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A Guided Tour into the World of Small Business

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That thought played on a loop in Danny Catullo’s head late one night just over a year ago. Midnight was approaching and he was sure nothing would come of the time he was spending crafting, reviewing and re-wording his story. The story of Catullo Prime Meats  - a third generation butcher shop in Youngstown, OH - that he would eventually share with thousands of supporters and a few nameless, faceless reviewers at FedEx who would determine whether he would win one of six FedEx Small Business Grants.

It’s hard for me to imagine Danny struggling to perfect his story as I watch him and fellow FedEx Small Business Grant winner, Nicole Snow, owner of Darn Good Yarn, formulate the business plan for a theoretical consulting/aviation/music label company called SnowCat Enterprise in the cockpit of a FedEx flight simulator in Memphis, TN. The only pause in ideation comes when one of them needs to focus on their runway approach. There’s no absence of ideas or confidence coming from either of them.

The journey to the co-pilot’s seat began very differently for Nicole. “I just felt like I would win. I had a great story to tell,” she said as she drew a parallel between her grant contest entry and an interview that you just know you’re going to nail. After hearing her story and seeing the passion and ability she carries and applies to her business, I understand why winning was the only option she considered.

Watching the two small business owners enjoy their rigorously scheduled “vacation” to Memphis, I think back on the last 48 hours. Since meeting for the first time, Danny and Nicole have spent hours telling and re-telling their story to attentive listeners at FedEx, each other and anyone else who would listen. Each story contains a few variations or things not mentioned before, but each rendition is delivered with the same enthusiasm as the first. Sitting at a coffee shop no more than an hour ago, Nicole introduced Danny to ShipRush – an automated shipping label printing solution – that had somehow slipped past him in the day-to-day rigor of managing a small business. It was something he’d probably heard about before, but as soon as she put it into a relevant context it meant something to him.

“Do you understand how much time that could save me?” he said as he rocked back in his chair, slowly running his hands through his hair. “I could spend that time with my family!” he laughed as he shot back to forward position. His excitement was genuine. I could tell he was adding up the minutes over the course of a week, a month or maybe a year he could set aside for his wife Kelli and boys Antonio & Luciano. More business means more shipping and more labels, but maybe he just found a way to optimize his time so he could maintain a little more of that work-life balance he cherishes.

The knowledge sharing between these two small business owners has been inspiring. I head out of the flight simulator to let someone else ride. Now, I’m the only one around in this huge training facility. I grab a seat on the stairs and try to process the last 48 hours. The insights shared, the ideas generated and the opportunities ahead – not just for Darn Good Yarn and Catullo Prime Meats, but for FedEx as well. We can foster small business communities, become a trusted resource for small businesses and …

[A jolt of the simulator bursts my thought bubble. I laugh to myself. Did Nicole bounce the landing? Did the instructor finally crack Danny’s precision with a rogue flock of geese?]

I suspect whatever simulated trouble they were finding would quickly be resolved. The two of them were adept at handling life’s curveballs. Nicole, a graduate of Clarkson University and a dual appointee to the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force had given up a chance at flight school to pursue her love - Mike. She married happily but found herself unable to find a job that met her ambition. Creating that job seemed the way to go, so she began the Darn Good Yarn endeavor – creating not only a job for herself but for numerous others including impoverished women in Nepal and India. The previous night she unfolded this fairy-tale story somewhere between Graceland and Staxx Museum of American Soul Music without a hint of regret or hyperbole.

Danny grew up in the family business, but had plans of his own when he set off to Ohio State. The oldest of 5 siblings and 13 cousins, he was blazing the trail to college and onto what he expected were bigger and better things. He had no idea he would be learning how to become the face of the family business. At 25, Danny took over the Catullo Prime Meats, but there was no pomp & circumstance.

Danny shared a part of his story I’d never heard as we left the flight training facility and moved on to our late night tour of the FedEx World Hub. “We were at the point where I didn’t know if we’d make payroll. I had to make some tough decisions that involved family members, but if I was going to take on the responsibility, I was going to do it my way.” Danny bought out members of the family and reigned in the ownership. He saw the changes that needed to be made and didn’t hesitate. There was too much at stake, and losing the business was not an option.

It couldn’t have been easy for either of them, but like many products of our generation have found, good jobs can be hard to find. Some create their own business, others revitalize a family business and the rest compete for the coveted spots that are available, but success can be found. Touring through the matrix of buildings, vehicles, belts and packages that make up the FedEx World Hub until 2 a.m. only energized the two grant contest winners. They saw the product of a 40-year dream in motion, and in it seemed to find validation.

They’ve found success, but their journey is only just beginning. There’s room to grow and achieve greater success – not only for themselves but for the small and micro business communities they represent. Many have said that Danny and Nicole are not typical small business owners – but I’m not sure that’s accurate. Their passion is incredible, but not unique to them. Thousands of small business owners share their desire to succeed and help others. They key is to ensure they have the information and network needed to wade through tough times and capitalize on opportunities. Danny and Nicole are champions for small business and I am thrilled to be a part of their journey and to help further their efforts to support small business success.

To tell us your story and learn more about the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Winners:

FedEx Small Business Grant Contest

Learn how FedEx can help small businesses: FedEx Small Business Center

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