Every small business must navigate various challenges, whether it’s developing a business plan, purchasing your first location, or finding trustworthy staff — sometimes a combination of all three!
Yet despite these unique challenges, many share the dream of operating their own business. In fact, 99.9% of U.S. businesses are small businesses, and small businesses are credited with creating 63% of new jobs between 1995 and 2021.
At Rockland Trust, we firmly believe that small businesses are the engine that drives our country’s economic success, and we’re committed to helping these businesses grow. This is why we launched the Small Business, Big Dreams contest.
We received hundreds of submissions this year and narrowed it down to three finalists: Nilo’s Market, American Vinegar Works LLC, and AMG Snacks LLC.
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Meet the 2023 Rockland Trust Small Business, Big Dreams Finalists
Danilo Lopes is the founder and owner of Nilo’s Market, based in Quincy, MA. Nilo’s Market is a family-owned market that has made a point to serve its loyal customers and those looking to expand their palates with Albanian, Brazilian, Greek, and Turkish cuisine.
Rodrigo Vargas is the founder and CEO of American Vinegar Works LLC, based in Worcester, MA. Rodrigo is a first-generation American who feels everyone deserves to experience high-quality, small-batch vinegar with heart. Rodrigo aims to be the premium American vinegar of choice for home and professional cooks nationwide.
Amanda Gilman, owner of AMG Snacks LLC, based in Pembroke, MA, is changing how people snack. Tired of unhealthy and over-portioned snacks, Amanda decided to create her own healthy alternatives that were portable and full of flavor. Today, she is pursuing her passion by making her snacks available across the United States.
How to Stand Out in an Oversaturated Industry
Establishing your brand in an industry with competition that may already have a strong presence in the market requires some creativity. For each of our three finalists, their passion and dedication to their local communities is a key differentiator and has played a big part in their success today.
After all, when building a name for your business, why not start with the community of people that knows you best?
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Nilo’s Market: Giving Back Goes a Long Way
Incorporating values of equality and equity, Danilo’s mission is to ensure that all of his employees feel they have a voice and say in the market operation. The values bestowed upon Danilo’s employees also carry over in how he treats and serves the surrounding community.
Danilo also recognizes that there is a large population of immigrants in Massachusetts who don’t have access to the cuisines that they grew up with and love. Danilo said, “Being a beacon of home to those so far away allows [us] to build a strong presence in the community as a place of comfort. It also opens the minds of those unfamiliar with international cuisine and encourages them to give it a try.” Understanding the unique challenges immigrants face, Danilo says that for many of his neighbors, “community is the closest thing they have to family” in the U.S.
Nilo’s Market donates food, toiletries, and holiday foods to the Quincy Community Action Programs (QCAP), and also donates groceries to The Goodwill Store in Quincy. He recognizes that non-profit partners can best help him support his neighbors, as they understand the community's needs and know how to allocate resources to meet them.
Danilo also firmly believes in supporting the youth within the community, stating that this work matters significantly because it provides a positive influence to those who will be the future of our country. In Quincy, specifically, Nilo’s Market supports the Quincy High Football Booster Club, which follows the team’s progress and players’ lives beyond their high school careers. The Boosters are committed to seeing each player supported throughout high school and their future endeavors.
American Vinegar Works LLC: Equal Opportunity at its Core
Rodrigo is committed to employing a diverse staff, respecting the history and space where American Vinegar Works operates, and supporting those who support others. “For us, this came in the form of a non-profit that let us set up our very first, very small fermentation room in the back of their commercial kitchen and then the gourmet retailers that embraced our vinegars,” Rodrigo said.
Rodrigo additionally made a name for himself for being a pioneer for equal opportunity. Being an LGBT-certified and first-generation American-owned business that employs adults with developmental disabilities from the Mercy Centre, Rodrigo knew he wanted to find every opportunity he could to pay it forward. He believes that we all need to work together to make the world a better place, and for his business to grow and thrive, he needs to help those around him thrive alongside him.
“We’re proud to bring in a diverse workforce. Our vinegars are hand bottled by adults who are part of the Mercy Centre in Worcester. This is why you might see a label slightly askew or the font a little different on some labels; it’s because we have a different group bottling for us based on their ability,” Rodrigo said.
Rodrigo furthers his community efforts by providing in-kind and financial donations to numerous non-profits, including Catholic Charities/Mercy Centre, Waltham Fields Community Farm, and The Public Interest Law Foundation, to name a few.
AMG Snacks LLC: Creating a Strong Partner Network
Being a South Shore native, Amanda finds pride and value in supporting the local economy. Like our other two finalists, AMG Snacks LLC understands that for its mission to succeed, the community it operates in must also thrive. Amanda’s community presence extends throughout the South Shore area as a result of a strong partner network.
“My focus is in the Northeast, and Massachusetts specifically, with an intentional effort to get into local stores and support the local economy. We partner with many local distributors, grocery chains, independent stores, cafes, and juice bars to sell our product. We also purchase many of our packaging supplies and ingredients locally. These partners have been rooting for my company since the beginning and it’s been rewarding to have that mutual support as you grow,” Amanda said.
A powerful partnership that AMG has is with a co-packing kitchen Boxford Bakehouse in Plymouth, MA. Amanda notes that without this partnership, she “would not have been able to grow to the scale and volume that [we are] producing today.”
Additionally, a big part of AMG’s mission is to educate customers on why healthy foods matter through events, demos, and social media. They hand out samples at local Whole Foods and farmers’ markets, and donate product to Merrimack College and Notre Dame Academy (Amanda’s alma mater), Marshfield Food Pantry, Camp Collective, and Boston Moms’ Wicked Good Playdate Series.
Her efforts to change the narrative around healthy food have allowed her to establish herself as a thought leader in the local community as well as in the broader food industry. Amanda shared that she loves “interacting with people locally so they can learn about our product and where to find us.”
If Your Community Grows, You Grow
There is no one-size-fits-all formula for creating a successful business. Many people associate success in business with persistence, hard work, and perseverance, which are essential pieces of the puzzle. But as we’ve seen through the outstanding work of our finalists, success often results from creating meaningful relationships.
After all, success in life and business means lending a hand where you can, and working with those around you. Success takes an ecosystem working together, not a hunter looking for prey.
The Rockland Trust Small Business, Big Dreams contest awards one lucky business owner $20,000 to continue their business endeavors while supporting additional growth.
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