Category: Central

Auto Care Clinic

Winning Advice Helps Build Business

“We started in 2014 with just me and my daughter. Now I have 4 mechanics. And this year we’ll do about $850,000 in business,” Long says. The turnaround in his business, Long believes, came from the marketing and business advice he received from the SBDC.

Bill Long says $50 was the best investment he ever made. The owner of the Auto Care Clinic in Front Royal paid the small sum to enter an entrepreneurial contest sponsored by the Lord Fairfax SBDC. “I heard about it on the talk show, I listen to on the radio every morning,” Long says. “For 50 bucks I figured I didn’t have anything to lose, and I had a lot to learn.”

The contest included six classroom sessions offering one-on-one assistance to develop a business plan. This was followed by the first public pitch night, in which participants presented their business plans to a panel of industry professionals. “It was a little nerve-racking, but I made it through the elimination round,” Long says. The winner of the final pitch night would receive $5,000 cash plus another $3,000 for marketing. “I won!” Long says. “With the prize money I was able to purchase two lifts and add a three-bay expansion to my shop. We’re just now finishing up the radio and newspaper marketing I received.”

Long was also able to increase the size of his staff. “We’re pretty excited,” he says. “We started in 2014 with just me and my daughter. Now I have four mechanics. And this year we’ll do about $850,000 in business.” Long expects to increase his revenues to $1.2 million next year. “We regularly revisit the business plan the SBDC helped me write,” he noted.

The turnaround in his business, Long believes, came from the marketing and business advice he received from the SBDC. “I’m at the point now where I’m working on the business versus working in the business,” Long says. “When I was able to make that change, it made a huge difference. Now I have enough money to do more marketing.”

Working with the SBDC has given Long a new perspective on making business decisions. “As a small business owner you have to get to the point where you realize you don’t know everything,” he says. “You have to be willing to make changes.”

Long continues to take advantage of the SBDC’s free classes and recommends them to his friends. “Working with the SBDC has been a wonderful experience,” he says. One of the speakers at the SBDC course that Long took was Dr. Miles Davis, dean of the Shenandoah University School of Business. Recently he brought his car into Long’s shop for servicing. “You can’t ask for a better endorsement than that,” Long says.

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Blossom Spas

New Spas Are in Full Bloom

In just one year, Blossom Spas was able to create six jobs and build a 1,700-square-foot salon. ” We consulted with the SBDC on everything from understanding the market and area needs to picking a location and getting a license,” Luangrarj said.

There’s no doubt about it: Harrisonburg’s Blossom Spas is in full bloom. Vunly Luangrarj, a native of Laos, started the salon two years ago and now employs six licensed technicians and cosmetologists.

Vunly works on site with scheduling, services, and inventory while her daughter, Mim, consults and keeps up with the spa’s social media. Working as a team with their employees, they provide quality service at an affordable price.

Vunly and Mim worked with the Shenandoah Valley SBDC to realize Vunly ‘s dream of building a 1,700 square-foot full-service nail salon in just one year. Proficient but not yet fluent in English, Vunly relied on the assistance of her daughter and the Shenandoah Valley SBDC to help translate and explain important forms and documents. “The SBDC really helped out a lot,” says Mim. “We consulted with them on everything from understanding the market and area needs to picking a location and getting a license.”

Just three months after signing a lease, the spa was fully built and furnished with a new ventilation system, plumbing, flooring, and lighting.

One of their biggest challenges was bringing in enough employees to run the business. Many technicians were already working at other salons; Vunly and Mim needed to gain their trust and prove they would have enough clients. They earned that trust by creating a unique, team-centered environment at the spa.

“Something I take the most pride in is the supportive culture that we’ve created with our staff,” says Vunly. “Each person brings a unique value to our team. We are a culturally diverse staff, and we take pride in providing the very best service for our clients together.”

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Skin+Touch Therapy

Boutique Spa Gives Life to a Vision

With help from the University of Mary Washington SBDC, Skin+Touch Therapy has been able to increase its staff over five years, from 2 to 15. Five more massage rooms were added to the newly renovated second floor.

Brian Lam believes in vision. In 2011 he visualized a business he wanted to create. Five years later, Skin+Touch Therapy, is a thriving part of historic downtown Fredericksburg. “I wanted to work for myself, but I also wanted to create something that wasn’t existing in the marketplace,” Lam says. “I saw an opportunity here in Fredericksburg.”

Lam’s boutique spa offers excellent customer service and collaborations with other businesses. Lam’s idea was to combine small service businesses with the convenience of a larger chain business. “In my industry, there were either individual practitioners or chain massage spas,” he says. “I wanted something independently owned with a group of practitioners.” For example, he partners with a local yoga studio to provide prenatal yoga and massage packages.

Lam decided to seek professional advice. “Since I was a recent transplant from New York, I needed to find out if there were specific Virginia laws I needed to know,” he says. He googled “business advice” and found the University of Mary Washington SBDC. “In starting my business, I found the SBDC really great and customer friendly. They gave me a lot of information,” he says.

Initially, the SBDC assisted Lam in developing marketing and financial systems. When Lam decided to buy his building, he worked with the SBDC to update a business plan, forecast cash flows, and complete required documentation to qualify for a 504 loan. He recently renovated the second floor of the building and added five more massage rooms.

“We offer small-business customer service along with the convenience of what bigger spas offer,” Lam says. “With help from the SBDC we’ve created a niche in the middle—a good place to be.”

Lam is also active in the community, volunteering on the board of Fredericksburg’s Main Street Program. “There used to be a lot of vacant store fronts on Main Street,” he says. “Now downtown is picking up its pace.” He believes all small business owners should take advantage of the services the SBDC offers. “The business world is always evolving,” he says. “The SBDC services are invaluable.”

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Pranapiloga Yoga Studio

A Successful Business is No Accident

Pranapiloga Yoga Studio started with one employee back in 2015; since then, they have grown to a staff of 14 with 230 active clients.” This was an opportunity to bring something I love to a place I’ve grown to love,” Elsen said.

It was an accident in 2012 that motivated Rebecca Elsen to start her own yoga studio, but it’s no accident that her business is a success. In 2016 Elsen was named the Culpeper Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year and was voted “Best of the Best” by readers of the Culpeper Times-Exponent.

Following her accident, Elsen decided to move from Fairfax to Culpeper. “I wanted to go to a place where the lifestyle isn’t so hectic,” she says. The yoga practitioner, who had been teaching yoga since her late teens, soon noted a lack of yoga studios in her new location. “I thought there was an opportunity to bring something I love to a place I’ve grown to love,” she adds.

In March 2015, Elsen paid a visit to David Reardon at the Lord Fairfax SBDC in Culpeper. Elsen was teaching private and small group classes but wanted a downtown location for a dedicated yoga studio. “David was full of great information and gave me tons of tips,” she says. “The SBDC seminars were really helpful, too—like the one on Facebook and social media.”

Elsen’s opened the Pranapiloga Yoga Studio in April 2015. “I was fortunate that I was able to start this business with my own capital, but learning to draft the right kind of business plan was a big help,” she says. The studio offers private and small group classes in yoga, yoga therapy, and Pilates including both land- and water-based environments. Waterbased classes are taught at the Powell Wellness Center pool.

“I like to think outside the box,” Elsen says. This philosophy extends to her clients. Once a month the studio holds a class for persons with mental and physical disabilities. “You have to learn how to work with them,” she says. “One client was afraid to go downstairs, so I sat down beside her, and we scooted down together.”

Elsen’s business model is obviously a successful one. Her staff, starting with herself as the only employee, now includes three karma yoga ambassadors, two meditation teachers, four yoga teachers, and four part-time instructors. Her client database currently includes 230.

“When I opened my business, I felt that if one person showed up, I was OK,” Elsen says. “Teaching and sharing yoga is my favorite thing to do.” As the business grows, Elsen plans to continue her visits to the SBDC. “I don’t have the experience,” she says. “So it’s better for me to lean on people who do.”

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Tee Spot Creative Learning Center

Tee Spot is spot-on for early childhood learning

Tiarra moved her business from her house to a 4,000 square foot facility, with an enrollment of 52 children and a highly qualified staff of 12.

Tiarra Dawson believes learning starts at home. “In 2014, I opened Tee Spot, a small early-childhood-learning business in my home. I knew it would bloom rapidly,” explains Tiarra, known as Ms. Tee to her students. “My vision was to provide children with remarkable learning experiences, a loving and safe place to grow, and bonds that would last beyond my care.”

When Tiarra had 10 children enrolled at Tee Spot, she began meeting with Christine Kriz, Director of the Lord Fairfax SBDC in 2016. “Tiarra had excellent training for early childhood learning, but wanted to learn more about business functions,” says Christine. “She knows that you can’t do it all yourself, and she wanted to develop a staff that would offer the best learning environment for children.”

Tee Spot soon outgrew Tiarra’s house. She continued to meet with the LFSBDC, in order to help manage her business growth. Christina connected Tiarra to advisors, realtors, lawyers, and others who could help her move to a new facility. She also advised Tiarra on financing, accounting, operations, and human resource functions.

“At the end of April 2016, Tiarra found a 4,000-square-foot facility,” Christine notes. Tiarra adds, “It was a blessing to find this building. It used to be the probation building, and the foyer is made of bulletproof glass. It’s one of the safest and most secure daycare centers in the area.”

For children from six-weeks-old to third grade, the program introduces a structured learning environment that includes a teacher-directed and student-directed approach. “Each day of the week students focus on a particular area of development,” says Tiarra. Daily areas of study include music and movement, early literacy, writing development, science/social studies, and mathematics.

Given her goals, Tiarra consulted with Christine again in 2017 for help with business operations and staffing needs. To achieve the standards that Tiarra set, the right cultural and educational fit is critical.

Tiarra, who holds a degree in early childhood education, says, “I’m extremely passionate about children and love to aid in their growth and development. We welcome all young children in our place of learning. We teach our young children daily, and they continue to teach us.” “Tiarra’s center is having an impact on the children and the communities it serves,” Christina says. “She is determined to continue to shape the minds of the future — the sky is truly the limit.”

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Envirian of Warrenton

Envirian in Fauquier puts the heart in home ownership

The ability to look beyond the immediate sale and focus on the client’s best interest is a hallmark of Dean’s approach.

Dean Wood was a managing partner of Envirian, LLC, a successful real estate franchise company with more than 20 franchises. He decided to get out of franchising and to refocus on local real estate through his brokerages, Envirian of Reston and Envirian of Warrenton. “You can run a large corporation for a long time and realize you’ve gone past the place you want to be,” Dean explains.

As part of his renewed commitment to local clients, Dean completed his certification as a military relocation professional. Dean, who served as an officer in the US Army National Guard, helps veterans build or find adaptive housing.

Dean takes a hands-on approach. He helps clients secure financing through the Veterans Administration, shows up during construction to make sure contractors are building to specification, researches and purchases adaptive appliances, and makes sure his clients’ needs are met at every stage. “Once I was on site when the crew was installing the electrical panel – at their eye level,” he recalls. “I stopped the work and got it placed lower on the wall so that the client, who uses a wheelchair, could reach it.”

The ability to look beyond the immediate sale and focus on the client’s best interest is a hallmark of Dean’s approach. “Many people think of real estate as a single transaction. You find the client a house, and that’s the end of the story,” Dean says. “I don’t work that way. I’ve done a number of houses for disabled vets. While I don’t build the houses, I am with them every step from finding the land to the completed home with all the needed adaptations.”

Often Dean wondered what was next. He reached out to the Lord Fairfax SBDC for help, both personal and professional. “I could have gone in any number of directions,” Dean says. “Dale Maza at the SBDC sat down with me and went through various options. That was very helpful, and I have a good idea of what I’m going to do next. I appreciated having someone like Dale work with me.”

Dean concludes, “Good advice is worth more than money. Sometimes you don’t need dollars — but you do need ‘sense.’”

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Ryzing Technologies

Ryzing to meet technology needs

ICAP influenced Ryzing Technologies being able to win Phase I Option and Phase II awards from the Army SBIR for the development of an adjustable height platform system for military shelters. These awards combine for a 3-year contract, totaling $1.05 million.

Ryzing Technologies lives up to its name by rising to meet the demand for technologies of the future. “Our mission is to provide engineering services to other companies in anything that uses fabrics and textiles as a structural element,” Ryan Gundling says.

At their jobs in the same California company, Ryan Gundling, a mechanical engineer, and Ryan Long, an expert in prototyping and fabrications, helped develop an inflatable technology adopted by the US Army for military shelters, that included inflatable tents ranging from 10-foot to 90-foot wide and all the accessories the military used with the tents.

Both Ryans relocated to Virginia, but not at the same time. “After being in Virginia from seven to nine years,” Ryan G. says, “We felt like this area was a great place to open a business, so Ryan and I resigned from our jobs to do just that.” Ryan G. adds, “Our goal was to create a fast paced, research and development atmosphere that could advance and develop inflatable and textile technologies for the military and find success for those technologies in the commercial world.”

Ryan G. heard about the Innovative Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) offered through the Shenandoah Valley SBDC. A program of the Virginia SBDC Network and available to all Virginia SBDC clients who met the criteria, ICAP helps inventors and entrepreneurs successfully take new technologies and innovations to market.

“I decided to enroll. Initially ICAP provided a general assessment of our technology and gave feedback,” Ryan G. recalls. “It turned out to be an incredible learning experience and really helped focus our direction. ICAP connected us to experts from across the country, who provided counseling on soft robotic technology.” Ryan G. adds, “At a meeting in Verona, we were also given face-to-face advice on marketing, on how to commercialize this technology, and on how to be successful.”

Ryzing Technologies took the guidance to heart, and the company’s revenue figures reflect its success. Both Ryans credit the SBDC and ICAP for their company’s initial success and continue to work with the SBDC since “graduating” from ICAP. Ryan G. adds, “The SBDC didn’t provide money or a grant — they provided guidance, and that was even more valuable.”

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Pale Fire Brewing Company

Brewing up business: Pale Fire Brewery a Success

Pale Fire raised an initial investment of $900,000 and recently obtained a bank loan for distribution across Virginia. They employ 5 full-time and 9 part-time workers.

Tim Brady has been brewing beer professionally for years. With both the passion and the expertise to harness the rising tide of interest in craft beer, starting Pale Fire Brewing Co. was the logical next step for the James Madison University graduate. “I’m very drawn to the creative element in brewing beer,” says Tim. “It’s such a great mix of both creativity and chemistry.”

With its high concentration of locally grown and owned businesses, Harrisonburg was the perfect place for Pale Fire to call home. “People here are especially supportive of local businesses,” says Tim, a longtime enthusiast and proponent of the town, “so it’s just an ideal place for us to be.”

A year after opening, Pale Fire quickly proved that its beers were bigger than mere local acclaim. The brewery won not one but two medals at the 2016 World Beer Cup, a highly prestigious global beer competition, held every two years.

The SBDC played a vital role in helping Tim make his brewery a reality. He worked closely with the Shenandoah Valley SBDC Director Joyce Krech to perfect a business plan. Joyce arranged sample investor presentations, which Tim says were invaluable in fine-tuning his pitch. “I would get so much good feedback from these trial runs,” he says. “I was well prepared for questions from actual investors just based on having those practice opportunities.”

Tim quickly raised the capital needed to open his brewery in downtown Harrisonburg. In fact, Tim so impressed his investors that he raised the entire $900,000. With his recipes in hand, Tim began production in 2015. By 2017, the brewery had three full-time and eight part- time employees. Business was so successful that Pale Fire wanted to bottle the beer to distribute across Virginia.

Tim returned to the SBDC and met with Capital Access Advisor Bill Groseclose. Bill helped him prepare a proposal that landed a loan by a local bank. It funded a new in-house bottling line, consolidated existing debts, and improved cash flow for the business.

As craft beer continues to enjoy intense popularity, Tim is reminded of the creative spark that drew him to brewing in the first place. “Craft beer is popular right now and that’s great, but that also means there’s lots of competition, which can be a challenge,” he says. “But our team is what sets us apart. We have the experience and we have a true passion for what we do.”

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Kylla Custom Rock Wear

Kylla Custom Rock Wear

The SBDC connected Kylla Custom Rock Wear with resources that helped with day-to-day operations and provided important information on customs and shipping overseas. Kylla currently has customers in 52 countries. 

Metal vocalist and designer Kim “Kylla” Dylla had a vision: start a business to dress her fellow musicians and entertainers with high-quality, yet affordable, stage wear. Today, that vision is alive and well at Kylla Custom Rock Wear.

“We create unique designs from salvaged, distressed, and reclaimed materials that echo our artists’ music,” Kylla explains. “Designed by an experienced touring musician, our jackets, vests, jeans, shirts, dresses, and accessories fill a unique niche in the rock fashion market.”

As Kylla Custom Rock Wear grew and issues about running a business emerged, Kylla visited Betty Hoge, Director of the Central Virginia SBDC in Charlottesville. “As an artisan who formed a startup business, shaping myself into an entrepreneur and connecting to others in my industry is challenging,” Kylla says.

Kylla had the additional challenge of shipping overseas to her worldwide customer base. Betty introduced her to the Virginia SBDC International Business Development Program and VITAL (Virginia International Trade Alliance). VITAL works with clients to develop export readiness and performance. “The advice from VITAL helped me avoid customs hassles and delays when sending important wardrobes for tours abroad,” Kylla says. “Now my international buyers have more confidence. I also feel confident in my ability to connect with and take on investment in the future.”

Betty also worked with her on the day-to-day tasks of running a business. She recommended some contacts and trade shows, helped expand the reach of Kylla’s website by using key words and search engine optimization techniques, found a manufacturer and distressing house, and taught her how to keep the books. “These steps took me leaps and bounds forward in my development of the new line,” Kylla attests.

Kylla concludes, “The SBDC has been immensely helpful in growing and progressing my business, and I have many new ideas to implement in the coming months.”

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Baby Change-N-Go

A change is gonna come

In addition to strategic marketing and development assistance from the SBDC, Baby Change-N-Go received help from the VITAL program to identify better efficiencies and cost savings for exporting, including the reduction of export shipping costs by 1/3 by using a specialist in small parcel shipping.

You are out and about with your baby, and it is time to change the diaper. You might find one of those changing tables in public restrooms, if you are lucky (and a woman, because there is almost never a changing table in the men’s room). Unfortunately, those well- used tables are teeming with bacteria and other nasty things. Thanks to two mompreneurs — and a little help from their mentors — an innovative product, Baby Change-N-Go, is putting many minds (and bottoms!) at ease.

“People were so frustrated, trying to find a safe, sanitary place to change a baby or a product that could fit in a diaper bag. But there was nothing out there,” says Mahnaz Moosa, Baby Change-N-Go co-founder and chief executive officer. “So we just sketched out a concept of a device that would fit over a door or side of a bathroom stall. Often we began to develop it.”

Mahnaz talked with safety experts, hazard experts, design engineers, child development experts, human behavior experts, and other parents to develop a unique product that fills a widespread, existing need. Often she talked with mentors at the Greater Richmond SBDC, which is directed by Greg Hofbauer. “The timing was perfect,” says Mahnaz, “because they offered just what we needed — expertise in branding and marketing, as well as a range of other issues.”

After launching, opportunities arose for international distribution of the Baby Change-N-Go product. Mahnaz and Brenda Lee Moosa, co-founder and chief operating officer, were referred to the Virginia SBDC International Business Development Program and VITAL.

VITAL (Virginia International Trade Alliance) works with clients to develop actionable market intelligence and research to improve export readiness and performance. Aaron Miller, International Trade Manager for the Virginia SBDC, explains, “Through VITAL, we helped them create export documentation and identify inefficiencies and cost savings. We provided translations of marketing material into Portuguese and Spanish. We obtained a grant to cover the cost of exhibiting at an international trade show and delivered a market report with demographic information applicable to Baby Change-N- Go’s target market.”

“We were very fortunate to have found the Greater Richmond SBDC. We have worked with outstanding mentors and even have an export plan,” says Mahnaz. “We wouldn’t have had such a smooth process without them,” Brenda adds.

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