The recent sale of Martinsville-based For Bare Feet to a New York private equity firm is a success story. It was Sharon Rivenbark’s idea. She started For Bare Feet more than 30 years ago with nothing but an antique sock-knitting machine and help from her son and, eventually, four daughters.
They were in a tiny building in just-as-tiny Helmsburg in Brown County. Beginning with a sale to Indiana University’s book store, they slowly found markets for their creative, brightly colored novelty socks with colleges and sports teams.
At this point, a small-business loan was key in For Bare Feet’s buying a larger building in Helmsburg in which it worked for more than 20 years. The loan was from the U.S. Small Business Administrations 504 program through Indiana Statewide Certified Development Corporation. It required only a low down payment and allowed a fixed, long-term interest rate for repayment. These features freed Rivenbark to invest more of her own capital back in her business.
For Bare Feet custom socks cover a lot of feet. Bare Feet grew its client list to include the National Football League, the National Hockey League, hundreds of professional and college teams, NASCAR and companies such as Hershey and Wrangler. There are hundreds of designs commemorating holidays, hobbies and just for fun.
A fire in 2011 forced the company to relocate to a still-larger facility in Martinsville. Employment worked its way up to a current payroll of 110 people.
Rivenbark recently retired. This month, she and her family sold the company — now known as FBF Originals — to Taglich Private Equity, which says it will invest in FBF’s future growth. The employees stay on and Rivenbark’s youngest daughter, Kelly Baugh, remains as CEO.
This is a classic yarn, “From tiny acorns mighty trees grow.” It underlines the importance of small business financing as nourishment for a company’s roots early in their development.
The 504 loan to FBF in 1989 gave the small company long-term financing it could not find elsewhere and its favorable structure was critical to both the company and the local bank.
Several-hundred Hoosier companies are benefiting from SBA 504 financing, and just as many more exist that could use it now to buy real estate, machinery or refinance some current debt.
There are other small business loan options available, and it is up to bankers, other lenders — and owners of small businesses — to figure out the best way to capitalize on opportunities to grow their markets.
Small-business financing is more than “seed money.” It’s fertilizer to grow new jobs in Hoosier soil.
Congratulations to the Rivenbark family — this is a wonderful Hoosier success story — and an inspiration to so many other Indiana small businesses.
Jean Wojtowicz is president of Cambridge Capital Management Corp.