• Company
    American Abatement & Demo
  • Owner
    Mari Borrero and Aaron Borrero
  • Location
  • Website

Auburn couple beat the odds, using SBDC assistance to scale their business for success

AUBURN, Wash.—After another conversation with her husband about problems at his work, Mari Borrero told him, “Look, you have a choice. If you don’t like the way things are going, do something different.”

So he did, and she did, too.

Today, Mari Borrero and her husband Aaron Borrero are co-owners of American Abatement and Demo, a business that employs more than a dozen people and in 2022 had revenue of $3 million.

That makes them both part of a growing trend and an outlier. Over the past several years, Hispanic entrepreneurs have been starting businesses at a faster rate than entrepreneurs in other demographic categories, but typically, those businesses start small and stay small.

The Borrero Family: Carlos, Aaron, Mari and Grace (l-r) Co-owners, Aaron and Mari, training the next generation

The problem, according to State of Latino Entrepreneurship reports out of Stanford University, is that despite having similar or even higher levels of performance, Latino business owners are 60 percent less likely to be approved for traditional bank loans than white business owners. Additionally, Latino-owned businesses face a steep drop-off in odds of profitability when they reach $1 million in revenue, which is likely the result of the high costs of accessing the capital they need to scale.

Mari Borrero said they were able to beat the odds by being persistent and focused and reaching out to multiple small business development resources, including the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

The Washington SBDC is a network of more than 40 business advisors working in communities across the state to help business owners and entrepreneurs start, grow and buy/sell a business. Washington State University is the statewide host of the Washington SBDC, and funding for the program comes from the U.S. Small Business Administration, Washington State Department of Commerce, WSU and other institutions of higher education and economic development. SBDC services are available at no-cost to any small business owner regardless of location and are completely confidential.

In 2016, Aaron was working for someone else, but he was frustrated by what he believed was a company culture that put profits ahead of service. Mari pushed him to start his own business, and he said, okay, but I’ll need your help.

Mari left her job as an elementary school teacher in June 2016 and they opened for business in January 2017, with Mari handling much of the administrative work and Aaron and one employee doing the demolition and abatement work. (Mari has since become a project designer and a certified asbestos supervisor.)

From the start they were busy. They brought in about $500,000 in revenue that first year, but planning for growth was complicated. “Everything changes when you scale,” she said.

Toward the end of 2017 Mari decided she needed to move up from jobs that lasted a couple days or a week or two, and go for something big. At that point, she said, she got a wake up call. She submitted her bid and was told, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, there’s a process. You need a bank. You need to be bonded.”

Mari Borrero and Kevin Grossman

That’s when she was referred to Kevin Grossman, an SBDC advisor located at Green River College. “That’s where I learned about banking relationships,” she said, including the difference between banks and credit unions and the importance of financials and credit scores. “It was like peeling an onion.”

Grossman helped her prepare for meetings with different bankers and also helped her think through her bid proposals. On her first big bid, it turned out she had forgotten to factor in some important employee-related costs, but with Grossman’s help, she revised the bid and ended up getting the contract.

While she continued to meet with Grossman, she also participated in business accelerator programs, first at the University of Washington, and then at Stanford University.

At the Ascend Seattle program sponsored by UW’s Foster School of Business, she realized two things. First, their business had the potential to be much bigger, and second, it wasn’t going to happen unless she made business growth and profitability a priority.

“Oh my gosh,” she remembers thinking, “I can’t just be working in my business when I need to be working on my business.”

The Ascend program helped her broaden her vision of what their business could become, but she still struggled with how to get there.

Mari Borrero and crew on the jobsite

In 2019, Mari was accepted into the Latino Business Action Network (LBAN), a year-long mentoring program at Stanford University. “Stanford helped me understand financing and why this would be a huge issue for me as a Latina entrepreneur,” she said. “I understood the odds and I wanted to excel.”

Mari said the programs at UW and Stanford planted the seeds for future growth, but the one-to-one, consistent relationship she has with her SBDC advisor is what helps her keep moving forward. “You still need a mentor,” she said. “You still need someone beside you.”

Mari credits Grossman with helping her think through how to get where she wants to be. She also credits him with asking questions. Lots and lots of questions.

Mari said she asked Grossman why he kept asking so many questions, and he said, “Because you need to have thought through these things to make the best decisions.” And together they would keep digging until they found the answers.

“I didn’t have to put up a front that I knew everything and had everything figured out,” she said. “We were able to build a relationship of trust.”

Mari said she would definitely recommend SBDC services to other entrepreneurs looking to grow their business.

“I feel like I have the support (of the entire SBDC) network to help me,” she said. “The resources are there, but you’ve got to do the work.”

“Sometimes you don’t need someone to hold your hand,” she said. “Sometimes you need someone to challenge you.” Her SBDC advisor has done both, and American Abatement and Demo is better for it.

For more information about American Abatement and Demo, go to https://aad-wa.com/.

For more information about the Washington SBDC, go to https://www.wsbdc.org.