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Updated: May 22, 2024

Small Business Pulse: Portland lighting franchise owner laments high interest rates

Business owner Alex Quataert Photo / Courtesy, Alex Quataert Army veteran Alex Quataert is the owner of Blingle of Portland, an outdoor lighting franchise whose clients include L.L.Bean.
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In September 2022, Alex Quataert left the Army after a decade as an infantry officer, moved to Maine and opened a Portland franchise of Blingle, which installs temporary lighting systems. The business has handled projects such as L.L.Bean’s Northern Lights holiday display in Freeport, as well as permanent landscape lighting.

For the next stop of our series during Small Business Month, Mainebiz checked in with Quataert, who employs a staff of three and hires temporary workers for seasonal projects.

Mainebiz: How has your business outlook changed over the past year?
Alex Quataert: I have become more optimistic because of a steady increase in demand for our services. I think this is because while the economy as a whole may be struggling, people are more focused on making their home their castle.

Over the past year I have also been successful in building a team that I can trust. While I had to try working with quite a few people that did not have the right mentality to work in a small business, I finally found a core team that have the drive and independent mindset necessary to thrive in a microbusiness.

I am currently looking to expand, particularly my installation capacity, but will do so slowly and responsibly.

MB: What is your biggest business challenge today and why? 
AQ: Our overhead from debt service is much higher than I anticipated when first starting the business and getting financing in 2022. When interest rates skyrocketed, I had already closed on a variable-interest rate SBA [Small Business Administration] loan, which quickly became my single biggest overhead cost outside of payroll. 

MB: How are inflation and high interest rates affecting your business?
AQ: Making the transition from being an employee to being a business owner is extremely challenging. Access to capital is essential in order to scale in any reasonable timeframe.

When I was deployed to Syria in 2019 as a company commander, I had the chance to ask local leaders why there were so many unfinished large commercial buildings around. They told me that when the civil war in started, the banks left, which meant local entrepreneurs had only their own capital to work with. As a business owner currently, I can truly see how lack of access to capital cripples the visionary.

I would not be able to make Maine brighter without access to capital, and the current high interest rates have slowed our growth. 

MB: What are your hiring plans for the coming months?
AQ: I am currently seeking Mainers that are willing and able to get their hands in the dirt, climb ladders and truly commit to working as a part of a small, dedicated team. I offer high pay, as I understand that inflation is very real, and the Army taught me to truly care about the lives of those working for me.

That said, I know that most people now are not really a great fit for a microbusiness, as it requires more independent thought and self-motivation than being a part of a large system.


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