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From 13 credit cards to just 1: Why this small business loves the Capital One Spark Cash Plus card

March 08, 2022
7 min read
The three owners of Rivers Roads and Trail: Joe and Emily White and Bryan Wolf
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Owning a small business comes with a ton of responsibilities, including raising enough capital to get your business started and off the ground. Sometimes, bank loans and other means of financing aren’t an option — or if they are, they aren't enough.

That’s what led the owners of Cincinnati-based outdoor outfitter Roads Rivers and Trails to open a whopping 13 personal credit cards when they started the company in 2010. But now, they’re down to one.

Needless to say, we were intrigued by their unique story and wanted to know more about their journey from over a dozen personal cards down to the one business card that they consider the best card out there: the Capital One Spark Cash Plus card.

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Here’s their story.

Credit cards vs. traditional funding

Roads Rivers and Trails first welcomed customers in late 2010, but the inspiration for the business came on a 2006 backpacking trip. Bryan Wolf and Joe White spent nearly six months covering the entire 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail (during winter, no less), and in addition to raising money for a local chapter of Make-A-Wish, they also dreamed up the idea of one day opening their own store.

So when a local outdoor outfitter shut down just a few years later, Bryan, Joe and Joe’s wife Emily (also Bryan’s cousin) pooled their resources and energy to open Roads Rivers and Trails — as a tool to “fuel adventure and drive passion” with the local community, as Bryan describes on the store’s website.

Photo courtesy of River Roads and Trails

Now, it may not cross most people’s minds to fund their new business venture with credit cards — let alone 13 of them. But that’s exactly what the trio did.

“Traditional funding wasn’t available,” Emily told us, even though the three founders each had great credit scores. She went on to explain that they didn’t have many assets to borrow against, and the U.S. Small Business Administration wanted more of a financial background than they were able to provide at the time. They realized that their personal credit cards were the best option.

As a result, they decided to finance the business through their own credit cards but admittedly weren’t quite sure what they were in for.

“We were totally unprepared,” Bryan admitted. “We had not opened up a business or run a retail business before. We were caught off-guard by the amount of inventory needed, for example.” They quickly learned that they needed 10 times the amount of inventory they thought they would in order to be competitive. And before they knew it, they’d racked up $70,000 on their personal credit cards in four years.

The 1 card to rule them all

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Through working closely with a banker and family friend, the small-business owners were able to get out from under their debt in 2016. Now debt-free, they were understandably a little shy when it came to dealing with traditional credit cards again. However, on a call with their grassroots outdoor alliance, one of the members was praising a business card they hadn’t heard of before: the Capital One Spark Cash Plus card.

Related: Improved bonus on a solid business card: Capital One Spark Cash Plus review

Emily says she remembers members taking notes as the other business owner was telling the group about how great it was to earn an unlimited 2% cash back from the card.

That’s when Emily started to do her own research.

“We just wanted to have an awesome card, and it was pretty easy after I did all the research — it was definitely the best card out there,” she said.

And for good reason.

The Capital One Spark Cash Plus earns small-business owners 2% cash-back rewards on every purchase with no limits and no category restrictions. It also comes with no preset spending limit. With a $150 annual fee, the card also rewards you with an annual $200 cash bonus when you spend $200,000 in a year, has no foreign transaction fees and allows you to add employee cards at no additional cost.

And there’s never been a better time to pick up this card for small-business owners.

New cardholders can earn an up to $1,000 cash bonus; $500 once you spend $5,000 in the first three months, and $500 once you spend $50,000 in the first six months of account opening.

It’s worth noting that Bryan, Joe and Emily all love to travel, but they rarely can do so at the same time. They told us that, for them, having a card that gave them cash back (rather than travel rewards) was more in line with the goals they have for their company.

And they’ve been able to do some pretty amazing things with their cash-back card.

Growing the business with the Spark Cash Plus

Photo courtesy of Rivers Roads and Trails

Out of all the perks they get from the Spark Cash Plus card, being able to give cards (at no additional fee) to their managers was one of the perks that Emily said they like the most. Everyone can use their card with individual, customized spending limits, while the owners can monitor that spending. They use the card for everything: merchandise, packaging, office supplies, events, website fees and annual subscriptions (among others). They put every expense on the card and pay it off at the end of the month.

They’ve also been able to do something commendable for their employees through what has been an incredibly difficult time. Roads Rivers and Trails has retained all of its management-level employees since 2017 — even through the pandemic — and with the unlimited 2% cash back the owners receive with their card, they’ve been able to increase their employees' hourly wages.

“That’s been one of our goals [to increase wages]. We have a plan on how we can make this work, and really it’s the cash-back program,” Bryan told us.

Using a card for their business expenses also gave them a competitive edge over other outdoor outfitters during the pandemic. When other companies were unable to make payments, vendors offered discounts for paying early, and a lot of them allowed Roads Rivers and Trails to use the Spark Cash Plus card. Instead of being penalized for using a card, Bryan and Emily discovered that more vendors were beginning to accept them, and they could leave a card on file.

Bottom line

It’s been a long road for Bryan Wolf and Emily and Jon White since they founded Roads Rivers and Trails back in 2010. After leveraging 13 personal cards to fund the business — racking up over $70,000 in balances in just a few years — they’re now debt-free and down to just one: the Capital One Spark Cash Plus card.

And they haven’t looked back.

Their consolidation to just a single card now earns them unlimited 2% cash-back rewards on every purchase in any category. The card has no preset spending limit, and they’ve been able to put their savings to good use by increasing employee wages and planning for the growth of their business.

The Capital One Spark Cash Plus card has an up to $1,000 cash bonus; $500 once you spend $5,000 in the first three months, and $500 once you spend $50,000 in the first six months of account opening.

Featured image by Photo courtesy of Rivers Roads and Trails
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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Rewards Rate

5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
1.5XEarn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year
1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 150,000 points
    120,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.