A Passion for Cars and Partnership with the UGA SBDC Result in Thriving Business

Staff Report

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023

After 20 years in the finance world, Steve Kanner was ready for a change. Thanks to some guidance from the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Kanner accelerated his love for cars into a new career.

“As a kid, I was always tinkering around with cars. And through high school and after, I enjoyed building cars with friends. It’s always been a passion,” said Kanner.

In 2015, Kanner took a leap of faith. He left his finance career so he and a childhood friend could open Commando Racing–a business dedicated to creating car racing gear. After a year of focusing on racing apparel, Kanner saw an opportunity to shift the business to focus on custom car builds and classic car restoration. Kanner bought out his business partner in 2019, then the following year changed the name of the business to Commando Customs & Classics and leased the 11,000-square-foot facility on Dean Forest Road in Savannah where the business is located today. He knew he wanted to purchase the building, but he wasn’t sure of the steps to get there. 

By chance, or maybe a stroke of good luck, Kanner was invited to a dinner at a client’s home on Lady’s Island in South Carolina where he sat next to Matt Richardson, a Small Business Association (SBA) approved lender with a bank in South Carolina. Kanner used the meeting as an opportunity to ask Richardson how he could buy the facility on Dean Forest Road. 

Richardson put Kanner in touch with the UGA SBDC office in Savannah. Nadia Osman, business consultant at the UGA SBDC, explained the first step to getting an SBA loan was to have a strong business plan and financial projections. While working through the business plan and projections, they discovered other areas where UGA SBDC resources could lend a hand. 

“Nadia was amazing to work with. We worked through the steps of putting together a real business plan and she helped me dive into digital marketing,” said Kanner. “Up until meeting Nadia, our form of advertising was a Facebook post about twice a week. After going through Digicon, a marketing class through the UGA SBDC, I learned about digital marketing and the importance of all the social media platforms.” 

Kanner also leaned on the UGA SBDC for help with QuickBooks, and he got it from Valerie McElveen, area director of the UGA SBDC at Georgia Southern University.

“Even though I was a finance guy, I was never on the bookkeeping and accounting side,” said Kanner. “I was way over my head with QuickBooks and I made a mess of that. Valerie helped me dig through that until we could get a CPA on board to help.”

The business is thriving with the help of the UGA SBDC. After submitting the business plan and projections with the loan application to the SBA, Commando Customs & Classics received an SBA 504 loan that provided enough funds to purchase its current building and allowed for renovation and expansion of the space. The company has nearly tripled its sales in the three years since. 

“We’re in a weird position that we don’t need more business. We have a year-long waiting list with more business than I know what to do with,” Kanner said. “And that’s something we are going to work with the UGA SBDC on so we can continue to grow but remain efficient.” 

“The UGA SBDC has been incredible for us and Commando,” said Kanner. “There is no way we would have this building right now if it wasn’t for Nadia and her help. I knew I could email her at any time with any question and she was right there to help. I would encourage anyone thinking about starting a business to have passion and to have the UGA SBDC in your tool belt.”

Osman said Commando Customs & Classics is an example of how she encourages clients to use as much of the UGA SBDC’s resources as they can.“One of the biggest things I’ve learned working with Steve is to help the clients stop and look at each different piece,” said Osman. “Most clients come to us for one thing, but I always encourage them to dive deeper. Oftentimes, businesses may not understand that the UGA SBDC can cover the whole picture when it comes to business, so I like to make sure we are working with the client in all different aspects.”