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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 13, 2019 3 months ago

Firm overcomes obstacles, setbacks to reach real success

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Their products may be faux. But the potential is genuine at Creative Architectural Resin Products.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributor

The cliche it’s always an honor just to be nominated for an award holds true for most people.

But when Fort Myers–based Creative Architectural Resin Products recently won Startup of the Year at the 2019 Industry Appreciation Awards in Fort Myers, it was a sign the company had made it though some heartache and headache filled growing pains. The awards show is annual collaboration between the Horizon Council, Horizon Foundation and Lee County Economic Development Office.

“It has been a real journey,” says CARP partner and co-owner Marilyn Santiago, 53. “But right now we are a better company because we got recognized with that award. We have experienced such an amazing burst of energy and excitement.”

Steven Russell, 52, CARP’s other co-owner and partner, had sold a similar Southwest Florida company — making faux stone products for the building industry — around the time of the past recession. He had a multiyear noncompete agreement and began to prepare for a new venture once that time finished up.

We didn’t want to go out and put up a full marketing campaign and not be able to deliver. We wanted to have a few happy customers instead of a lot of unhappy customers.' Marilyn Santiago, Creative Architectural Resin Products

He met Santiago in Miami Beach, and the two began dating before becoming business partners as well. They launched their new company in Lee County because Russell knew the area and saw the housing market coming back to life.

But it wasn’t easy. Prospective investors promised funding, then pulled out. Santiago cashed out personal stock to buy the company’s first piece of machinery, which they needed to make the resin-based faux architectural elements Russell was trying to convince clients to buy.

They found a warehouse and officially opened the business in 2015. But they soon had to move down the road after the building was sold to a new owner. When they finally found a silent partner and secured their first client — a big homebuilder it took a year to land — they were ready to go. And then their manufacturing equipment broke down. But what could have been a total disaster ended up working out when the client wanted to delay their order timeline due to some issues on their end.

Once CARP finally began delivering product to that client and developed a strong relationship that still exists today, word began to spread. “People who knew me from before heard I was back, and I started getting calls,” Russell says. “The phone just started ringing naturally.”

Stefania Pifferi. Marilyn Santiago and Steven Russell have big hopes for Fort Myers-based Creative Architectural Resin Products in 2020.

Today, CARP works with builders like Aubuchon Homes and Ashton Woods to supply them with faux wood brackets, ceiling beams and other architectural details. It’s also manufacturing shutters and other architectural elements for the Minto Group’s Margaritaville developments in Daytona Beach and Hilton Head. The company’s reach stretches from South Carolina to Marco Island, and it recently hit $1 million in revenues.

CARP’s products, the owners say, are a high-density, lightweight, lower-cost alternative to real wood or stone, which is harder to work with and maintain. They’re also more durable than faux products made with foam, which is susceptible to damage from birds and insects. Everything is custom made with colors and textures to mimic its natural counterpart. Most clients are currently interested in a wood look, but the company is beginning to offer different faux stone options as well to gauge client interest.

The partners each bring their different strengths to the business. Russell, for example, sees the value of Santiago’s previous expertise running a company that provided media consulting and representation for entertainers and other clients. “We didn’t do any marketing [at his previous company], and I see now that perhaps if we had we could have been even bigger,” he says.

Next year CARP will kick off a new marketing effort to help grow the business and its client roster, sending Russell out to meet with architects, designers and others. “The plan is for me to start working on the business instead of in the business,” he says.

They now have six fully trained and dependable employees in place and reliable, affordable delivery services from a logistics company that happened to be located next door to them. A newly purchased piece of equipment helps turn out a better product at a faster rate and could allow for the addition of another shift if needed.

“We have been very cautious about our growth,” Santiago says. “We didn’t want to go out and put up a full marketing campaign and not be able to deliver. We wanted to have a few happy customers instead of a lot of unhappy customers.”

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