Category: Southwest

Riverbound Trout Farm

Riverbound Trout Farms

Riverbound Trout Farms has hooked success

Received a $500,000 line of credit and a $69,000 grant.

Jake Musick likes to compare running a successful business to fishing. The owner of Riverbound Trout Farms in Lebanon understands that both knowledge and experience are needed for success. “I’ve been in the fish-growing industry for quite a few years now,” Jake says.

Jake wanted to bring more local farmers into the aquaculture industry. His plan was to build and operate a fish processing facility in Russell County. He called on Margie Douglass, director of the Southwest Virginia SBDC, to help him apply for a $500,000 loan from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA). “I needed an in-depth business plan,” he explains. “The SBDC gave me pointers on how to write one, and Margie helped me put the finished product together.”

The SBDC also connected Jake with the research department at George Mason University (GMU). “They did a marketing survey that I was able to include in my business plan,” he adds. “That was very helpful.”

The SBDC’s knowledge and experience produced results. “With the SBDC’s help, I was approved for a line of credit for $500,000 for the processing plant and to expand the current farm,” Jake says happily. “We’ve purchased property but postponed construction for now due to the spiraling cost of building materials.” Additionally, during the pandemic, Jake received a $69,000 grant through the Farm Service Industry. “It didn’t cover losses, but it sure did help,” he recalls.

Despite COVID, Jake continues to be optimistic about the fish processing project, as well as the future of aquaculture. “Our goal is to offer inspiration for young people to take a look at aquaculture as a viable occupation,” he says. “The big push is to bring as many other growers into the process as we can.”

Jake actively promotes the SBDC to other farmers in the area, happy to share what he’s learned. “I’ve been talking to a lot of farmers about the SBDC,” he says. “I tell them to go and benefit from what’s there. Over the last several years, our business at Riverbound Trout Farms has grown considerably,” he concludes. “Our involvement with the SBDC helped facilitate that growth.”

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The O’Connor Group, Roanoke

The O’Connor Group

Wright on track as marketing agency grows

Bought a company, created 1 job and retained 7 jobs

What began as Rice Wright Creative transformed to The O’Connor Group when Rebecca Rice and Raki Wright purchased the marketing agency in 2019. “We are honor to continue the legacy of Bill O’Connor by keeping the name The O’Connor Group,” Raki says. “It is now a small, women-owned agency that operates as a debt-free company,” Raki explains. “This means we need to raise any funds needed for large projects, keep our expenses to a minimum, and reinvest our profits back into the company.”

Rebecca and Raki use a streamlined business model that allows them a superior level of agility and performance. Raki functions as the digital strategy director while Rebecca adds vision as the creative director. “I consult with clients on digital ads, website content, search engine optimization, retargeting, electronic newsletters, and social channels,” Raki explains. “As creative director, Rebecca oversees concept development, art direction, and the agency team for any creative components of client campaigns. She and the account manager work with clients to make sure projects meet expectations and objectives, and stay on schedule and on budget.” 

Rebecca connected the team with Roanoke Regional SBDC’s Business Advisor Tom Tanner, which has proven to be pivotal for the agency. Tom guided Raki and Rebecca through the purchasing process. With such a big transition, Raki says this level of access to knowledgeable help was pivotal for the growing agency.

“Tom helped us set up our corporation, value the company we were purchasing, create a business plan, create a budget, create our partnership agreement, draft a purchase agreement, and more,” Raki says. “We could not have done this without him.”

With a staff of seven, The O’Connor Group dealt with COVID-19 in full stride. Raki notes that the team’s agility has enabled them to be flexible, which provides their agency with a definite advantage. “I’ve been able to control my work-life balance while doing rewarding work and partnering with some of the greatest small businesses in the region, especially since we all began dealing with the pandemic,” Raki says. “It’s been great to have a company culture that puts family first, whether that means working from home, bringing kids to work for virtual school, or altering our schedules around family responsibilities.” 

“We’d like to continue to grow the agency and team. We plan to continue working with the SBDC to learn more about and optimize the operational side of the agency,” Raki says. “There’s so much knowledge inside the SBDC, and we want to take advantage of all of those opportunities.”

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Hustle/Haven, Roanoke


Hustle and Go: Cycling and yoga studio done differently in Roanoke

Started a new business and created 19 jobs

When London Ray-Dykstra discovered hot yoga and cycling, it was a lifeline for her. She describes it as a healing experience for past traumas, and an immersive, mind-body ritual that was as much about strengthening the soul as building muscles or perfecting a tree pose.

With a background in dance and a fast-paced life in Richmond where she worked multiple jobs, cycling and hot yoga quickly became a refuge and reset for London. When she met her now-husband and decided to move to Roanoke to be with him, it quickly became clear that this refuge was about to take a new, critical role in her life.

Hustle/Haven started on Instagram, where London posted motivational quotes and teased the opening of her indoor cycling and hot yoga studio. With no other hot yoga or indoor cycling facilities in Roanoke, London envisioned Hustle/Haven as a place where people could come and, according to her, “learn to take care of themselves gently, because that’s what I was learning to do.”

London says that she wanted Hustle/Haven to take people beyond what they might find in a more typical gym experience. “I wanted it to be more than a cycle studio, more than a hot yoga studio,” she says. “I believe deeply in the concept of fitness for your overall well-being, mentally and physically.”

While Hustle/Haven was making its first virtual debut via social media, London was hard at work with her secret weapon: Amanda Forrester and the Roanoke Regional SBDC. According to London, Amanda was an unbelievable resource. A former gym-owner herself, she easily grasped London’s vision for Hustle/Haven. “Amanda completely got what I was trying to do and encouraged me that this wasn’t a crazy idea,” London says. “Having someone work with me who shared my vision and who was familiar with the concept was such a game-changer.” London worked with Amanda and the Roanoke Regional SBDC to procure a brick-and-mortar location and navigate the complexities of opening during a pandemic.

In August 2020, Hustle/Haven opened its doors. London wanted the name to capture the hustle of indoor cycling and the haven of yoga. “At Hustle/Haven, we emphasize a lifestyle and mindset that’s not built around limitations. I wanted to build a place where you would want to hang out,” London explains. “I wanted to make it intentionally different.”

With fun features like a striking mural on the front of the building, a “potion bar” that sells adaptogenic drinks, and more, there’s no question that Hustle/Haven is different. COVID-19 posed a challenge for the young business, but London says that community support has been warm and enthusiastic. “We’ve been well received. Everyone was very excited for us to open,” she says. “We are trying to stay adaptable as we move into the winter, trying out online classes and other ways to manage the ongoing pandemic,” she adds. “It’s definitely been an interesting situation with COVID,” London says, “but our plan is to just keep adapting. At the end of the day, gratitude carries everyone and everything.”

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Nextdoor Drug, Lebanon

Nextdoor Drug

Nextdoor Drug: A hometown pharmacy

Received a $10,000 VCEDA grant and created 5 jobs

An abandoned building and an auction sign along a quiet Main Street were the first glimpse Jackie Hackney and Nicole Lawson had of a decade-long dream. Rewind to 2005, when Jackie, Nicole, and Cline, Nicole’s future husband, forged a friendship in pharmacy school and an unwavering desire to combine their passions into one business. Last November, Jackie and Nicole were able to purchase the empty space. It would become the hometown pharmacy that delivers custom healthcare to local residents. They decided to call it Nextdoor Drug. 

“We have been looking for 10 years, and this opportunity to buy at auction fell in our lap,” Nicole says. “Location has been an issue for us; most Main Street areas don’t have a lot of land available, and they’re expensive.” 

Opened on August 24, Nextdoor Drug goes above and beyond run-of-the-mill retail pharmacies. Jackie, Nicole, and Cline bring different experiences to the counter — from clinical pharmacy to hospital work — and incorporate their diverse skills to meet the needs of their patients. 

“We do a lot of clinical work,” Nicole says. “We have a health counselor that does a program called Ideal Protein, and we also do hormone replacement therapy. It brings in a lot of patients.”

The Southwest Virginia Community College SBDC was one of the key players in giving Nextdoor Drug a head start. Jackie and Nicole credit Center Director Margie Douglass for helping with initial business plans and applying for a Virginia Coalfield Economic Development (VCEDA) grant. It allowed them to purchase high-quality, over-the-counter products, as well as invest in a nutritional program. Most importantly, it allowed them to purchase a top-of-the-line computer system. 

“That computer system is the gift that keeps on giving,” Jackie says. “Since it does reimbursements and recording for us, we can spend more time with our clients and focus on expanding our services.”

Today, that Main Street building is a far cry from what it used to be, and with the help of the SBDC it is home to a state-of-the-art computer system, top-notch care, and a loyal base of clients.

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Nailed It, Galax

Nailed It

The SBDC helps client nail it

Bought a new building and retained 2 jobs

It started with an idea. Janet Savage was a talented nail technician working in a salon on the second floor. After noticing elderly clients struggle to get up the staircase, she decided to branch out on her own and solve the problem.

“My daughter is also a nail technician, so I asked if she would want to work for me,” Janet says. “I told my clients at the time that I was considering going out on my own. One of them had previous experience with the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC and referred me to them. That’s how it all got started.”

“One day, Mandy Archer [the SBDC’s Center Director] told me, ‘It is either go or no from here,’” explains Janet. “When she said that, Nailed It seemed like the best thing I could do.” With the business insight of the SBDC, Janet’s idea for her own salon came to fruition.

She rented the space for her own salon — on the ground level, of course — and, in 2015, opened Nailed It. The SBDC staff guided Janet in making sure she was legally prepared to open her business, and helped her with a ribbon-cutting and press release to celebrate the opening. Unlike most salons, she does not use any electric tools. “My elderly customers like that I do everything by hand, and I don’t charge them much,” she says.

In early 2020, Janet sought to expand. She visited the SBDC again, seeking assistance to purchase a larger building for Nailed It in the community that inspired her from the beginning. It will also be home to additional nail technicians and hairstylists. 

Janet is quick to credit the SBDC and Mandy Archer and Ginny Plant for Nailed It’s success. Janet still maintains a close personal relationship with her SBDC advisors and even picked up Ginny as a Nailed It client. “Once I got confronted with licensing and other obstacles, I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it. The SBDC helped me do pretty much everything,” she says. “Without the SBDC, Nailed It may still very well be an idea floating around in an upstairs salon.”

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Galax Xtreme Fitness, Galax

Galax Xtreme Fitness

Galax Xtreme Fitness gets a jump start

Received an EIDL loan

Sometimes you have to go to the extreme, and no one knows that better than Rick and Crystal Whisenhunt. What started out as sharing their hobby of personal training with close friends and family rapidly morphed into something more. They quickly found themselves at a crossroads with their soon-to-be business, Galax Xtreme Fitness (GXF). Word spread about Rick, who dabbled in Ninja training, and Crystal, new to fitness but nonetheless passionate, and their personalized approach to fitness. “It all just came to a head,” Rick says. “As the community found out about us, we started picking up our activities. We got to thinking it could be something more than a hobby.”

Since its founding in 2017, GXF has been a highly regarded fitness studio in the community, with a one-on-one culture most gyms lack. Even more unique is that Rick and Crystal offer personalized training and wellness solutions without workout equipment. With their exciting new business idea, however, came the daunting task of actually opening it. That is where the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC stepped in. “Getting it going was definitely a task. That was the panic stage for us,” Crystal says. “All those little things you don’t normally think about when opening a business until you’re faced with them — paperwork, taxes, licensing requirements — were all so daunting.”

The SBDC was integral in helping Rick and Crystal place 3rd in the Galax JUMP! Business Challenge, which helped them solidify GFX’s expansion. The fitness studio prides itself on marketing to individuals new to fitness who may be intimidated by a mainstream gym. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Crystal says. “Our customers aren’t here to just take a class. We truly care about them.”

Even during COVID-19, GXF has stayed afloat by connecting with new and existing customers through online group classes for donations only. “The SBDC has answered every question each step of the way, especially during the pandemic,” Crystal says. “Without them, GXF simply would not be in existence. Getting to the mountain was one thing, but making sure you climb the mountain is another. They really helped us climb that mountain.”

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Lichen or Knot, Floyd

Lichen or Knot

Lichen or Knot, here it comes

Increased equity and increased sales by $140,000

Back in 2014, Heather Barbieri and her sister started creating furniture décor pieces by adding lichen to thrifted items. “They were unique, beautiful, and didn’t cost us much to produce,” Heather recalls. From there, Lichen or Knot took many turns, including becoming a vintage vendor, selling tables made from pallet wood and metal pipe at large retail shows from Pennsylvania to South Carolina.

It wasn’t until just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit that Lichen or Knot blossomed into its current shape. According to Heather, she and her husband John began taking plants to their vintage shows, where they sold very quickly. “John and I realized that we could probably sell plants just as well without traveling to the shows,” Heather says. “People enjoyed buying plants from us so much that we could literally sell them out of the back of a truck. And we wouldn’t have to go so far from home.” After purchasing an old gray plumbing truck with a rebuilt engine from a friend, Heather and John rolled their plant-based dreams onto the road with fingers crossed and hopes high. “I knew then,” Heather says, “that I had to give it all I could. This was my chance.”

If Lichen or Knot were a budding plant, then the Roanoke Regional SBDC was the nutrient-rich food that fed it. “Community and Economic Development Director Lydeana Martin connected us with the SBDC’s business advisor, Tom Tanner, who helped us with financials,” Heather explains. “Then we contacted Cheryl Tucker, advisor for the New River Valley area. John and I met with Cheryl many times, and it’s been invaluable.” 

Cheryl’s seasoned advice made all the difference. “She walked us back from the ledge,” says Heather. “John and I were considering a lease agreement for a brick-and-mortar shop in a very prime location. It didn’t take long for Cheryl to realize the danger that we were about to get into. She gently suggested that, while it may work out fine, we shouldn’t rush into an agreement until we had done the hard work of writing a business plan,” Heather goes on. “Business plans aren’t much fun, so it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. But she was absolutely right. We simply weren’t ready.” Heather and John also participated in the C4 Program offered through the SBDC, where they received insights from professional advisors, marketing tools, and other helpful resources that they were able to use on a day-to-day basis.

As the cooler weather set in, Heather and John felt the need to move the business out of their home and into its own space; they couldn’t go through the holidays with flats of monsteras, hoyas, and pothos covering their floors. They found a location in Floyd too beautiful to pass up and opened the doors on Black Friday. Customers from Roanoke, Blacksburg, Radford, and Christiansburg poured in — all Heather and John could have hoped for and more. 

Heather explains their success: “We are offering an experience that people want to return to. Custom care, much like a tailor shop, is what we are going for. I guess that is unique coming out of an old gray plumber’s truck that drives up and down a dirt road every day to bring plants to the people who want them.”

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Patina Creek Silver, Buchanan

Patina Creek Silver

Lined with the silver of success

Received $10,000 from the Community Business Launch competition and a $6,000 EIDL loan

After selling their home, Anna Metheny and her husband decided to invest $600 in a start-up kit for silver fingerprint jewelry that Anna first sold at a school PTA event. “I had no idea what I was doing. I had never done anything like it, but I walked away from that night with $850. I immediately realized that I may have found something interesting,” she says. 

As a full-time stay-at-home mom, Anna was delighted and intrigued to hit on a potential source of income that could nurture her creative side, bring in revenue, and offer flexibility at the same time. Anna was blown away by the enthusiastic response her metal artisanship received, and soon she was attending any venue that could be a market for her products.

What happened next was the fingerprint that changed the silver. “I met Anna through the Community Business Launch (CBL) held in the town of Buchanan,” says Roanoke Regional SBDC Advisor Heather Fay. “Since the end of the program, I have talked with Anna about exploring a space away from her home for her business and offering an appointment-based onsite experience for fingerprint jewelry.” 

Next, Anna placed fourth in a competition at the end of the CBL and was awarded $10,000, which financed the rental of her current business space.

Heather and the SBDC have kept pace with Anna, as things have moved rapidly for her and Patina Creek Silver, as well as Patina Creek Creative, the name of her brick-and-mortar space. Heather adds, “Anna and I have also talked through the pros and cons of expanding her business, as well as operating during a pandemic.”

Today, Anna is still in shock at how quickly things have moved. “If you would have told me in January,” she says as she gestures to the high, beautifully lit ceilings of her shop via a Zoom call, “that all this would be here now, I never would have believed you. But here we are.” Anna shares her space with another artist, and they hosted an inaugural handmade Christmas market in December. 

“Heather has always been so eager and excited to help me. Every time I think I don’t know how to do this, I just say to myself ‘I gotta call Heather,’” Anna says. Thanks to the resources and guidance of Heather and the SBDC, Anna captured her future. 

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Jerry B. Peters Sales, Bristol

Jerry B. Peters Sales

Jerry B. Peters sells success with the SBDC

Received a PPP loan and retained 6 jobs

Jerry B. Peters Sales has been in the business of making names for clients for almost 50 years. With promotional products and logo apparel, the Bristol company has also made a name for itself in the community. “My father, Jerry Peters, started the business in 1973,” co-owner Kim Warren says. “I grew up in the business and started helping out as a teenager. Originally, the business focused on promotional keychains and pens for customers, like car dealers. It grew from there.” The Jerry B. Peters product line expanded extensively over the years. Upon the death of their father, Kim and her sister, Tammy Peters Jackson, took over the business. 

It continued to grow until the COVID-19 pandemic led to widespread closures. When educational and service events shut down and the company was facing a loss in booked sales, Kim and Tammy wisely turned to the Virginia Highlands SBDC. “We had started working with the SBDC about ten years before that,” Kim says. “Cindy Fields, Center Director of the Virginia Highlands SBDC, worked with us to develop lists of items to market to surrounding businesses. She has been very helpful, especially during the pandemic.”

As COVID-19 continued to spread across the area, it was apparent that businesses would need items related to personal protective equipment (PPE). The Jerry B. Peters product line increased accordingly, with personalized face masks, hand sanitizers, and digital thermometers. “One event the SBDC had was especially fabulous,” Kim notes. “Representatives from a number of local industries were there, and being able to speak to representatives from all those industries resulted in about $25,000 in new business for us.”

As the pandemic evolved, the Virginia Highlands SBDC kept Kim and Tammy informed about emergency financial relief. Jerry B. Peters Sales received a PPP loan in the early funding round, which allowed the company to keep its employees working and to broaden promotional offerings to businesses. “We’ve expanded our social media presence with regular posts on Facebook and Instagram,” Kim reports. “We also held regular promotions, highlighting our products and also those of our customers. My daughter, who graduated from Virginia Tech and worked in public relations before starting a career in teaching, has helped us with our social media.”

Kim credits the SBDC for guiding her business. “I keep in touch with Cindy every few weeks,” Kim concludes. “The SBDC has been a great partner to us for so many years. We consider their services invaluable in today’s changing world.”

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Planet Chopper

Easy Rider Meets Mad Max

Planet Chopper supports 5 jobs and had a 6-figure infusion of capital.

Thanks to the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC, four unlikely friends found a way to turn motorcycle tours into transformative experiences and forge bonds among strangers — all while doing what they love.

“This might sound like a cliché, but when you do what you love for a living, it’s not work.” When Wayne Cayton talks about Planet Chopper, you can hear that love.

Wayne met New Zealanders Mark Van Leeuwarden, Mark’s son Ben, and John Devonshire a decade ago at a gas station. “We met on the road riding motorcycles somewhere in New Mexico,” Wayne relates. It turned out that the four of them were going to the same place in Rockingham, NC. They agreed to meet up whenever they arrived, having no inkling that their eventual destination would turn into a joint business venture.

Their company, Planet Chopper, offers one-of-a-kind tours on unique custom motorcycles. Wayne says, “The four of us had been riding together as a group for 10 years. And we’d go on these journeys that were just unbelievable.” With boots-on-the-ground experience in riding, mechanics, and motorcycle tour destinations, they offer life-changing trips to groups of riders throughout the United States. With a company tagline of Where Easy Rider Meets Mad Max and tours named The Kiwi Crusade, The Southern Joyride, and The Sturgis Stampede, you’re bound to attract a diverse crowd.

The four founders share a deep and abiding love of riding on the open road, and their diverse array of skills complement each other. Wayne and John practice the art of chopping, that is, they customize one-off bikes for the tours. Mark brings expertise in international business. Ben focuses on marketing, but he found that establishing local points of contact was difficult. He contacted the SBDC for help with “connecting the dots in the local environment.” Mandy Archer, Director for the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC, knew where to start.

“Ginny and Mandy put us in touch with Larry Davidson, founder of Back of the Dragon [Larry’s story is also in this publication]; Becky Nave, the Destination Development Specialist at Virginia Tourism Corporation; and Steve Helms of Primland,” Mark explains. Back of the Dragon is a 32-mile stretch of winding road from Marion to Tazewell, famous among riders throughout the world, and Primland is a luxury resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounded by a 47-mile loop favored by riders. “Their support was invaluable and made all the difference,” says Wayne.

Musing about the experience, Wayne says, “What begins as a group of 15 complete strangers at the start of a trip — not even two weeks later, with the laughter and conversation happening at the table — you’d think they’d been friends and family for decades. That is really cool to see. These are stories that they’re going to be able to tell for the rest of their lives.”

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