If you drove by its location, you may not even know Gator Guards exists – much less that it is one of the more well-known and emerging faces in its industry.
Now, the locally-based small business is making a huge splash on the global market.
“We’re a small, very small company that focuses on manufacturing marine accessories,” said Sue Smith, president, CEO and founder. “We focus basically on anything that can protect your boat.”
Located in an old Farmington school, Gator Guards employs only six people, including Smith. But its clientele keeps getting bigger — and farther away.
“We’re looking for revenue to generate ten-fold. Which is significant but something I never thought we would achieve,” said Smith.
After 20 years in business, the company is an international hit. It recently won the Governor’s 2016 New Exporter of the Year Award.
“Most exporters in the U.S. are small and mid sized businesses. They are not multi-nationals by sheer numbers alone,” said Jim Ryan, an international trade specialist.
Ryan works for the Illinois Small Business Development Center which provides international trade assistance to a network of a small and medium-sized businesses acrross the state. Ryan’s officer also works with and nominated Gator Guards for the award. Ryan believes many people have the wrong picture of small and medium sized businesses, and says the business does not need to be big in order to be successful.
“That’s a little bit of a hurdle that American businesses need to address and get over,” he said. “There’s this sense that you need to be a success in domestic business before you can be interntational.”
Smith says Gator Guards is not alone and thinks other small businesses fly under people’s radar but are the key to keeping local communities afloat.
“We’re going to be the main employer in these small communities.”
The SBDC is located on the campus of Bradley University. Smith says it is a major reason her company is able to expand its global presence.