Category: Southern

Royal Restrooms

Royal Restrooms: Meeting more clients’ needs

Secured $230,000 in loans and increased net income by 33% on 15% increase in sales.

Although January 2020 was the eve of a tumultuous era, it proved an ideal time for Paul Dowdy to expand Royal Restrooms.

Paul explains that “a lot of businesses had to split their offices” to accommodate social distancing, referring to his partnerships with military sites and other businesses in the Lynchburg area. The need to meet COVID-19’s distancing requirements — in addition to maintaining compliance with OSHA standards — made 2020-21 a prosperous year for Royal Restrooms.

When asked to reflect on his favorite part of the business, Paul cites its constant growth as a result of his partnership with the Longwood SBDC. “We can’t get the inventory in fast enough because we’re getting so many requests,” he says. “We just can’t keep up with supply and demand.”

Paul learned about the SBDC while working at a wedding in Danville. He initially sought help from another small business agency; however, with his company’s rapid expansion, he found that the Longwood SBDC better suited his needs by offering more one-on-one support.

Michael Duncan, Paul’s SBDC advisor, offers such support. He is particularly helpful when making projections and keeping track of finances. This help allowed Paul to secure $230,000 in loans and achieve a 33% increase in net income on 15% increase in sales. Michael is also working to enroll Paul in a finance course at Longwood so that Royal Restrooms can continue to grow. Paul hopes to open 20 offices in the future.

Paul expressed sincere appreciation for Michael’s mentorship and guidance, as well as for the SBDC as a whole. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without him guiding me,” he says. “I like him because he’s straight to the point. We joke, we kid, but when it gets down to business everything is cut and dry.”

Paul has already recommended the SBDC to several other small business owners, and as he continues to expand, he will continue using their resources.

Read More

Iron & Grace Pilates & Fitness Studio

Staying fit in body, mind, and business

Received a $60,000 EIDL loan and $6,000 grant.

When Alaya and Chad Sexton left their home state of Minnesota in search of a change in scenery and a more manageable pace of life, they left behind a highly successful fitness studio they had built from the ground up.

Attracted to Central Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and mild climate, Alaya and Chad settled in Lynchburg where, as seasoned business owners, they set up Iron & Grace Fitness shortly after arriving in 2012. By the end of their first year, they outgrew their first Lynchburg location and had cultivated another loyal client base with their unique approach to functional training based in Pilates, TRX® suspension trainers, and kettlebells.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, however, the Sextons’ business — like many in the fitness industry — was forced to adapt. Iron & Grace pivoted to virtual classes. As the pandemic dragged on, Alaya sought financial assistance through the CARES Act, which led to a meeting with the SBDC in Lynchburg.

While that initial meeting was to facilitate an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) application for Iron & Grace, the resulting partnership evolved into one that is still thriving.

“It was so much more remarkable for us than we thought it would be,” Alaya says of her initial meeting with Jennifer Woofter’s team at the SBDC. “We connected with them to start the process for an EIDL grant, but they helped us ferret out a bunch of other parts of our business.”

Alaya and Chad took the SBDC’s guidance to heart and got back to the fundamentals of owning a business. As a result, she says, she regained a perspective and clarity for Iron & Grace that she had not experienced since the business’s early days as an upstart.

“My trajectory with this business was this: I was very on top of all of my metrics while it was growing. Then, once it stabilized, I didn’t set sales goals. I didn’t have a really great marketing plan. I was busy. I didn’t carve out the time to be as intimate with my business, once it hit a place where it felt stable and fine,” says Alaya. “I don’t know that we would have been able to feel as good about our business as we do now without a business coach like Jennifer.”

Now with their doors reopened, Iron & Grace is back to running at a strong pace, and the Sextons are back to doing what they love.

“Our ethos has always been to help people enjoy their bodies, enjoy their lives, and not let their bodies hold them back from things they want to achieve,” Alaya says. “That’s different for every individual.”

The same can be said for any business. Sometimes it just takes the right coach to get there.

Read More

Carrington and Crafton Academy of the Performing Arts

A new generation revives a dance studio

Successfully started a business and was awarded a grant.

The Carrington and Crafton Academy of the Performing Arts (CAPA²) story is one of lasting friendship and the arts. Molly Williams’s grandmother, Ann Carrington, founded the Carrington Dance Studio in 1967, and Chelsea Moss’s grandmother, Petie Crafton, played the piano for the dance classes. “My mom and Molly’s mom were also best friends,” Chelsea says. “And Molly and I were also friends through the years.”

Molly took over the dance studio in Crewe when her grandmother retired. When Chelsea came back to town after dancing in New York, the two friends began to talk about opening a studio together. “When a space opened up in Farmville, we thought it would be the perfect place for us,” Chelsea explains. “We started dreaming it up in October 2020 and opened in January 2021.”

Chelsea’s father was the one who led them to the Longwood SBDC. “My dad knew Katherine Beale, who had worked in New York like I did and now worked for the SBDC,” Chelsea relates. “He suggested I call her for advice.”

Chelsea made the call and found Katherine ready and willing to help. For starters, Katherine encouraged Chelsea and Molly to reach out to their new community in Farmville. “Katherine suggested that we join the chamber, reach out to businesses and community members, and put out feelers to Longwood University,” Chelsea notes. “Her advice was to be confident and show people what we had to offer.”

Katherine also cautioned against overextending. “She said to think of three things you can do today and then do them,” Chelsea recalls. “It was the same when we talked about our future goals. Katherine told us our goals were great, but we should focus on things we need to do now to get to that point.”

The starting point for the two dance entrepreneurs was renovating a building. “We financed it out of pocket,” Chelsea explains. “We put in flooring, mirrors, bars, and fresh coats of paint.”

Advertising was done via Facebook, Instagram, and direct mail. “Katherine gave us tips on the open-house events we held,” Chelsea adds. “Katherine also put us in touch with Letterpress Communications. They did a marketing audit that gave us valuable feedback on every aspect of our business.”

Molly and Chelsea readily recommend the SBDC. “We really appreciate having another businesswoman as a cheerleader,” Chelsea concludes. “Katherine is confirming and complimentary — it’s especially helpful to hear her say, ‘Yes, you can do this!’”

Read More

Genesis Learning Center

Petersburg day care pushes past the odds

Secured a $900,000 loan to fund an expansion to serve 125 families and provide 25 full-time jobs.

Amy Venable-Turner, owner of the Genesis Learning Center, believes learning never stops. She’s built a thriving day care business focused on that approach.

“I started working for Genesis, a church-operated day care, when I was 21,” she says. Amy completed a degree in early childhood education and then decided to take a job on the West Coast. She was called back to Virginia by the Genesis Learning Center. “The school was failing, and they wanted to see if I could save it,” Amy relates. Three years later, the pastor gave the school to me — I guess you could say I inherited it.”

Since Amy took over the business in 2006, Genesis has expanded to include three locations. “In 2020, we decided to add a fourth location in Petersburg,” Amy says.

Amy had several goals when she contacted Ellen Templeton, Center Director of the Longwood University SBDC — Eastern Region, also known as the Crater SBDC. “I needed to understand the Petersburg market and wanted someone in the area to help me make connections and network,” Amy explains.

Networking began with an SBDC workshop on “How to Start a Business.” At that workshop, Amy made an important connection with Dennis Wagner of the Small Business Administration (SBA). This led to another connection to an executive at a Petersburg hospital looking for a source of quality childcare. “We had identified a location for our school in Petersburg,” Amy relates. “At that point, Ellen encouraged me to contact the SBA for funding.”

To apply for an SBA loan, Amy needed to write a business plan — something she had not done during her 14 years in business. “Ellen walked me through the application process and all the paperwork involved with it,” Amy continues. “We did secure a $900,000 loan for the Petersburg expansion to serve 125 families and provide 25 full-time jobs.”

It seemed like all signs were a “go” for the new location as things continued to fall into place. However, COVID had other plans. The pandemic abruptly halted the forward movement for the newest Genesis Learning Center. “The Petersburg project was put on hold,” Amy reports. “Now, in 2021, we basically have to start over from the beginning.”

Despite such setbacks from the pandemic, Amy is confident about the future. “Because Ellen walked me through the SBA loan process pre-COVID, I’m not afraid to start again post-COVID,” Amy says. “To me, that’s the real value of the SBDC.”

Amy doesn’t hesitate to recommend the SBDC. “I’ve had a wonderful experience with the SBDC and specifically with Ellen,” she concludes. “The SBDC has the experience and knowledge to help any small business owner succeed.”

Read More

The Bower Center for the Arts

Arts and culture center set for success

The Center secured $86,900 in loans: $19,400 in PPP loans, $4,000 in EIDL, and $3,500 in grants.

When COVID-19 forced the Bower Center for the Arts in Bedford to close, Executive Director Susan Martin was prepared, and her secret weapon was the SBDC – Lynchburg Region.

Susan was familiar with the SBDC from her work with the Bedford Area Chamber. “I knew the SBDC from their collaborative efforts and youth programming from my time with the chamber,” says Susan. “I knew that they were a great resource.”

When Susan became the Executive Director at the Bower Center in the summer of 2019, she had no way of knowing the hardships that were waiting just ahead in 2020. “The Bower Center for the Arts highlights local and regional culture through multiple exhibits, as well as classes for youth and adults. You name it, we do it,” Susan explains. “We collaborate with public schools, and the Center is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary this year,” Susan adds.

Susan originally reached out to the SBDC for insights on how to reintroduce the Bower Center into the Bedford community. She also needed skilled advice on working productively with a board of directors to accomplish goals and create growth.

“It was a time of transition. There was a need for internal processes since we were essentially reinventing the business,” Susan says. “I reached out for help with marketing, promotion, and training. The SBDC helped us get back out into the community. There was definitely some complexity involved since we were rebranding, in a sense, under a different foundation, and also because we are a 501(c)3 nonprofit. The SBDC was able to guide me through all of that,” Susan continues.

The most invaluable assistance the SBDC provided was guidance applying for vital grants and loans before, during, and after COVID-19. According to Susan, the SBDC was able to locate and assist the Bower Center with two Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration, which offset the hardest portions of the COVID downturn. Additional loans and grants also kept things bolstered as the center waited to return to regular operations.

“The SBDC also provided mentoring during COVID, particularly on how to return to normalcy, even with less staffing opportunities. I am so grateful for their mentorship,” says Susan, who still meets with her advisor once a month. “They have allowed me to vent, and have been a sounding board. They’ve provided me with so many tips and tricks on how to make it through.” The SBDC — Lynchburg Region has kept Susan and Bedford’s Bower Center for the Arts going strong..

Read More

Sportlanes, Ten Pin Café, Wild Magnolia, and Shindig Uptown Bistro and Catering

Surviving the COVID-19 pandemic with multiple businesses

Received $10,000 EIDL advances for each business, $26,000 PPP loan each for Shindig and Sportlanes, and $44,000 PPP for Wild Magnolia, and retained 32 jobs

A Martinsville businessman for 25 years, Will Pearson started with Sportlanes, a bowling alley with the Ten Pin Café attached. Later he acquired the Wild Magnolia restaurant and, even later, Shindig Uptown Bistro and Catering. But in mid-March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Martinsville, and it had a devastating impact on Will’s businesses. Sportlanes and Ten Pin Café closed, and Wild Magnolia and Shindig were limited to curbside pickup, carryout, and delivery. 

“We heard rumors about grants coming out when everything shut down. A city councilman advised me to talk to Michael Scales at the Longwood SBDC, so I did. He met me in his office that morning, we talked about the different loans available, and he advised me on how to apply.” Will considers it his lucky day. 

Michael explained how the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) worked; Will applied and received a $10,000 advance for each of his businesses. The Payroll Protection Program (PPP) was next on the list. Will recalls, “Michael gave me a great piece of advice. Since the PPP was going to be handled by banks, he advised me to call all my banking contacts to see which one would put me at the top of their list. I did that, and ended up working with one that was really helpful.”

The SBDC’s guidance allowed Will to sidestep problems other small business owners encountered with PPP loan applications. “I ended up receiving $26,000 each for Shindig and Sportlanes, and $44,000 for Wild Magnolia,” he relates. “It allowed me to bring back my bowling alley employees. That was huge.”

Will firmly believes that the SBDC was the secret to his loan success story. “Michael was a super star,” he says. “During the first few weeks, he checked in with me daily. In small-town Virginia, it’s amazing to have the resources the SBDC has to offer.” In addition to loan advice, Michael talked about surviving the current business environment and how to learn from it. With schools closed, Will enlisted his two teenagers and put together an in-house delivery team. “They rotate deliveries every day,” Will reports. “We’ve all learned a lot from this — in many ways it’s brought our family closer.”

Will also believes in building community. “We do ‘Thankful Tuesdays,’ a discount for all front-line workers, and we encourage the community to buy meals for hospital workers or the fire department,” he adds. “It’s been a big success.” Will also does a local TV show, Eat Good with Will, where he offers cooking tips.

“I can’t tell you where I’d be right now, if it wasn’t for the Longwood SBDC and Michael,” Will concludes. “I can’t thank them enough.”

Read More

Back and Neck Pain Relief Center

Holistic care relieves pain

Received a $11,000 PPP loan, a $5,500 COVID grant and retained 2 jobs

Holistic care, or looking at the whole patient before prescribing treatment, is a concept Dr. Japhet LeGrant decided to pursue while a student at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. He was leaning toward studying physical therapy his senior year when a representative from Logan University, outside of St. Louis, Missouri, visited the campus. “I decided to look into it,” Japhet says. He decided to finish his academic career at Logan, where he earned a Doctor of Chiropractic degree and, in his own words, “has been going strong ever since.”

Japhet started practicing in 2002 as the chiropractor for Hampton University’s athletic department. Eight years ago, he moved to the Danville/Martinsville area where he practiced as an associate at Hill Chiropractic. “The doctor I was working with decided to retire, so that gave me the opportunity to buy the practice,” Japhet relates. He made an appointment with a Longwood SBDC counselor, and they discussed various factors involved in buying a business. “Kelvin Perry went over a lot of numbers to help me see how I could purchase the business,” he recounts. “The SBDC really helped me with the financial side of it.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to alter those finances, the SBDC was there to assist. “When I moved to Martinsville, I went in to see SBDC Business Analyst Michael Sales,” he adds. “Michael helped me take advantage of the opportunities as far as CARES Act money — everything that was available, I applied for it. That helped me pay my employees and keep everything going.”

While the Back and Neck Pain Relief Center, deemed essential, did not close during the pandemic, Japhet did decide to reduce office hours. “We took the necessary precautions, including cutting hours,” he explains. “I didn’t want my staff to be exposed unnecessarily.” Overall, Japhet treated fewer patients during the pandemic, but there was an influx of injuries resulting from home improvement projects and yard work. “We took care of those patients so they wouldn’t flood the ER during the pandemic,” he adds. 

“I love the holistic approach to care and helping my patients get better without the use of drugs or surgery,” he says. “It makes me happy when patients tell me they can play with their grandchildren again or mow their own grass. That’s why I got into this profession.” 

Japhet says he wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the SBDC. “The SBDC really helped me with the financial side of my business,” he concludes. “They’re always there to help and keep me informed.”

Read More


YakAttack pivots in the pandemic

Created 5 jobs, retained 45 jobs and received a $291,000 PPP loan

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in late March 2020, YakAttack, the kayak accessory business with $6 million in annual sales, lived up to its name. Owner Luther Cifers attacked the economic slowdown with a common-sense solution: his company switched production from kayak accessories to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). 

“Quite frankly, we had a lot of orders that just dried up,” Luther says. “Knowing that we had the capability, and knowing that there was an urgent need out there, we decided it would be a shame to just sit out the shutdown. We have an engineering staff onsite, and we design products in-house. Once a product is designed and needs to go to tooling, we also build that tooling. We can go from concept to a functional, shippable product faster than most companies.”

At that point the Longwood SBDC offered its assistance. Within a matter of weeks, YakAttack switched production from kayak accessories to PPE. Luther worked really well with Michael Duncan, the SBDC’s Lead Regional Consultant. “Michael has had a lot of manufacturing experience, and he helped us navigate the whole PPE thing, Luther explains. “Michael’s input guided us through the regulatory hurdles.” 

Once in production, YakAttack provided PPE at cost. “We also donated a lot of PPE with funds raised through a Go Fund Me campaign,” Luther adds. Beneficiaries included Central Southside Community Hospital, local nursing homes, area doctors and dentists, and more. 

Luther, who describes himself as a “homegrown engineer,” established his successful business from the ground up. “YakAttack started in 2009 in a friend’s basement,” he recalls. “In a year’s time, what started as a hobby business netted $20,000. “It was evident that there was a market, but you have to know the right steps to be successful in a business — or you have to figure them out,” Luther says. “We’ve done a lot of figuring out.” 

YakAttack’s “figuring out” has paid off. With a 250-plus product line, the company’s distribution includes all 50 states as well as Canada, Australia, and Europe. “We’re still growing,” Luther adds of the business that currently employs 50. He predicts his business will continue to grow in the 68,000-square-foot building YakAttack now calls home. He plans to take advantage of the SBDC’s resources to help promote that growth. 

“Every growing business is constantly faced with challenges they haven’t encountered before,” Luther concludes. “Having someone like Michael, who’s been down that road before, can save you from making a lot of mistakes. I plan to keep the SBDC at the top of my contact list.”

Read More

Family YMCA of Emporia-Greensville

Family YMCA finds ‘best friend’ in the SBDC

Received a $141,400 PPP loan and a $150,000 EIDL loan

Shelia Reavis, controller for the Family YMCA of Emporia-Greensville, discovered the Longwood SBDC while looking for information on Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, available because of COVID-19. She considers it her lucky day. “I sent out a generic email to the Longwood SBDC to ask about applying for PPP loans,” Shelia says. “Ellen Templeton responded right away. I felt like I’d found my best friend. She was Johnny on the spot and really down to earth — she was great.”

“A PPP loan was essential for us,” Shelia adds. “Ellen helped walk me through the whole application process. She helped me focus on the amount we needed, but not too much,” Shelia explains. Although the Y had to shut down from mid-March to June 1st, there was only one week that employees went without pay. “We were lucky to be able to continue to pay all our employees,” Shelia adds. 

Shelia is involved in every aspect of its operation. “I supervise the membership and marketing departments, as well as maintenance and custodial services,” she adds. “I also do all the accounting and payroll.” During April and May when the Y was closed, Shelia took advantage of several of the SBDC’s webinars. “I was watching around five webinars a week,” she says. 

Shelia appreciates the SBDC’s help in keeping the Y up and running. “Our town didn’t appreciate how much the Y means to everyone until it went away,” she says of the recent shutdown. Shelia cites a camaraderie that crosses social, racial, and economic barriers. “Looking at the treadmills one day, I saw a judge, a doctor, and a farmer all talking and laughing together while working out,” she recalls. “Where else would these people end up being friends?”

Shelia appreciates the value of friendship — like the one she’s developed with Ellen. 

“Our biggest advantage during the COVID crisis was Ellen and the SBDC,” Shelia concludes. “I could call Ellen any time and ask questions. When we applied for that PPP loan, Ellen was our inside connection.” Shelia has already told several others about the SBDC and its services. “I plan to keep our connection with the SBDC,” she concludes. “It really is like working with a friend.”

Read More

Balance Gymnastics

Exercising success with the SBDC

Started a new business, received a loan of $64,000, created 12 jobs and retained 2 jobs

Balance Gymnastics opened for business in June in the midst of a pandemic. A COVID-19 success story, the newly-launched business is not only surviving, it’s thriving. Owners Matt and Brandy Knabb credit their success to the SBDC-Lynchburg Region. “Opening a gym was a goal of ours,” Brandy says. “We just wanted to find the right time and location.” Mid-2020 was not an optimal time, Brandy admits, but a lease was signed and plans had been made. The couple decided to go ahead with the June opening.

Brandy, originally from Concord and a gymnast from an early age, explains her motivation: “There was nothing like this in Concord. We wanted to provide the community with something it didn’t currently have.” Fortunately, Matt and Brandy connected with the SBDC during planning stages for the project. “A friend who has a gym in Charlottesville recommended the SBDC,” Brandy says. “We went to the Start Smart class last October and set up some one-on-one sessions with Stephanie Keener, Director of the SBDC-Lynchburg Region.”

The first order of business was writing a business plan. “We had all these ideas in our head but didn’t have a formal plan on paper,” Brandy recalls. “We knew we would need to have a business plan in hand to apply for a loan to buy equipment. Stephanie helped us with the beginning steps and told us what the plan needed to include. SBDC Business Advisor Jamie Reynolds helped us create financial projections to make sure a gym in Concord was feasible.” Matt and Brandy also found the SBDC classes helpful. “I know gymnastics, but I’m not a business major,” Brandy relates. “There were so many little things we could have missed had we not had the SBDC on our side.”

Balance Gymnastics was able to open at 30% capacity in June. “We started with a small group of staff and 35 kids whose parents were brave enough to register during COVID-19,” Brandy says. “After we opened, we relied on word-of-mouth and the guidance Stephanie gave us on marketing and social media. As restrictions lifted, we were able to offer more classes. Currently, we have classes for children 18 months old through college age.” As the year progressed, enrollment grew. “We have grown rather quickly,” Brandy notes. “We now have 175 students and a coaching staff of ten.”

The couple is already thinking ahead to the future. “After the first of the year, we plan to go to our next phase and offer adult fitness classes,” Brandy adds. “There are so many things we didn’t have a clue about when we went to the SBDC,” Brandy explains. “If we hadn’t worked with them, I doubt we would have ever been able to open, and definitely not in the same time frame.”

Matt and Brandy happily recommend the SBDC to others interested in starting a business. “The SBDC has something for every aspect of running a business,” Brandy concludes. “They keep you pointed in the right direction, and they really set you up for success right from the start.” 

Read More

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