Paving a Way for Women in the Auto Industry — Naoimi Casillas Profile

Naoimi Casillas is a renaissance woman. She’s an accountant. She’s a small business owner. She’s a loving wife.

Her role at home in many ways sees the sum of her wide range of titles and talents best represented. Assisting her husband Josue Casillas as a partner in life and partner in American Factory Wheel, Naoimi’s open ear, helping hand and knack for numbers make sure the family business runs smoothly and avoids all potholes.

Working in accounting for over two decades, Naoimi has balanced duties in the small business space with her husband Josue while crunching numbers for San Diego’s Red Door Interactive. In fact, for a moment she was even in house with her husband Josue at AFW.

“We tried working together previously and I quit two weeks into the job,” Naoimi laughs. “He’s a great owner but I’m used to having a strong personality with him, not the other way around!”

Balancing time, space and territory proved a valuable lesson for Naoimi and Josue as the two continued to collaborate on the business but with boundaries.

“I didn’t give up on the business, I just gave up on working there,” says Naomi. “I feel like home provides an equal base. Having the conversations at the dinner table instead of his office puts a whole different light on it.”

Lending an ear while breaking bread allows Naoimi to listen to her husband open up about the difficulties of running the family business in a safe space. Naoimi’s day to day work at Red Door Interactive allows her to see American Factory Wheel from both the driver’s seat and that of the passenger.

“Not working at the shop really gives me a unique perspective,” Naoimi reflects. “I sit in a really unique situation in that I’m the employer and an employee. I can understand the same struggle that my company goes through.”

Discussing work in the comforts of home allows Josue to share his ideas without parameters. Naoimi’s experience as an accountant allows her to use numbers to shape her husband’s vision. “I’m his conscious when it comes to his dreams,” Naoimi says. “He’s great about dreaming big and having huge aspirations. My analytical side helps hone it and figure out how we make it happen.”

Coping with COVID-19 as a Small Business Owner

As important as it is to dream, the recent Coronavirus pandemic has turned owning a small business into a nightmare. The health crisis has led many to lose lives and many family owned companies forced to close their doors. While the latter pales in comparison to the death of loved ones, the emotional and financial stress felt by small business owners still proves a heavy situation for many across the country.

In San Diego, Naoimi has stepped up as a wife, owner and accountant to help Josue and the American Factory Wheel team in this moment of crisis.

Pursuing loans and government assistance to keep the lights on and keep staff paid, her analytical expertise backed by her polite and persistent nature has guided Josue and AFW as they search for solutions.

“When all the loan conversations came out, my skeptical side came out at first,” reflects Naoimi on the early business response to COVID-19. “It was almost like a protective parent. I started to go into the mode of seeing what programs are out there, instantly searching the internet.”

The search was tiresome but worth it.

“Never in my mind did I ever even fathom that it would be as big as it, I but immediately started looking online for small business assistance and small business loans.”

The search for solutions would go deep both externally and internally, running the numbers of AFW and digging for resources.

“I looked at the year-to-year variances so that I could start seeing where we would see changes and a shift,” says Naomi. “Once we got it all together, I went online and applied for the EID loan – the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. I thought our chances would be better because I knew there would be so many hands in the pot. The interest rate wasn’t too bad and the duration that you could spread that out was crazy – like 30 years – depending on the loan you took.”

Researching each option, Naoimi was able to apply for EID and PPP. Though difficult, her deep- dive approach to preparing and gathering information helped AFW immensely in these tough times.

“I applied for PPP through our bank,” Naoimi says. “In the past we’d had issues with getting small business loans so that felt uncomfortable. I reached out to the branch manager directly, I wanted to know the steps, what they needed from me and I needed to know it now. I wanted to have all the information locked up and ready to send to her before loan applications opened up. I’ve worked for a small business, so I know how that goes.”

Naoimi’s experience as an owner and employee at a small business has helped her a lot during the search for funding and assistance. Still, the emotional toll and financial reality are both tough to take.

“It made me so upset that as a business we had to take out a loan in order to keep people employed, pay our rent and just keep our doors open,” Naoimi says somberly. “It didn’t sit with me well because usually you take a loan to better your company, but it felt like we were taking a loan just to survive.”

So, how would Naoimi recommend other small business owners find funding and the right programs in response to COVID-19? She’s shared her tips with us.

6 Tips for Finding Funding

  1. Look for All Sources – When applying for funding, Naoimi dug deep to see all the programs that were available. When making the best choices and getting the most help, it’s important to cast a wide net and have as many options as possible. Searching for loans and grants alike are important.
  2. Apply – At the end of the day, you have to turn in the applications to make it all happen. Know your business, know your options, and apply.
  3. Be Persistent – The more you work to get assistance, the more you control your own destiny. Naoimi has been incredibly persistent in applying for loans, having situations where she’s been on hold as caller #660 and waited just so she can have that conversation.
  4. Follow Up – To the note of tip 3, you have to follow up when applying for funding. Be persistent, be polite and create personal relationships with those at the banks and at the government agencies to better your chances.
  5. Contact the Small Business Association – Reaching out to your local Small Business Association is key in these times. They will have already done plenty of the work in regard to knowing your best options and providing advice in this time of need.
  6. Weigh Your Options – As Naoimi will tell you, weighing your options and understanding your needs and numbers is crucial. While COVID-19 has and will sink many small businesses, it does not have to be that way. Weigh all your options so you can get through this pandemic period but also be in good financial shape in regard to loans and interest rates after.

A fighter, Naoimi is practicing what she preaches. She’s aware that millions of small businesses have applied for the same loans, so she’s conscious of the fact that she has to be unique in contacting the agencies personally and building that report.

As discussed, her analytical background is a key factor in the current decision making and it should be for others too.

“Can I ride this out?” Naoimi asks herself and others when addressing the now and the future.

“It’s going to be a really tricky question for everybody in any business and it will all have different outliers. I don’t think we’d want to get into extreme debt over COVID. We want to be reasonable over this.”

While every business has different struggles, she sees both the light at the end of the tunnel and the common bond.

“We’re all surviving the same storm,” Naomi says. “We’re just all in different boats.”

The Future is Female

As AFW pivots during the pandemic, Naoimi is right by Josue helping him as a spouse and co-owner.

“How can I help you?” Naoimi asks her husband regularly and advises spouses of small business owners to do the same.

“That question alone breaks down walls, makes a lot of difference and moves mountains. We don’t always know the stress we’re under. You have to be able to see itin someone and let them know you’re with them.”

Naoimi is with Josue. She is also with the many other women in the automobile industry that are often overlooked. Soon, they will all be seen and heard.

Working with Cali BBQ Media, Naoimi is looking to share stories and start conversations with other females who play major parts in car and repair companies that are historically male dominated. She realizes the future is female and needs transparent leaders who are okay being vulnerable.

“Struggle is your biggest adversary!” Naoimi says with joy and optimism.

As we all struggle in uncertainty, Naoimi is ready to share her ear, insight and ideas with other women in the industry just like she does off the clock and over dinner with her husband Josue.

— Article by Ian Stonebrook for Cali BBQ Media

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