After establishing a career in project management, Christine Vargas in 2004 decided to build an interior design firm. Beginning in Rochester, N.Y., she slowly built the business until she was able to open a second office in Buffalo in 2017. After years of steady growth, Vargas Associates had a staff of 14 and an excellent reputation in both markets.
COVID-19 hit the company hard. While the public sector work was not greatly affected, corporate clients canceled or delayed office moves and remodels. Though the firm was on solid financial footing, Vargas worried about future revenue and keeping her team intact. She had built an experienced, tight-knit team and preserving it would be key to rebounding from the downturn. However, she had no choice but to furlough some employees.
“To us, our banker has always been like part of our team.” – Christine Vargas, owner, Vargas Associates
Like the experienced business owner she is, Vargas dug into solving the problem. Through financial planning and workload forecasting, she developed a viable strategy. Though she had to furlough some employees, she knew a loan from the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) would help the company remain intact for however long it takes to recover.
In the chaotic first days of the program, she relied on KeyBank, where she had done her corporate and personal banking for years. KeyBank had previously supplied a line of credit that paid for an expansion and renovation of the Rochester office.
Her local banker advised her on what information was needed to complete the application and even called Vargas at home on a Sunday morning to answer a question.
"We had our PPP application in really early," she said. "To me, it was peace of mind. We had done everything we could do to protect our business."
Because of her relationship with KeyBank, Vargas said she never worried that her application might get lost in the avalanche of applications. "I knew they were with us and would see it through," she said.
One week after applying, Vargas Associates received its loan and has been able to avoid widescale furloughs, which would have devastated the company, she said.
"Our PPP dollars are going to protect us through the end of the year," she said. "I’m extremely grateful to Key for their guidance in this crisis."
In the meantime, the company is carefully monitoring the economic recovery while forecasting work through the rest of the year and into 2021. Vargas is cautiously optimistic: "I try to be positive and make sure we’re going after everything we can."