Navy vet with entrepreneurial drive recognized with state, regional small business awards

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As Christopher Sanford tells the story, after earning a B.A. in economics at the College of the Holy Cross, serving seven years on active duty as a Navy Surface Warfare Officer and earning an MBA from the University of Rhode Island, he wanted to run his own business. He didn’t know where to start and spoke with one of his URI professors, who suggested he consider acquiring a franchise.

But what franchise from among hundreds of franchises? Again, the professor was of help, narrowing his recommendations to fewer than 20.

Until that point, Sanford had never heard of PuroClean Disaster Restoration Services. That was more than 11 years ago. Today, having just completed his fourth expansion and moving to a location on Hathaway Street in Providence on the Cranston line, Sanford has a staff of 16 and foresees continued growth.

Sanford told his story April 23 to Mark Hayward, district director of the Small Business Administration, and Wendell G. Davis, SBA regional administrator, as the pair visited to learn about his business. There was more to their visit, as they congratulated him on being selected both the Rhode Island and New England Veteran Owned Small Business for 2019.

“This is the highest award he can get,” Hayward said of the regional recognition. He said of the nine New England SBA awards made, Rhode Island won, four including Sanford’s.

State and regional award winners will be honored in a series of events in May – which is designated as National SBA month – starting with a State House reception on May 8. That is to be followed with an awards ceremony on May 10 at Quidnessett Country Club and a more intimate gathering between award recipients, their families and members of the state Congressional delegation May 20 at Harbor Lights.

Sanford started his business out of his father’s garage, but that wasn’t the major challenge, which Hayward believes resonated with judges.

Sanford – who grew up in Warwick and graduated from Toll Gate – was mobilized in August 2011 as a Navy reservist for Operation Noble Eagle. He was deployed to Uganda, where he worked out of the U.S. Embassy as the military liaison to Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa located in Djibouti. Sanford was separated not only from his relatively new business but also from his bride of only a few months.

Sanford’s father, Tom, who is a retired Warwick teacher, took control of the business, but that was tough. Revenues decreased by 61 percent, and upon completion of his 18-month deployment he was faced with the choice of abandoning or righting the ship. He chose the latter.

Listening to the story and the work PuroClean does, Hayward had to ask, “Do you get all excited when you see a hurricane come up the coast?”

Sanford shared that while natural disasters can mean work, they can also be a headache.

Sanford said the floods of 2010 nearly put him out of business as payments from insurance companies and the Federal Emergency Administration dragged on and on.

He said the business – which serves as “the paramedics of property damage” – is there to deal with the broken hot water heater, damage from the leaky roof or the smoke and water damage from the kitchen fire. As an additional service, PuroClean not only cleans the contents from an incident but also stores everything from furniture to curios until home or business repairs are completed and ready for occupancy.

Sanford has kept his ties with the military. He serves in the Naval Reserves. He is also active in the community as a member of a local Business Networking International Chapter, the Rotary Club of Warwick, the Providence Council on Foreign Relations, chair of the Rhode Island Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves as well as church and neighborhood groups.

The SBA has played a vital role in Sanford’s business. He said the SBA-backed 504 loan initiated through BankRI – in which he put down 10 percent of the $525,000 purchase price – enabled him to acquire his building. He has also used SBA-backed loans to acquire equipment, but it is the $200,000 line of credit with BankRI that he said is essential.

He said the line of credit has enabled him to grow the business and weather those times when he has to meet payroll, yet is waiting for payment from insurance companies that is usually net 60 days.

“We’re constantly waiting on money,” he said. “A lot of times we’re left with nothing.”

Hayward has seen the importance of a line of credit to small businesses and the downfall of those businesses that turn to credit cards to try to get across the bumps.

“Credit card financing for small business is a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Looking ahead, Sanford said his aim is to keep growing the business.

“We want to keep finding good people to help us to grow,” he said.

That growth is happening faster than he imagined. On a tour of his new building, Sanford surveyed the floor where cleaned furniture and belongings pulled from a Warwick home following a fire are waiting to be returned. Everything is neatly wrapped, labeled and carefully stacked.

“We’re running out of space and we just moved in,” he said.

Also being recognized this month by the SBA are Justin Oakley and Michael Vieira, owners of Oakley Home Access LLC of Narragansett, Small Business Person of the Year; Sennen G. Conte, owner of Gerbs Allergen Friendly Foods of Johnston, Rhode Island and New England Small Business Manufacturer; Susan Pascale-Frechette, owner and director, PODS Swimming Inc. of East Providence, Rhode Island and New England Woman-Owned Small Business; Bryan Gibb, co-owner, Bolt Coffee of Providence, Rhode Island and New England Young Entrepreneur; Naresh Mehta, co-founder and CEO, Aman Mehta, co-founder, Christopher Mainiero, partner, Grow Materials, LLC of East Greenwich, Small Business Exporter; Pamela LaBreche, AVP, relationship manager, Navigant Credit Union, Financial Services Champion; Gwendolyn Graham, president, Roger Graham, vice president, Miller’s Roast Beef of East Providence, Jeffrey Butland Family-Owned Small Business; and Matthew Banoub, owner, Aten Energy Conservation LLC of Pawtucket, Microenterprise.

The Rhode Island District Director Award will be presented posthumously to Raymond Fogarty, director of The John H. Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant University.

Kristi Langslet, CEO of Sommerfly LLC in Cranston, will receive the Joseph G. E. Knight Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence.

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