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New business starting to thrive

Tony SanchezWhen this administration came into office 20 months ago, there were enterprises that were in existence that were failing – investments had been made in finances and manpower, equipment purchased, etc. These were projects that hadn’t really gained any traction (i.e. Seminole Pride Water, Seminole Pride Juice, the convenience stores, among others).

One of the things we had been working on, from the very beginning, was to increase the distribution of the water, juice and beef. It was a long road, filled with many meetings, emails and frustrations. So you can imagine how excited we were to finally reach our goal – we have distribution agreements with U.S. Foods and H.T. Hackney. U.S. Foods has continental United States distribution; H.T. Hackney services a lot of independent and mom-and-pop stores.

In fact, with the improvements we have made in those stores, we have already exceeded, in just the first quarter, the revenue projection we had forecasted for the entire fiscal year. And, that number is just going to increase.

It took a while because we had to go through the in-house approval process with both distributors. It’s just not a matter of showing up and they say, “Oh OK.” They have their quantity demands, you have to negotiate the pricing and it goes on and on. H.T. Hackney currently services 500 stores in the South Florida area. U.S. Foods is also using our water as their in-house water because we can get it to them cheaper.

We are just very excited. It took a while and a lot of emails and paperwork going back and forth and then finally, WHEW. OK.

So the opportunity to have our water in big grocery store chains is forthcoming.

There are many other things we are excited about: We have received our fuel distributor license, so we will be able to buy fuel at the port at a much cheaper rate, which will translate into lower pricing at the pump, which will mean more business. Previously, we were buying it from another distributor. Now, we have cut out the middleman. We know gas is a volume business and we are talking pennies…but when you are talking about millions and millions of gallons, those pennies add up. We just got this license on Feb. 12.

That is just one of the changes that will affect how profitable the convenience stores will be because more business at the pump means more business at the stores as well.

I have discussed our strategy at community meetings: We could have easily said, “Existing operations haven’t made any money,” and just tossed them. But how do you do that when an investment has been made, in some cases a significant investment had been made? We decided to take another approach.

For the stores, we brought them up to the level of a Circle K or a 7-Eleven. That’s what people are looking for, that’s what people want to see, so you have to make that initial investment to upgrade to that level.

Look at what’s been done, in sales, in Hollywood alone. We have taken sales from $3.5 million to $5.5 million.

Our Electronic Cigarettes are really starting to take hold. We are getting a lot of Internet orders, not only for the starter kid but also for the disposable filters. We are scheduled, at the end of the month, to travel to Temple, Texas to meet with McLane – the company that holds the distribution agreement with 7-Eleven. We sent them samples; they called back. And we are going there to discuss getting a chain authorization agreement so our product can be sold in 7-Elevens.

All these things I have been talking and writing about month after month are starting to come in. The budget that we prepared for this year was based on the assumption that none of this was going to show up this year. But it is and that just makes the financial picture even better. And, of course, we plan to do a forecast – it will show what we prepared for, what we saw after the first quarter and what we can expect – that we will show at the shareholders meeting.

We are still moving forward with the manufacturing facility for the e-cigs. Right now, we still have to use Foxconn – the company that manufactures all the Apple products – based out of China. All these products are assembled in China, but in order for us to meets the demands of all the various brands and become the manufacturer of choice, our facility will be semi-automated. The space we are considering is in Coral Springs, where we will rent warehouse space. Once we work out all the operational issues there, yes, we would love to be located on the reservation.

Changes are coming to our beef program. The Seminole Tribe has always sent our cattle out to Northwest Texas. But now we have identified a feed lot in North Florida near the Suwannee River. Of all places. Rep. Larry Howard and Alex Johns went up there and looked at it. They also have identified a slaughterhouse in Leesburg.

So the plan is not to ship it so far, have better control of the finishing out, maintain closer interaction with the slaughterhouse and keep this whole process here in Florida. More and more upscale restaurants want to know the origin of the cow, where it has been, what the cow has been fed…so we want to be able to make a statement that our beef is fully grown and finished out here in Florida.

There are a lot of restaurants that don’t mind paying more because they have customers who don’t mind paying more for a good piece of meat. The word “organic” is everywhere.

That’s big. It’s a trend. That’s what we have tried to do with all these business enterprises, including the ones from the past administration. Research, find out the trends, then take advantage of the trend and position ourselves so if people want a certain product we are there to offer it.

We have some good people in-house. Alex Johns has been invaluable. I can’t say enough about the job he’s done. I’m still learning the business, the lingo. Just so that I don’t say something wrong when we are talking about cattle, I’ve told Alex I need to be attached to his hip. The progress that we have made, the pregnancy rate that we have been able to achieve recently, I think is a direct result of the changes recommended by Alex. We have a better product and we are going to market that product as Seminole Pride Beef to be the meat of choice for grocery chains and high-end restaurants.

Based solely on my personal observations, I think a lot of Tribes have been spoiled by gaming, so they end up putting all their energies and efforts in protecting that. But you always have to ask yourself, “What if we are no longer successful at gaming?” There are so many factors outside the control of any Tribe, no matter how hard you fight. When you are fighting large numbers of people and companies, they are going to spend more than we do. What if it all disappears and you’ve had all your eggs are in one basket? All the progress you have made and now you are back to square one.

The Seminole Tribe has always been a leader in exploring the different possibilities. In fact, everything we are doing now is just a continuation of that legacy. I always talk about “legacy.” It is taking the vision of the founding members and framers of our Constitution and Corporate Charter to that next level. We’ll fight the fights that we have to fight. It’s keeping their vision and their dream going. I think that we do that with a level of conviction that some Tribes don’t exercise.

There are some other projects on the board that are still being worked through the legal and taxation issues. The Tribe is looking into acquiring a deep-water port and an oil refinery plant. Those are two big items that, if we are able to work through the various legal issues, will really enhance our distributorship opportunities. Again, this will position us to do business with the rest of the world. Import/export.

The Yakama Tribe in upstate Washington has some sort of agreement that allows them to transport fuel without tax. I need to go sit down with them and explore how they are able to do it and see what kind of partnership we could work out. Is there anything there? I have no idea. But I think I should go out there and find out. The only investment would be time and the cost to get out there and back.

We have reached out to FSU. We’ve been made aware they have a housing project that will be let out for bid in April. We made sure we are on their list to be contacted so we can submit a bid. The thought has always been not just to do work here on the rez, but if the Tribe is going to pay anyone, why not pay ourselves and the money stay right here on the reservation?

I think it is important to note that it was the goal of this administration to be self-sufficient with no subsidy from Council, and this fiscal year we have not submitted any subsidy requests to Council. Anything we are doing is strictly with Board funds. Not from Council. For the first time in Seminole history, there has been a fully self-sufficient Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc.

In just a short time we are showing we can be self-sufficient and we are going to keep moving in that direction. This administration is working. That’s what it means to Tribal members. This administration is not about showing up on Fridays and picking up a paycheck. We don’t rely on subsidies from the Council. No. The Council has enough on its plate – we don’t need to add to that.

You don’t just snap your fingers and it happens. A lot of meeting, back and forth, give and take. It is always with the mindset: We have to come to work. Nothing is going to be given to us. We have to make things happen. And are going to do it without any assistance.

When you are talking about the methods of madness, that is what it is. There is a goal we are trying to reach and everything we are doing, every step we take, is putting us closer to that goal. We want to share the wealth. That is what the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc. was created for, and we are going to make that dream and vision come true.

A regular Board dividend to our shareholders, the members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Sho-naa-bish.

Tony Sanchez Jr. is President of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc.

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