Is your business seeking capital? If so, a Sam's Club membership could open up access to it. The warehouse shopping centers, a division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., recently announced plans to test a small-business loan program in partnership with Superior Financial Group LLC. Sam’s Club members who qualify for loans will be eligible to borrow from $5,000 to $25,000 from Superior Financial.
Sam's Club said the program will focus on serving "Main Street minority-, women- and veteran-owned small businesses as well as micro-entrepreneurs." Sam's Club appears to be onto something. According to a survey conducted by the company, and reported by Bloomberg Businessweek, nearly 15 percent of Sam's Club business members said they had been denied a loan during the month of November 2009.
That was an increase from 12 percent in April. Sam's Club also cited statistics from the National Federation of Independent Business that just half of U.S. small businesses that sought loans in 2009 got all or most of the money they needed. Under the lending program, businesses that pay the $35 annual fee for a Sam's Club business membership are eligible to apply for loans online.
During the pilot phase they will get a discount of $100 off the application fee, as well as an annual interest rate of 7.5 percent for 10 years. The provider in this case, Superior Financial Group is based in Walnut Creek, California, and licensed by the U.S. Small Business Administration as a non-bank lender.
Superior is one of just 13 federally licensed nonbank lenders approved to make SBA-guaranteed loans. In fact, last year Superior reported that it was the top SBA lender in the nation, producing 2,690 SBA (7a) loans totaling $27.1 million to during the SBA's fiscal year October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2009.
Wal-Mart tried to open a bank back in 2007, but was derailed when the House of Representatives passed laws preventing non-financial firms from operating banks. However, Wal-Mart’s U.S. stores do provide some financial services, such as check cashing.
Doing Business with the Enemy?
Although Wal-Mart has often been portrayed as the enemy of small businesses – driving mom-and-pop retailers out of town with their low prices, the move makes good sense for Wal-Mart and its divisions. By enabling business owners to grow their companies, the loans could spur demand for business products and services that the retailer could offer at Sam’s Club.
So, are these loans a good thing? It depends on whether you have a long-term or short-term point of view. On one hand, for example, this sounds pretty rosy -- like Mom and apple pie. Who could argue about giving small businesses loans at reasonable interest? If you are having trouble getting credit elsewhere, you definitely may want to take advantage of these loans.
However, keep in mind the limitations when working with a "non-bank lender." As a small business with a long-term perspective, you will want to develop a good strong relationship with your banker.
A relationship with a local branch of a large bank or a small community bank brings support for a growing business in a number of ways: products and services that can help you scale your business cost effectively and efficiently, and access to personalized advice on financial issue. As Mary Patton, a commercial banker with FirstMerit Bank says, "the more familiar your banker is with your company, the more proactively he or she will be able to provide solutions and be there for you when an unforeseen event occurs.”
As a nonbank lender, Sam's Club's Superior Financial won't be able to provide you with a full range of banking products such as checking accounts, electronic funds transfer, and other banking resources to help you grow and meet your business goals.
If you are thinking ahead for your business, start developing a close relationship with a full-service bank that can benefit your business in multiple ways, with loans being just one of those ways. Think beyond just the loan you want today.
For more information about the lending program, here's the the Sam's Club backgrounder.