Her business vision was more than just selling gowns for one big event. She wanted her bridal shop to be part of those “moments made of smiles that hurt your face.” But then came the day that she wasn’t able to meet her customers face to face.
Lilian Masforroll, the owner of Merlili Bridal Boutique, grew up around the special brand of excitement that comes with weddings. She spent hours in her aunt and uncle’s bridal shops, where she became passionate about the details that go into wedding gowns. In 2003, she, her husband, and her sister opened Merlili (a combination of her sister’s and her names).
The bridal boutique, in the heart of Coral Gables, Florida, sits under the shade of the old oak trees along the historic, high-end Miracle Mile. The elegant coral-facade shop features select gowns that offer the couture look “without the couture price tag.”
And Masforroll was accomplishing just that until a few years ago, when road construction on Miracle Mile made it hard for customers to even know she was open, much less get through the glass doors of the shop. Worried that her business would falter, she turned to Prospera.
Helping Hispanic entrepreneurs help themselves
Prospera, Spanish for “thrives,” is an economic development nonprofit that since 1991 has helped small businesses grow. They “get a hand up, not a handout,” says Maria Yabrudy, Prospera’s vice president of marketing. Prospera was founded in Tampa, Florida, in 1991. Today, there are offices throughout Florida; in Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina; and in Atlanta. Their services are free. “We’re not your typical charity,” she says. “We empower individuals to help themselves, to provide for their families, and to hire employees who then provide for their own families.” Truist is a longtime partner of Prospera, supporting the nonprofit for more than a decade.
Prospera doesn’t turn anyone away; it helps fledgling businesses (usually Latinx entrepreneurs, but that’s not a requirement) with everything from effective advertising to the best methods of accessing capital.
Since its start, Prospera has facilitated more than $147 million in loans, trained more than 64,000 entrepreneurs, helped clients create or retain upwards of 30,000 jobs, and provided individual consulting services to more than 21,000 business owners.
A bridal shop says “I do” to a new marketing plan
Prospera helped Lilian Masforroll when construction outside her bridal boutique was hindering the business. “Sales were suffering,” says Yabrudy of the shop. The organization helped Masforroll reorganize her financial records, changed her bookkeeping software so she could make better financial projections, and finally, developed a new marketing and sales plan that helped grow the business, no matter what was happening with roadwork on Miracle Mile.
But then came COVID-19 and mandatory closures of nonessential businesses. Masforroll couldn’t let customers in, nor could she host her bridal parties. She reached out to Prospera again. They not only helped her secure a loan from Truist, but they also helped her launch a new product for the store: the Merlili Bridal Box. After a personal consultation with a stylist, boxes of hand-picked gowns go directly to the homes of brides and their bridesmaids.
After a personal consultation with a stylist, boxes of hand-picked gowns go directly to the homes of brides and their bridesmaids.
The bridal boxes helped the store overcome the challenges of the pandemic, and today, Merlili Bridal Boutique has opened its doors again.
Helping small businesses grow is good for the heart—and the economy
Arthur Costa, Truist regional multicultural banking officer for Florida and Alabama, has been involved with Prospera since 2011. “Prospera helps businesses be more successful, whether it be a marketing plan, a business plan, or advertising suggestions. Sometimes it’s just information on financial knowledge like understanding cash flows,” he says. Help isn’t just limited to new businesses. “Whatever the needs are of an organization, Prospera takes them to that next level,” says Costa.
There is at least one teammate from Truist on the board of each branch of Prospera that has a board. Beyond that, several Truist teammates have given their time to the organization. “We’ve had quite a few teammates who didn’t sit on the board, but Prospera would reach out to them for their financial institution insight,” says Lori Duarte-Roberts, senior vice president in treasury sales at Truist and secretary of the board at Prospera. Prospera also has been the recipient of grants from the Truist Foundation.
The economic development organization plans to add a board of directors to its Georgia office in 2022. “I’m hoping to have representation from Truist on that board,” says Costa.
Duarte-Roberts says Prospera is special because it’s not a one-and-done nonprofit. “We stay with companies for years.” Prospera stays to make sure small businesses not only survive, but thrive, and then those business owners in turn help Prospera to thrive. “What’s neat is companies that start with us do prosper, and then a lot of them become board members,” says Duarte-Roberts. “When someone goes through the program and stays involved [with Prospera] in some capacity, that’s the best compliment the organization could get.”
And the work of Prospera doesn’t just create goodwill; it’s also good for the economy. “With every dollar that’s invested in Prospera, through funds we raise from private and public sources, we actually generate $184 in economic impact,” says Yabrudy.
Every dollar that’s invested in Prospera generates $184 in economic impact.
And there’s likely more economic impact to come: Plans for new Prospera branches in Jacksonville and West Palm Beach, Florida, are in the works for 2022.
Circle of caring for the community
Yabrudy notes that surrounding the organization is a circle of care: Larger companies like Truist are helping Prospera help Hispanic entrepreneurs. “It’s amazing that we live in a country where corporations like Truist are willing to invest in the long-lasting success of small businesses. Helping small businesses helps the business owners and their families. It helps the large businesses who then become vendors and clients of small businesses. It helps local government in the tax revenues that are produced. And then, of course, it helps the community at large.”
That care is also noted, and appreciated, by Hispanic entrepreneur Odalma Madrid of Charlotte, North Carolina. In 2021, Prospera helped their shop, Carolina J&M Automotors, stay afloat despite the economic effects of the pandemic. “I was scared to the bone, because we weren’t prepared for what might come,” says Madrid. “My husband is very happy with Prospera because they have helped us so much; now we just feel more stable here.
“The beautiful thing is that when you come to this country, everything you wish for, if you put forth effort to do it, you can achieve it.”