Mark Olivito describes himself as a “CPG (consumer packaged goods) Addict”, having spent his career at consumer goods giants like Sara Lee and Kraft. So when he decided to follow his dream and make the big leap to small business ownership, staying in the field was a no-brainer. But he did choose a rather unusual product….
“LM Foods is a surimi seafood manufacturing operation. You may not recognize the term ‘surimi’, but chances are pretty good that you’ve tasted it,” explains Mark. “ It’s Alaskan Pollack or Pacific Hake that’s been shaped, flavored and formed to sub for lobster, shrimp or crab. You’ll find it in crab cakes, seafood salad, California Rolls and many other applications.”
Mark talks about his SBA 504 loan
Mark, along with an investment team, bought LM Foods in 2014 from its Korean owners. The purchase of the 72,000 square foot manufacturing facility was made possible through a SBA 504 loan with Ridgestone Bank and UCEDC, which allowed the buyers to put down only 15%, a significant cash savings over the typical 20-30% requirement.
“I never could have pulled this off without the 504 loan. Saving on the cash I had to bring to the table allowed me to reinvest it back into the company.”
Heart and Hustle
Mark and his wife Kim left good jobs in Memphis and uprooted their family to return to Mark’s home state of New Jersey when the LM Foods opportunity came up. “It was my chance to create a vision of how I believe a business should be run,” says Mark. “There were times when I thought the risk I was taking was too big, but Kim kept me on track. She knew this was something that I always wanted to do and she was confident that we could pull it off.”
Mark talks about vision and values
Running his own business allows Mark to put his strongly-held beliefs about leadership into action, a philosophy that can be summed up as “Heart and Hustle”. As one of the smaller operations in the surimi industry, LM Foods is always looking for ways to set itself apart from its larger competitors. Mark says that’s accomplished by caring more and working harder.
“We put those two words – Heart and Hustle – on the back of our business card because they describe what’s important to us as a company. Heart means caring about our customers and our potential customers – always looking for ways to add value to their operations and to their lives. Hustle means outworking everyone else. We scrape and claw for pennies in this business and the way we’re going to succeed is to have more Heart and more Hustle than anyone else.”
Before he applied for the SBA 504 loan, Mark was not familiar with UCEDC but quickly came to appreciate the support and assistance he received from Ellen McHenry, UCEDC’s senior director of financial services. When the loan closed, he considered himself lucky to have had such a cooperative partner. He never expected what came next.
On the UCEDC difference
“About four weeks or so after we closed, Ellen came to me with an interesting proposition. She knew I had a workforce that was struggling with English and she offered to connect me with a free ESL program that would be held onsite here at LM Foods. I jumped at the opportunity because I knew it was the right thing to do for my business, but most importantly, for my employees.”
(The ESL program was conducted by the Industry-Business Institute at Union County College through a grant from the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development. )
“And her support didn’t end there – she made sure I met with Maryann Williams (director of procurement technical assistance) at UCEDC to explore government contracting opportunities. There’s billions of dollars out there in government spending and now LM Foods is getting the exposure it needs to compete.”
Mark says he’s had to completely rethink his concept of what a lending institution can and should be since he’s worked with UCEDC. “When you start talking about securing incremental revenue and investing in your people, those are two big things. And UCEDC is at the top of the list in helping to make it happen.”
Learn more about LM Foods at its website: www.lmfoods.com
Read Mark Olivito’s leadership blog at www.hustleorbust.com