Category: Central

Massanutten Country Corner

Massanutten business follows SBDC’s steps to success

Received a $4,000 grant and Increased revenue by from $40,000 to $300,000 during the pandemic.

https://massanuttencountrycorner.com/

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.”

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Vision BBQ

When Vision BBQ opened in Charlottesville in February 2021, owners Mike Blevins and Gabi Barghachie weren’t surprised to find their tables empty. In fact, it’s exactly what they expected.

The duo behind the city’s newest barbecue joint have taken a unique approach to creating a memorable dining experience for their customers by focusing almost entirely on a convenient takeout service, instead of the traditional dine-in model.

“We’re not a place that does a crazy amount of volume, but we put out really good food that people will come and get,” Mike says. “Even with the pandemic being at the height of takeout, we were confident with the business model we have: low overhead and an emphasis on carryout and convenience.”

Originally conceptualized as “The Snack Shack,” what is now Vision BBQ has long been a dream project for Mike and Gabi. Both have extensive experience in the food-and-drink industry. Mike is a veteran of the service industry, having managed restaurants and a large sales team at a beer distributor, and more. Gabi is a 2008 culinary-school graduate, who has cooked at local favorites such as Maya Restaurant in Charlottesville.

Sometimes even the most experienced professionals can benefit from a push in the right direction, and the Central Virginia SBDC provided Mike and Gabi exactly that.

“They’ve been a godsend for us,” Mike says. “Anytime we’ve had questions, the SBDC has been right there to assist. The biggest things they’ve helped us with were our website, social media, advertising, getting our books straight, and navigating this brave, new digital world we’re living in.”

The foray into business ownership was not Mike’s first; and, by the time he and Gabi were ready to launch Vision BBQ, Mike’s connections with the SBDC were well established. From a previous brewery project in Hopewell, he first met Ellen Templeton at the Longwood SBDC, and Ellen referred him to the Central Virginia SBDC when he and Gabi began planning their barbecue venture.

From there, the SBDC Business Advisor Diane Arnold and Assistant Director Greg Dorazio helped Mike and Gabi not only get Vision BBQ started but also establish it as a takeout destination for those seeking quality meals on the go. Now, six months after launching, Vision’s smoker is still running strong, and the front door is opening with regularity even if the dine-in tables remain unoccupied.

“Mike and I just had this idea, and during COVID we ended up with a bunch of free time we used to hone in on what we wanted to do,” Gabi says. “The SBDC helped us get going, and now here we are celebrating our six-month mark. We’re doing well, and we’re as happy as we can be.”

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Valente Pasta

Valente Pasta: Local roots, large-scale expertise

Secured $301,000 equity investment.

https://valentepasta.com/

Started in Charlottesville in 1982, Valente Pasta is the manifestation of a family dream. Owner Mary Ann Valente explains that her mother, who founded the company, was an entrepreneur at heart. Her mother’s enthusiasm, alongside Valente Pasta’s work with the SBDC, has made for a rewarding career.

Mary Ann’s mother was beloved by all. “She was an extraordinarily nice person…Anybody who met her wanted to be friends with her,” she remembers, noting that the two loved working together. “‘It’s bad enough we have to work. Let’s try to enjoy ourselves,’” Mary Ann laughingly quotes one of her mother’s business mottos.

Though Mary Ann only expected to work temporarily at Valente while seeking a permanent job after culinary school, running the business alongside her mother became a long-term path.

“We would run the business based on good practices — common-sense practices — but there are things that you need to access or things you can’t necessarily find on your own,” explains Mary Ann. Thus began Valente Pasta’s work with the Central Virginia SBDC many years ago.

For Mary Ann, the SBDC is an accessible, affordable way to consult with and learn from experts. Throughout a years-long partnership, the SBDC has helped her manage finances, conduct cost analyses, and explore opening a new location. Most recently, the SBDC helped Valente Pasta secure a $301,000 equity investment.

“They have had the strongest knowledge in the fields where I have been the weakest,” says Mary Ann.

The SBDC and Business Advisor Diane Arnold have also provided moral support for Mary Ann and for her entrepreneurial vision. “They have believed in it right alongside me,” she reflects. “There has never been, ‘Are you kidding me? You think that’s going to work?’ It’s ‘Yeah, you’re right, it’s going to work.’”

Mary Ann wholeheartedly recommends working with the SBDC, crediting it for much of Valente Pasta’s success. No matter what lies ahead for this woman-owned business, the SBDC will be there to help.

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Albemarle Limousine

Wedded together: Unique concept says “I do” with the SBDC

Bought a 10-bay building that allowed the company to expand its services; created 60 jobs.

https://www.albemarlelimousine.com/

Albemarle Limousine & Travel Service, LLC, was an idea that started with a wedding.

“It was my daughter’s wedding, and I was planning it,” CEO Andrea Saathoff says. “I was looking for a classic wedding-car rental and was surprised to learn that the closest one was in Washington D.C.”

In 2008, Andrea decided to start her own classic-car business in Charlottesville. “I quickly learned that vintage transportation was more of a hobby than a business,” Andrea adds. “So we added modern cars that first year.”

Being a business owner, the former elementary school teacher noted, was a learning experience. “That’s the fun of being an entrepreneur — we were doubling in revenue every year,” Andrea explains. “Within five years, we had a fleet of premium sedans, SUVs, shuttle buses, and vintage limousines.” As the company grew, Virginia Auto Detailing was added, and a mechanic was hired to manage a growing fleet of vehicles.

When COVID struck, the business was blindsided and nearly crippled. The situation quickly became critical. “We immediately lost 90 percent of our revenue,” Andrea says.

With the pandemic slamming the brakes on her business, Andrea contacted the Central Virginia SBDC. “I met SBDC Advisor Dillon Franks through a small business group I joined,” she relates. “He’s been our advisor ever since. We also worked with Central Virginia Director Rebecca Haydock.”

Rebecca provided additional guidance as the company grew. “Rebecca connected me with a QuickBooks specialist and helped with marketing, and Dillon provided guidance with our biggest customer, a very large corporation. He suggested things I never would have thought about.”

As COVID continued, Andrea looked for ways to diversify. “We already had a detailing business,
but it was seasonal due to lack of indoor space,” she says. “When a realtor I knew found a
property with 10 auto bays going on the market, we decided to buy it, as it would significantly expand our car and truck maintenance and service offerings to the public through our ACE Auto Center Express. We are now experiencing strong growth, due to our expanded physical plant and more central location.”

Andrea added, “Dillon and Rebecca were very helpful with the purchase of that building and issues related to growing our staff.”

Continuing to combat COVID, Albemarle Limousine launched a bicycle repair business, ACE Bicycle Charlottesville, in the spring of 2020. “Riding bikes offered socially-distanced exercise, so our shop was very popular,” Andrea adds. “Now all three businesses are in recovery, we have 60 employees, and everything is going gangbusters.”

Andrea continues to be enthusiastic about the SBDC and Dillon, who she describes as “a seasoned advisor who really cares about my business and our employees.”

“The SBDC helped us significantly through the pandemic,” Andrea concludes. “The SBDC has all the resources you need to help a business succeed and grow.”

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A&W Collectables Antique Mall

The SBDC brings new ideas to A&W Antique Mall

Increased safety measures, which led to increased sales.

A&W Collectables Antique Mall is part of the town of Keswick’s history that almost didn’t have a future.

Barbara Fleming took over the business in 2018, when the owners wanted to retire. Barbara, who graduated from Longwood College with a business degree, was pursuing an interest that started years before. “I inherited some costume jewelry from my grandmother and used to go to estate sales with my mom,” she relates. “About 20 years ago, I started a booth with a friend and gradually got several small spaces to include furniture, antiques, décor, and of course a jewelry showcase.”

When it appeared that A&W might close in 2018 after being in business over 25 years, Barbara and several other vendors got together to see if they could keep the business going. “At the end of the day, I was it,” Barbara adds. “But with the help of a great group of vendors, we’ve made it work. We also have to give a big credit to our wonderful and very loyal customers

The COVID pandemic, though, was not part of the business plan. “When COVID shut us down on March 15, I called the Central Virginia SBDC,” Barbara explains. “They connected me with Diane Arnold, who assisted me with so many things, including applying for an EIDL loan. Unfortunately, when completing the application, I checked a wrong block and did not get the loan.

A&W reopened in May 2020, and Barbara continued to collaborate with the SBDC, which resulted in a steady increase in sales. “I talked with Diane a lot during that time,” Barbara says. “She stopped for a visit and took note of the safety protocols we were doing. We had signage regarding local and state ordinances, free masks, sanitizer, an antique frame with plexiglass at the sales counter, and a basket system set up for customers to place their purchases in prior to purchasing them. She looked at the things we were doing and helped us decipher safety regulations. She advised us whenever we came across something in the gray area on local and state levels.”

A&W’s “gray area” included public restrooms and mask mandates. “Diane advised me to keep the bathrooms closed, which I did,” Barbara says. When there was pushback, Barbara compromised. “I rented a Porta John,” she says. “A lot of businesses were doing that.”

Barbara credits the SBDC with keeping her in the loop about other nearby businesses. “I get information from the SBDC all the time,” she relates. “Diane keeps me informed about other businesses and just information in general.”

Now well into 2021, Barbara is optimistic. “I think things are looking up,” she says. “We’re doing better than we did the year before.”

Barbara, recommends the SBDC’s services on a daily basis. “When customers comment on our safety measures, we tell them we’re just following the advice of the local SBDC,” Barbara concludes. “The SBDC was there to advise us on whatever we needed at the moment — our customers appreciate that, and so do we.”

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American Shakespeare Center

The SBDC stages grant success for the American Shakespeare Center

Received a SVOG grant for $1,017,656 with supplemental funding eligibility for $698,590.

https://americanshakespearecenter.com/

The American Shakespeare Center (ASC) in Staunton has a dual mission: theatre and education. When the COVID pandemic threatened that mission, the ASC turned to the Shenandoah Valley SBDC.

“We had been in contact with the SBDC off and on over the last 11 years,” ASC Interim Controller Amy Wratchford says. Contact with the SBDC switched from “off and on” to “on” when Congress approved the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) in December 2020. The SVOG included over $16 billion in grants to shuttered venues such as live venue operators, theatrical productions, and museum operators.

Sara Levinson, an SBDC business analyst, reached out to see if she could help. “Sara was very proactive,” Amy reports. “She told us the SBDC partnered with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and asked if we wanted help applying for the SVOG.” The ASCs answered with a resounding, “Yes, please!”

Like the rest of the state, ASC shut down in mid-March 2020. “We had four shows running on stage and three shows on the road,” Amy recalls. “Fortunately, we had volunteer filmmakers, who filmed the shows for us. We were able to give our audiences a little joy with these films at a very low price.”

ASC’s Education Department also leapt into action. “Our education department realized that suddenly every parent was a homeschool parent, so they managed to get workshops up and running virtually,” Amy continues. “The education work we were doing was so successful that we had to pull back some of our staff.”

While the ASC received two rounds of Paycheck Protection Program Loans (PPP) for $421,000 and $359,000 respectively, obtaining the SVOG grant was crucial for continued operation. “When we applied for the SVOG, there was a lot of conflicting and vague information,” Amy relates. “The SBDC helped us navigate the details.”

Subsequently, the ASC received a SVOG for $1,017,656. “We’re also eligible for supplemental funding of $698,590,” Amy adds.

The next step for the ASC was to get in-person productions up and running again. “We were incredibly lucky that Dr. Allison Baroco, head of infectious diseases at our local hospital, is an ASC fan,” Amy relates. “She did a walk-through and helped us figure out how to make productions safe and possible.”

Since reopening, the ASC has held approximately 80 performances. “We’ve had roughly 10,000 people come through,” Amy adds. “We have not had one case of COVID in our staff, acting company, or volunteers.”

Would the ASC consider an encore performance with the SBDC?

“Without a doubt, we would recommend the SBDC,” Amy concluded. “COVID brought us to the SBDC, but now that we know about the services they offer, we’re excited about working with them in the future.”

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Monday’s Child

Monday’s Child continues Old Town success with the SBDC

Received $85,000 in loans and a line of credit, plus a PPP loan and grants for $17,000.

https://mondayschildclassics.com/

Old Town Alexandria, noted for cobblestone streets and a tavern where George Washington once slept, is a place that appreciates old-fashioned, personal service. It follows that Monday’s Child, a children’s clothing store that provides just that, has been successful in Old Town.

Store owner Maura Burchette reports that sales were, in fact, great in March 2020. Before the month was out, the COVID pandemic would change that dynamic.

“We went from full steam ahead to shut down,” Maura says.

Maura purchased the store two years before. With only a month to prepare for an opening date of October 1, 2018, Maura reached out to the Alexandria SBDC. “Jack Parker, a business advisor there, told me to write a business plan and come see him, but I put it off for nine months,” Maura recalls. “After I caught my breath a little, I contacted Jack again.”

Maura found Jack waiting with a checklist. “He told me a business owner wears 12 different hats — and I was wearing about two,” she recalls. “But Jack had a plan to show me the rest.”

The first step was writing a business plan. “Writing the plan was very helpful,” Maura notes. “The SBDC tells you like they see it — Jack would say, ‘your strength isn’t here, but here’s the right person to help you.’ The SBDC connects you to the right people to help your business.” It also helped her obtain $85,000 in loans and a line of credit.

During the pandemic, another big help was information on federal assistance and grants. “The SBDC worked very hard to educate us on all the opportunities,” Maura notes. “With help from the SBDC, we got PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] and grants totaling about $17,000 — help that really made a difference.”

The pandemic, Maura adds, did have silver linings. “COVID pushed us to improve our web site,” she says. “We’re much more efficient now.”

By March 2021, the tide began to turn. “People were ready to shop again,” Maura says. “Right now, I’m on track to do double what the previous owner did in her best year. While other businesses were closing during COVID, we, in fact, expanded.”

Maura decided to lease a small shop next door for a first communion/baptismal gown space. “It’s been a big hit,” Maura says.

The SBDC also falls into the “big hit” category for Maura. “Having the right guidance makes all the difference,” she concludes. “The SBDC’s help is indispensable to me — and, even more amazing, it’s offered for free.”

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L’Auberge Provençale

Clark County inn survives the pandemic

Secured $231,000 in grants and other income.

Forty years ago, Alain and Celeste Borel used ingenuity and hard work to convert a “broken down Virginia farmhouse” into a first-class French country inn. That ingenuity, along with support from the Lord Fairfax SBDC, helped the Clark County innkeepers survive a pandemic.

“When the pandemic hit, our inn shut down like everybody else,” Celeste says. About that time, Celeste received a call from Lord Fairfax SBDC Center Director Christine Kriz. “The SBDC had grant money to help small businesses with marketing and advertising,” Celeste recalls. “Christine contacted me to see if she could help. We accepted her offer and worked with the SBDC on several marketing projects.” The marketing strategy included a video and flyers. “We used flyers to get the word out,” Celeste explains. “Yes, we’re open, and we’re COVID safe!”

The innkeepers literally turned the tables to reassure guests. “We put tables from the restaurant in guest rooms so people would feel safe while enjoying our amenities,” Celeste relates. “We also put tables in the grass, on the terrace, and on the porch. We changed up the way we did things to make people feel comfortable.”

Pandemic challenges, Celeste notes, were reminiscent of the obstacles the couple faced 40 years ago, when they purchased what was then known as Mt. Airy. “There were ‘groundhog condominiums’ all over the place when we bought it,” she says, referring to the vast underground networks the vermin had created over the years. “Basically, the whole property was in need of loving care.” Undeterred by the many renovation challenges, the couple transformed Mt. Airy into an intimate, 11-room inn with dining space, featuring three- and five-course meals. The result was, as one reviewer described it, “a true French countryside experience right here in America.”

The many challenges and final success of Mt. Airy helped remind Alain and Celeste that all was not lost. Yet, closing the inn because of the pandemic was still difficult for them. Fortunately, that shutdown was short-lived. “We closed in March, but by June we were doing very well,” Celeste says. “Advertising a COVID-safe experience in the country brought guests back. We’re very appreciative of the SBDC’s help.”

In addition to marketing assistance, the SBDC offered tutorials on applying for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other government assistance. “The SBDC kept us informed on how to weave our way through all the US Small Business Administration requirements,” Celeste notes.

Celeste continues to value her SBDC connections. “The SBDC knows people, and if you need a project done, they will connect you,” she says. “I think that’s very valuable.”

That value was apparent in the inn’s year-end financial report. “By the end of the COVID year in 2020, we recovered more than we made the previous year,” Celeste concludes. “The SBDC definitely helped make that happen.”

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Delany Products

SBDC networking connects Delany Products to future success

Received COVID financial assistance; featured in Virginia Business.

www.delanyproducts.com/

Delany Products, a plumbing products manufacturer since 1879, needed a makeover. “We had multiple issues as we entered the 2000s,” Scott Delany says of his company. “We had not adapted well to globalization, and as a result our business had started to dwindle.”

Adding to Scott’s problems, the price of copper, a major component of plumbing products, rose dramatically. “We started to lose money hand over fist,” Scott continues. “We closed our foundry and laid off three quarters of our workforce. It became obvious that the only path forward was restructuring.” That restructure involved a complete shift from manufacturing to outsourcing.

“Currently, Delany Products does research and design in house and depends on outside suppliers to make product components,” Scott explains. “We still do 100 percent of the assembly and final operational testing.”

The company was moving ahead with its outsourcing model; then COVID hit. Fortunately for Delany Products, when the pandemic arrived, so did the Central Virginia SBDC. “When the pandemic struck, Rebecca Haydock at the SBDC called to see if she could help,” Scott recalls. “We immediately said — ‘sounds great!’”

The Central Virginia SBDC Center Director put the Delany team in touch with a marketing firm to assist with the launch of its new product, TruStop, a patented innovation that reduces maintenance costs for institutional toilets. “The Fellows Group, now our marketing firm, did a complete update of our website,” Scott says.

In addition to the marketing assistance, Rebecca connected Scott with Aaron Miller, the Virginia SBDC’s Director of International Business Development. “Aaron had students from George Mason University do a study of potential markets,” Scott says. “We’ll explore those markets once we build our sales for TruStop in the United States. We really believe TruStop will be a game changer for us.”

Rebecca also offered help with applications for COVID assistance. “We applied for everything we could to keep us afloat during the pandemic,” Scott notes. “Rebecca helped us through all the confusion. Additionally, she put us in touch with Lisa Wood at the Procurement Technical Assistance Center who’s trying to locate government contracts for us.”

With a restructured business model in place and a new product on the market, Scott is hopeful about the future. “Right now, our backlog list is huge because of supply-chain issues,” he comments. “Once that clears up, things will change. Business is already better than last year.”

Scott says Rebecca and the SBDC team were at the right place at the right time to make things happen for his company. “The SBDC helped us out at a very critical time during the pandemic,” Scott concludes. “Rebecca Haydock and the SBDC are a great resource.”

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Wall-Lift Inc.

Innovation leads to international business for Wall-Lift

Achieved more than 100% growth in domestic and international sales

https://walllift.net/

When Mark Helmuth first invented the Wall-Lift in 2005, it was purely out of necessity. As a contractor, he needed a safer and more efficient way to raise walls, so he built a device to do the heavy lifting for him and his crew, literally.

“Necessity is the mother of all inventions,” Mark says. “I had a need to set walls, and the methods that were out there didn’t quite meet my specs. I thought about it, went out and got the components, and within a week and a half I had it all together. On the first job, it worked great.”

That first use quickly turned into dozens. After his fellow contractors saw the machine in action, requests to build more began to filter in. At the urging of a friend in 2016, Mark filed for a patent and began exploring the process of setting up Wall-Lift as a business. His banker referred him to the SBDC center in the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham area where Allison Dugan’s team helped Mark establish Wall-Lift Inc.

“The SBDC walked me through a lot of things,” Mark says. “I took a lot of the courses they offered, they hooked me up with some shipping guys, and they helped me put together some brochures and marketing,” he adds. He also participated in the Virginia SBDC Network’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) to learn about customer discovery and how to match your product to your customers’ needs.

But Mark’s partnership with the SBDC didn’t end there. This past spring, Mark discovered a video of his Wall-Lift posted by what Mark wrote on Instagram, was “an icon of the framing world.” The SBDC was there to help Mark double down on the power of viral marketing in this unique situation.

That video, which has since generated nearly 400,000 views, led to an exponential increase in orders for Wall-Lift almost overnight. Mark has nearly doubled sales from last year already and, with help from the Virginia SBDC Network’s International Business Development Director Aaron Miller, he has shipped as far as Australia, England, Norway, and South Korea. The distribution channels the SBDC helped him establish have paid dividends during that growth — as have partnerships the SBDC helped him secure with two dealers who now sell Wall-Lift.

“I got a large United States map, and I put pins where every sale went so I can see what’s going on,” Mark recalls. “Early on, I saw that if I made one sale in one area, it’s not long before you have two or three more in that same area. That’s when I realized this wasn’t a bad product because it’s selling itself,” adds Mark.

As Wall-Lift continues to grow, Mark finds the SBDC to be a reliable ally in his corner. Sales for the product have doubled every year, ballooning from fewer than 10 in his first year to more than 200 units already sold in 2021. He sold eight in one day and 52 in a single month — records he says he wouldn’t be surprised to see broken.

“[The SBDC] asked me, how big do you want to go? I said that if we got to the point where we could sell two a week, that would be great,” Mark says. “Now we’re way past that.”

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Owners and key financial decisionmakers of for-profit businesses, share your recent experiences. Did your business seek financing such as loans or lines of credit in the last 12 months? How would you rate the financial condition of your business?

The Federal Reserve’s 2022 Small Business Credit Survey is open for responses, and the Virginia SBDC Network is a partner on this effort. By taking the survey, you contribute to data that directly informs the Fed, federal government agencies, service providers, policymakers, and others—ultimately benefitting your business and other businesses like yours. Take the 10-minute survey now. 

The survey is open to businesses currently in operation, those recently closed, and those about to launch. All responses are confidential.

The survey closes November 4, 2022. Questions? Contact Grace Guynn at grace.guynn@atl.frb.org.