Building a Business in Your Own Backyard
Matthew Ratliff believes in thinking outside the box, or in the case of a business opportunity, outside his backyard. Ratliff developed an idea inspired by the view from his backyard, and Foxtail Orchards Cabins and Campground is the result.
About three years ago, Virginia State Trooper Matthew Ratliff transferred to Tazewell County where he was born and raised. “I purchased 18 acres to put a house on,” he says. “One day my father and I were clearing land for a pasture and saw all these bikes and sports cars going by.”
Ratliff’s land borders a well-known section of Route 16 known as “The Back of the Dragon,” a 32-mile-long motorcycle and sports-car-enthusiast trail that attracts hundreds of visitors every year. No lodging was available until Ratliff opened his cabin-and-campground business. “During the summer you can throw a rock up in the air and you’ll hit a motorcycle,” Ratliff says. “I said to my father, ‘what if we had a campground and cabins?’ My father and I sat down and started on a plan.”
The business quickly became a family affair. Ratliff’s mother and wife worked on developing a business plan. “Everybody in the family had a hand in it, including my father-in-law,” Ratliff says. The next step was a visit to the SBDC. Ratliff and his wife Amy went to see Southwest SBDC Program Manager Margie Douglass. “From there it was all downhill,” Ratliff says. “We got our business plan and proposal and went to Ninth District Development Financing for the funds. We broke ground on our first cabin in November 2015.” The cabin was dedicated to a fellow Virginia State Trooper Andrew D. Fox, who lost his life in the line of duty.
Future plans include adding primitive campsites and more cabins. There are also plans to develop the orchard side of the business. Ratliff feels confident in branching out; he knows the SBDC will be there to help. “The SBDC provided pretty much any help we needed,” he says. “I didn’t know all of those services were available.”
“We got off to a good start,” Ratliff says. “Since June we’ve been busy every weekend. We’ve done more business than my father and I ever dreamed of. The SBDC really helped us out.”