DeVries Landscape refinances through Huntington SBA 7a
The new owner of DeVries Landscape Management in Jenison — said to have been one of the first companies in the area to offer outdoor Christmas décor installation for corporations and municipalities — has landed refinancing from Huntington Bank to repay his original acquisition loan.
Bill Pringle, a former chemical industry executive who bought DeVries three years ago from its founder, Hank DeVries, said he had been looking for a new bank and managed to get an SBA-backed 7(a) loan of about $600,000 from Huntington.
Pringle said the interest rate “worked out really well for us, and the process itself was really relatively painless.” He worked with Mike Moraw, a vice president at Huntington in Wyoming and a senior SBA loan specialist. According to Pringle, at one time in Moraw’s career he was employed directly by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
“Huntington just turned out to be the one that was most receptive” to his loan request, “and number two, the terms were quite good,” said Pringle, although he did not divulge the actual terms.
Huntington has been big on SBA lending for at least several years, but it has taken a significant jump this year. According to Craig Street, director of SBA Lending at Huntington, the bank approved 458 SBA-backed loans during the first nine months of 2011, with a total volume of almost $92 million.
For the nine-month period starting in October 2011 and concluding in June, Huntington approved 461 SBA loans for a total of more than $102 million.
“This may seem like a modest increase until you take into account that for most of 2011 the SBA program was operating with stimulus funds from the Recovery Act, which specifically waived fees and increased lender guarantees. These enhancements have not been available in 2012. As such, we are proud to be ahead of 2011 and expect more of the same in 2013,” said Street.
“As the above numbers reflect, SBA Lending has become a part of Huntington’s DNA. We intend to continually look at how we can partner and grow our relationship with the SBA to serve more small businesses,” added Street.
A 7(a) loan may be used to establish a new business or to assist in the acquisition, operation or expansion of an existing business. In Pringle’s case, DeVries Landscape has been “growing at double digits for the last three years, so we’re looking forward to more growth.”
Pringle has been working with the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center at GVSU since he decided to go into business for himself. One of the MiSBTDC resources are commercial loan experts who know what loans are available for small businesses and what it takes to get them.
Although this is the first business he has personally owned, Pringle, 49, has had extensive experience in corporate management. He was employed in business development at Dow Chemical for 12 years, and more recently, he was a senior vice president in the southeast Michigan office of SIKA, a Swiss corporation that specializes in chemicals for the auto industry.
Pringle began looking for a business to buy about five years ago and, over the next two years, his search covered much of the country. In fact, he was close to closing a deal on a company in Connecticut when his sister, who lives in Michigan, lost her husband and needed her brother’s help. So Pringle elected to stay in Michigan, where he found a business broker who introduced him to Hank DeVries.
“We just clicked,” he said. “We shared the same values, and it was just a really good match.”
Today, DeVries Landscaping employs about 25 people full time, plus a part-time roster that changes with the seasons. The total headcount can go up to 50 in the winter when snow removal is a major part of the company’s business.
“We do a lot of snow removal, and it takes a few bodies” to get the job done, especially in a bad winter, he said.
The company also does standard landscape maintenance for both commercial and residential customers, and also does large-facility window cleaning.
Pringle has the West Michigan franchise for Weedman lawn care, which primarily serves residential customers. In that arena, he said, DeVries is competing against Scott’s and TruGreen.
DeVries Landscaping is in an “intensively competitive” industry, said Pringle.
“You have to find a niche for yourself,” he added. In his case, he said his company has a wide variety of services it can provide, but it also makes a serious commitment to customer satisfaction, which he believes sets DeVries apart from the competition.
“We are not the cheapest out there, but we believe we are the best,” said Pringle.
Putting up and taking down outdoor Christmas decorations is a service Hank DeVries started around 1996, “so we were the first,” said Pringle. Other landscapers have jumped on the bandwagon since then, he noted, but Christmas décor is apparently a niche for which DeVries is known. It is one of the fun parts of running DeVries Landscape Management, said Pringle, and includes decorating some major facilities and even some municipalities. Although most of that service is in Greater Grand Rapids, DeVries is scheduled to put up the décor on the Gun Lake Casino this year.
SBA 7(a) loans are also designed specifically for businesses exporting to foreign countries, or operating in mainly rural areas. According to the SBA, 70 percent of all U.S. exporters are companies with 20 or less employees.
There are also “special purpose” loans to help businesses that have been hurt by competition created by NAFTA, or companies that want to implement pollution control mechanisms, or an Employee Stock Ownership Plan.