She immigrated from Colombia in 1997, having worked there as a secretary in the insurance industry. Carmen came to the States because she wanted to fully realize her potential to grow as an individual and to offer a better future for her family. Arriving in New York, she held jobs as a housekeeper, a packer in a chocolate factory and a kitchen aid at a home care facility. But her dream was to be an entrepreneur. She saw a business opportunity in providing phone cards to her co-workers and acquaintances who wanted to stay in touch with relatives back home. This was the beginning of Universal Frontiers in 1999—a home-based business which was started around the same time her youngest daughter was born.
Carmen moved to a rented space in a beauty salon and with a desk and a phone started to offer other services to this highly immigrant community. When the salon owner moved out, Carmen took over the entire space with financial help from family and friends. She installed phone booths, converting the space into a calling center and then added money transfer as a service. Carmen expanded further by offering airline and cruise travel services to U.S. cities, Canada and Latino countries. Those services
now include international travel, everywhere. Carmen’s resourcefulness and understanding of the community in which she operates have been instrumental in growing her business and responding
With the proliferation of cell phones, Carmen anticipated that technology would make the phone card
side of the business somewhat obsolete. She jumped on the internet bandwagon and started to offer recharge and top up services enabling customers to add value to their mobile device online.
In 2012, Carmen found a better location in the community for her business and came to the WVF to
fund the move and space renovation. She now has high visibility on the corner of a main street near
a hospital and a bank. This investment has paid off in more foot traffic. She says: “It’s been a pleasure
to work with Maria Otero of WVF. Not only was the loan process an easy one, she provided sound advice on the renovation and other business matters.”
We asked Carmen what she attributes to her success. Without skipping a beat she said ”Excellent customer service. I treat people like I want to be treated—with kindness and respect. Most of my customers are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Latin America, the West Indies and
Africa. Here at Universal Frontiers, they feel at home and like they are being personally cared for. “
Like many entrepreneurs, she relies on word-of-mouth advertising to get new customers. “When you
treat people right and provide excellent service, they tell their family and friends.” She distributes flyers,
advertises in the community newspaper and benefits from her posting on Google Map, a free service
that includes the address, phone number, email, map and directions to the business.
Carmen runs the business with the strong support of her son, Alfer, her husband, Gerardo, younger
daughter, Julieth and two other part-time employees. Her older daughter, Yury, who worked in the business during the earlier years is now a resident physician but continues to assist Carmen with administrative advice. The family is very proud of Carmen’s drive, integrity and enterprising spirit.
When asked what’s next for the business, Carmen replied: “I always wanted to offer affordable insurance so I’m taking the classes now to become a insurance certified agent. I want to offer life, health/accident and car insurance. Once I become more familiar with these types of insurance and continue to improve my English, I would like to offer other insurance products.”.
As reflected in its name, Universal Frontiers knows no boundaries when it comes to business planning, finding the opportunities and providing costumers with the best service possible. We wish Carmen continued success.