Southeast Texas vet named Veteran Small Business Champion of the Year

Brian Swindel and Beth Shapiro

Port Neches business owner Brian Swindel of Troop Industrial — a full line-stocking distributor of industrial fasteners, stud bolts, fittings, gaskets, and screws — received the Veteran Small Business Champion of the Year  award on Thursday, May 7, at the Small Business Awards at the JW Marriott, 5150 Westheimer Road, in Houston.

Winners are chosen by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

“Winners are chosen based on what they give back to the community,” said Beth Shapiro, chapter chair of Houston SCORE. “I know Brian employs a lot of veterans. He is, in some cases, a spokesperson for veterans going into their own business. Of course, you also have to show growth in your company, innovation, improvement and job creation.”

Swindel’s journey to becoming a successful businessman is an interesting one. After spending six and half years in the military as a decorated Marine and veteran of Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, Swindel began working as a salesperson at a company he described as having “questionable leadership.”

“When I was in the Marine Corps, my experience was that I had great leadership,” he said. “The guys I was under, I looked up to them. They were hardcore go-getters. When I got out, I felt like a lot of the leadership I was exposed to was just not driven. Your leadership can directly affect your income. The guy above me was just not cutting it, and my income was based on his performance. I had some experience in the fastening business. I had connections and knew what I wanted to do. I had a plan and started building towards it.”

Swindel began in July 2005 by selling nuts and bolts from an enclosed trailer, driving from job site to job site.

“I did that from July 2005 to September, whenever (Hurricane) Rita hit,” Swindel, 44, of Nederland, said. “Whenever Rita hit, it shut my business down.”

With the help of the Port Arthur Small Business Development Corpsoration (SBDC), Swindel created a business plan for Troop Industrial.

“They helped me do my business plan and present my plan to a bank,” he said. “I got a small SBA loan. They gave me a little line of credit to help me get started.”

In a short eight months, as his business continued to grow, Swindel leased an old liquor store on Magnolia Avenue in Port Neches that he converted to a warehouse. In May 2007, he purchased a commercial building across the street at Troop Industrial’s current location at 1022 Magnolia Ave. He outgrew it within a year, tore down the old structure and built an additional warehouse.

The business Swindel started in 2005 is now a major supplier to industrial contractors, fabricators, and turn around personnel in the area and has grown to 20 employees – four which are military veterans. Swindel’s success story isn’t uncommon. According to statistics from Forbes Magazine, veterans own 3 million businesses — 30 percent of businesses in the United States — and employ 5.7 million people, equating to $210 billion in annual payroll and $1.2 trillion in sales.

“Military service is tough,” said Chris Hale, National Veteran-Owned Business Association president and Navy vet. “That’s why it’s great training for a tough business world. And not everyone makes it through the military gauntlet. Those who’ve made it have earned a great business education.”

Army vet and Troop Industrial warehouse supervisor Trey Vincent, 29, of Port Acres, said although working for a Marine vet can be challenging at times, he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Vincent has been working under Swindel for the past eight years, he said.

“He’s pig-headed sometimes. That’s how Marines are,” Vincent joked, “but we have fun. I couldn’t imagine working for anyone else.”

Swindel offered advice to aspiring veteran entrepreneurs.

“Learn as much as you can about the accounting side of the business and take advantage of the free services that the Small Business Administration offers,” he said.

Swindel also suggests that new business owners get involved in their local Greater Chambers of Commerce for the networking opportunities and valuable information they offer.

For more information about the Small Business Administration, visit www.sba.gov.

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