A happy and positive disposition is like oxygen to Laura Parraga, a former professional cheerleader who once danced the sidelines for the Atlanta Falcons in a Super Bowl.
Yet Parraga was sour in summer 2011, when bank after bank rejected her business loan application. Parraga and her husband, David, a world champion gymnast from Venezuela who also played minor league baseball in the States, sought to open a gymnastics training school in east Manatee County. The couple worked for a gymnastics academy in Pinellas County for a decade and wanted to venture out on their own.
Bankers didn't share the enthusiasm, and, given the economic climate, the nos piled high. “Nobody took us seriously,” says Laura Parraga. “Everyone was like 'what's gymnastics?'”
The Parragas persevered. And they emptied their savings, around $130,000, to launch the business, Lakewood Ranch Gymnastics. The move paid off: Student enrollment has grown almost fourfold since the business opened, from around 200 to more than 750 today, and there's a wait list with another 125 possible customers. The couple declines to release specific annual revenues.
“We blew out our expectations,” says Laura Parraga. “It's been a whirlwind.”
So swift that the 22-employee company will expand into a new building, a 15,277-square-foot facility under construction on the same street where it currently leases space around half the size. The gym takes students from 18 months to 18 years old, who attend classes at least once a week.
Lakewood Ranch Gymnastics also joins a list of area family-focused businesses in growth mode. There are two large indoor trampoline centers within a few miles, for example, that while not training academies, cater to youth and families. One is Jumping Fun Sports - Trampoline Park and the other is The Zone Complex. “We've exceeded and went beyond what I ever thought about,” Jumping Fun owner Brett Morrow says of the facility, which opened last June. “It's going really well.”
The Parragas aim to capitalize on that market opportunity with the new building for Lakewood Ranch Gymnastics. It's at least a $1.8 million project, including build out and new equipment. The couple even secured financing this time around, an SBA loan with assistance from Regions Bank and area lender Bryan Boudreaux.
The Parragas, who met at a gymnastics event and have been married for 10 years, can see their new building under construction every day when they go to work. Laura Parraga, again reaching into her cheerleader background, is mostly optimistic about the expansion. But like any new entrepreneur, she now carries a good sense of worry.
Her list, she says, is wrapped around the financial because a bigger building means a larger electrical bill and other increased costs. More space for more clients also means more employees and more equipment. She plans to hire six to eight people when the new building opens, for instance. And another surge will likely hit Lakewood Ranch Gymnastics in 2016, projects Parraga, when the Summer Olympics highlight the sport. That could translate to enrollment that would surpass 1,000 students, Parraga says.
All that added up means Parraga will likely face a business owner's greatest fear: When growth is so fast it outstrips the core of the business. “In a way,” says Parraga, “I don't want to get too big, because we are used to being hands-on and being involved.”
Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon