The Vancouver Sun features Vancitys microfinance programs

The Vancouver Sun features Vancity's microfinance programs

Vancity - small business and start-up loans

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January 27, 2012Logistics can make or break Vancouver street vendors. As the deadline for applications approaches, veterans and backers offer advice to wannabes.

The first surprise — much to Zach Berman and Ryan Slater’s chagrin — was they’d forgotten to consider their washroom needs when working all day as street food vendors.

“We didn’t really think about the logistics,” Berman confessed.

Another surprise was the sheer number of woolly socks they’d need. It gets really, really cold when you’re parked on a street corner, all day in the dead of winter, Slater said.

And there’s no showing up late. “Whenever we’re five minutes, 10 minutes late, our regulars are the first to let us know,” Berman added. Turns out keeping regular hours is “pretty key” to customer loyalty.

So well, in fact, they were invited to offer advice to aspiring street food vendors in a recent City of Vancouver information session as the Feb. 3 deadline for this year’s applications approaches. This spring, Vancouver expects to approve between 10 and 15 new street food businesses to be added to the existing roster of 100.

Successful applicants will need more than a killer recipe — they’ll need a solid business plan and financial backing, said Catherine Ludgate, Vancity’s manager of Community Investment. Ludgate was at the session dispensing advice to food cart hopefuls on how best to approach their financial institution.

Those most likely to land a loan will “clearly understand their niche and their market,” she said. “Where we see people getting into trouble is where they have completely unrealistic ideas about their cash flow projections: ‘There’s a million people in Vancouver and a million people are going to want to eat my falafel.’”

Do some market research, she recommended.

“There’s nothing like actually going out and seeing what your competitors are doing, counting how many people show up that day and planning for contingencies.”

Vancity accepts about 30 per cent of applicants for its micro-lending program, she added. But that number climbs as high as 70 per cent if the applicants get some help before they show up at the door.

“The chance of getting a loan doubles if they’ve had self-employment training or worked with a good, independent business coach — not their uncle,” Ludgate said.

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Article courtesy of The Vancouver Sun.