Small Business Success Story: Grace Trucking

New American Melaku Sahelie has achieved his dream of business ownership as operator of Grace Trucking in Boise, Idaho.

Nicola McIntosh Oct 9, 2019

Name: Melaku Fantaye Sahelie
Age: 43
Title: Owner
Hometown: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Current residence: Boise, Idaho
Education: Associates degree, College of Western Idaho
First job: Gardener in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Melaku Sahelie has only lived in the United States since 2013, but in just a few years he’s achieved the American dream of owning his own business. Here, Sahelie shares his strategies for success in starting a business from scratch.

Why did you decide to start your small business?

My first company was Grace Taxi, which I started in 2014 for two reasons. It was a great part- time job to have while I was attending the College of Western Idaho (CWI) and furthering my education as a truck technician. It also allowed me to build my business credit through a $10,000 loan that I received from Mountain States Group to purchase the taxi.

After graduating from CWI, I took a job with Volvo Dealers and then I started driving for Swift. In 2018, I went out on my own, purchased a truck, and started my company.

Grace Trucking owner Melaku Sahelie
Grace Trucking owner Melaku Sahelie and his wife Fikr Birhanu.

I had been thinking about starting a trucking company before I came to the U.S. from Ethiopia. When you buy a truck it’s good to have some knowledge about it, so I went to school to become a truck technician.

What was the biggest challenge for you when you were starting your small business?

It was difficult to get a loan because I didn’t have business credit. I went to five banks in Boise and no one wanted to talk to me about a loan because I was a startup.

Name one thing that prepared you for being a small business owner?

I was thinking about it and planning for it before I came to the U.S. One of the difficulties for a truck driver is that if you need maintenance, you pay a lot of money. But I can fix a lot of things myself, and that is really helpful.

What tips do you have for someone who wants to start a business?

The first thing is be patient. With trucking, you can earn $4,000 in three days, but there is a lot of expense. It takes time to accumulate funds. The harvest comes slowly. Patience is key.

Next, make sure you have basic technical knowledge. As an independent operator, I can’t call someone for every broken nut or pay someone else for every problem to be fixed. It’s very expensive.

Stay organized. The trucking business is one of the most highly regulated businesses apart from aircraft, so you need to be serious about having your papers in order.

Plan ahead. I have to think about, what if my truck is broken, how will I pay my loan? How will I pay my other expenses? What is my backup plan?

I can make good money as a driver if my truck breaks down. If I start driving for someone else, I can pay my loan and fix the truck. When you have a loan, you have to know, what is your backup?

What role has Zions Bank played on your journey?

When I was struggling to find a bank that would lend me money to purchase a truck, my contact at Mountain States Group referred me to Gina Bessire at Zions Bank. Gina was great to work with. She helped me organize my business plan and we worked together on the financial projections. I applied with Zions Bank for a $25,000 U.S. Small Business Administration loan to purchase my truck, using $15,000 of my own funds as a down payment.

Looking to follow in Sahelie’s footsteps by starting a business from the ground up? Zions Bank offers online tools including business templates, columns, videos and financial calculators. Our Business Resource Centers in Salt Lake City and Boise, Idaho, provide counseling and training for entrepreneurs.

Visit a Zions Bank branch or locate a banker near you to learn more about financing including SBA loans.

Nicola McIntosh is Social Media manager for Zions Bank.

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