Category: Central

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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SPARC Research

Aerospace firm takes off with the SBDC’s help

SPARC received a $5.5 million SBA and bank loan.

https://sparcresearch.com/

When the company Dr. Patrick Hewitt worked for relocated outside of Virginia, Patrick didn’t want to leave the “for lovers” Commonwealth. He decided to stay behind and start his own business, and SPARC Research, formed in 2017, was the result.

Four years later, Patrick’s aerospace engineering firm is literally taking off in Fauquier County. “We’re excited to have a leader in advanced missile and rocket propulsion development like SPARC Research in our commonwealth,” Governor Ralph Northam commented in a May 2021 press release.

It’s obvious that Patrick knows the rocket propulsion business well. “I had the advantage of being involved in the industry for 34 years at my previous company,” he notes.

SPARC Research started operations in 2018 in a leased office in Warrenton. “We outgrew that office last year,” Patrick says. Currently, SPARC Research is operating in a temporary location, awaiting the construction of a 20,000-square-foot office and manufacturing facility in Fauquier County. “We’re designing 10,000 square feet as an open manufacturing space,” Patrick explains. “The other half of the building, with 50 offices, will be engineering.”

Securing a $5.5 million loan from the US Small Business Administration and The Fauquier Bank for the project was also a major undertaking. That’s when Patrick turned to the Lord Fairfax SBDC for assistance.

“I had drafted a business plan, but I’m an engineer,” he says. “The plan I put together was not something a banker would appreciate. Cort Maddox, business advisor at the Loudoun SBDC, helped put it together in a more accounting-type form,” Patrick adds.

Once the business loan was secured, the SBDC advised Patrick on advantageous ways to work with state and county agencies. “The county offers incentives for permits and fees,” Patrick continues. “The SBDC helped us maximize those incentives. Christine Kriz, Center Director of the Lord Fairfax SBDC, was the consistent thread in this.”

Patrick continues to appreciate the assistance received from the SBDC. “The SBDC helped us make sure we had everything in place when we approached the SBA for our loan,” he says. “The SBDC also provided advice on how to work with state and local governments to get our project off the ground and make it successful,” says Patrick.

Patrick is already looking to the future. “We have a strong intern program in place,” Patrick says. “What I see for the future is mentoring — bringing up the next generation in propulsion.” Also, in that future, Patrick sees the SBDC.

“I have a good grasp of my own industry but welcome help on the business side,” Patrick admits. “The SBDC has been extremely responsive — I would absolutely recommend them.”

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The Wooden Spoon

The Wooden Spoon: Feeding the body and nourishing the soul

Received a $50,000 small business loan.

https://thewoodenspoonrva.com/

Yvette Daniel opened The Wooden Spoon in Richmond in 2018, motivated by one unflinching principle: to provide cuisine that was as healthy and nourishing for her customers as it was tasty.

“When you feed the body, you nourish the soul,” Yvette explains. “All of the food here is made from high-quality, organic ingredients — all of it. I grew up in Spain, and food there is all about being authentic and clean and is made from very good, quality ingredients. Everything is made from scratch. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a labor of love.” For Yvette, that includes everything from imported Spanish olive oil and butter, to locally sourced meat and organic eggs from free-range Virginia farms. While these ingredients are the hallmark of The Wooden Spoon’s unique cuisine, they aren’t cheap.

Early on, as a fledgling small business committed to quality, The Wooden Spoon struggled to keep up with expenses. That’s when Yvette got in touch with the Capital Region SBDC, and her advisor, Rodney Williams, scheduled a site visit.

“I ended up writing Rodney at the SBDC, asking how they could help, and he wrote back saying that he was at my restaurant two weeks ago and it was amazing,” Yvette says. “He came in, we met, and he helped me with everything. He very quickly got me approved for a small business loan of $50,000, which helped a lot.”

That loan provided Yvette with the capital to keep The Wooden Spoon afloat in its early days while also allowing her to maintain her commitment to providing fresh, high-quality meals. “The small loan was amazing,” she adds. “It helped me cover some very important expenses I had, so I was super grateful for that grant.”

Now, more than three years after opening, The Wooden Spoon has built a loyal customer base, which Yvette believes is heavily influenced by her restaurant’s emphasis on quality over quantity and the sanctity of a good meal shared among friends and family.

“I teach my staff to learn our customers’ names. We don’t rush people,” she explains. “Our customers can stay as long as they want. I don’t want to turn over tables; I want people to enjoy themselves.” As word gets around about Yvette’s health-focused cooking, more people can do just that at The Wooden Spoon.

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