Category: Business Plan

Albemarle Limousine

Wedded together: Unique concept says “I do” with the SBDC

Bought a 10-bay building that allowed the company to expand its services; created 60 jobs.

https://www.albemarlelimousine.com/

Albemarle Limousine & Travel Service, LLC, was an idea that started with a wedding.

“It was my daughter’s wedding, and I was planning it,” CEO Andrea Saathoff says. “I was looking for a classic wedding-car rental and was surprised to learn that the closest one was in Washington D.C.”

In 2008, Andrea decided to start her own classic-car business in Charlottesville. “I quickly learned that vintage transportation was more of a hobby than a business,” Andrea adds. “So we added modern cars that first year.”

Being a business owner, the former elementary school teacher noted, was a learning experience. “That’s the fun of being an entrepreneur — we were doubling in revenue every year,” Andrea explains. “Within five years, we had a fleet of premium sedans, SUVs, shuttle buses, and vintage limousines.” As the company grew, Virginia Auto Detailing was added, and a mechanic was hired to manage a growing fleet of vehicles.

When COVID struck, the business was blindsided and nearly crippled. The situation quickly became critical. “We immediately lost 90 percent of our revenue,” Andrea says.

With the pandemic slamming the brakes on her business, Andrea contacted the Central Virginia SBDC. “I met SBDC Advisor Dillon Franks through a small business group I joined,” she relates. “He’s been our advisor ever since. We also worked with Central Virginia Director Rebecca Haydock.”

Rebecca provided additional guidance as the company grew. “Rebecca connected me with a QuickBooks specialist and helped with marketing, and Dillon provided guidance with our biggest customer, a very large corporation. He suggested things I never would have thought about.”

As COVID continued, Andrea looked for ways to diversify. “We already had a detailing business,
but it was seasonal due to lack of indoor space,” she says. “When a realtor I knew found a
property with 10 auto bays going on the market, we decided to buy it, as it would significantly expand our car and truck maintenance and service offerings to the public through our ACE Auto Center Express. We are now experiencing strong growth, due to our expanded physical plant and more central location.”

Andrea added, “Dillon and Rebecca were very helpful with the purchase of that building and issues related to growing our staff.”

Continuing to combat COVID, Albemarle Limousine launched a bicycle repair business, ACE Bicycle Charlottesville, in the spring of 2020. “Riding bikes offered socially-distanced exercise, so our shop was very popular,” Andrea adds. “Now all three businesses are in recovery, we have 60 employees, and everything is going gangbusters.”

Andrea continues to be enthusiastic about the SBDC and Dillon, who she describes as “a seasoned advisor who really cares about my business and our employees.”

“The SBDC helped us significantly through the pandemic,” Andrea concludes. “The SBDC has all the resources you need to help a business succeed and grow.”

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AWL Creative

Wedded together: Unique concept says “I do” with the SBDC

Received $2,000 in loans and $52,000 in equity investments.

https://awlcreative.com/

When Barbara Kriss started AWL Creative in 2019, she was motivated more by the services she didn’t see than by those she did. A former stationery and graphic designer with close ties to the wedding industry, Barbara was struck by the lack of centralized resources for those who worked in wedding planning and production, as well as for those looking for wedding service providers.

“I began noticing all these gaps,” Barbara recalls, as she remembers the early days, prior to opening A Wedding Loft. “I observed the industry was missing resources, spaces, and education overall,” Barbara adds.

With AWL, Barbara and her business partner, Paul Tartaglioni, sought to fill these gaps. The downtown building contains studio space for event planners, photographers, makeup artists, and more. It also has rentable event space as well as coworking space. A membership option is also available to guests, which offers varying levels of access to the facilities.

Back in 2019, when Barbara and Paul were considering the idea of AWL Creative, Paul decided to attend a basic small business prep class at the local library, where he connected with Eric Byrd, Lead Business Advisor at the Loudoun SBDC. Eric would go on to be a mentor and advisor for Barbara and Paul as their project moved forward.

“We are so grateful to the SBDC for everything,” Barbara says. “They have been there for us for everything, every step of the way,” she adds.

Things were just taking off for AWL when the full impact of COVID-19 caused the fledgling business to close its doors. It wasn’t long before Barbara found a pandemic workaround, offering intimate marriage ceremonies in the event space, until distancing restrictions were lifted earlier this year and the space could reopen.

Now as things return to normal, Paul says that they continue to utilize the SBDC on a daily basis and even return the love whenever possible.

“We have grown so much through the SBDC,” Paul says. “We actually try to pay it forward. We refer people to the SBDC all the time as they try to find their path.”

The concept of finding one’s own path is special to Barbara and Paul, who are aware that their own concept is unique. All the more reason, Paul says, to feel grateful for the expertise and support of the SBDC.

“Eric was just here the other day,” says Paul. “You know he describes us as a blue-ocean concept, because we are trying something that hasn’t been done before. It’s been a difficult process overall. It’s been a strength and a comfort having the SBDC by our side throughout the process.”

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Saratoga Urgent Care

SBDC adds business know-how to Saratoga Urgent Care

70% growth; 3 new jobs.

During the pandemic, Sherwood and Rina Richers saw a need for medical care in Springfield. With help from the Community Business Partnership (CBP) SBDC, Saratoga Urgent Care opened in March 2021 to meet that need. “Our perspective has been to help others,” Sherwood says. “It’s not about money for us.”

Rina, who previously provided OB/GYN services in El Salvador, hoped to open a clinic in the United States. A retiring doctor in Springfield provided that opportunity. “My wife fits a critical niche here,” Sherwood says. “This area has a large Hispanic population with many uninsured.” Recently retired as a senior engineering manager for the Boeing Company, Sherwood turned to the SBDC to learn the ins and outs of operating a small business.

CBP SBDC Center Director Vijay Vaswani was happy to assist. Vijay connected Sherwood with a medical professional for advice on credentialing and other medical issues. He provided guidance on bookkeeping and QuickBooks. “I had the basic idea, but knowing the nuances were useful,” Sherwood adds.

Vijay worked with Sherwood to complete a business plan, and another SBDC advisor helped with the lease. “That SBDC advisor was a property manager and understood the [lease] situation from both sides,” Sherwood says.

SBDC’s marketing videos were an added boost. “Between working with Vijay and my own experience, I was 98 percent there on marketing, but it was good to watch the videos and make sure I wasn’t missing anything,” he says.

Sherwood built relationships with nearby industrial customers. “It was a matter of making phone calls,” he relates. “Local people who knew about the practice also came by, as did many Hispanic clients who followed my wife from a previous clinic in Woodbridge.”

Confidence grew as Sherwood worked with the SBDC, which was a major plus. “Confidence allows me to make better and faster decisions,” he says. “The SBDC gave me confidence to start a business in an unfamiliar field.” That confidence is already paying off, as demonstrated by Saratoga Urgent Care’s 60-to-70 percent growth since March 2020.

Sherwood readily recommends the SBDC. “I found a breadth of knowledge at the SBDC,” he concludes. “When you’re unsure about something, there’s always somebody at the SBDC who can help you. I find that very, very valuable.”

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Brewki’s Barkhaus

Bar plus dogs equals success for Brewski’s Barkhaus

Significant funding from private investors.

https://brewskisbarkhaus.com/

Alex Benbassat and Justin LeGore took an idea for a dog bar, that started when they were roommates at Virginia Tech, and turned it into a reality during a pandemic in October 2020. They succeeded with careful planning, hard work, and help from the Alexandria SBDC.

“We visited a dog bar in Charlotte, North Carolina, while we were at Tech,” Justin explains. “The idea sort of stuck with us.”

Justin, who majored in business management with a concentration in entrepreneurship, and Alex, who holds an architecture degree, connected again after graduation. “I was seeking a business partner,” Justin says. “Alex was working on his thesis for an architecture program, which, incidentally, was for a dog bar. It worked out.”

First and most important was gauging interest for a dog bar business in the Alexandria area. Alex and Justin contacted the Alexandria SBDC for help with planning a festival incorporating people, dogs, breweries, and live music. “One of my professors at Tech had told me about the SBDC,” Justin explains. “We started working with Business Advisor Jack Parker, and he helped us write our business plan and make the necessary connections for the festival — which, in turn, locked in our investors.”

“We organized the Old Town Beer and Dog Festival with 30 vendors,” Justin relates. “It was wildly successful.” With an attendance of 3,000 to 4,000 people and 400 dogs, the two entrepreneurs knew they were on the right track.

With investors onboard, Alex and Justin went to work establishing Brewski’s Barkhaus. Using his architectural skills, Alex put together a floor plan for Barkhaus in a former hamburger restaurant. “We did a facelift and remodeling and added a dog park outside,” Justin explains. “Then we had to apply for a variance to allow dogs inside a restaurant.”

In setting up their new business, Alex and Justin again took advantage of the SBDC’s connections. “The SBDC helped us align our finances in appropriate ways by connecting us with accountants and attorneys,” Justin says. “In a way, Jack was like a father. We knew we could call him at any point if we had questions — and we did that a lot.”

While the pandemic-forced downsizing on many businesses, Barkhaus actually expanded. “We made it through the COVID winter and did well enough in the spring of 2021 to double our outdoor area,” Justin states. “The SBDC was a huge help to us in planning our festival, which is what brought in the investors to get us started. If it hadn’t been for the SBDC connections, I doubt if we could have made it all happen.”

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My Car Service

Driving forward in a pandemic

$954,000 loan; expanded from five employees to 18

https://www.mycarcorporation.com/

When businesses around the country were scrambling to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, CEO Tariq Alam and COO Tahid Alam of My Car Service had other plans.

“The owner of the commercial property for our business was planning to sell, and we knew we needed to buy it,” Tariq says. “We had been building My Car Service for five years, and we didn’t want to see all of our hard work disappear, in case a new owner wanted something different for the property. But in order to buy it, we needed guidance on how to put together a good company portfolio to submit to the lenders and the bank.”

Tariq’s first shot at pitching his company’s ambitious business plan — in the midst of a global pandemic in the spring of 2020, no less — didn’t take off. The bank and lenders didn’t bite, but Tariq and Tahid were undeterred. As longtime entrepreneurs and business partners — and brothers — they were confident in what they had built. They simply needed somebody to help them craft a pitch that would get others just as excited as they were.

Through the US Small Business Administration (SBA), they connected with the University of Mary Washington SBDC in Fredericksburg, and received the push they needed from Center Director Susan Ball and her team.

“We reached out to three different places, but the SBDC, especially Susan and the team she works with, showed us the path forward,” Tariq explains. “They helped me put together a business plan and an effective way to present it to the lenders. Right away, the reaction was very different. [The lenders] were wowed with the plan and our mission, and they really believed in us,” Tariq continues.

Tariq says that this shift made a critical difference for their business. “The funds became available, and we were able to purchase the property along with a construction loan and equipment loans. That has really helped propel us into the future,” Tariq explains.

The revamped proposal netted My Car Service a $954,000 loan that included not only funds to purchase the property, but also loans to expand their business. They have since added an eight-bay car-service center and grown their workforce from five employees to 18. “Our business grew about 300%,” Tariq says. “It helped us create a full-service dealership, as opposed to just reselling cars.”

Now, thanks to their own market awareness and preparation heading into the pandemic — and an assist from the SBDC — Tariq and Tahid have been able to make headway on the next phase of My Car Service’s expansion, which will include a franchise.

“One thing that was great to see was how much the SBA and the SBDC care about small businesses and how much they support them,” Tahid says. “Their level of concern is awesome. They’re advocates. I can’t thank the SBA and the SBDC enough. They’re making our dreams come true.”

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Abingdon Gifting Company

Creating memories one basket at a time

Won $5000 in Washington County Business Challenge Competition and moved to Main Street and invested $25,000 in new inventory and a new location.

https://abingdongiftingco.com/

Like many, Cassie Rowe long entertained the idea of starting her own business. And while it wasn’t until 2017 that she finally got her company off the ground, the owner of Abingdon Gifting Company hasn’t looked back.

Armed with a knack for creativity and a desire to follow in her parents’ footsteps as a small business owner — but little in the way of her own personal business experience — Cassie made one of the first stops in her journey toward becoming a small-business owner at the Virginia Highlands SBDC for initial guidance on starting her business.

“I initially wanted to open a kitchen, because I love to cook and had been cooking for people on the side, but the food regulations were more than I wanted to deal with,” Cassie said. “A friend of mine suggested gift baskets, and, after I looked into what that would look like, I called Cindy Fields [center director at the SBDC] back and started again. I told her we were going in a different direction. She helped me do it, and they’ve been on board ever since,” she explains.

By February 2018, just two months after Cassie quit her job to pursue the business full time, Build-A-Basket was up and running. Renamed Abingdon Gifting Company in April 2020, the customized store-crafts gift baskets are filled with a variety of boutique products that Cassie sources from small businesses both local and nationwide. Working within budgets of any size, customers can choose from a wide range of preassembled gift baskets of Cassie’s design, or they can create their own.

Through personal goals, dedication, and the encouragement and strategic planning with the SBDC, Cassie competed in and won the top prize of $5,000 in the local business challenge and worked hard to find local unique and high-quality products that she can offer to her customers.

In the fall of 2020, she was ready to rebrand her store and prepare for a move to a bigger location. She received biweekly visits from the SBDC team and counselor Patrick Horn to assist her with growth in the area of marketing, to provide small business education and to help her collaborate with other local professionals to achieve new sales levels. Cassie has doubled her sales each year and is on track to do the same in 2021.

Regardless of what’s in the basket, Cassie says that the goal is to create something uniquely memorable for whoever receives it. “That’s what we do,” she says. “Our mission is to create a feeling, create a memory or a lasting impression through a gift.”

“It has taken a lot of research and a lot of learning,” she says. “The SBDC has been a really good resource, as far as continued learning. I’m pretty confident that anytime I get into a situation I’m not sure about, all I have to do is call Cindy or Patrick.”

“They’ve been on board since I started,” Cassie says. “Owning your own business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It can be tough, and there are ins and outs you don’t know. But anytime I need a resource, a connection with somebody I need to reach, or just some advice, they’re always there.”

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Ipsun Solar

Lights on: The Mason SBDC powers up solar installer

Grew from two employees to over 50; over 300 customers served; became one of the largest solar installers in the Northern VA area.

www.ipsunsolar.com

When Herve Billiet and Joe Marhamati founded Ipsun Solar, they had a singular vision: encourage all Americans to produce their own power using the clean, renewable energy of the sun. Today, that vision remains unchanged, and thanks to help from the Mason SBDC Ipsun Solar has grown to become one of the largest solar developers in Northern Virginia.

Unlike many industries, solar was unscathed by the recent pandemic. In fact, according to Herve, their business flourished as many customers looked to make the switch from gas, oil, and other types of fuel to solar power during the uncertain times of COVID-19. “We are definitely riding a wave,” Herve explains. “There is a huge increase in demand for what we have to offer.”

Herve is an electro-mechanical engineer who began developing solar projects in Alabama in the 2000s, while Joe is an environmental scientist who served as Energy Advisor to President Obama. Despite their extensive in-field knowledge, including Herve’s previous business experience, when it came to taking their two-man start-up from zero watts to megawatts, there was only one place to go.

“When I got started with Ipsun, I immediately went to the team at the Mason SBDC,” Herve explains, “because I knew they would provide the best advice on how to get us most quickly from a start-up to a real business.”

Herve connected with advisor and mentor, Timm Johnson. From the start of the relationship, Herve says Timm’s real-world experience and matter-of-fact advice have been crucial guide points for the solar company. Herve explains, “The continuity I experienced working with Timm the entire time has been so valuable to me — working with a person that has actually done mergers and acquisitions, has actually had experience running a business, and not just from a book, but someone who actually has the hands-on knowledge.”

As Ipsun Solar rapidly expanded, the business-related issues evolved from bottom line to people oriented. Again, Herve found that Timm had the experience and resources to provide incisive assistance. “As a business owner, you have many data-driven things coming at you, and the best thing that you can do is always be very analytical,” Herve says. “If I have questions about sales and marketing, legal, product development, or even hiring and firing, Timm is all about answering those questions in a very down-to-earth way,” Herve adds. “Timm was — and is — helpful for drilling down to the core issues and providing insight.”

Herve continues to meet with Timm regularly, as Ipsun Solar has spiked from two employees to over 50, and has served over 300 customers in the Virginia, D.C., and Maryland areas.

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Fredericksburg Food Co-op

Food for all: Community food co-op finds funding

Obtained $4.3 in million in loans — $1.4 million from an SBA 7(a) loan and the remainder from the community.

https://fredericksburgfood.coop/

When you ask Rich LaRochelle, a founding member of the Fredericksburg Food Co-op, to explain what lies at the heart of the 10,000-square-foot food market located in the center of Fredericksburg, his answer is simple: the community.

“We are not a chain,” Rich explains. “We are owned by people. A co-op is a business with a social purpose,” he continues. “Because we are a consumer-owned co-op, our members have a say in everything we do, including what we sell.”

When the Fredericksburg Food Co-op opened its doors, it had been a vision a long time in the making. One of the key players in that vision was Rich, an adjunct professor of Cooperative Business at the University of Mary Washington (UMW). He knew right away that making the food co-op a reality would be a collaborative effort.

Rich and other key stakeholders sought the insight and guidance of the UMW SBDC team to judge market readiness for a local food co-op and grocery store. Rich partnered with consultant Susan Ball to craft and perfect a business plan for the budding idea. “Susan was always very responsive,” Rich says. “She provided a template for us to use as well as training on our business plan and market data, particularly on the grocery industry in our area.”

This business plan was key to helping the co-op secure a $1.4 million SBA 7(a) loan, putting their dreams of a community-based food exchange well within reach.

The rest of the $4.3 million were raised by two incredible loan campaigns within the community itself.  “I think the amount raised from the community shows the commitment to the co-op, and we are grateful for that,” Rich says.

Since opening its doors, the Fredericksburg Food Co-op has enjoyed strong support from members and non-members, and seeks to purchase as much of its inventory from local producers as possible. The co-op also boasts an atmosphere that creates “a gathering place for people and ideas to come together,” as Rich describes it.

While the co-op continues to gain new members each day, Rich is grateful that they still have the resources of the UMW SBDC at their side. “We value the partnership with the SBDC for our business planning and development. Susan is definitely someone we would still use as a resource today.”

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Barbara H. Smith LLC

Business basics add to corporate trainer’s success

Income increased 40%

https://www.barbarahsmith.com/

Everyone is familiar with having their boss or company CEO lead a training, but who do they call when the boss or CEO themselves need the training? Cue Barbara H. Smith of Barbara H. Smith, LLC.

Barbara had been employed in workforce training for various companies and educational institutions for over 20 years. In 2012, she decided to strike out on her own. Known as “the celebrity speaker and masterful presenter,” Barbara launched a speaking, training, and coaching business to help company leaders. “My background was in information technology, but I also had a personality,” she explains. “Basically, I was a geek with personality.”

Barbara previously connected with the Hampton Roads SBDC while working for a construction firm. “I needed to learn about government contracts at that time, and Debra Farley [Associate Executive Director] from the SBDC advised me,” Barbara recalls.

That SBDC connection would help Barbara as she started her new company. “I was working in my business, but I didn’t know how to work on my business,” she relates. “Debra sat down with me and talked about things like cash flow projections and marketing strategies — stuff I’d never thought about. She really guided me through the process,” Barbara recalls.

Barbara’s business specializes in helping small business, corporate, and government clients with their training needs using technology. “These clients use the technology but sometimes do not understand that technology is only one tool for training”. Understanding how to get results with training using the technology is where being a liaison helps,” she relates. “My business had really taken off. At the start of 2020, I had just set a date for sexual harassment training for the Coast Guard — a $30,000 contract.” But the pandemic took a savage bite out of Barbara’s newly gained momentum, wiping out existing contracts and making new work difficult to find. “That contract evaporated along with others — at that time my contracts were all face-to-face,” Barbara says.

Not one to despair, Barbara turned to her specialty: technology by turning a face-to-face business into something workable for these new times. “I knew how to do use Zoom,” she says. “Because of my technology skills, 2020 turned out to be my best year ever.”

As the nation enters the COVID recovery phase, Barbara’s speaking business is growing by leaps and bounds. Recently, she was selected as one of 13 speaker delegates to represent the United States in Kenya, she has her own TV show (The Barbara H. Smith Show) streaming on the IBMTV network, Amazon Fire, and Roku, and is looking forward to a corporate training session on Excel in Las Vegas.

Barbara credits the SBDC with helping her achieve much of this success. “My income has increased at least 40 percent as a result of guidance from the SBDC,” she notes. “Debra has connected me on so many levels — those connections allowed me to work with platforms and companies that I otherwise could not have accessed.”

Barbara readily recommends the SBDC. “Because of the SBDC, my small business stayed in business during COVID,” she concludes. “I know I can count on them to always point me in the right direction.”

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Wall-Lift Inc.

Innovation leads to international business for Wall-Lift

Achieved more than 100% growth in domestic and international sales

https://walllift.net/

When Mark Helmuth first invented the Wall-Lift in 2005, it was purely out of necessity. As a contractor, he needed a safer and more efficient way to raise walls, so he built a device to do the heavy lifting for him and his crew, literally.

“Necessity is the mother of all inventions,” Mark says. “I had a need to set walls, and the methods that were out there didn’t quite meet my specs. I thought about it, went out and got the components, and within a week and a half I had it all together. On the first job, it worked great.”

That first use quickly turned into dozens. After his fellow contractors saw the machine in action, requests to build more began to filter in. At the urging of a friend in 2016, Mark filed for a patent and began exploring the process of setting up Wall-Lift as a business. His banker referred him to the SBDC center in the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham area where Allison Dugan’s team helped Mark establish Wall-Lift Inc.

“The SBDC walked me through a lot of things,” Mark says. “I took a lot of the courses they offered, they hooked me up with some shipping guys, and they helped me put together some brochures and marketing,” he adds. He also participated in the Virginia SBDC Network’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) to learn about customer discovery and how to match your product to your customers’ needs.

But Mark’s partnership with the SBDC didn’t end there. This past spring, Mark discovered a video of his Wall-Lift posted by what Mark wrote on Instagram, was “an icon of the framing world.” The SBDC was there to help Mark double down on the power of viral marketing in this unique situation.

That video, which has since generated nearly 400,000 views, led to an exponential increase in orders for Wall-Lift almost overnight. Mark has nearly doubled sales from last year already and, with help from the Virginia SBDC Network’s International Business Development Director Aaron Miller, he has shipped as far as Australia, England, Norway, and South Korea. The distribution channels the SBDC helped him establish have paid dividends during that growth — as have partnerships the SBDC helped him secure with two dealers who now sell Wall-Lift.

“I got a large United States map, and I put pins where every sale went so I can see what’s going on,” Mark recalls. “Early on, I saw that if I made one sale in one area, it’s not long before you have two or three more in that same area. That’s when I realized this wasn’t a bad product because it’s selling itself,” adds Mark.

As Wall-Lift continues to grow, Mark finds the SBDC to be a reliable ally in his corner. Sales for the product have doubled every year, ballooning from fewer than 10 in his first year to more than 200 units already sold in 2021. He sold eight in one day and 52 in a single month — records he says he wouldn’t be surprised to see broken.

“[The SBDC] asked me, how big do you want to go? I said that if we got to the point where we could sell two a week, that would be great,” Mark says. “Now we’re way past that.”

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