2012 Jim and Holly Thomas, Herb House Trading Company, Marion
The Herb House Trading Company is a community-based business, housed in the 1916 historic Herb House building in Marion, VA, once used to process herbs for the early drug industry. It is truly unique -- a cross between a non-profit community center, hands-on arts center, ice cream shop, showcase for local goods, used furniture store, party venue, and small conference center. The business also acts as an educational resource to the local school system.
This business was the brainchild of Jim and Holly Thomas, who addressed several glaring issues in Marion and Smyth County. Among them were a lack of family and youth-oriented activities in Smyth County and low community self-esteem due to the feeling that “progress was passing them by.”
The Virginia Highlands SBDC helped the business in several areas: guidance in business plan development, marketing strategy, fund allocation, and a focus on how to manage this novel business strategy. They also helped them obtain a loan to augment their own capital they used on the business.
The motto the Thomas' coined is “business can be more than just business,” meaning business can serve a larger need by ensuring its own success while enriching the fabric of the community as a whole. From day one, they created a landmark business for Southwest Virginia and the rest of the Commonwealth.
Challenges were huge: a dilapidated historic building, clientele with big dreams and sparse funds, an apathetic local government, a depressed economy, and an untried business idea. Add Murphy's Law and a huge learning curve. SBDC broke this massive challenge down into bite-sized pieces: the “blood, sweat and tears” renovation, primarily done by the Thomas', and an effective business plan that included developing surveys of community need. They helped assemble alliances with governmental agencies, such as VA Tourism, community-action agencies, and others. The SBDC worked at a grass-roots level to help the Thomas’ promote local pride ....all before the ribbon was cut for the grand opening. And they created three new jobs.
The result was nothing less than a miracle. This business opened as an instant local landmark, as if it had been there for the community forever. The future looks bright. The ribbon cutting alone was the largest attended business opening event in several years in Marion. Why? Teamwork, hard work, a great business plan, capital resources, and the Virginia Highlands SBDC.
Winston Churchill once said, “Never, ever give up.” SBDC didn't. Neither did the Thomas'. Their effort created a business that is a testament to that quote. Now children paint pictures and eat ice cream, the community has cultural enrichment, and families have a magical place to call their own. Customers often say it feels like home. The Thomas' and SBDC say it feels like a dream come true.
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