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Loan helps biz stay afloat

Andy Ouriel • Mar 25, 2014 at 7:00 PM

In fish lingo, Lorenzo Tillman Jr. is a guppy in a shark’s tank.

The Sandusky resident realizes just how easy it can be for most entrepreneurs to flounder when they start a new business.

Now factor in how he reopened a store in a somewhat-impoverished area and inherited back bills left by the company’s former owner.    Despite these challenges, Tillman believes his exotic animal and fish business will float — and so do others.

Sandusky officials recently approved Tillman for an underused credit initiative.

Coined the Micro-enterprise Loan Program, city officials provide low-interest loans to entrepreneurs in hopes they start businesses, sparking community development in poverty-stricken areas.

No loan can exceed $7,500, a relatively small amount, hence the “micro” moniker. The loan’s also strictly for Sandusky residents who have trouble borrowing money through traditional methods.

Tillman received the maximum allotment to reopen Pirates Cove Tropical and Salt Water Fish on Clinton and West Monroe streets.

The store specializes in selling and even breeding exotic fish and animals.

The store also sells live bait; fishing, hunting and trapping licenses; dog tags; and food for pretty much any fish or animal imaginable.

Tillman parlayed the $7,500 to purchase some inventory and pay off bills amassed by the former owner.

“The bills accumulated before and as soon as I walked in,” Tillman said.

An Army veteran with a sales background, Tillman’s business plan revolves around providing a unique but important service to community members — criteria city officials deemed worthy of a loan.

“I had to go through different classes and explain to them what my dream was and what I wanted to do for this community,” Tillman said. “This is a store for people who are getting home, and if they forgot food or have a cloudy fish tank, they can come in here and get help from me. I don’t want people around here to travel a long way to take care of their animals or pets”

Tillman’s aggressive about pleasing his customers.

He’ll make house calls to install a saltwater tank.

If a customer wants a certain fish he doesn’t have, he’ll order it from California or Florida and ensure it’s delivered to him a day later. And he plans to wear a costume outside the store to flag down and lure people into his store.

“People will laugh, but they’ll go by and want to check out the store” Tillman said.

Tillman’s seemingly profitable business plan coupled with his passion convinced officials to provide him a loan.

“The city’s Micro-enterprise Loan Program funds are useful for small business owners and entrepreneurs to obtain a supplement in structuring the necessary capital for their business operations and equipment,” Sandusky chief planner Rebecca Corrigan said.

Tillman’s the second entrepreneur to receive this loan.

A business called Active obtained micro funds in 2009 and just paid off its principal and interest amount.

In addition to making money, Tillman hopes others apply for a loan so they, too, can help improve Sandusky.

“This is not only for myself but for other businesses that want to start,” Tillman said. “There is not a lot of help out there if your credit isn’t right. The main thing I want to do is help bring opportunity for others”

His ultimate dream: opening up at least one store like Pirates Cove in each state across the United States.

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