Category: Southwest

Foxtail Orchards

Foxtail Orchards Cabins and Campground

Building a Business in Your Own Backyard

Ratliff purchased 13 acres bordering “The Back of the Dragon” on Rt 16 and opened Foxtail Orchards Cabins and Campground. They Have been booked every weekend since.

Matthew Ratliff believes in thinking outside the box, or in the case of a business opportunity, outside his backyard. Ratliff developed an idea inspired by the view from his backyard, and Foxtail Orchards Cabins and Campground is the result.

About three years ago, Virginia State Trooper Matthew Ratliff transferred to Tazewell County where he was born and raised. “I purchased 18 acres to put a house on,” he says. “One day my father and I were clearing land for a pasture and saw all these bikes and sports cars going by.”

Ratliff’s land borders a well-known section of Route 16 known as “The Back of the Dragon,” a 32-mile-long motorcycle and sports-car-enthusiast trail that attracts hundreds of visitors every year. No lodging was available until Ratliff opened his cabin-and-campground business. “During the summer you can throw a rock up in the air and you’ll hit a motorcycle,” Ratliff says. “I said to my father, ‘what if we had a campground and cabins?’ My father and I sat down and started on a plan.”

The business quickly became a family affair. Ratliff’s mother and wife worked on developing a business plan. “Everybody in the family had a hand in it, including my father-in-law,” Ratliff says. The next step was a visit to the SBDC. Ratliff and his wife Amy went to see Southwest SBDC Program Manager Margie Douglass. “From there it was all downhill,” Ratliff says. “We got our business plan and proposal and went to Ninth District Development Financing for the funds. We broke ground on our first cabin in November 2015.” The cabin was dedicated to a fellow Virginia State Trooper Andrew D. Fox, who lost his life in the line of duty.

Future plans include adding primitive campsites and more cabins. There are also plans to develop the orchard side of the business. Ratliff feels confident in branching out; he knows the SBDC will be there to help. “The SBDC provided pretty much any help we needed,” he says. “I didn’t know all of those services were available.”

“We got off to a good start,” Ratliff says. “Since June we’ve been busy every weekend. We’ve done more business than my father and I ever dreamed of. The SBDC really helped us out.”

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Sugar Hill Brewing Company

Sugar Hill Brewing Company

Opportunity is Always Brewing

Since September 2016, Sugar Hill has secured $463,000 in loans and created 20 jobs in a town that has less than 1,000 residents. “We don’t necessarily pursue our passion. We look at what’s needed and let that become our passion,” Greg Bailey said.

Greg and Jennifer Bailey think starting a new business is a lot like brewing a great beer. Both require hard work, patience, and dedication—traits the Baileys are known to possess. Sugar Hill Brewing Company is the third business the couple has started in the small town of St. Paul.

Five years ago, Greg and Jennifer bought a store in St. Paul and opened Bailey Hardware. They saw another opportunity when Spearhead ATV Trail opened in town. They converted rental property to create overnight accommodations and opened St. Paul Suites and Cottages.

“We don’t necessarily pursue our passion,” Greg says. “We look at what’s needed and let that become our passion.” Sugar Hill Brewing Company opened in September 2016, in a converted hardware store the couple owned in town. “We never planned to own a restaurant, and we knew nothing about brewing beer,” Jennifer adds. “We just knew the time was right and so we took action.”

The Baileys had a lot of help from Mt. Empire SBDC Director Tim Blankenbecler. He directed them to the Ninth District Development Funds, where they obtained a loan of $413,000. The town of St. Paul shared its confidence by adding a $50,000 loan to the project.

“The Bailey’s family-friendly brewpub has proven very popular with folks both near and far,” Blankenbecler says. “Patrons can step into the Asheville-esque atmosphere to enjoy a meal and satisfying brew.”

Since opening for business, the Baileys have hired more than 20 local people, including a head brewer and head cook. “All the right people were sent to us at just the time,” Jennifer says. “All we had to do is look for the opportunity, forget the fear, and do what we intuitively knew would work.”

With a boutique hotel under construction in town, the future looks bright for the Bailey’s newest business venture. “You have to re-imagine the future,” Jennifer says. “With the Western Front Hotel coming in, we knew this brewery would be a part of it. We’re excited that other people are catching the vision and seeing a different way to go forward.”

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New River Outdoor Adventures

New River Outdoor Adventures

Venturing into New Territory

New River Outdoor Adventures received two small loans and initiated a popular fishing tournament that has become a semi-annual event. “Whenever they see an opportunity for us to branch out or go to a trade show, the SBDC staff lets us know. The SBDC is a big help,” Dixon said.

Timmy and Minda Dixon love outdoor adventure and wanted to share it. When they saw an opportunity to open their own outfitter business, the first stop was the SBDC. “I worked eight years for an outfitter in Fries who was closing his business at the end of 2014,” Timmy Dixon says. In September 2014, Timmy and his wife Minda met with Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC Director Mandy Archer to discuss funding opportunities for starting a business. 

“The Dixons saw an opportunity to fill a gap in the local economy and pursue something they love at the same time,” Archer says. A business plan and financial projections were prepared in just a few months, but funding was a challenge. “The Dixons had never owned a business, and they were still newlyweds,” she adds.

Another challenge came with the seasonal nature of the business. How would the Dixons meet financial obligations during the off-season? The SBDC staff found the answer when they helped the Dixons secure two smaller loans for start-up capital needs.

New River Outdoor Adventures opened for business Memorial Day Weekend 2015, offering canoeing, kayaking, tubing, and biking. “We’re located right between the New River and New River Trail. It’s a very good location,” Dixon says. “We have access to the river and rent bicycles for the trail. We also offer floats along the New River and shuttle services for both New River and New River Trail.” Over the past year, the business has added two part-time employees.

To help with marketing, Dixon took advantage of the SBDC classes on web design and social media. His future plans include tapping into markets in North Carolina. “We’re only an hour and 15 minutes from some major cities there,” Dixon says. “We plan to promote weekend vacations or even ‘day-cations’ for people to drive back home at night.”

The Dixons appreciate the continuing support from Archer and her assistant Ginny Plant. “Whenever they see an opportunity for us to branch out or go to a trade show, the SBDC staff lets us know,” Dixon says. “The SBDC is a big help.”

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Felts Supports for Living

Felts Supports for Living

Home Sweet Home

“The SBDC and incubator services have been vital in helping us meet our goals. Assistance in accounting, legal, training, and incubator services have helped us grow and become sustainable,” shared Chris Felts. “We are excited to now have 5 office employees, 12 residential homes, and 11 individuals receiving services,” added owners Jerry and Jean Felts.

Felts Supports for Living

“We want to make sure the residents that we serve find a family they can call their own,” says Chris Felts, owner of Felts Supports for Living.

Felts’ business provides home licensing for Sponsored Residential Services, a branch of Virginia Department of Behavioral Health Developmental Services. Sponsored Residential Services provides homes for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The homes are like foster homes, and Felts Supports for Living trains families in how to work with people with intellectual disabilities, overseeing all services.

“These services provide life-changing opportunities to our clients, including travel and daily family activities. Our motto is “a life like ours,” ensuring that every person has a happy and healthy home,” says Felts.

Felts Supports for Living is a family-owned business. Chris Felts, his father Jerry, and his stepmother Jean own and operate the business. The Felts family has over 80 combined years of experience in the field. When they were just starting their business, the family worked with the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC to develop a business plan that was vital for licensure.

Felts Supports for Living moved into a small office in the business incubator located in the Crossroads Institute. The Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC and business incubator continue to support Felts Supports for Living, helping to enable expansion and job creation.

“The SBDC and incubator services have been vital in helping us meet our goals. Assistance in accounting, legal, training space, and incubator services have helped us grow and become sustainable,” shared Chris Felts. “We are excited to now have five office employees, 12 residential homes, and 11 individuals receiving services,” added owners Jerry and Jean Felts.

Although the business has grown, Felts Supports for Living will remain a family-owned business and stay focused on the people they serve. “We started this business because we saw a need,” Felts says. “We like working with individuals and structuring their life so it’s their life, and they enjoy it.”

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Paddleyax Kayaks, Indepedence

Paddleyax Kayaks

Up to the Challenge

“The SBDC provided assistance with the business plan and gave me a great starting point with financial projections. I’m glad to say we exceeded those projections in our first season of operation,” said Steve Marshall. They also won the $10,000 first prize in the Mount Rogers Business Challenge.

Steve and Kit Marshall don’t shy away from a challenge. They decided to open a small business when they noted that Independence, a town on the banks of the New River, didn’t have a local dealer for fishing kayaks. “People from all over the Carolinas and Northern Virginia come here to enjoy the river,” notes Steve Marshall, who is an avid kayak angler himself.

Paddleyax Kayaks opened in May 2016. The full-service retail store sells Vibe kayaks, NuCanoe kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and paddling accessories. The store also offers gear for fishing, camping, and hiking, and they recently expanded into archery and hunting equipment. “Our biggest challenge has been that I’ve never been in retail before,” says Marshall. “There’s been some trial and error.”

The Marshalls turned to the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC to get help with the obstacles they faced. “The SBDC provided assistance with the business plan and gave me a great starting point with financial projections. I’m glad to say we exceeded those projections in our first season of operation,” says Marshall.

As part of the process, Paddleyax Kayaks participated in the Mount Rogers Business Challenge. The challenge was a competitive process to help foster business growth in the tourism sector in Grayson County. Organized by the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC and Grayson County Tourism, the challenge provided hands-on business training and networking. Each participant was required to attend classes, write a business plan, and present their business concept to a panel of judges. The challenge really paid off for the Marshalls, who won the $10,000 first prize.

Winning the prize is just the beginning for Paddleyax. “We’re less than a year old, but we are already looking into growing,” says Marshall. With plans to add at least one new line of kayaks and another employee or two, Marshall will continue to consult the SBDC as the business grows. “Just this month, we went to them to learn about social media and marketing. Our relationship with them is ongoing, and I look forward to learning more from them.”

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Crooked Road General Store

Crooked Road General Store

Melodies and Memories

This year, Edwards will have resources to expand the Crooked Road’s location and services, including hiring additional people to help the 9 dedicated volunteers.

A long-empty, abandoned ruin of a convenience store across from her driveway was the first glimpse Marla Edwards had of the vision that would become the Crooked Road General Store. Once known as Collins Market, an establishment famed for its corned-beef sandwiches, it was now an eyesore, and years of disuse had left it filled with dust and debris. “Despite that dark, windowless, cinder-block interior,” Edwards recalls, “I felt warmth.”

Under Edwards’ care, it has become “a convenience store and a little more.” Today, instead of corned beef, the Crooked Road is known for its Monday Night Singing Suppers, featuring local as well as celebrity bluegrass and gospel musicians and a reasonably priced Blue Plate Supper. “My first love is music, and my second is my community,” Edwards says. “What I’m doing here with the store allows me to bring those things together.”

The Virginia Highlands SBDC was one of many team players who helped Edwards turn her vision into reality. With encouragement at the project’s beginning and continued support along the way, Edwards credits the SBDC’s Client Specialist Sue Wagner, as well as a host of loving friends and family members, for making her country store a success.

Wagner helped Edwards create a business plan and walked her through every step of execution. She also encouraged her to participate in local business-plan “challenges” that allow business owners to compete with each other for prize money. Edwards says these competitions were great learning opportunities.

Initially tentative about her bold decision to buy the property, Edwards credits the SBDC and her support system for putting her worries to rest. “The apprehension disappeared,” she says. “And only the good memories, uplifting attitudes, and the complete fun of cleaning up, clearing out, and rebuilding remained.”

Today the bustling Crooked Road Convenience Store is a far cry from the rundown building it once was. On Monday evenings the rooms swell with the sound of fiddles, banjos, and guitars. Regulars, who have attended nearly all of the 300+ supper events, line the weathered wood floors. In the end, like the last sweet note of an old melody hanging in the air, the thing that remains for Edwards is the love and the memories.

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The Well Coffee Shop

The Well Coffee Shop

Hometown grind: couple brings coffee to Tazewell

With the help of the SBDC, The Well Coffee Shop won a grant from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and employs 5 part-time staff members.

Venus and Mike Laney knew their hometown of Tazewell needed a coffee shop. Rumors would come and go of potential venues opening, but as time ticked by nothing happened. The couple decided to take matters into their own hands.

With the perfect historic building in the center of downtown Tazewell already in mind for The Well Coffee Shop, the Laneys set out to bring fresh, hot coffee to their friends and neighbors, one cup at a time. “Things really fell into place for us to be in that space,” says Mike, referring to The Well’s location.

After signing the lease in February 2017, the Laneys opened the Well Coffee Shop for business in June. Mike and Venus both work full-time jobs outside of the coffee shop and lacked experience with entrepreneurship. They were delighted to find an ally with Margie Douglass, Program Manager at the Southwest Virginia Community College SBDC. Margie helped the Laneys identify, apply, and win a Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority grant to fund their business.

“Margie was awesome,” Mike says. “She helped us through every part of the process, including identifying which type of grant we should apply for based on our needs. Once we decided which one we were going for, she helped us through countless revisions of our proposal,” he adds.

Venus is grateful to Margie for pointing them in the right direction. “Without Margie’s guidance, we would not have known that this program was even a possibility for us,” she says.

As The Well Coffee Shop settles into its new home in the heart of Tazewell, the Laneys are optimistic about the future. “I don’t have a degree in anything,” Mike says jokingly, “But each day our doors are open is a huge accomplishment.”

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The Homestead on the Holson

The Homestead on the Holston

Heart on the Holston: Event venue brings dreams to life

During its first year of operation, The Homestead on the Holston received a matching grant from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority. It also hosted 5 weddings and served more than 780 guests.

Linda Burkett had always found herself drawn to the art of entertaining and hospitality. She put those skills to excellent use when she and her daughter, Kelsey Kilgore Taylor, opened The Homestead on the Holston in June 2017. Located on the family’s property, The Homestead features a log cabin structure and gorgeous views of the Holston River. It was originally part of a land grant to a Revolutionary War soldier. The history of The Homestead on the Holston is as rich as it is beautiful, and it has now found new life hosting weddings.

“It’s a truly one-of-a-kind place,” says Linda. “People are drawn to the log cabin, to the river, and to the beauty of the setting.” With seating for up to 125 guests, a full catering kitchen, and overnight accommodations for up to 10 people, Linda prides herself on offering her brides a wedding experience customized to fit their dreams and budgets.

Kelsey, a professional photographer, and Linda work closely with local caterer Jo Kilgore to provide a number of in-house event packages for their guests. “It’s ample and affordable,” says Linda. “I try to sit down with every client and help them find exactly the right combination of services to meet their needs.” During their first summer of operation, the venue hosted five weddings, with over 780 guests enjoying the wide, green lawns of The Homestead.

Renovations for The Homestead on the Holston were funded in part by a matching grant from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority. Linda also received invaluable assistance from Tim Blankenbecler, Director of the Mt. Empire SBDC. A neighbor introduced Linda to Tim at the SBDC. “Tim took us under his wing,” says Linda. “We couldn’t have been treated any better. He went through the proposal with us word by word and number by number to make sure that we got it right,” she adds.

As their second wedding season approaches, Linda is excited to see The Homestead on the Holston continue to grow. She plans to expand the range of services available to brides, as well as make the facilities more handicap accessible.

Without the guidance of the SBDC, The Homestead on the Holston might have remained a hidden gem in the heart of southwest Virginia. Thanks to Linda’s vision and Tim’s dedication, it can now welcome hundreds for years to come.

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Barnes Monument

Barnes Monument

Building a monument to success

After working with Matthew and Megan to successfully jump start their newly purchased Barnes Monument, the BRC SBDC helped them obtain a microloan through JUMP! Galax, which enabled them to hire local contractors.

When Matthew and Megan Barnes purchased a monument business in 2015, they were building on a foundation that had been there for over 45 years. Barnes Monument LLC creates beautiful, timeless memorials, while carving out a place of their own in the Galax community.

The couple worked with Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC to jumpstart their dream. The BRC SBDC Director Mandy Archer helped them develop a marketing plan and financial analysis that included expansion opportunities. Business boomed.

But in early 2017, Barnes Monument found themselves without a truck of their own that could transport the monuments. Purchasing a used truck solved that problem, but it created cash-flow issues for the fledgling business.

Mandy helped Matthew and Megan obtain a low-interest loan from JUMP! Galax. Mandy explains, “JUMP! was developed by Galax’s Industrial Development Authority (IDA) to encourage investments which would create locally owned microbusinesses. By investing in small businesses, the IDA is helping to create a sustainable local economy.” The loan also allowed Matthew and Megan to hire local part- time contractors to transport, set, and clean monuments, further boosting the local economy.

Because of its partnership with the community and the BRC SBDC, Barnes Monument has established itself as a permanent fixture in the Twin Counties. Mandy applauds the commitment this couple made to their entrepreneurial dreams. “Opening a new business can be difficult, but Matthew and Megan keep their eyes on their goals and continue to move forward,” Mandy says. “The BRC SBDC looks forward to providing on-going support as Barnes Monument continues to grow.”

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