In 2012, Affordable Homes of South Texas (AHSTI) director, Bobby Calvillo, knew his organization didn’t have the funds to build enough homes each year to meet the needs of South Texas based low-income families. AHTSI relies mostly on federal grants to fund their house building projects, but Mr. Calvillo knew to meet the increasing demand for new homes in South Texas, AHSTI would have to develop a long term plan for creating new revenue streams.
So, Bobby got creative and convinced his board of directors to build a Blimpie franchise restaurant in Weslaco, TX in order to establish a predictable and valuable revenue stream. Now in their second year, the franchise is thriving because Weslaco citizens love the food and realize the community benefits in supporting AHSTI’s mission.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Bobby some questions about this great social partnership between the private sector and the non-profit.
My questions are below in bold. Enjoy!
Where’d the idea to for your non-profit to buy a Blimpie franchise come from?
The non-profit owns a building in downtown Weslaco Texas that houses a branch of the non-profit. The building had additional office space that was being leased out to other business tenants. Unfortunately, business did not go well for them and they soon closed their operations and we were left with empty office space. As we were looking for other potential tenants in the downtown area we noticed that there were groups of students that were exiting a building and they were talking about where to go for lunch and for something that would be quick since they had to get back to class. In the downtown area, there are not many healthy food options for students. We asked these students what they thought about having something like a sub shop across the street from them. They loved the idea. We also talked to retail businesses downtown as well and they supported the idea as well.
How did you bring it to life?
It took us almost a year from concept to opening our store. It took that long because of the research and projections we did. After that hurdle, we then had to convince our non-profit volunteer board of the directors that the idea perhaps wasn’t as crazy as it appeared. After that challenge, we then had to negotiate with Blimpie corporate on the agreements and the various requirements (because our franchise is ultimately owned by a non- profit organization).
Where do you see your Blimpie in five years?
Given that Blimpie is brand new to the community and relatively new to the region, we see our sales stabilizing with a good volume of catering and lots of walk in traffic.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Because of our inexperience in running a restaurant, some of our projections, particularly on the expense side were unexpectedly high. We probably should have been more conservative in our estimates up front so as not to be ‘disappointed’ that we weren’t profitable right out of the gate in the first couple of months.
What does your typical day look like?
My typical day is spread between various activities between the nonprofit housing organization and our social enterprise (aka Blimpie Weslaco). As it relates to our Blimpie activity, I generally spend the morning reviewing the Blimpie sales report from the previous day and comparing it to the day, week and month prior and looking for trends. I check in periodically throughout the day checking in with the Blimpie manager and viewing the security cameras frequently throughout the day checking for customer flow. I also coordinate with our various organizational departments (Accounting, IT, Marketing, etc..) to see what issues they are facing or opportunities that may exist.
What is one trend that really excites you?
I think we are starting to see the community of Weslaco accept our store as one of their own. In the beginning we had people walk in to our store and say “Blimpie? What is this place ? – what do you sell ?”. Now they know we sell fresh subs, salads and soups and that this particular store is owned by a non- profit. Many folks indicated to us they come to our store specifically because we are community minded.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
In High School I worked part time at a grocery store. I did everything from stocking shelves, to bagging groceries and sweeping the parking lot. That was hard work. I finally learned what my parents kept telling me… Hard work isn’t hard if you love what you are doing. I love my job….both of them ?
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do, too?
I try to keep fresh in my head how blessed I am. We work everyday on the housing side with families striving to improve their socio-economic condition. We see the struggles and sacrifices they make every day. We also try to respect our clients on the housing and Blimpie side. If we treat them with respect and provide a quality product at a good price, they will be loyal to us and tell their friends and family. In the end, no amount of advertising dollar could replace that recommendation.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
A few years ago, I tried to convince my volunteer board of directors to partner with a small local credit union and provide free rent space in our main office building so that our customers and employees could open accounts and get small consumer loans here instead of going to a higher priced finance company or alternative lender. After much debate, the board finally approved it. Almost two years later the credit union was closed by the credit union administration and the branch closed. It hit me hard because of the effort involved in getting the idea launched, but based on the feedback from some of the customers, we will continue to look for another partner that has the financial strength and products that would serve our constituents.
What is one business idea that you are willing to give away to our readers?
I don’t have a particular business in mind however, in general the concept that I would suggest is to start an enterprise in which you can use existing resources to provide a community benefit or service and perhaps generate revenue.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
The war on poverty has been ongoing for decades… wouldn’t it be wonderful if poverty … true poverty, were a thing of the past?
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
I continue to be amazed at the various smart phone apps and the way at which it makes our lives so much easier. I can’t think of three because it seems as just when I think I’ve seen the coolest one, I find another one.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Real Men Pray the Rosary by David N. Calvillo.
In this little book, the author (my older brother), shares his personal story of how he discovered the power of the Rosary, his research on the history of the Rosary and a practical guide to incorporate this powerful prayer into our everyday lives.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Virtually every day someone or something happens at work that causes a loud laugh. Having fun at work makes the day go so much faster and creates a sense of family that makes coming to work that much better.
Who is your hero?
It sounds cliché but my parents.
My mother tried to teach us to so much about our faith, our family and the importance of each in our daily lives. I think she was successful in both – it just took us stubborn rebel kids several years to realize this. Mom was the essence of love.
My Dad taught us that hard work is something to be proud of but not to make it the center of our lives. My Dad also showed us what the Sacrament of Marriage is all about. Too often, married couples “throw in the towel” when things get tough. My Dad taught us by example what “till death do us part” really means. He became my Mother’s primary caregiver and never once complained about that role. He was beside her every step of the way until her eventual death.
Do you (or did you ever) have a mentor?
My professional mentors were the last three Bank Presidents I worked under in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Amazing talents, family centered with tons of compassion for the people that worked for them.
Is there a where people can find out more this worthwhile endeavor?
Where can people find Blimpie Weslaco on social media?
Facebook: Blimpie Weslaco, Twitter: @blimpieweslaco
Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me today!