U.S. Small Business Administration Success Story
STEPping into International Success
A chance encounter in 2013 sparked the beginning of what would become Velour Imports, experts in supplying craft beer, wine, cider, and spirits to Latin America and the Caribbean. While working at the Houston Food Bank in logistics and transportation, Founder & CEO Brooke Sinclair met a volunteer who had a friend looking to import wine from their vineyard in Argentina.
Brooke was skeptical at first but knew with her skillset this could be an opportunity to make something big. With the aid of Business Research Assistance from the University of Houston Small Business Development Center and one-on-one business counseling, she came to find out that the real market of opportunity was the other way around- exporting. And specifically, the tourism demand for craft beer at luxury resorts and hotels in Latin America and the Caribbean.
To get the business off the ground and with little capital to invest, Brooke knew she needed help. Having attended various international trade workshops conducted by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Houston District office, Brooke had become familiar with the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) Grant Program for which she applied and was awarded $5,000 in 2016. With these funds she was able to take a multi-country sales trip to establish connections, visiting Guatemala, Panama, Trinidad, Antigua, Bahamas, and attending an important meeting with the food and beverage director at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, which is the largest hotel restaurant and casino in the Caribbean. In December 2017, Brooke attended an SBA Lender Matchmaking event where she met representatives from LiftFund. Brooke recounted, “LiftFund took a big risk, they saw some magic in my eyes and understood the passion of what my team and I are doing, I was looking for somebody to give me a chance and they did.” Four weeks later, the loan closed and the funds were used to fund sales initiatives and find new clients.
Over the past four years and with various forms of SBA assistance, Velour Imports has grown from a one-woman operation concentrated on imports to an import/export business with four part-time employees including a logistics & operations manager, procurement & contracts manager, and international marketing manager. Focus now shifts to creating an online digital platform where international wholesalers can buy craft beer, wine, cider, and spirits- saving time and money while also offering a great selection of craft beer. With over 7,000 craft breweries in the United States and tourism demand for craft beer, the opportunities are endless. Velour is currently heavily focused on Guatemala- working with a distributor and craft brewery guild; Antigua- in talks with the Caribbean Sailing Association and various distributors and importers, and Four Seasons Hotel & Resort in Saint Kitts & Nevis. They are also working with the Founders Institute, the world’s largest pre-seed accelerator, for investment opportunities.
Brooke offers other women business owners hope and success by sharing the most impactful piece of advice she received going into business, “never accept a no from somebody who doesn’t have the authority to give you a yes.” She goes on to say, “Honestly I was really surprised at the number of people who were quick to say you can’t do this or you don’t have the skills, or you don’t have the background….without ever asking any questions. They took one look at me and just assumed. If I wasn’t as strong or as resilient as I am, I definitely wouldn’t have the confidence and ability to say no, I know that I can do this!”