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Filling an unmet need: SBA business loan paves way for expansion of autism-focused kid’s gym franchise in Southern California

September 27, 2018 | Small Business Loans
Filling an unmet need: SBA business loan paves way for expansion of autism-focused kid’s gym franchise in Southern California

Southern California entrepreneur and mom Katie Haines is solid proof that “doing good” and owning and running a business don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

That’s exemplified with her recent investment in We Rock the Spectrum, an autism-focused kids’ gym franchise that offers all children an inclusive, sensory-safe space to play and learn. As a mother of a young son with autism, she first came to know the company as a customer. After seeing how much her son loved the gym and noticing a broader, unmet need, Haines signed on as the franchisee of the Pomona, Calif. location with her husband, Ted.

“With We Rock the Spectrum kids’ gym, the whole idea is inclusion,” she said. “That’s the reason (the business idea) speaks to us.”

The opening of this location has been a year in the making — from signing the franchising paperwork to obtaining an SBA loan through CDC Small Business Finance and the final stretch of obtaining permitting — and all the hurdles in between.

Inspired gym client becomes franchise owner

For many special-needs children, a so-called traditional kids’ gym or play area can be overwhelming. Children on the autism spectrum tend to prefer more calming, sensory-controlled environments. And We Rock the Spectrum gyms aim to provide that experience for all kids with special, therapeutic equipment that evokes a sense of comfort, from a calming hammock swing to a cozy hideout tunnel.

Before visiting the franchise’s Glendale, Calif. location, Haines’ home was already outfitted with similar gear for her 9-year-old son, Xavier. But she didn’t realize a nationwide gym concept featuring such pieces of equipment was already in existence for children across the spectrum. After her first visit with her son, she was in awe of the experience.

“He went to the gym and played with another kid for four hours,” Haines recalled. “He didn’t judge him for being nonverbal; I had never seen my son play like that before.”

After becoming a regular client at the Whittier, Calif. location, she learned We Rock the Spectrum was a franchise. And by fall 2017, Haines and her husband signed on to become franchisees.

Jumping hurdles toward business ownership

Filling an unmet need: SBA business loan paves way for expansion of autism-focused kid’s gym franchise in Southern California

Haines, whose background is in makeup artistry, had never opened or operated a business before. But she didn’t let that stop her from realizing her goal of opening the gym and becoming an entrepreneur.

She and her husband first approached a traditional bank lender for financing. But their experience was anything but ideal. After submitting their application and waiting months for an answer, they came to learn the loan officer had dropped the ball on their file. Then the lender dropped a bombshell on them: Their loan, the bank said, was too small to fund.

Deflated but not defeated, the Haineses reached out to more lenders for a second opinion. That’s when they found CDC Small Business Finance, a leading U.S. small business lender and nonprofit. As a community lender with the backing of the SBA, CDC has increased flexibility when it comes to approving small business loan requests. This means we’ll do smaller-dollar loans and not automatically turn down a loan request based on past credit flaws.

Related: Getting a loan? Know the difference between these types of lenders

Anna Marie Cruz, a CDC loan officer covering the Los Angeles region, responded to the couple and “from Day 1, she helped us once she knew what happened to us,” said Katie Haines.

“What we’re doing is something that helps the community,” Haines added “It’s not like we’re opening up an itty-bitty thing.”

Where to turn for free, professional business counseling

Filling an unmet need: SBA business loan paves way for expansion of autism-focused kid’s gym franchise in Southern CaliforniaTo get the Haineses loan-ready, Cruz put them in touch with the small business development center, or SBDC, at the University of La Verne, for some free business coaching.

The SBDC, funded by the SBA, not only helped them with their business plan and business projections, they also volunteered to review the Haines’ franchising documents to ensure they were agreeing to a fair deal.

Related: How free business coaching from these nonprofits can help you

Haines called working with Cruz and the SBDC “a Godsend.”

“Their personal connection to the mission of the business/brand was clear from the beginning,” Cruz said. “Katie and Ted are so passionate about making We Rock the Spectrum Gym accessible to kids of all abilities.”

In Spring 2018, the Haineses celebrated the funding of their SBA loan used to launch We Rock the Spectrum in Pomona.

The last stretch before the grand opening, words of wisdom

The final stretch before their late-summer 2018 grand opening involved the usual aches and pains felt by business owners going through tenant improvements.

Haines waited for months for city structural permitting to be greenlit, a process that proved to be a learning experience in itself.

Drawing from her experience, she has some advice for up-and-coming small business owners.

One, when it comes to tenant improvements, get started on those as soon as possible because delays are normal. Also, really do your homework when it comes to city regulations specifically signage.   

Her other advice? “You have to put in the work,” she said. “Don’t think there’s anything coming to you; get that out of your head. You have to push forward.”


Do you see hints of yourself in Katie’s story? CDC Small Business Finance offers several loan options for business owners who want to start or grow their business.

Tell our loan experts about your business, and they’ll work to match you with a financing plan that best suits you. Let’s talk! Reach us at loaninfo@cdcloans.com or (619) 243-8667.


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