Their market reach has continued to expand
Rene Benavidez credits his wife, Josie, for seeing a market opportunity in a broken guitar string.
In 1995, Rene was a musician and teacher in the San Antonio Independent School District. His subject? Mariachi"the popular Mexican orchestral music that features powerful vocal ensembles and a distinctive blend of instruments, including trumpets, violins, vihuelas and the guitarron, a large, six-string guitar. When a string broke on the guitarron, Rene had a hard time finding just the right replacement.
"It was a blessing", Rene said, when he finally found a source for quality guitarron strings " from a business in California. "My wife called, and she found out the owner was looking for a distributor in Texa", Rene said. Josie started selling the strings at local markets and other locations. Pretty soon, other musicians and teachers began asking her for more materials, like costumes, sheet music, dance shoes, and even the instruments themselves.
Rene soon quit his teaching job to devote himself fulltime to the business Josie had started, which they named The Mariachi Connection. In 1999, the couple approached the San Antonio Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for assistance. They wanted to secure credit for both a brick-and-mortar and online store, a forward thinking venture in e-commerce.
The SBDC, located at the University of Texas at San Antonio, provides targeted business advice to entrepreneurs looking to start and grow their businesses.
This partnership proved its worth from the beginning. "Had we not learned how to draw up a business plan and keep good records, and known how the bank was going to evaluate us, we wouldn’t have gotten a loan or credit line with the bank", Rene said.
As the small business grew, the Benavidez family has continued to consult with SBDC advisors along with advisors from the UTSA International Trade Center about topics such as selling techniques, personnel and HR issues, product sourcing, financial and strategic planning.
"We try to meet with [SBDC advisor] Tom Hansis once or twice a year, now that we’ve gotten experience under our belts. In the early years, we called him for practically everything", Rene said.
In 2004, the Benavidez family had the opportunity to purchase the building they had been renting for six years. Once again, they turned to the SBDC for loan preparation and were awarded a loan from Frost Bank for the deal. Their store, located in San Antonio’s Westside, remains the a vibrant and popular destination for schools, nonprofits, and professional groups seeking folklorico dance and mariachi supplies.
In 2005 Josie and Rene participated in a six-month entrepreneurial growth course developed by the San Antonio SBDC. "That was extremely important", Rene said. "We were growing so fast and were already very successful. It gave us a different way of looking at the business. Being successful brings new challenges and problems".
Sourcing the right products has been a key component of the company’s growth and success. Throughout the last 12 years, the UTSA International Trade Center, has helped the owners find the right suppliers and manufacturers in Mexico.
In the process of finding suppliers, UTSA International Trade Center advisors have worked with the Mexican SBDC Network to expand their research to help them identify their best sales growth opportunities, better target their potential market, and research by the SBDC National Information Clearinghouse helped identify demographics and sales growth opportunities. Other areas of assistance includes business expansion strategies, import challenges and solutions, import consolidation and product mix.
Starting in 2006, The Mariachi Connection expanded to stores in Albuquerque, NM, Forth Worth, TX and Houston, TX. "It was a challenge to run the store long distance", Rene said. They have gradually closed these out-of-town stores, but their market reach has continued to expand.
Nowadays, The Mariachi Connection does business all over the world through their catalogue and online stores. Though most clients are located in the Southwest United States, business is worldwide.
"We’ve got customers in Japan, Germany, Sweden, Australia, places where you wouldn’t think someone would be doing mariachi", Rene said. They have outfitted not only school groups, but also professional mariachis and singers such as Las Companas de Americas, the comedian Paul Rodriguez, and the singer Patsy Torres.
The Spurs Coyote even sported one of Mariachi Connection’s dashing outfits.
"The sales are phenomenal" Rene said. "We never had any idea that we’d get to be where we are today". Now Rene has decided that it’s time to get back to his musical roots. "I’m in the process of putting together a mariachi for my church", he said. Viva mariachi!
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