Mercer Business Magazine
By: Menta, Harry
Valdi Kolasa is flipping over his success. You may even see him doing cartwheels, handstands, forward somersaults, and fly away in his new 25,000 square foot state-of-the-art gymnastics training facility in Hamilton. Kolasa and his wife, Ann, are the owners of Gymland, an instructional and training facility he started for gymnasts in 1995.
It all started 20 years ago, when Kolasa came to the United States from Poland with only $200 in his pocket and a gymnastics scholarship to Northern Illinois University. "I was competing in Germany and an assistant coach from Northern Illinois University, who was completing his PhD, spotted me," said Kolasa. "He offered me a gymnastics scholarship as a transfer student. It was difficult decision to leave my family, but I thought it was a great opportunity to come to America."
So the journey began for Kolasa. He competed for one year at Northern Illinois University, but in his senior year the school decided to drop the men's gymnastics' program. During his senior year he worked cleaning floors at the university and was able to save some money and finish his senior year. He graduated with a degree in physical education.
"I tried to take advantage of the opportunity," said Kolasa. "The question is what do you do with the opportunity that you are given?" For Kolasa, the answer was easy. Upon graduating from Northern Illinois University, he put his resume together and looked for a job where he could use his gymnastics skills.
"I still had the passion for gymnastics and was able to land a job as an instructor at a South Jersey club," said Kolasa. "Eventually, I landed in Princeton and worked for someone who had a school there."
And then opportunity knocked. The Princeton school where Kolasa was providing instruction had closed. "My dream was to open my own facility," said Kolasa. "The seeds were already there for me to open my own business. I had even drafted a business plan, before the school closed." He had saved a good amount of money, but not enough to open his own facility. So he approached the parents of many of his students and asked them if they would be willing to invest in his business. The answer was a resounding yes and in 1995 Gymland was launched in Princeton.
He worked hard to build the business and because of his knowledge, skills and love of gymnastics, he developed a loyal following. Over the last 14 years, he has coached numerous individual and team champions.
But then came the time when Kolasa knew he was ready to bring his business to the next level. Kolasa's vision was to make his next facility bigger, brighter and better. In order to do that he needed access to capital. He found the perfect spot in Hamilton, an old hockey rink that was up for sale that needed major renovations. So he turned to the Regional Business Assistance Corporation (RBAC) in Mercerville. RBAC is a non-profit community wide loan program that provides financing to both new and existing small businesses in New Jersey. The organization also partners with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in the agency's MicroLoan and 504 Certified Development Company (CDC) loan program.
Through RBAC, Kolasa was able to secure a $2.8 million SBA 504 loan to purchase and renovate Gymland's new facility. Typically, a 504 project includes: a third party loan secured with a senior lien on the financed asset from a private-sector lender covering 50 percent of the project cost. In this instance, 3rd Federal Bank provided a $2 million loan for the project. An SBA 504 loan secured with a junior lien made by RBAC (funded by a 100 percent SBA guaranteed debenture) covered $820,000 or 40 percent of the project cost; and a contribution of 10 percent equity from the Kolasas.
"The purpose behind SBA's 504 loan program is to provide small businesses like Gymland with long-term financing at a fixed rate for major fixed assets such as land, buildings and equipment," said SBA's New Jersey District Director James A. Kocsi. "Partnerships with community lenders like the Regional Business Assistance Corporation and 3rd Federal Bank give small business owners access to the type of capital that is necessary to generate substantial economic and job growth throughout the United States. The great part of this story is that, even in these tough economic times, the Kolasas now have a state-of the-art gymnastics facility that they can call their own."
In addition to the SBA 504 loan, RBAC provided Gymland with $125,000 loan from the Mercer County Loan fund and another $25,000 from the SBA's Microloan program to purchase new equipment.
"We went from leasing a 10,000 square foot facility to owning our own 25,000 square foot state-of-the-art building," said Kolasa. Today, Gymland offers gymnastics programs in a safe, structured professional and fun environment. "We start from 18 months old and go all the way up to instructing adults," said Ann. "We have parent/child & pre-school classes of 45 minutes for 18 months to 3 years called Land of the Little's. For children of the ages of 3-5 we have a 60 minute class called Land of the Rollers and for children of the ages of 4-6 we have a 60 minute class we have land of the jumpers."
Gymland also has a recreational program for children ages 6-18. "There is something here for everyone," said Kolasa. "Whether the program is competitive or recreational, students learn the necessary skills to perform gymnastics in a fun and inviting environment."
"I think our equipment is really what sets us apart," said Ann. "We have all Olympic apparatus that includes balance beams, wood and fiberglass floors, vaults, pommel horse, uneven parallel bars, parallel bars, rings and the high bar. We also have three in ground trampolines and three separate tumbling areas where students dismount into a loose foam pit."
"We also believe that we have the best staff in the country," said Kolasa. "Our staff is safety-certified members of the USA Gymnastics and has over 100 years of gymnastics knowledge."
This year, because of the new space, Gymland offered its students a summer camp. Gymland is also offering gymnastics birthday parties to its customers. In the future, Kolasa would like to provide a fitness room for parents, so they can drop their children off for gymnastics lessons, while they go off and work with a personal trainer or take a fitness class. Other visions include bringing in bleachers so that USA Gymnastics sanctioned tournaments can be held at the new facility.
"The possibilities are endless," said Kolasa. "We have accomplished so much over the last 14 years. Many of our students have received gymnastic scholarships from major universities. With the new facility we hope to continue this trend."
Already, Gymland has added two new jobs and hope to hire additional employees as the business continues to grow.
As for their success, people in the gymnastics circles would probably say that Valdi and Ann Kolasa have nailed it.