent. I had not thought about the long term implications of the lease I was in."
In 2008, there was a dispute about the lease and the landlord released Roger from his contract. Roger agreed to move out even though he had spent money fixing up the space. While examining his options, he continued paying rent month-to-month. Roger looked at every option: leasing again, discontinuing the retail storefront, and purchasing a building.
He approached his bank, with which he had a 20-year relationship, about a loan and was told, "don't even think about it." Roger proceeded to exhaust another 12 options on conventional loans over the next 18 months. "I was overstaying my welcome in this building, and my landlord could have kicked me out at any moment. During the whole 18 months there was a 'For Lease' sign on the building. It was the most stressful period of my life."
By luck, Roger bumped into a friend who told him he was a perfect candidate for a 504 Loan. Roger said, "I didn't even know what a 504 Loan was. I just needed a loan." Roger chose to partner with Community Business Finance. After being denied a loan so many times, Roger felt like he was a high risk candidate, but Community Business Finance agreed he was a good candidate for the 504 Loan Program.
Roger remembers, "After 18 months trying to get a loan, Community Business Finance got it done in a few weeks." Community Business Finance's 504 Loan Program helped Roger escape a really bad lease and buy his own property. "Property ownership is incredible. I have cut my overhead by 40% and I am building equity."
These savings helped Fish Gallery survive the economic downturn, and the new location actually increased his business. Roger explains, "I didn't lose my customers. They followed me and just changed their shopping patterns. I also opened myself up to a whole new array of people. My customer base grew substantially." The increased business allowed Roger to hire 10 more employees in addition to the 60 jobs saved by keeping his business open.
Reducing his overhead by 40% also allowed Roger to clear out a great deal of debt and make improvements to his building. Fish Gallery is continuing to expand, and recently opened a retail storefront in Austin, Texas. "We couldn't afford to expand to Austin until I received the 504 Loan," Roger notes. The savings that the loan created allowed Roger to fund the store in Austin in-house. "I could only afford this because of the loan package from Community Business Finance."
Roger strongly believes, "the turning point in my life will always be this loan. I will reflect back in 20 years as that being a key factor in my success. It was absolutely a lifesaver for my company. It was huge."