Sink or Swim. Small Business Spotlight

It's easy for small businesses to get pulled under the current. These three businesses are head and shoulders above the rest.

Lucinda Yates

After a divorce and a financial setback left her and her young daughter homeless, Lucinda was able to use her creative side to overcome the hurdles that life had placed before her. When her bank denied her a loan, Lucinda was able to scrape enough money together for a small apartment above an art-framing center, and she turned the cramped attic into a studio where she launched a line of fashion jewelry. Her first creations were sold at home parties and local boutiques, but her big idea was literally found in the trash. While walking behind her building one day, she noticed several brightly-colored pieces of mat board in a nearby garbage can and, with them, she created a simple geometric representation of a house. While admiring the piece, she heard a little voice in her head that said this would be a great fundraiser for the homeless. Her first pin was sold to raise money for the Preble Street Resource Center in Portland, Maine, a breakfast program that serves the homeless and poor. Since then, Designs by Lucinda has sold about five million house pins and raised approximately $25 million for various non-profits. To find out more about Lucinda’s other creations, visit

Jimmy John Liautaud

When Jimmy John Liautaud graduated second-to-last in his class at Elgin Academy High School, he had a tough decision to make. He could go to college, join the army, or open a business. Jimmy decided that the latter was the most appealing of the three, and he decided to open his own sandwich shop. Armed with a $25,000 loan from his father, used sandwich equipment, and his mother’s bread recipe, he opened the first Jimmy John’s in a converted garage in Charleston, Illinois in 1983.
"Bread so French it must be liberated." -quote found on sign at Jimmy John's restaurants.

Liautaud learned a hard lesson when two of his friends quit not long after he hired them and he was forced to work seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Within two years, though, he was able to buy his father’s side of the business and become the sole owner. Today, the chain is well-known for its humorous signs and comfortable, inviting interiors, not to mention its excellent sandwiches. Jimmy John’s currently operates 552 stores, with another 160 projected to open this year.

Kevin Plank

Kevin was bitten by the entrepreneur bug early in life. From a young age he maintained several businesses from landscaping to selling flowers. As a football player at the University of Maryland, he started on a quest for a better undershirt after noticing that the sweat-soaked cotton T-shirts worn under his uniform left him weighed down and sluggish. He was so pumped about his idea that he drove through the night to New York’s famous garment district to sample some fabrics. After passing out prototypes to teammates at Maryland and friends in the NFL, he learned from their feedback and returned to the drawing board.
We believe Under Armour is the athletic brand of this generation.

It wasn’t long before Under Armour was born in the basement of his grandmother’s Washington, D.C. townhouse with a little savings and five credit cards. His first team sale was made to Georgia Tech, and after that, word of his product spread like wildfire. Today the company boasts sales to 30 NFL teams and more than 100 Division I football programs.

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Reader Comments

Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at 2:49 PM
Smallbizforlife says:
I'm surprised to find out how these small business grew so much I mean Under Armour had a Super Bowl add I mean WOW talk about the American dream. This was a very interesting and inspirational artical i'll be sure to check back with you guys soon.

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