Journal Staff

Photo courtesy of Guam Eco Surfaces

“If your dream keeps you up at night, then it’s calling you.”

Those are the words Victor Taitano told his wife after yet another sleepless night. It was about five years ago when Victor found a machine online that could remove rust from a corroded piece of metal that might have otherwise been deemed old and useless, or clean years-long layers of paint clear off a wall in a few hours. And best of all, the machine was on a truck that meant he could take the services to his customers.

“He could not sleep,” his wife and business partner Raelene Taitano said. At the time, they were living “conventional lives” with 9 to 5 jobs. Today, they are their own bosses and providing a service that many people wouldn’t necessarily be aware of until they needed it. The work is tough. Victor said he’s basically given up his weekends because that’s when most people request the work be done. But for him the long hours outside of a typical 9 to 5 job is worth it. He’s fulfilling his dream of filling a need in the community, helping others through his work, and being in a place where he can help build up his family and community.

It was during his life as a teen and young adult while working on auto body collision repair, where his eyes were opened to the idea of entrepreneurship. “I realized I want to do business for myself … not work hard on someone else’s dream and make them rich. I needed my own dream.”

As a practical matter, he remained in the workforce and for years worked regular jobs; but they were more than a way to earn a living, they were like textbooks to him. “Every job I had I would try to learn something … thinking of what I can do to make money in my own home soil,” he said. He was trying to find a problem that needed solutions.

“What is it here in Guam that’s so bad that it’s always going to need something to help with? … The one thing is rust,” he said. “I started looking at companies where can I go along with someone I can help with and learn from. And there wasn’t really anyone out there who could deal with rust and corrosion or offered those services.”

He found MMLJ Inc. a Texas-based company that’s been in the rust and corrosion industry for years. “And after talking to them and watching all of their videos, going out to the factory, testing the equipment and seeing how well it works, it stuck with me and for five years I dreamt about it and worked on it,” Victor said.

The machine uses dustless blasting, a paint stripping and cleaning system that can remove virtually any coating from almost any surface, without creating a huge plume of dust, Raelene said. The machine works by mixing water and abrasive inside the blast tank.

Raelene said as a young couple getting their feet wet in the world of entrepreneurship, one of the major attractions of the company’s offering was a franchise-free purchase. “A lot of times when you want to start a business, you’re purchasing a franchise and that’s a lot of money.

“We weren’t born in business. We weren’t born rich,” she said. They wanted to be bold but also be wise as they took the plunge to ensure they got started correctly and set themselves up for success.

“We were both living pretty conventional lives, I was working for a bank, and he was with a contractor for the military,” she said. She asked Victor, “How are we going to work and run a business? And he was like, ‘We’re not,’” she said.

They went to the Small Business Development Center and were able to get some assistance with a generic business plan. For months, the couple worked on it “every day after work,” she said.

It was “pretty intimidating,” Raelene said, but they got it done and moved on to the next step. They submitted the plan to a local financial institution, but the news wasn’t good.

“The financial institution didn’t believe there was a need for our business. We were turned down,” Raelene said. “We were pretty discouraged.”

The loan officer said they could get letters from people who would need the service, but this proved difficult because the specific service “didn’t even exist.” So, they put it off for a bit. But they didn’t give up hope.

And then COVID-19 struck. Both were still working for most of the pandemic, but going into year three, Victor was furloughed.

“Actually, it was a blessing in disguise for myself because it gave me the time to pull the trigger,” he said.

He dug back into the dream, revamped the business plan. And in January 2022 they were approved for a loan from Community First Guam Federal Credit Union, with the backing of the Guam Economic Development Authority.

“In February, we went to Texas to pick up our truck… our budget was tight … but we made it work,” Raelene said. They had to opt away from convenience, which costs more money. They flew to Texas, picked up their truck and drove to California to get it on a ship headed to Guam.

The challenges persisted. But so did they. It wasn’t easy but they found a supplier to purchase the abrasive materials they need a at an affordable price — a hurdle for any business especially now.

Guam Eco Service has been operating since July.

“We’ve done rims, engines and different car parts,” Raelene said. They’ve also taken on some more delicate projects, including pieces of furniture that were handed down over generations but had coats of paint or varnish from decades of use.

The Journal asked the couple if they thought business was going well. “In terms of, I guess the business sense, I would say it’s decent. We’re just starting off, there’s a lot of stuff we need to do.”

“When you ask if we’re doing well, I would say yes because each customer we’ve helped, they’re faces light up when they see something restored (and) that was my goal to restore rather than replace,” Victor said. “So, I think it’s doing well from the first to most recent customers that we’ve helped.”

The young company has also found ways to give back to the community. Hailing from Yigo, they noticed that the mural along Route 1 was covered in graffiti. They approached the Yigo Mayor’s Office to see if they wanted it cleaned properly before the staff and volunteers repainted. There also were some metal trash bins at Sinajana that the mayor’s office was going to dump because of the rust. Victor brought the truck, and they were able to get both jobs done in a matter of hours, and to the original finish, which is not something water blasting would have done.

Victor’s advice to other entrepreneurs thinking of taking the plunge is, “Do it. Even if it’s just a little bit at a time, and you’ll get there.

“Five years was a bit of time, but I didn’t need something quick, I wanted something concrete something that would stick,” he said. The pandemic pushed him. “I needed to be in that uncomfortable position. Today, I’m still learning … but now I’m working on my dream and that feels amazing.”

Victor also shared wisdom he heard many years ago and always kept in mind. “If you treat something like your side gig, it’s always going to be your side gig.”

He said from working 9 to 5 for someone else, he’s shifted to working 9 to 9, seven days a week.

“I’d rather work every single day on something I created … Everyone’s job right now, is someone else’s dream. I want to work on something that I care about so much, on my own dream. And later on [down] the line when we branch out and hopefully get bigger, then I can rest. But right now, there’s no rest for me. I want to do this now that I’m young, because I have the energy, I have the time, I have the drive,” Victor said.

“The only thing I regret is not starting sooner.” mbj