Angela Romero came to the U.S. from Cali, Colombia, in 1997. She got her start selling clothing out of a suitcase to fellow students in her business administration classes. Today, she runs CentralCloseout.com, a wholesale inventory supplier, with 12 employees, a 17,000-square-foot warehouse and an international clientele. It also landed at No. 177 on this year's Inc. 5000, after watching its revenue balloon to $4.2 million in 2014, up 2,357 percent from 2011. Here, the entrepreneur talks about getting the most out of employees and doing business as a woman.
-- As told to Etelka Lehoczky
I got into the closeout and liquidation business with a liquidator who didn't mind that I didn't speak fluent English. We grew the company substantially, but at the beginning of 2010, he fired me. After some negotiation, he offered me one of the domain names he owned as compensation. That's how CentralCloseout.com came about.
At the beginning, I was shy and afraid to speak to my suppliers because of my English. I was like, 'Ah, God, they don't want to take me seriously.' I still use email a lot. I don't need to be perfect with my language skills; I just need to be able to communicate and get what I need. Also, I tend to focus on a market I'm familiar with: South and Central America, where I'm able to speak the language fluently and I know people a little bit. Today, 95 percent of my business is exports.
Since we're not the largest or cheapest liquidation business, we've been focusing a lot on customer service. My employees are what really make the difference for the company, and over time I've learned how to be more assertive with them. Last year, we moved to our new location from a much smaller warehouse with much smaller expenses. I almost freaked out when I looked at my numbers. I thought, 'What are we going to do? Where am I going to come up with all this money?' I had a meeting with my staff, and it was at that point that I felt like I really took charge. I told everyone about our new expenses and that we'd need to buckle down and ramp up sales. From that point on, I was more involved with my staff and expected much more from everyone.
Still, projecting confidence and being assertive is a constant challenge. Certain suppliers have been reluctant to deal with me because I'm a woman. I've learned to take a tougher stance with suppliers as a result. I make sure I sound very confident when addressing them. You'd be surprised how many suppliers now tell me they prefer working with me because of this. They're some of the same ones who at first refused to work with me.
I also try to use feminine traits to my advantage. For instance, being supportive and a good listener have really helped me greatly in business. I've developed such good relationships with some suppliers that they call me just to say 'hi' or talk about personal problems they might be having. Just being supportive has gotten me special deals that I know they haven't offered to my competitors.