A partnership between two local childhood friends has grown from a home garage operation into the state’s small business of the year.
Justin Oakley and Michael Vieira started Oakley Home Access about four years ago. Earlier this spring, both owners were named as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2019 Small Business Person of the Year in the Ocean State.
Oakley Home Access is one of 12 Rhode Island businesses honored by the Small Business Administration, and the only one in Washington County. It’s based at 322 South Pier Road, with a new warehouse location in Walpole, Massachusetts.
“We’re just growing and growing,” Oakley said. “We’re very honored to be recognized for the award. It’s all about our team.”
Both men are 37, but have a history of entrepreneurship that goes back to when they were 16 and pulled quahogs together from the local waters.
“Pretty much to fund surfing in the summertime,” Vieira said.
Oakley and Vieira built their latest business around installing equipment that helps people with mobility challenges around their home, and who perhaps have trouble using stairs or getting into and out of a bathtub with ease.
The showroom at their Narragansett location has examples of the kind of equipment they can put into a home, usually in just a few hours.
“It can be simple things like railings, grab bars and tub cuts,” Vieira said. “All of that adaptive-type equipment.”
It also includes aluminum ramping and a motorized wheelchair lift, as well as a motorized seat that can take users up and down stairs. Specialized grab bars and seating for bathrooms are also on display.
“We can customize ramping to any house, mix and match the pieces to make it accommodate any needs,” Oakley said. It’s also easy to remove if it’s no longer needed, he said.
Oakley was previously an occupational therapist at Elderwood of Scallop Shell, a skilled nursing facility in Wakefield.
“Our goal was to get people home,” he said. Once patients returned home, though, many would often need to make adjustments to their houses or apartments in order to stay mobile.
“We would just kind of make recommendations of what they should do and then say, ‘See you later.’ They didn’t really have the resources to get the work done,” he said.
Seeing a need, Oakley joined forces with Vieira, a construction expert with his own cleaning and maintenance company, to launch their business.
“We’re now able to make recommendations and do the work,” Vieira said.
The business employs 10 people, including four full-time crew members who perform installations.
A usual installation includes an assessment of a client’s needs, followed by installation of the equipment. The typical turnaround time is a week, Oakley said.
The company does mostly residential installations, but the equipment can be modified for commercial property, as well, they said. They are licensed in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Oakley Home Access is also a member of the Southern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.
The company also works with health insurance providers to help customers pay for the work. Approval for ramps and stairlifts can take a month or two, they said.
Medicare doesn’t provide money for the upgrades, but Oakley said there is a state grant that can reimburse half of a customer’s total costs, up to $10,000.
Oakley and Vieira also are working to start a non-profit group, they said, that would allow customers to donate equipment they no longer need for future use by others.
Oakley and Vieira will be joined by the other 11 awardees, a group that includes four regional award winners, for the Rhode Island Salute to Small Business Awards Luncheon this month at Quidnessett Country Club in North Kingstown.
“This year’s group of award winners is one of the strongest we have seen,” SBA Rhode Island District Director, Mark Hayward, said. “The judging in all of the categories was extremely competitive, which shows just how deserving the winners truly are. They are all a testament to just how strong the small business community is here in Rhode Island.”