Manufacturing Business Hits Its Stride with Digital Transformation
Livell Company of Pinellas County
Livell Company was created, “from an accident, by accident,” John Small, owner, says. The company, originally started in the 1990s, was created by his mother Kate Sauls. “She was in a car accident and she was suffering from different types of aches and pains, nerve damage in her neck and shoulders, and she needed a heating pad that was safe and natural that she could keep on her shoulders while she was in a wheelchair taking care of me and my sister.”
Kate tried various products that were already on the market, but she thought she could do better, so she created a product that fit her better and it worked so well, she started selling them at flea markets and more. Now, Livell Company produces natural health and wellness products that fit the body more comfortably, including hot and cold therapy wraps.
“I’ve been a part of it my whole life,” John said. “I was underneath the tables at the tradeshows and craft shows, so I got to see the whole process, but growing up, I wanted to go and do my own thing.” And so he did. He was working as a regional manager for a technology company and headed towards the goals he’d set for himself, when he and his mother decided to create some new products. That inspired him to take a chance.
“We had something great there and I took all the training and experience I had being in the family company, plus the new knowledge I had gained and took it back to the family company, where we can modernize the company and move it forward into the digital era,” John said.
The business was booming and the duo was used to solving their own problems and financing their own growth, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. John was at one of his largest tradeshows in Richmond, Virginia, when things came to a screeching halt. “The sheriff came in and shut down the event against the wishes of management and pretty much kicked us out of the building,” he said. “I was 15 hours away at one of my best events of the season coming home trying to figure out what we were going to do.”
Immediately, they stopped taking their own paychecks in order to reassure employees that they could rest easy knowing they would have a job to come to the next day. Shortly after returning home, John came across the Florida SBDC at Pinellas County Economic Development (PCED) on social media and saw posts on the State of Florida’s Emergency Bridge Loan program.
“It sounded almost too good to be true, but I figured we’d reach out and get some more information and it actually saved us and helped us in our transition period from moving from our retail tradeshows where we lost over 50 events cancelled due to COVID,” John said.
John was connected with Florida SBDC at PCED business consultant, Kurt Forster. Forster not only guided him through the bridge loan process, but he also stepped him through applying for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the Paycheck Protection Program.
With Forster’s assistance, the company qualified and was awarded the State of Florida Bridge Loan, the EIDL and the PPP. “SBDC at Pinellas County was great,” John said. “They walked us through the process. They answered our questions. They helped us and fought for us on our behalf and made sure we were heard. Because of that, we were able to have some breathing room and transition our business.”
Even with COVID-19, John and the company have hit their five-year goal for growth, and he’s already looking forward to the future. “The next five years we’re actually planning to 10x the company size into new markets with what we’ve learned, focusing on our online sales now,” he said.
Regardless of what’s to come, John is thankful he found the Florida SBDC at PCED, even if he wishes he would’ve found it sooner. “Working with the SBDC, I wish I would’ve found them a long time ago. A lot of hard painful mistakes I had to learn, which seem kind of trivial now that I’ve been through it, could’ve just been a phone call away.”