Category: Central

Valley Urgent Care, Harrisonburg

Valley Urgent Care

Jumpstarting Success

Melissa and Michelle now employ ten in the Center. The loans are paid off; gross revenues are healthy; and each partner is able to take a good income. 

Melissa Lafferty FNP-C came to the Shenandoah Valley SBDC in the fall of 2011, unsure if she could, would, or should open a new urgent care center. Although she possessed a strong medical background, she had no practical business experience.

With guidance from her Shenandoah Valley SBDC business advisor, Melissa worked through a SWOT analysis, prepared a business plan, and connected with an old friend who could join her as a partner.  Michelle Seekford, RN, had prior business experience, and with their complementary skill sets they found a private investor for  a loan of $50,000. With that capital infusion and a business plan in hand, the bank which had initially turned them down agreed to a loan of $70,000.  Valley Urgent Care & Occupational Medicine opened in Harrisonburg in May 2012 with three employees.

Update to 2013:  Melissa and Michelle now employ ten in the Center. The loans are paid off; gross revenues are healthy; and each partner is able to take a good income.  When asked to what they contribute their success, Melissa’s response was immediate: success is due to long hours and hard work.

Valley Urgent Care serves the local community and employers with occupational testing and screening, drug testing, sports physicals, workplace accident care and other urgent care services. A key to their rapid growth has been their high degree of community involvement.  Melissa and Michelle help refugees who cannot wait the many months to get into the local health center and provide pro bono care to the indigent.  Many local companies have switched from other well-established firms to Valley Urgent Care because they go the extra mile and provide great customer service.

Melissa writes of Lee Simon, their SBDC Business Advisor, “I never could or would have done it without your belief in me.  Your support made the difference.  Remember you told me there was more to running a clinic than seeing patients. That’s why I needed a business partner…you were right!”

Read More
Shawn’s Smokehouse BBQ, Culpeper

Shawn’s Smokehouse BBQ

BBQ Succes

Shawn employs 15 part-time staff between the kitchen and the restaurant.

Shawn Moss opened his restaurant and catering business, Shawn’s Smokehouse BBQ and Catering, LLC, in March, 2013.  He has many years’ experience in the food business working with his mother who has been running her own catering service for 37 years in Woodbridge, VA.

The 84-seat restaurant is located just outside downtown Culpeper.  Shawn presently has customers from as far away as Fredericksburg and Stafford, and his biggest problem right now is providing enough parking!

When Shawn first came to Lord Fairfax-Culpeper SBDC, he needed help in reducing his costs and growing his market.  His labor costs were very high, since he was paying his staff higher than a minimum wage.  It was suggested that Shawn consider changing the restaurant to a self-order, counter-pickup system, similar to 5 Guys or Panera Bread.  Shawn has followed this advice and greatly reduced expenses.

Shawn also added take-out, and he now estimates that the carryout business is about 40 to 50 % of his total sales.  He offers online ordering and is also thinking about offering home delivery.

The catering side of the business has also been growing — enough that he had to buy an additional food truck.  He is catering for large venues, such as fairs and horse shows.    He estimates that he served 2000 people at one event last year, and he will again be catering this event in 2014.

He employs 15 part-time staff between the kitchen and the restaurant.

To cap his successful year Shawn Smokehouse BBQ and Catering, LLC, was named the Culpeper Small Business of 2013 at the Culpeper Chamber Annual Dinner in November 2013.

Read More
New Ravenna Mosaics, Exmore

New Ravenna Mosaics

Mosaic Success

International markets make up 20% of New Ravenna’s $20 million in annual revenues, and the plan is to double that.

Sara McCaleb Baldwin was born on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and grew up with an appreciation for its surrounding naturalbeauty.  Eventually she chose to apply this passion to the business of creating artistic mosaics.

Sara earned two degrees in Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania and became inspired by the fourth-century Roman craft of mosaics.  By 1990, she had launched a small cottage business in the mosaics industry; by the end of 1991, she was the official founder of New Ravenna (named after the historic Byzantine Italian capital of mosaics) with $8,000 in sales and one employee.

Over the next couple of decades, New Ravenna grew and moved and grew and moved.  Today the company, located in Exmore, enjoys a  45,000 square-foot campus of covered space.  Not only has Exmore profited from this growing business that took dilapidated buildings and enhanced their value for a greater tax base, New Ravenna is now  the largest private-sector employer in Exmore, with a diverse staff of 120 people, 63% female and 37% male, with ethnic origins from countries throughout the world.

New Ravenna worked with the Hampton Roads SBDC on the Eastern Shore to explore the possibilities of expanding its international marketplace.  The company’s export customers now include Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Mexico, Korea, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, Morocco, United Arab Republic and a myriad of islands in the Caribbean.  In fact,  these international markets make up 20% of New Ravenna’s $20 million in annual revenues, and the plan is to double that.

Read More
King of Pops

King of Pops

Making Life Pop

King of Pops recently added 1 more full-time person, making a power team of 3. They were able to increase their revenue by 38% from 2015 to 2016.

There’s a lot that Paul Cassimus loves about his job as the owner of Richmond’s King of Pops. He sells those delicious popsicles that are homemade from locally sourced ingredients. He’s one of a handful of business owners who work as part of the King of Pops team, which has locations in several cities along the Eastern seaboard.

The thing Cassimus loves the most, however, is the people, the ones he works with and the ones he meets in Richmond’s thriving business community. “It’s a great venue for meeting other business people,” he says. One of those businesspeople is Christina Dick, who works with Thrive, a program of the Greater Richmond SBDC.

Thrive offers free consultations to local entrepreneurs who are starting and growing their businesses. Cassimus consulted them about several aspects of his business, including finances and social media. Although some entrepreneurs need more traditional ongoing business counseling, Cassimus wanted help putting together a communications calendar and a job description for a new communications position. Cassimus was able to work with Christina to meet his needs. “I got exactly what I needed, which was a more informal but specific approach to the coaching about particular issues that emerged.” The consultations were useful because Cassimus’ team is small, and he found it helpful to connect with others and discuss a strategy for growth.

That strategy has paid off, as King of Pops saw approximately 38% growth in revenue from 2015 to 2016. Cassimus has also added another full-time person to his team. He now has one employee who sells popsicles to grocery stores and restaurants and one who makes the popsicles and handles production. Cassimus himself manages the business and focuses on catering sales.

The three make a great team, and they enjoy experimenting with different flavors for pops. A recent favorite was a non-alcoholic blackberry mojito. They’ve also made pops that use local flavors, such as Sugar Shack Donuts.

Cassimus’ connections within the Richmond community mean that he is always offering new flavors, making life pop wherever he goes.

Read More
Hawkbill Trading Company

Hawksbill Trading Company

Small Business’ Big Deal

Hawksbill Trading Company started its business in 2016 with 20 local vendors; since then, it has expanded to nearly 60 vendors and counting. “Every vendor now has a say in how we operate and grow. We each have a role in the success of not only our own business but our neighbors’ as well,” says North.

It was mid-December 2015 when James (Jay) North learned that he was facing the end of his small business. The market where he sold vendors’ home décor and antiques was being shut down. But he and the other vendors decided to make the most of a difficult situation.

Unwilling to accept a forced closure, North and a committed group of business owners created a new organization that would serve the local business community in Luray. They sought guidance from the Shenandoah Valley SBDC and advisor Sara Levinson.

The first item of business: establish The Hawksbill Trading Company (HTC) as a co-operative. According to North, without the SBDC’s guidance, the co-op would never have been possible. The new board worked diligently with Levinson to create membership applications and vendor contracts, to draft bylaws and other organizational documents, as well as to set up a new accounting system and manage all aspects for a new venture.

“Every vendor now has a say in how we operate and grow. We each have a role in the success of not only our own business but our neighbors’ as well” says North, who serves as Board President. “By working together, we can accomplish great things.”

The new business opened its doors on January 20, 2016, with 20 local vendors selling antiques, jewelry, up-cycled furniture, original art, home goods, meats, and produce. Unlike many markets, HTC does not work around pre-defined stalls or booths. Some vendors need only a few shelves for their products while others need lots of floor space. HTC’s board works hard to find the right space and layout for each vendor, which allows businesses of all sizes to participate.

One year after opening, HTC hosts nearly 60 vendors. Merchants and local artisans offer a variety of workshops in everything from essential oils to painting to fly-tying. HTC is a thriving hub of entrepreneurial spirit and activity—a place to share ideas, gather resources, be inspired, and find support.

Read More
Auto Care Clinic

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.

Read More
Blossom Spas

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.”

Read More
Skin+Touch Therapy Spa

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.”

Read More
Pranapiloga Yoga Studio

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.”

Read More
Tee Spot Creative Learning Center

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.”

Read More