How a minority-focused small-business incubator helped Sandra Walls chart her own course.

Sandra Walls

Fueled for success

How a minority-focused small-business incubator helped Sandra Walls chart her own course.

MemphisED’s focus on innovation and entrepreneurship is all about opening doors. One measure of success in providing meaningful opportunity is through its relationship with the Mid-South Minority Business Council, the region’s top minority economic development organization.Luke Yancy III, President and CEO of MMBC, points to the organization’s business incubator known as the Center for Emerging Entrepreneurial Development (C.E.E.D.), which has provided assistance to a number of companies. “The whole purpose of the incubator is to help minorities.get into industries where barriers are fairly high,” Yancy says. “And we want to help those businesses grow through strategic partnerships.”

In Memphis and Shelby County, there are areas vital to a healthy economy in which minority firms are under-represented. “We’ve got Memphis as a major cargo airport, and with FedEx and MATA using a lot of petroleum products and jet and diesel fuel — but with scant minority participation,” Yancy says. “But one glowing exception provides a case study of how to take a small minority firm with potential and grow it.”

That exemplar is AVPOL International, with expertise in depot maintenance, logistics, assistance and advisory services and engineering. Sandra K. Walls, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, is the firm’s owner and, by any definition, a force to be reckoned with.

Her 22 years as a logistics officer in the military provided her with the knowledge and expertise to run AVPOL International. Her savvy includes knowing when to use available resources to keep her business strong, such as the incubator.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for me to … position my company to move in the direction of my personal and corporate goals,” Walls says.

AVPOL International started in 1997 and Walls has been the sole owner since 2004. She worked out of her home until about three years ago, when she connected with C.E.E.D. “Most of my business is outside of Memphis and I worked from home doing federal contracts,” she said. But growth brings growing pains, and soon she needed better space.

“At MMBC, we help with best practices, getting connected, planning, marketing and the whole nine yards,” Yancy says. “We provide a facility within the incubator with a live person who answers the phone, and we provide clerical services, a fully furnished office, strategic planning activities, paid parking and Internet. She took advantage of those services, and you see agrowing business that’s helping within our community.”

For Walls, it was about combining the advantages of the incubator with her already well-honed business sense. “I thought it was a good opportunity to set up a presence in the city rather than work out of home,” she says from her office on Peabody Avenue. Since then her firm was awarded a contract with Shelby County government to deliver fuel — another victory added to her already solid list of national clients.

“I want to take the company to where we can stand toe-to-toe with the best,” she adds. “I’m not interested in just making money. I want to provide a quality name and service.”

She is indeed making money, though. “Our revenues have tripled since 2005,” she says. “We’re averaging about $2 million growth a year and this year we expect to exceed $8 million.”

Walls was born and raised in Memphis. She graduated from Manassas High School and LeMoyne-Owen College.  While she did not plan for a military career, “at the time people didn’t want to hire me because of my ethnicity, gender and having no experience,” she says.

But she is by nature someone who faces the negatives head-on. “I look at negatives and see how I can turn them into positives,” Walls says. “I thought about the military as a place to get experience and get a master’s degree and make myself marketable in four years. But I was having fun and just ended up doing 22 years.”

Soon after joining, she received a master’s in business administration and found herself working with executives in large firms. “My level of responsibility in the military was equivalent to many of those vice presidents,” she says.

Since retiring from the military in 1995, she’s been making the most of her business knowledge. Part of her plan for the company is to bring in her son, Timothy Walls, who graduates in January from Tennessee State University with a degree in economics and finance.

“There is a legacy here to come home and do what needs to be done,” she says. “He’ll have a title, but he’ll have to work his way up, learn federal acquisition regulations and learn the business.” It’s that sort of work ethic that brought her into the MMBC incubator and propelled her to ongoing success.

“We’re continuing to work with other companies and maybe we’ll be able to go international,” she says. “The people I work with respect us and where we are.”

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Consultant touts practice of ‘eating frogs’ as strategy for success

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“We’ve got a lot of customer service people that deal with our customers and I wanted to lift them up to understand what to say and what not to say to our customers,” says Louis Clay, president of Clay & Land. “That’s what her program did for me.”

Sandra Walls, president and owner of logistics and supply chain management firm AVPOL International LLC, also recently enlisted the services of McLaren’s Success Strategies for her employees.

“It was one of the best strategic planning events that I’ve participated in, and I’m a trained facilitator,” Walls says.

McLaren strives to ensure that all participants in her sessions understand why they act the ways they do. She uses an example of a pair of “chips” that drive behavior.

“ You’ve got your child chip and you’ve got your adult chip,” she says. “The child chip wants everything now. That doesn’t always pan out so well in the workplace.”

Her example resonates with Clay, who says some customers had called to complain about how some of his customer service employees conducted themselves on the phone. He likens such behavior to that of “the 15- and 20-year olds that are on the computer so much that they kind of lose touch with people.”

“ I’ve had enough people that talked positively about (the program) that I felt it was a very good investment,” he says.


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Minority business incubator opens

Staff Memphis Business Journal

The Mid-South Minority Business Council on Friday officially opened the Center for Emerging Entrepreneurial Development, an industrial business incubator.

CEED’s initial companies are Manufacturer’s Industrial Group, a metal fabrication business; Imperial Roofing; AVPOL International, a petroleum sourcing and distribution company; Annie’s Termite and Pest Control; Three Point Graphics, a commercial packaging and signage company; and JBWM Food Distribution Co., a wholesale institutional food company.

Similar to business incubator Emerge Memphis, which houses and provides professional services to mostly technology companies, CEED will provide these companies with receptionists, telephone and Internet connections, legal and accounting services and mentoring from established and successful small business.

CEED, located at 158 Madison, was funded from corporate support, and future funding will be obtained through rent, service fees and other fund-raising sources to be determined.

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Five Memphis businesses to make national funding pitch in New York

Staff Memphis Business Journal

Five Memphis-based companies are among 125 selected from across the country to take part in a program to help provide the growing companies with new capital.

Sponsored by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, the Inner City Capital Connections program drew a record-setting 3,200 company nominations for this year’s November event.

The five Memphis companies are:

• Amnesty Professional Services, a commercial janitorial services and lawn care provider;

• AVPOL International LLC, a logistics support company;

• CDA Inc., a security services firm;

• Ewing Moving Service and Storage;

• and Y & W Technologies Inc., a chrome plate service company for medical and surgical instruments.

The five companies will join 120 others at the New York headquarters of Fortune Magazine Nov. 10 to make their pitches to financial backers in hopes of securing more capital or debt financing.

“ICCC demonstrates that growing inner-city companies, if given the access to capital, can generate the jobs and wealth that are crucial to the transformation of our urban communities,” Edward Powers, managing director of Bank of America BAML Capital Access Fund, said in a release.

Bank of America is helping line up funding sources, he said.

To qualify for the Inner City Capital Connections program a business must be located in the inner city (defined as an area of concentrated economic distress) or have a disproportionate percent of its employees residing in such an area.

It also must have $2 million in revenue.

The companies selected for the program represent numerous industries including technology, consumer goods, business and professional services, health care and manufacturing.

Since the program stated in 2005 it has helped raise $406 million in capital for 275 businesses.

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Memphis small businesses sought for e200 training program

Staff writer-Memphis Business Journal

Executives of small businesses in Memphis and Shelby County are again being encouraged to participate in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Emerging Leaders program.

The e200 executive-level training program kicks off for its fifth year in April and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell are pushing for greater participation.

Small business owners from as many as 20 businesses are typically accepted into each class.

Participants receive 100 hours of instruction over a nine-month period at no charge.

Criteria for participation include: Been in operation for at least three years; annual revenue between $400,000 and $10 million; at lease one employee other than the founder/CEO; and representation at the training sessions must be by a key decision maker for the company.

The mayors will talk more about the initiative Thursday during a joint appearance at AVPOL International, 1320 Peabody Ave. The warehousing and petroleum company and its president, Sandra Walls, graduated from the inaugural class of 2008.

For more information, call (901) 526-9300.

Christopher Sheffield covers banking and finance; health care; law; insurance; and economic development. Contact him at


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List: Memphis home to 2 of fastest-growing companies

A pair of Memphis companies have been named to the 2012 Inner City 100, a list of the fastest-growing inner city companies in the country, by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) and Fortune MagazineMemphis Business Journal reports.

Logistics and supply chain management firm AVPOL International LLC, or AIL, was named the No. 20 company on the list. Also cracking the top 100 was Mahaffey Tent & Awning, which came in as the No. 91 fastest-growing inner city company.

“We are delighted to celebrate business like the two winners from Memphis that are playing a critical role in revitalizing communities across the country,” Mary Kay Leonard, ICIC president and CEO, said.

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MBJ’s Super Women in Business Awards winners selected

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The inaugural class of Memphis Business Journal’s Super Women in Business Awards, established to honor the city’s most influential women in business, have been selected and they are as varied as they are impressive.

The 25 women selected will be honored at a luncheon Aug. 21 at Holiday Inn-University of Memphis. The winners were selected from more than 110 nominations by the MBJ editorial staff.

In alphabetical order, the winners are:

The winners will also be featured in a special section Aug. 17, highlighting their career accomplishments as well as personal achievements and community involvement.


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AVPOL International riding federal contracts toward goal of $100 million revenue mark

Sandra Walls, a former U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, leads her staff at AVPOL International in a strategic planning session.
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AVPOL International LLC, also known as AIL, was recently ranked No. 20 on Fortune Magazine’s 2012 Inner City 100, a list of the fastest-growing inner city companies in the country.

The Memphis-based logistics and supply chain management firm isn’t staying put. The company, led by president and CEO Sandra Walls, has expansion ideas and goals of $100 million in annual revenue.

The company provides inventory management, petroleum logistics, terminal operations and product distribution. It recently added a quality systems division that assists companies with certifications.

“It is our focus and goal to provide end-to-end business services to clients,” Walls says.

A group of military logisticians founded the company in 1997. Walls, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, became majority owner in 2001 and sole owner in 2004.

The company originally focused on fuel products as evidenced by its AVPOL acronym: Aviation, Petroleum, Oils and Lubricants. Walls has since diversified its business.

AIL’s leadership just finished the company’s strategic plan and is starting a strategic advisory board.

“It’s not a board of directors,” Walls says. “It’s strictly to help guide along as we grow.”

That plan has a goal of $100 million in annual revenue in five years.

AIL is planning to expand its federal business, which currently makes up 90 percent of its revenue. Part of AIL’s strategy is to focus more on the private sector.

“We believe it’s important to have a good balance,” Walls says. “Also, Memphis is a large logistics hub and so we think we’d be a good fit in the community.”

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14 local entrepreneurs complete national SBA program


14 local entrepreneurs complete national SBA program

Staff writer-Memphis Business Journal
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The Small Business Administrationannounced the graduation of 14 Memphis-area entrepreneurs from its Emerging 200 Program, an initiative designed for small business owners in under-served communities across the country.

Program participants receive more than 100 hours of training and peer counseling over seven months to learn the finer points of development and expansion strategies, accessing capital and landing government contracts.

Memphis is one of just 27 communities in the country to participate in the SBA’s Emerging Leaders e200 program focusing on established, but promising, businesses.

“Our graduating class this year recognizes the fifth consecutive e200 class in Memphis, bringing the total number of graduates to 74,” Walter Perry, SBA Tennessee District director, said in a release.

Graduates of the most recent program spanned the gamut of industry segments and included construction, distribution and security staffing firms. See the full list below.

Wanita Allen of Sweetness Sweets; Donna Burlon, AHA Mechanical Contractors; Charles Barnes, Action Chemical Co.; Chris Brunner, Brunner Printing Inc.; Alyce CampbellEdible ArrangementsJames Hoffa, West Tennessee Ornamental Door; Michael Jenkins, MJ Contracting LLC; Joel Lyons, Lyons Cleaners; Chris McClemore, Standard Electric Co.;Devin Murry, Construction & Home Renovation Services; Lorenzo Myrik, Amnesty Professional Services; Kenneth Pinkney, Ivory Enterprise LLC; Dexter Smith, Black Lion Security; and Timothy Walls, AVPOL International Logistics.


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