Sloan Lets Others Partake of Her Hard-Won Experience

Kansas City Business Journal, August 31, 2006 | 816-421-5900


Christina Sloan isn't the type of executive with framed commendations and degrees lining her office.

Her space, busy with papers and projects, is just doors away from the Li'L Guy Foods® factory, close enough to smell the tortilla chips coming off the production line. Evidence of her accomplishments is much harder to frame.

A third-generation owner of the Kansas City-based Mexican food manufacturer, Sloan has won her business savvy through a daily fight to promote her family's company in an unforgiving, competitive industry. The vice president and sales director guides marketing efforts for Li'L Guy, but she's also driven a delivery truck and filled multiple other roles.

On top of that, Sloan takes the time to provide whatever advice she can to other businesses -- particularly young, struggling ones.

"Christina does not stop with just letting her company grow," said Chris Kelly, vice president of programming and planning for the Mid-America Minority Business Development Council. "She has a passion for helping other business owners grow their businesses."

Sloan reaches out through involvement in the council, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City and other organizations. She also does it through day-to-day work.

Li'L Guy sells products to many businesses owned by first-generation immigrants, and Sloan said she points them toward help when they need it.

Doing so fills the practical purposes of building loyal clients and projecting a good image to the community, she said. But Sloan also has a more personal motive for helping businesses through difficult times: She's been there.

Her first efforts with the family business were easy, Sloan said. Li'L Guy felt permanent. When she started full time in 1996, Sloan immediately began pushing family members to take some risks: offer benefits for employees so they'd stay longer, spend more on improved product packaging.

Sloan's initiatives, along with her advertising and sales efforts, helped pump up revenue from $400,000 in 1996 to $2.3 million in 2001.

Then things became more difficult. In 2001, Li'L Guy took a blow that put Sloan's loyalties to her family and her company to the test.

Two clients that made up half of the company's revenue left -- just after it had expanded from a 7,200-square-foot location to a 30,000-square-foot one.

Sloan and her brothers threw all their efforts into saving Li'L Guy and its employees. She worked 80- to 100-hour weeks and added route delivery sales to her responsibilities.

The family expected it would take 18 months for Li'L Guy to recover, she said. It took five years.

"This turned us into entrepreneurs," she said. "We had to fight and claw, and gain our way back somehow. Mainly what led us was pride in the family business -- that and looking at our employees who had been there for so many years."

At times, members of the family questioned whether to keep the business but persevered out of loyalty to the institution their family had built, Sloan said.

"Christina takes very personally the success of the company," said her brother and company President David Sloan. "She was very adamant about fixing the problems. By the time we got to 2004, the company was still kind of struggling. She looked at other options for us, and we got certification (as a minority business enterprise). It was a lot of work, but she was the one that really sunk her teeth into it and got it done."

Even during that dark period, the Sloans didn't waver on their commitment to integrity and to paying employees wages that Christina Sloan said are better than the industry average. To do so, they went without paychecks for about eight months in 2002, she said.

"If you do what's right, it will eventually pay off," she said. "If someone was looking in, we would want them to be proud of what they were seeing."

And now that Li'L Guy has resurfaced "on the verge of just exploding" with growth, heading toward revenue of more than $4 million this year and kicking off a fall marketing campaign as the official tortilla chip, salsa and queso of the Kansas City Chiefs, Sloan said, she hasn't forgotten her travails.

In addition to her work with small businesses, Sloan dedicates time to furthering minority- and women-owned businesses.

Former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes appointed Sloan in January to the Fairness in City Contracts Board. The board works to find ways for Kansas City to increase the number of minority- and women-owned businesses from which it buys services and supplies.

But beyond her involvement in the community and at work, Sloan hopes to revisit some opportunities she delayed -- particularly going back to school.

Sloan said one of her goals is to get that framed diploma. She's considering purs­uing an advanced degree, perhaps in the field of marine biology.


Vice president, sales director, part owner of Li'L Guy Foods
Age: 30
Education: High school, some college
Hobbies: Making jewelry, running, camping, herpetology (study of reptiles and amphibians)


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