Webinar presented by The Virginia SBDC Craft Beverage Assistance (CBA) program. Visit the CBA program page for more information.
Early childhood education covers a number of basic skills, including the alphabet, shapes, and colors. For Hatsumi Mann, a Montessori teacher, instructing students to be independent is an important addition to this list.
“A lot of our materials are hands-on,” says Hatsumi. “At Montessori, the teacher isn’t hovering over the child. It’s a lot of positivity, letting the kids kind of make their own choices, and critical thinking.”
Hatsumi discovered Montessori education while teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) courses in Japan. Upon returning to the U.S., she became a Montessori lead teacher before opening her own Montessori day program, which she operated out of her home.
These successes inspired Hatsumi to open the Virginia Montessori Academy. When she was unsure of where to start, a colleague referred her to the Mason SBDC.
Bernard Ferret, Hatsumi’s advisor, had previous experience mentoring owners of daycares and preschools. Before opening her doors, she and Bernard met regularly to discuss budgets and locate funding. This was especially important to Hatsumi. “I just wanted to be able to offer Montessori to families who wanted it, who were interested, and can’t really pay that big-center price,” she says.
Hatsumi reflects that Bernard “kept her spirits up” and always checked in, even after the business’s official opening. “If I felt like I was in a bind, he helped me work out the situation to find alternatives,” she explains. “Working with him the whole time kind of helped relieve the stress.”
Since opening in September of 2021, Hatsumi has experienced the positive effects of working with the SBDC. She has received $275,000 in loans — used for instructional materials and equipment — and created seven jobs. The new hires ensure that each classroom has two teachers. The Academy also offers programs for Spanish enrichment and after-school care.
Hatsumi definitely recommends the SBDC to other small business owners. “I probably would’ve made lots of mistakes along the way if it wasn’t for them,” Hatsumi admits.
As the Virginia Montessori Academy expands, the SBDC will continue to help Hatsumi locate resources to provide a quality education for her students.
Although January 2020 was the eve of a tumultuous era, it proved an ideal time for Paul Dowdy to expand Royal Restrooms.
Paul explains that “a lot of businesses had to split their offices” to accommodate social distancing, referring to his partnerships with military sites and other businesses in the Lynchburg area. The need to meet COVID-19’s distancing requirements — in addition to maintaining compliance with OSHA standards — made 2020-21 a prosperous year for Royal Restrooms.
When asked to reflect on his favorite part of the business, Paul cites its constant growth as a result of his partnership with the Longwood SBDC. “We can’t get the inventory in fast enough because we’re getting so many requests,” he says. “We just can’t keep up with supply and demand.”
Paul learned about the SBDC while working at a wedding in Danville. He initially sought help from another small business agency; however, with his company’s rapid expansion, he found that the Longwood SBDC better suited his needs by offering more one-on-one support.
Michael Duncan, Paul’s SBDC advisor, offers such support. He is particularly helpful when making projections and keeping track of finances. This help allowed Paul to secure $230,000 in loans and achieve a 33% increase in net income on 15% increase in sales. Michael is also working to enroll Paul in a finance course at Longwood so that Royal Restrooms can continue to grow. Paul hopes to open 20 offices in the future.
Paul expressed sincere appreciation for Michael’s mentorship and guidance, as well as for the SBDC as a whole. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without him guiding me,” he says. “I like him because he’s straight to the point. We joke, we kid, but when it gets down to business everything is cut and dry.”
Paul has already recommended the SBDC to several other small business owners, and as he continues to expand, he will continue using their resources.
Jeff and Kristin Gaulard’s Massanutten Country Corner (MCC), which opened in 2017, experienced an unexpected upward trend during the COVID pandemic. “The pandemic had the opposite effect for us — our business actually increased during COVID,” Kristin says.
The Gaulards believe that the Shenandoah Valley SBDC’s advice led to that upturn. “Jeff worked on a business plan with Business Advisor Sara Levinson before we even bought the property,” Kristin says.
A former 1960s-style roadside gift shop, the property included four buildings, all in need of renovation. “Jeff knew how to do the work to renovate, but our retail experience was limited to selling our Cork to Barrel home décor items at wine festivals and craft shows,” Kristin explains.
The Gaulards knew they would need more knowledge to run a traditional small business. Financing was first on the list.
“With advice from the SBDC, we were able to get a People Inc. microloan of $50,000 for renovations and inventory,” Kristin explains. “Sara also helped us decide what we should do with the four buildings we had. We decided on a farm market for the garage, and we thought we could use the building out back for a garden shop.” Those decisions would later lead to success.
“Until COVID, business was really slow,” Kristin says. “April 2020 was our first really busy month — in May our business more than tripled!”
When word got out that MCC had local meat, eggs, and produce for sale, customer traffic increased. “People who were avoiding the main stores started shopping at our farm market,” Kristin recalls. “We were also selling plants and gardening supplies in our garden shop. And, since people were at home and getting into gardening, that did very well also.”
As business increased, the SBDC helped MCC secure a Page County grant of $4,000 for technology updates. “Previously we were doing a handwritten inventory,” Kristin notes. “We used that grant for a new computer and a couple of registers.” Future plans include a café opening in the spring.
Since the pandemic began, Kristin reports, business has continued to improve. “The first year we barely made $10,000,” she says. “We’re up to $300,000 now.”
Jeff and Kristin credit the SBDC for helping them achieve that success.
“The SBDC has been there to support us every step of the way,” Kristin concludes. “I can’t imagine starting a business without them.”