Business View Magazine interviews Liz Banker, owner of Shore Solutions, as part of our focus on best business practices of women-owned businesses.
After a rough childhood in her native Ohio, and then in Los Angeles, Liz Banker joined the U.S. Navy at age 18 and proudly served four years on the Destroyer, USS Howard. “It was the best decision of my life,” she exclaims, “it’s also how I ended up in San Diego. A month after I got out, I got a call from a friend I served with, asking me if I wanted a sales job selling to the government. I was only working part time and I could use the money, so I said ‘Yes.’ It was at this job I found my calling. I was intrigued with how the military purchased things and even more intrigued with the obstacles and challenges they faced every day, simply trying to maintain operational readiness.”
What Banker also saw as she pursued her new career, and which troubled her, was an industry wherein some players were cutting corners to increase profits. “How can you serve our heroes, in the best country in the world, and not feel a moral obligation to serve them with integrity,” she wondered at the time. “It was at that moment, I knew I wanted to start my own company,” she recounts.
In the beginning of 2012, just one month after a company called Shore Solutions opened its doors for business, Banker was hired as Vice President of Operations. The company specialized in military, federal, and state sales, and provided a wide assortment of products to its clients, including: Tactical, Industrial/MRO (Maintenance, Repair & Operations); Safety/PPE (Personal Protective Equipment); Storage/Warehousing; Heavy Machinery/Construction Equipment; Shipboard Items; Food Service; and Furniture and Office Supplies.
From 2012 to 2015, Shore Solutions grew from $500k to over $7 million in revenue. By the end of 2015, Banker had concluded that, though the company had been successful thus far, it needed a serious makeover to take it to the next level. “Shore had done so well over the past several years, but without a total shift in ownership, I knew that it would not continue on its path of success,” she explains. “We lacked passion and integrity and I knew these were vital for Shore to reach its full potential.” So Banker decided to offer a buyout plan to the current CEO, which he accepted, and she became the sole owner of the firm.
“Our primary goal for Shore Solutions was to fill the gaps in the supply chain process for our local military, here in San Diego,” Banker explains. “Essentially, we wanted to help our military get the support they needed to be mission ready.” Over time, Banker began to understand that her military customers were not alone in the issues they were facing. “Over the years, we realized that the challenges and complexities of procurement weren’t just with our active duty military, but it was with our federal contracting officers, our state entities, local law enforcement, and many more organizations that deal with the government procurement processes. So, that’s how we have evolved over the years, and that’s how we became a premier solutions provider in the federal marketplace.”
Today, eight of Shore Solutions’ 17 employees are ex-military, and Banker believes that that ratio provides the company with one of its competitive advantages. “Because we’ve walked in the shoes of the people that we’re serving, it allows us to be able to empathize with them,” she claims. “So, what sets us apart, first and foremost, is our exceptional customer service. The people we serve are serving others, and, in knowing that, the people that I hire are in alignment with what we believe and feel. There are a ton of businesses that do what we do in the industry that we’re in, but very few do it with the passion and integrity that Shore Solutions does. And I think that’s what sets us apart from a lot of organizations currently in the industry.”
Another one of Shore Solutions’ competitive advantages lies in its keen understanding of just how the military, specifically the Navy, which is the major source of the company’s revenue, procures goods. Banker explains, “A lot of the requests that we get aren’t just ‘Hey, we need products.’ A lot of times they’ll say, ‘We have this requirement.’ It might be, say, tactical gear. They’ll tell us the requirement but they don’t always have all of the information, because the guys that are usually buying are not the ones that are utilizing the equipment – they’re just passing on the information. So, a lot of times, we get the requirements and work everything on the back end to figure out which manufacturers can fulfill the requirement, which ones can meet the deadline, which ones are compliant, and of those, which ones do we have the best relationship with.”
“So, we assess the requirement that the end users have and provide them with the best solution,” she continues. “Most times it’s going to be through us, but there are times when they’ll bring a requirement to us and it’s not in the best interest of the customer, or for us, to take that deal. So, we’ll push them in the direction of the manufacturer, so that they can go direct and get taken care of. We truly go above and beyond for our customers because we understand the parameters in which they’re working, which are not the commercial environment. Every single unit command requirement is unique and is to be treated as such. You have to care about who you’re serving.”
A third competitive advantage lies in the way in which federal contracts are awarded, and in this regard, Shore Solutions qualifies for several specific categories, known as “set asides,” which give preference to certain minority-owned businesses. “The set asides that we currently have are: 8(a) (Business Development Program), which is the most difficult to get and most sought after,” Banker notes. “The next one is HUBZone (Historically Underutilized Business Zone); then SDVOB (Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business); Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business; Minority Business Enterprise; and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise. And, it’s in the interest of a lot of commands and units to utilize us because they get credit for each set aside that we have. It’s something that they really like when they’re purchasing though us, because they get credit in all the categories.”
Banker adds that the company’s 8(a) certification is its newest set aside, and one that should boost sales dramatically, because it’s so attractive to buyers. “It allows all entities on the federal, state, and local side to be able to do a full source contract up to $4 million, which means the bidding process that can take up to six months can be dropped down to three or four days to provide us with a sole source contract,” she explains. “It streamlines the process for our end users.”
Anticipating a spike in business, the company recently invested in new software that further makes the procurement process easier for both Shore Solutions, as well as its military customers who require strict accountability and faultless financial records. “This software allows us to track, record, report, and project for end users to help them be better equipped for requirements and inspection,” Banker relates.
Going forward, Banker says she wants Shore Solutions “to be seen as a company that can be relied upon and one that raises the bar when it comes to the level of support we provide. Our vision for the organization is to better the lives of the heroes we serve by delivering superior solutions for their everyday needs. And in order to accomplish that, we need to improve not only our internal process but our external process; to have horizontal and vertical growth in different markets and increase our offerings in all of the current contracts that we hold. In five years, my goal is to be at $25 million in revenue, and there’s not an obstacle that I foresee preventing us meeting that goal.”
Banker believes that the company’s culture will get it where she wants it to go. “It’s built on Accountability, Communication, Trust, Growth, and Excellence,” she declares. “One of the many things I learned while serving in the military is that having a strong, united team is imperative to having long-term success.” Equally essential, she adds, is the company’s relationships with its vendors. “Our suppliers are just as important as our customers, if not more, because without them we couldn’t fulfill our mission. The top manufacturers that we deal with on a regular basis, the ones that we are most successful with, are ones that work with military, are prior military, or have the same type of passion that we do. It makes for great teamwork and excellent service, because we both have the same objective. That’s why I love the business that we’re in – because of the relationships. Not just with the customers, but with the vendors and manufacturers, as well.”
The most important aspect, though, of the Shore Solutions business model is the integrity with which Banker and her team operate their firm. “I want people to see Shore Solutions as an organization that is built on a moral compass,” she asserts. “At the end of the day, yes, we need money to grow, but it’s not why we do what we do. The real benefit is taking care of our military. It’s our mission: To ensure our heroes are always mission ready. And I absolutely love what I do.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: Shore Solutions
WHAT: A product procurer and distributor specializing in military, federal, and state sales
WHERE: Chula Vista, California
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