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Sam's Club joins with lender to offer small-business loans

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When first-year Branson business owner Tracy Conley learned that Sam’s Club was offering a U.S. Small Business Administration loan program, she was intrigued.

After all, Conley said, she already bought most of the supplies for her business, Cappuccino Country LLC, 1650 W. Hwy. 76, at the warehouse-style, members-only store.

Conley is among the first business owners in Missouri to take advantage of an SBA loan program being tested by Sam’s Club, a division of Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) and Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Superior Financial Group.

The retail giant and Superior Financial are teaming up to offer SBA-guaranteed loans for $5,000 to $25,000 to small-business members of the shopping club.

The money, however, does not have to be spent at Sam’s Club.

Conley, who borrowed $5,000 to help buy inventory, said the application process was simple.

“Oh my gosh, I think we closed in about a week and half,” Conley said. “They were really responsive and proactive and it was really easy. It was a one-page application and I was preapproved the same day.”

Tim Jochner, Superior Financial co-founder, said 2,500 applications had been received nationwide during the first 10 days of the program.

Sam’s Club has two locations in Springfield, at 3660 E. Sunshine St. and 745 W. El Camino Alto Drive. SBA’s Springfield branch office is unaware of any businesses in the city that have taken advantage of the pilot program, said spokeswoman Janice Bowman, SBA business development specialist in Springfield.

Superior Financial was founded in 2005 by Jochner and Joe Kaplan to support small businesses. It is one of 13 companies nationwide to be approved as a nonbank SBA lender.  

“Sam’s Club has such a diverse membership that it allows us a very large channel to reach these businesses that we could not normally reach using normal bank channels,” Jochner said. “The most exciting thing about this relationship is that we’re taking lending opportunities to these hard-to-reach businesses. We’re bringing it to them versus them trying to find us.”

In a November 2009 survey, 15 percent of Sam’s Club’s business members reported that they were denied loans, up from 12 percent in April 2009, according to a Sam’s Club news release.

While the loans are available to all small businesses, the program will focus particularly on businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans, collectively one of two groups that Jochner defines as underserved, even though it is growing.

The other group, also affected by the pilot program, is “any startup business or any business looking to secure a loan of $25,000 or less. None of the large financial institutions offer anything that small,” he said.

During the test phase of the loan program, applicants will receive $100 off the application fee, a 20 percent discount and interest rates of prime plus 4.25 percent.

Another feature of the program that’s appreciated by borrower Conley is that loan recipients must complete an online questionnaire or telephone-training course before receiving the funds.

“As a small-business owner, I’m learning stuff every day,” Conley said. “I actually go to the SBA Web site a lot. It is a great resource for me.”

Conley moved to Walnut Shade, just outside Branson, after working for SC Johnson, a Fortune 50 company. She grew up in Kansas City and vacationed in Branson, where the store she now owns has been in business for 18 years.

“My mother bought me my first tea set (at Cappuccino Country),” Conley said.[[In-content Ad]]

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