Nothing to lose and no regrets
A version of this article was first published on Record-Bee.
Nic and Mayra Lam won the 1Team 1Dream Hands Up Lake County competition in 2020 and $15,000, which they spent on their business in Clearlake, Lam Printing; silk screen and embroidery.
“Small businesses are the bedrock of rural economies; thriving in good times, struggling when disaster strikes – a point brought home in painful and graphic detail during the 2018 fire. We formed 1Team 1Dream with a clear purpose – to support and promote economic growth and stability in Lake County and to provide ongoing education and opportunity to entrepreneurs and small businesses.”
Maryann Schmid, founder of the non-profit 1Team 1Dream, said, “Small businesses are the bedrock of rural economies; thriving in good times, struggling when disaster strikes – a point brought home in painful and graphic detail during the 2018 fire. We formed 1Team 1Dream with a clear purpose – to support and promote economic growth and stability in Lake County and to provide ongoing education and opportunity to entrepreneurs and small businesses.”
“We had nothing. We went from a big city to a town, with no jobs.”
The Lams’ story began in Alameda when they decided to move someplace peaceful. The day after they made that decision, they moved to Lake County. “We had nothing. We went from a big city to a town, with no jobs.” A week later Mayra got a job at a supermarket and then she applied and got a job as a bilingual liaison at Student Services of Konacti School District.
One day Mayra saw a screen printing job advertised, and with Nic having been a screen printer in the Bay Area, she encouraged him to apply. He got that job. They both stayed at their jobs for three years but they wanted more, Nic said, “The main reason we moved here was to do something for ourselves.”
A fellow screen printing friend of Nic’s pressured him to open his own business, telling him he had the experience to do so and that he would send orders their way. Mayra said, “I didn’t want to say no, but I knew Nic wanted something more. So, we began printing out of our garage and going to flea markets in Napa.”
In 2019 they made the big commitment, sold their car and rented the space at 15188 Lakeshore Drive in Clearlake. A long narrow space with high ceilings in the far end of the Highlands Center shopping center.
“We didn’t have anything to lose and didn’t want to regret not doing it”
“Everyone told us we were crazy,” they both chimed in together. “We didn’t have anything to lose and didn’t want to regret not doing it,” said Nic. They were confident that even if it didn’t work out, they could find other jobs.
“We were fine for a couple of months and then…” Nic paused, “COVID hit. We opened in October and COVID hit in January. We weren’t an essential business so we had to shut down.”
Unable to screen print T-Shirts, they pondered what to do and began making face masks. “No one could find masks to buy,” said Mayra. “The first ones we sewed by hand and then on one sewing machine.”
“The police came by and asked why were we open,” said Mayra. “When they found out we were making face masks they left us alone. We were essential.”
Flooded with orders from schools and area businesses, they worked night and day. “One order,” Nic said laughing, “was for 800 masks. That was a killer even though at that point we had two sewing machines. We got it done on time. We also did printing on masks.”
Their business was all word of mouth, they said. “That’s how we met Olga Martin Steele (co-founder and president of the non-profit) and Schmid, who both ordered masks. We learned of the 1Team 1Dream project through them,” said Mayra. “We didn’t want to apply because we were just starting out and we didn’t know anything, but Maryann and Olga pushed us and pushed us. We discussed it and finally we applied, the day before the deadline.”
Steele said that she and Schmid ganged up on them. “We were really impressed with the masks they made for us.”
“We went around the lake,” said Steele, “knocking on doors, and asking businesses to apply. We ended up with 36 applicants, including the Lams. I am so in love with this program. Last year (2020) we raised $28,000, this year we’ve raised $50,000. First prize will be $20,000.”
“Contestants were required to attend the training workshop on how to develop a business plan,” said Steele. “Many of the people who applied did not have a business plan. In the mini competition, they had to present their business plan for three to five years out. In the workshop they got templates for a website and resources to help them maneuver for social media. They walked out with a workbook, which included additional resources. They learned how to present their business and how to do online sales. After the mini competition, the contestants received additional help in a pitch lab (conducted by Combs Consulting, a company which offers business and HR solutions based out of Lakeport) to refine their pitch to the judges in the final round.”
The Lams spoke of the workshops they attended once they qualified for the second round of the competition. “We took all of their advice. Before 1Team 1Dream we only had a basic website and now we have a complete one.”
When asked about the help with financial projections, Mayra said, “We were one of the newer businesses in the competition so we didn’t have financial history to work from. For us it was trying to estimate our income and expenses based on the few months we were open. With their guidance we were able to make the financial projections.”
The Lams didn’t expect to win, Nic said. “Other competitors were more experienced with better presentations and we were already winning with the workshops, and getting all the valuable information and resources. When we did win, we were overwhelmed. I think they saw our story and our passion. They saw something in us.”
In the year since, they’ve bought embroider machines, computers and another screen printing press and updated their website (LamPrinting.com). Business has grown, they even got a $10,000 order through the friend who said he’d send orders their way. Their main focus now is growing outside of the county.
“Nic and Mayra are an inspiration”
“Nic and Mayra are an inspiration,” said Steele with a sense of pride. “They’re a shining example of hard work, determination and business savvy that can make a difference. Not only to them and their business but also to the community they serve. Their story was just so genuine and honest.”
Visit Lam Printing’s website or call them at 707.245.2736