Diversification and Family Ties Help Woman Entrepreneur Forge Success
When you think of industries dominated by men, construction might be one of the first that comes to mind. And for good reason. Of all the people working in construction, only 10 percent are women. One of them is Laurie Bennett, co-owner of the Fence Factory, one of the fastest growing, family-owned small businesses in the greater Ventura, California region.
In truth, the first female trailblazer in the Bennett family was Laurie’s mother, Myrna, who co-founded the company with husband Robert in 1972. Although Laurie helped her parents with the business as a teenager, doing tasks like counting nuts and bolts, filing paperwork and training office managers, she felt a calling to enter the field of law enforcement.
While pursuing a business degree in college, Laurie was accepted by the California Highway Patrol Academy. But her parents, long recognizing her aptitude for their business, appealed to Laurie’s entrepreneurial spirit.
She joined Fence Factory soon thereafter and never looked back.
Diversification Accelerates Success
Fence Factory is a bit of a misnomer because the company does so much more than manufacture and install simple fencing. Over the years, it has diversified into a plethora of fencing materials and launched several affiliated ventures, including electronic security systems and special event rentals. The diversification helped Fence Factory ride out the Covid-19 downturn, when dozens of special events were cancelled. Fence Factory now has 16 business locations serving customers as far north as Atascadero and Fresno and as far south as Conejo Valley/Moorpark. The company employs more than 200 people.
“We’re very proud of the success of the business,” said Laurie, who with her brother Steve manages the company, which caters to commercial, residential and government clients.
Diversification and the addition of various product/service divisions brought new challenges. By 2020 the company had outgrown its main operations facility and needed more space for its heavy equipment and product inventory. Laurie began the search for a larger property to buy. With the help of a commercial realtor, Laurie was shown two parcels totaling 215,000 square feet, one with a two-story building on site, and plenty of room to accommodate the company’s expanding space needs.
The next challenge: how to best fund the purchases.
Teamwork and SBA 504 Expertise Close the Deal
Laurie was introduced to Eric Mandell, a senior commercial lender with CDC Small Business Finance and an expert in Small Business Administration (SBA) financing. He recommended conducting two simultaneous SBA 504 transactions to get the job done. While managing the dual transactions promised to be somewhat complicated, Eric assured Laurie that he would make it happen.
“Timing was critical and coordinating the moving parts required keeping a close eye on the process throughout,” said Eric. “The Bennetts were very responsive. It was a pleasure to work with a long-standing, multi-generational mainstay of the community.”
Laurie recalled it this way: “Eric took a lot of time and answered all our questions. In addition, he advocated for us and continually kept us updated throughout the application process. He made us feel like getting our loan approved was his personal challenge. We were so fortunate to have Eric to lean on.”
Commitment to Community Philanthropy
With the property purchase successfully completed, Laurie has more time for her day-to-day responsibilities: managing Fence Factory’s holding company and overseeing its employee profit-sharing plan. She also uses her time to make sure Fence Factory gives back through a variety of philanthropic and community commitments, including those to Casa Pacifica, Rotary Club of Camarillo, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Ventura , Boys & Girls Club of Camarillo, Habitat for Humanity and Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Laurie sometimes still thinks about that fork in the road after college and the decision she made to go all-in with Fence Factory.
“I was fortunate to have some pretty good mentors in my parents and now to be surrounded by a team of great people,” she said. “This path has proven to be pretty darn exciting.”