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Jeffrey Butland Family-Owned Small Business of the Year

Gil’s Appliances: A Family Tradition of Trust and Integrity

Sisters, Lisa Sienkiewicz and Gail Parella quite literally grew up in the business started by their parents, Gil and Sarah Almeida, in 1961. The Almeida family lived in an apartment upstairs from their original store on Wood Street in Bristol. Gil’s began as an old-fashioned, family-run record store before shifting focus from music to televisions and appliances. In 1976, Gil and Sarah moved the business to its current, larger location on Metacom Avenue, and in 1995, Lisa and Gail took over the business from their parents and began focusing solely on appliances. Since that time the sisters have been dedicated to continuing the tradition of trust, integrity, value, and exceptional customer service that their parents
began over 55 years ago.


In 2016, Gil’s opened a second retail showroom on Aquidneck Avenue in Middletown, RI, to
better serve the Aquidneck Island and South County communities. In 2017, the sisters completed a renovation and expansion of their Bristol location, nearly doubling their showroom space while adding working kitchens for cooking demonstrations and special events highlighting local chefs and artisans.

The sisters continue to move the business forward in ways that allow them to thrive in an ever-changing economy and meet the needs of new generations of customers. Gil’s customers enjoy the personalized service of a family business without paying more for the benefit. This is possible thanks to their partnership with a large east coast appliance buying group which gives Gil’s more purchasing power and an even greater selection than big-box stores.

Lisa and Gail have also ensured Gil’s web presence flourishes by completing a website redesign and expanding their overall online and social media presence. By continuing to invest in digital marketing content and advertising campaigns on multiple platforms, Gil’s has seen a rise in brand awareness and support. As a result of their efforts, Gil’s experienced impressive sales growth in 2017 and was able to add new employees to their staff.

In addition to focusing on the economic success of their business, Lisa and Gail strive to be the same reassuring and supportive presence in their community that their parents were by supporting local groups through sponsorships, donations, and volunteerism. Gil’s sponsors several local Little League baseball teams, community festivals, and food and toy drives. They are proud to sponsor such community events as the iconic Bristol Fourth of July Concert Series, as well as the Last Night Concert in Bristol featuring the RI Philharmonic over Labor Day weekend. The highest honor in Bristol was recently bestowed on Lisa and Gail when they were named Chief Marshals of the 2017 232nd Bristol Fourth of July Celebration for their ongoing commitment to family and community values and local commerce. The highlight of their philanthropic work is their partnership with RI Child & Family, in which Gil’s hosts an annual Holiday Toy Drive to benefit Child & Family’s Adopt-a- Family program.

For their demonstrated longevity, success, and community outreach, the U.S. Small Business Administration is pleased to honor Lisa Sienkiewicz and Gail Parella, Owners of Gil’s Appliances, as the 2018 Rhode Island Jeffrey Butland Family-Owned Small Business of the Year.

Small Business Exporter of the Year

“We have no limits to our world. We’re only limited by our imagination”
(L-R) President and COO, Richard Grundy; CFO, Anne Beaupre Sigourney; and
CEO and Founder, Michael Sigourney.

AVTECH Software, a private corporation founded in 1988 by Michael Sigourney, is a computer hardware and software developer and manufacturer. Since its founding AVTECH has continuously expanded their offerings, growing from a startup software developer to a small business with international reach.

Their progression was not immediate but gradual, taking the addition of key personnel and co-owners including CFO, Anne Sigourney and President and COO, Richard Grundy. Anne joined AVTECH in 1997, managing the accounting, administration and human resources departments while Richard came onboard in 2001, growing through engineering leadership roles and now overseeing day to day operations and executing the strategic growth plan.

With key personnel in place AVTECH worked to create a strong infrastructure, including the 2008 SBA loan funded purchase of its headquarters at Cutler Mill in Warren, RI. The facility continues to be a center of growth for AVTECH as well as the surrounding area which has seen significant investment
and improvement since that time.

In 2016, Grundy attended the SBA Emerging Leaders program, a seven month intensive entrepreneurship educating and training course focusing on financial literacy. Through this course Richard was introduced to the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP). The STEP program was created to increase the number of small businesses that export their product or service, as well as increasing the value of exports for those small businesses that already do.

AVTECH’s ownership team began meeting with STEP grantee, The Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant University. The Chafee Center helped educate AVTECH on exporting services and how to effectively reach and expand in different international markets. In turn, AVTECH began to accelerate the sales and marketing of their Room Alert® product line to businesses around the world. Room Alert® products monitor computer rooms, data centers and other facilities for conditions such as temperature, humidity, power, flood, water leakage, smoke and fire, air flow, room entry, motion, cameras and more.

Were thankful for the support and resources the SBA makes available to area businesses,” said  Grundy. “Through participation in the SBA Emerging Leaders program in 2016, we were introduced to the STEP program and the Chafee Center at Bryant University. The STEP program and the many other resources provided by the SBA and Chafee Center have been instrumental in our international growth over the past several years," he added. Over the next two years AVTECH participated in four STEP sponsored trade missions to Canada, UK, Israel, and Ireland – with another trip scheduled for April 2018 to Dubai. AVTECH’s exporting business has grown from approximately 23% of their revenue prior to 2016 to over 30% in 2017, with forecasts projecting over 40% by 2020.

Our strong network of international resellers have helped Room Alert protect businesses around the globe from downtime and damage caused by extreme environment conditions,” said Sigourney. “Working with the STEP program and participating in state sponsored trade missions have made these global markets more accessible than ever before. We’re proud to manufacture Room Alertin the USA and appreciate the resources the SBA provides that have helped us reach customers now in 186 of 196 countries,” he noted.

For their accomplishments in expanding the global economy, the U.S. Small Business Administration is proud to recognize Michael Sigourney, CEO; Anne Sigourney, CFO; and Richard Grundy, President and COO of AVTECH Software, as the 2018 Rhode Island Small Business Exporter of the Year.

District Director Award

“It’s all about the journey…and I know you’ll have an amazing one” On January 22, 2018, Rhode Island lost a trailblazing leader in the small business community, and, to all who knew her, a friend. Cheryl Watkins Snead left an indelible mark on everything she touched, truly embodying the age-old adage of “leaving it better than you found it.” Whether it was the
company she founded and grew to a national supply-chain powerhouse, her advocating for countless young people, women, and people of color, or her unwavering support for small business; Cheryl made them better.

Born in New Jersey, Cheryl began her path towards entrepreneurship through education.
Crafting her skillset at UMass Amherst where she was the first African-American woman to graduate with a B.A. in Mechanical Engineering. Upon graduation, she dove into the workforce perfecting her craft for General Electric while gaining a keen understanding of management. While working Snead never gave up on her continued education, a trait that would repeat throughout her life. Cheryl would go on to earn her M.B.A. from Purdue University and with her technical prowess and strengthen understanding of business, branched off on her own founding Banneker Industries. Cheryl understood that business, much like life, has opportunities and obstacles, ebbs and flows, positives and negatives. In an ever expanding technological world that demands minute-by- minute updates, we sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees. What Cheryl understood more than most was that the journey is as important, if not more so than destination.

In October of 2017, Cheryl spoke at a “TEDx talk” in Providence where she addressed her
career, management, and leadership style. During her presentation Snead had this to say, “I do want to be remembered, when my career is over, when my life’s journey is over, that I managed with enthusiasm, I lead with passion, and I would add four words to it – as a servant leader.” Those close to her would say she achieved what she set out to do, “Cheryl was a leader, business giant, entrepreneur but more importantly a friend,” said SBA District Director, Mark S. Hayward, “She received many awards during her short life, which proved that she was a very special person, but most importantly she gave to people much more than she received. She taught us all to live each day with enthusiasm and determination not knowing which day will be your last. Her infectious smile provided us with inspiration to achieve, and her supporting words with the confidence to continue the journey,” he reflected.
We hope, by giving this award and publishing this article, to continue to shine a light on who
this amazing woman was, the countless lives she touched, and the incredible admiration we here at the Rhode Island District Office of the Small Business Administration have for her. We also understand that our words will never do justice to who she was, so we will close with Cheryl’s own words of wisdom. “So as I conclude, and you think about everything I shared with you, it’s really not been about the destination at all. In fact, having your plan is important but be flexible and agile for the changes in life that are going to come. When you lead, lead with passion and when you’re serving others you have no idea where that’s going to take you. And finally, when you do run into obstacles and challenges – ‘cause we will, that’s life – you now have a tool in your toolbox, a process to achieve it, to overcome it. I hope now you know a little bit about me but more importantly a little more about you. You know what
your past is, you’re in your present, now look at your future – not just your destination- but it’s all about the journey…and I know you’ll have an amazing one.”

For her lifelong commitment to bettering the small business community, her steadfast
dedication to the growth of opportunities for women, young people, and minorities within that community, and her entrepreneurial excellence, the U.S. Small Business Administration is proud to posthumously recognize Cheryl Watkins Snead, Founder and CEO of Banneker Industries with the 2018 Rhode Island SBA District Director Award.

4 Uses of Technology That Drive Company Success

By Bryan B Mason
The Apollo Consulting Group LLC


Small companies typically look at technology as a necessary but unwanted expense. Often, systems were acquired one at a time to fulfill a need or solve a problem and don’t talk to each other. The objective has been to minimize costs rather than drive sales or provide information for decision making.

I suggest the following uses of technology that I believe are critical to company success:

Drive Sales – You want to use technology to provide the right information at the right time to prospective customers and be able to identify which potential customers need your time depending on where they are in the Customer Journey (see last’s months article on this topic).

Deliver Best in Class Service – In this day in age, you need great customer service if you want to have lots of repeat business and just as importantly – great customer reviews and recommendations. So you need technology to be able to provide a 360 degree view of the customer – purchase history, contact history, open issues for resolution, next steps, etc.

Enable Operational Efficiency – You want to minimize duplicate data entry (e.g. having to enter customer name and address in more than one system). You want to have your technology support optimized work flows. You need consistent information between systems so everyone knows what needs to be done. You want information to be the same between your operational systems (items and inventory) and your online retail store.

Support Management Decision Making – You need information on what is going on so you can spot trends. You need easy access to what is selling and not selling. You need to know which sales people are performing and which are not. Most importantly, you need to track the key metrics that drive your company’s success (understanding that these are different for each company).

So you ask yourself, how do I get from where I am to where I want to be with technology? The answer, of course, is that you need to develop and execute a technology plan. A technology plan identifies the target end state and lays out the steps to get there. Having one minimizes the transition costs as work proceeds in a logical and deliberate process. It also minimizes
misdirection as the end state is already defined.

Some of the key components of a successfully technology plan include:
 A map of data flows throughout the company
 An evaluation of current systems
 An identification of gaps in functionality and inefficiencies
 The identification of potential solutions
 A target technology end state
 The sequence of steps and costs to transition from the current state to the future state

If you don’t think you can do this on your own, get some help. After all, it is critical to your company’s success.




Mr. Mason founded the Apollo Consulting Group in 2008 to help small and mid-sized companies
in solving their challenges. Mr. Mason brings over thirty years of corporate, consulting and
entrepreneurial experience in a variety of industries. He possesses skills in general business
management, analysis, strategy development, marketing, finance/budgeting, operations, pricing
optimization, workflow optimization, process reengineering, project management, and
information technology. Mr. Mason has two degrees in Economics and was a Volunteer Mentor
for the Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RI-CIE). He writes a weekly
blog on his company website at
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