Lake County Success Stories

Ray Levy, Coldwell Banker Camelot Realty, FSBDC, Business Consultant

Coldwell Banker Camelot Realty

Florida residential real estate has been a tricky proposition since the end of the last decade’s great recession, and its reduced property values has affected all aspects of the industry, including depressing values in the real estate brokerage business. For some, however, the diminished values of brokerages and the uncertainty around the recovery of the Florida real estate market represented an opportunity if the pieces of an investment could be pulled together in time to take advantage of an unpredictable market and ambiguous future.

Karen and Ray Levy were just such people. Having been successful Real Estate Professionals in the Lake County Area for 7+ years, they knew the industry. And with a sales team of four individuals working as representatives of Coldwell Banker Camelot Realty in Mount Dora, Florida, they had an ear to the market that told them there were opportunities to be had in the future as a full service brokerage office.


By early spring 2013, Karen and Ray had decided to move on the opportunities they saw and visited the office of the Florida SBDC at UCF in Eustis, Florida (Lake County). Their goal was to acquire Coldwell Banker Camelot Realty by year end 2013. While they are both astute Real Estate professionals, they were in need of guidance on how to build a plan to acquire the brokerage business and its related commercial property. In addition they weren’t sure how to evaluate the selling price for the business. Finally, they knew they needed a robust Business Plan to convince potential investors to help them make their dream a reality.

Stan Austin, Area Manager for the FSBDC at UCF in Lake County, was uniquely suited to assist the Levy’s and welcomed the chance to work with them by providing them with the expert, no-cost consulting the FSBDC at UCF is known for. The FSBDC services like no-cost consulting, training seminars and data base research resources, are an integral part of the three Business Opportunity Centers (BOC’s) in Lake County, Florida. The Business Opportunity Centers offer incubation services along with the training and consulting services provided by the Florida SBDC at UCF team in Lake County

Being a Business Broker in a prior life, Stan helped the Levy’s re-cast the current owner’s financial information to estimate the value of the business portion of the transaction. In addition Stan recommended they obtain a certified commercial appraisal on the business property. That would give them the pieces of the puzzle necessary to begin negotiating a sales price that would be fair to all parties concerned.

In the meantime, Karen and Ray availed themselves of the training offered byFSBDC at UCF in Lake County. They attended the “Start-Up Basics” and “Business Plan Writing Made Easy” seminars to better acquaint themselves with the best practices of both. After the Business Plan class, Ray began working in earnest to put together their own business plan. After multiple iterations it was decided it would be necessary to recast the current owner’s financial information in light of the operational changes the Levy’s desired to make to the business (when they owned it). Stan worked with them to document the changes and reflect the savings in the Profit and Loss statements as if the changes had already been made. The savings were substantial.

During the summer of 2013, as work continued on the business plan, the Levy’s obtained the appraisal for the commercial property and began “floating trial balloons” with potential private investors and financial institutions. The intent was to test the feasibility of obtaining financing to purchase Coldwell Banker Camelot Realty.

As the year went on, Stan re-worked the financial information multiple times with the passing of each quarter. The good news is the real estate market in the area, as the Levys had foreseen, also began to rebound some as well. The financial picture and projections became more and more positive! As we approached the end of the year, it became easier to project the year-end financial picture, as well as project 2014.

Late in the summer, the Levy’s obtained a loan commitment from United Southern Bank to finance the commercial property. Around the same time, they were able to line up financing for the remaining amount needed to buy the business portion of the acquisition. The financing consisted of a private investor, seller financing and an equity position by the Levy’s.

On December 27, 2013, the Levy’s closed on the transaction and met their goal to acquire the business prior to January, 2014! They have already added five full employees and are well on their way to implementing the operational changes they stated in the business plan!

Ray Levy summarized his feeling by saying, “There are a lot of people out there that have good ideas, but they don’t have the expertise of business consultants,” said Ray Levy. “The FSBDC at UCF in Lake County and the BOC really moved the needle forward for us.”


MotorSports ConneXtions

If you think high gas prices, environmental impacts, cautious consumer spending and old friends separated by nearly 6000 miles are business obstacles, then you should talk to Lisa Knowles, CEO of MotorSports ConneXtions, a new importer-distributor of motor scooters in Clermont, Florida.

“We weren’t sure how we were going to sell the product as it seemed difficult, so I discussed our options with [the SBDC at UCF].”

Lisa Knowles
MotorSports ConneXtions

“I’ve had this friend in Hawaii for the past 20 years,” says Knowles, “and we discussed many times about going into business but the timing just wasn’t right.” That all changed in July 2008, when Lisa, her husband Russ, and their friend Joe in Hawaii, pooled their limited resources to put a deposit on a ship container full of motor scooters – some 44 bikes in total. That’s when Knowles contacted the SBDC at UCF’s Gene Romagna, area manager for Lake & Sumter Counties. “She was one determined professional”, Romagna recalls, “and she wanted to ‘do it right’ from the start.” Knowles immediately started in on a business plan and what the proper legal structure would be for the company. “We weren’t sure how we were going to sell the product as it seemed difficult, so I discussed our options with Gene. With his (Romagna’s) help, getting his input and his direction to various web sites to research as to what was best for us, we settled on being a distributor.” They filed with the State for a distributorship in late November, the scooter shipment arrived Thanksgiving weekend.

Determined to make it work, Knowles continued to work with customs brokers and trucking companies to successfully get the products to their rented storage facility. There were also other necessary items to complete including working with state offices for a distributor license, drumming up potential dealers, creating contracts and advertising pieces, and getting a harder than expected “MCO” (manufacturer certificate of origin) document. By early February 2009, MotorSports ConneXtions received their approved license to distribute motor vehicles in the State of Florida and have six dealers with more on the way.

“Gene was always there by phone and email to help lead us in the directions we needed to go, including working with the state and the folks in Tallahassee,” says Knowles. “You just knew this was going to work from the start,” says Romagna. “Success was the only option for her positive attitude and hard work.” MotorSports ConneXtions recently co-opted with a dealer to run a TV commercial that will be airing in the greater Lake County area over the next few weeks. Additionally, Knowles is looking to bring on another manufacturer with 3 more scooters styles along with after-market parts. So, keep your eyes and ears open when driving in central Florida. You just may catch Lisa Knowles “scootering” to one of her dealers.

amaZulu, SBDC, Lake County

amaZulu, Inc.

Finding “paradise” amid the Recession.

Born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa, when Claire Evans decided to pursue her dreams by opening a company in Clermont, FL, in 2002, the name “ama Zulu” seemed only “natural”. With a brilliant and contagious smile Claire will tell you it is a Zulu dialect that means “people of heaven”. Under that name she developed a natural architectural company that would introduce and develop new innovations and sustain higher service standards in the industry by supplying of natural and faux materials such as thatch, bamboo, reeds, etc., and the innovative installation specialists to go with it all.

“Gene helped me get through all of the fluff and get back to the basics.”

Claire Evans
amaZulu, Inc.

When Claire Evans contacted local SBDC counselor, Gene Romagna CBA, it was May of 2008. “I remember the three key things about meeting Ms. Evans”, recalls Gene. “She energetic, organized and faced a big supplier problem.” At the time amaZulu, Inc, had five employees and a successful track record of becoming a key supplier for such notable companies as Disney, Sea World, and Outback Steak House. But as Claire will explain, “the industry was ready for more environmentally safe and longer lasting fire proof synthetic materials, but getting the quality is becoming almost impossible.”

It was trying to sort through that business development process and how to create business agreements that caused her to call Gene at the Clermont SBDC. Working together over the course of the next year, Claire gained the clarity needed to face various obstacles and several attempted solutions to getting a quality product on a reliable basis. Finally, by the summer she was ready to take her plan – which now included working with a manufacturer in Canada – to seek financing. “We needed a half million dollars, but just couldn’t get a bank (she had been to 3) to take us seriously.” Looking at the plans and the financials, Gene suggested that she approach a local lender who he knew to be supportive of small businesses like amaZulu, Inc. The introduction to BankFIRST (the regional office is an active member of the SBDC’s Small Business Resource Network in Central Florida) was just what was needed. “Gene helped me get through all of the fluff and get back to the basics”, says Claire. “It was her dogged persistence and belief in her directions that won out in the end” Gene will say; “she deserves the $500K loan for sure.” It is fitting that at the bottom of every email from Claire is this Thomas Edison quote “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time”. So the next time you enjoy a little bit of “paradise” at an exotic attractions like a theme park, zoo, aquarium, spa, restaurant, resort, camping facilities, retreat or even high end real estate, you just may be experiencing some of amaZulu’s unique creations.