Category: Southern

Unique Styles & Designs Floral Boutique

SBDC advice grows floral boutique in Martinsville

Grant for over $1770 and a 50% increase in business. 

Shatera Robertson, owner of Unique Styles & Designs Floral Boutique in Uptown Martinsville, built a successful business over the past year with facts and expert guidance. She credits the Longwood SBDC for providing the information that led to that success.

“The key to anything you do in life is wisdom and knowledge,” Shatera says.

Shatera began her journey into floral design 14 years ago with a birthday party for her daughter.

“My interest in doing events grew from there,” she adds. “I actually started my business in 2016.”

Her goal was a storefront location, and during the pandemic, she learned of a vacancy in Uptown Martinsville. After six months of renovations, Shatera held a formal grand opening in June 2021.

“I first met Longwood SBDC Business Analyst Michael Scales when he came to my opening event,” Shatera relates. “He seemed very knowledgeable about business.”

Shatera emailed Michael to see if she could learn more.

“I made an appointment, and he told me about the SBDC services that could help my business grow,” Shatera adds. “He also told me about the Startup Martinsville-Henry County (Startup-MHC) and Grow Martinsville-Henry County (Grow-MHC) programs, so I decided to enroll.”

Startup-MHC and Grow-MHC are mentoring programs that help establish new businesses and grow existing ones through “business boot camps” and have graduated 283 participants since 2016. Michael is a co-facilitator for both mentoring programs.

“Going through the GROW program helped a lot,” Shatera comments. “We received information that a lot of business owners don’t have a clue about. We learned about networking with other business owners, important tax tips and how to write business plans.”

At the conclusion of the program, Shatera presented her business plan to a panel of experts. The result was a grant for over $1,770.

“When I opened my business last year, I financed everything myself,” Shatera says with a note of pride. “I’m a registered nurse and was able to work extra hours in the emergency room during the pandemic to fund my business.”

Since she connected with the SBDC, Shatera has seen a 50 percent increase in that business.

Planning for the future, Shatera is certain of one thing: the SBDC will be front and center.

“The SBDC gave me the information and motivation to keep going and grow,” she concludes. “I recommend the SBDC to other business owners so they can grow as well.”

Read More

The Dog-Eared Page

The SBDC helps launch a dream in Danville

$25,000 grant from Danville’s River District Association’s Dream Launch program.

Facebook Page

Catherine Carter turned the page on a new career when she started a book club to help coworkers deal with the pandemic. Now, with help from the Longwood SBDC and Danville’s Dream Launch program, she has her own bookstore, The Dog-Eared Page.

It started with a dream to open a place for book clubs to meet and buy books. When Catherine learned about Danville’s Dream Launch program, it seemed like fate.

“I contacted Kelvin Perry, Danville’s project manager for economic development, and he encouraged me to apply,” Catherine relates.

The Dream Launch program, sponsored by Danville’s River District Association, features a six-week bootcamp and grant money presented to winners of a business pitch competition.

“Lin Hite, Kelvin Perry, and Michael Duncan from the SBDC all taught classes,” Catherine explains. “Lin, my mentor, helped me with a business plan and pitch for the competition. Throughout the whole experience I felt nothing but support.”

That preparation paid off. The pitch Catherine presented was awarded a $25,000 grant that enabled her to launch her dream.

“Danville hadn’t had a bookstore since I was in elementary school,” she relates.

The bookstore’s location on Main Street in Danville’s downtown revitalization district was also a plus for Catherine.

“It’s awesome to be part of what’s happening downtown,” she adds. “It’s rewarding to see people coming back downtown.”

In addition to the grant, Catherine received a loan from a local bank.

“The River District decided I needed more capital and connected me with American National Bank,” she says. “I didn’t expect to get support from bankers!”

Catherine continues to be amazed by support from the community.

“During our grand opening the store was packed,” Catherine recalls. “It’s a day I’ll never forget.”

Now open six months, The Dog-Eared Page is thankful for continued SBDC support.

“SBDC consultants still call and come by,” Catherine explains. “When I first opened, Lin Hite prepared me for lower volume months ahead. Due to that advice the shop isn’t struggling now.”

Catherine readily recommends the SBDC.

“Even after the doors of a business are open, the SBDC is there to help you,” she concludes. “I’m eternally grateful for that support.”

Read More

In-Depth Productions

Turning passion into profit with the SBDC

$15,000 award from the Town of Blackstone; 3 employees.

In-Depth Productions’ is opened for business on Main Street in Blackstone. Partnering with the Longwood SBDC, Carl Bassfield turned a passion for photography into a profitable business.

In-Depth Productions, a full-fledged media company, now offers photography and cinematography as well as music engineering and production services.

“Photography is just something I’ve always loved,” Carl explains.

Carl started taking photos at his church with his iPhone. Later, while working at Fort Pickett, he picked up more skills.

“I wanted my passion for photography to become a reliable source of income,” he adds.

Carl took a step in that direction last year when he signed up for the CO.STARTERS Core program, a joint effort of the Longwood SBDC and Downtown Blackstone, Inc. CO.STARTERS Core is a three-month, cohort-based program that equips aspiring entrepreneurs with the insights, relationships, and tools needed to turn ideas into action and turn a passion into a sustainable and thriving endeavor. The program has become a community staple of the regional GO Virginia initiative – RISE Collaborative.

“About 10 to 15 business people took that 10-week course led by SBDC consultants Brandon Hennessey and Katherine Beale,” Carl explains. “We were a very diverse group, but we helped each other grow.”

Topics ranged from finances to analyzing the market to finding target customers. At the completion of the course, each business was offered a chance to compete for a portion of a prize pool offered by the Town of Blackstone.

Cash awards totaling $46,000 were distributed to five business owners; In-Depth Productions received second place and $15,000, which Carl used for equipment and to set up his new Main Street location.

Carl’s biggest take away from the program was a better understanding of a successful business structure.

“I went into the program with a lot of ideas that I was trying to do all at once,” he relates. “I had to realize that I couldn’t do it all myself.”

Subsequently he turned over the video work to a videographer and added a music technician to round out his staff of three full-time employees and three sub-contractors.

Carl readily recommends the SBDC to others.

“I look at Katherine and Brandon as extended family,” he concludes. “The SBDC provides you with life-long resources. Having continued access to those resources — I consider that invaluable.”

Read More


DBHomes4Hope renovates houses and realizes mission with the SBDC

Received $10,000 loan.

Davina and Danny Bare saw a need for housing during a visit to Lynchburg, and it spurred them to action. In June 2020, they launched DBHomes4Hope with assistance from the SBDC – Lynchburg Region.

“Housing has always been an interest,” Davina says. “The problem is the disparity in home ownership. My husband, a contractor, and myself, a former Army human resource officer, have the knowledge base to make homeownership happen.”

The first move for DBHomes4Hope was purchasing a fixer-upper house. The price tag was $7,000. Subsequently, they purchased a fire-damaged house for $5,000. Their goal is two-fold: renovate homes and guide clients toward home ownership.

A certified credit trainer, Davina started holding weekly counseling sessions with neighborhood residents.

“The focus was improving credit scores by budgeting and reducing debt,” she says. “Our goal – 80 percent home ownership – helps build up a community.”

To establish a solid business foundation, Davina turned to the SBDC, which connected her with Pinnacle Financial and enrolled her in the SBDC’s Start Smart Class. Pinnacle approved a $10,000 loan, and the Start Smart class helped her formulate a business plan.

“Everybody in Lynchburg, especially the SBDC, seemed willing to help,” she says. “SBDC Executive Director Stephanie Keener and SBDC Mentor Jamie Reynolds were great cheerleaders.”

To gain more business acumen, Davina joined the SBDC’s Business Game Plan Cohort.

“During the seven-week course, we talked about networking, funding, and entities needed for starting a business,” Davina notes. “Each step was a building block for the next thing.”

Over the past two years, the SBDC’s guidance helped DBHomes4Hope realize its mission.

“Our mission is to help families gain homes for generations,” Davina says. “DBHomes4Hope offers the whole journey to home ownership.”

The SBDC, she adds, helped make this journey possible.

“I’m seeing progress in the families we’re coaching and a sense of community — and we’re making a living,” Davina concludes. “The entity that brought it all together was the SBDC.”

Read More

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