Category: Management

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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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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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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Captain Groovy’s Grill & Raw Bar

Staying afloat during the pandemic

Secured over $1 million in COVID-related SBA loans and grants

Home

Less than a mile from the harbor, Captain Groovy’s Grill & Raw Bar has been serving fresh, local seafood to residents and tourists in the Norfolk area since 2007. Captain Groovy’s is named after Owner Sandy White’s late first husband, who passed away in 2000. Sandy is the majority owner while her husband David Watts, a trained chef, runs the kitchen.

Boasting a menu that Sandy says appeals to everyone — with burgers, sandwiches, specialty cocktails, and a rotating “blackboard” menu in addition to all manner of maritime munchies — Captain Groovy’s has enjoyed a consistent run of success since its first year of opening. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, not even Captain Groovy’s was spared its effects.

“We shut the restaurant down,” Sandy says. “We laid everybody off. We had to figure it out.”

Compounding those unforeseen financial hardships was what Sandy classifies as an uncharacteristically slow 2019 that dug into the restaurant’s “rainy day” account. With their reserves depleted and business grounded for the foreseeable future, Sandy turned to the Hampton Roads SBDC for guidance, both financial and operational.

“We put a lot of effort into [our recovery],” Sandy says. “I took every webinar that [the SBDC] and our local SCORE group put out there — anything I could find that I thought would help. I signed up for everything so I could learn how to do it and do it correctly.”

Over the next few weeks, Sandy and David leaned on guidance provided by SBDC consultants like Mike Austin to plot a course that would keep Captain Groovy’s afloat. To keep customers coming in the door, the restaurant operated on a to-go basis and also established a general store, selling local fare and gifts. They received more than $1 million in COVID-related loans and grants, the majority of which went to rehiring employees.

“I honestly don’t know if we would still be here if not for the [Paycheck Protection Program] loans and the help we got,” Sandy adds.

Now with mask and social distancing mandates lifted in the Commonwealth, Captain Groovy’s is operating at near full capacity five days a week and serving plenty of chatty locals and tourists.

“Customers are coming out. They want to be out,” Sandy says. “The big topic of conversation is their shots — I got mine, did you get yours, how did you react? We’re doing well. We’re proceeding cautiously, but we’re doing well.”

And while Captain Groovy’s may not be full steam ahead quite yet, Sandy says she is happy to put the worst of the pandemic in her wake.

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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.

https://www.bowercenter.org

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..

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Micro Harmonics

SBDC helped add the business component to
Micro Harmonics’ success

Sales increased by 20% and capital investments were $92,000.

Diane Kees enjoys exploring new frontiers as chief operating officer at Micro Harmonics, a company founded by her brother, David Porterfield. The Botetourt County business specializes in components for a variety of applications from COVID research to NASA exploration.

For Diane, working with NASA is all in a day’s work; launching a new business, on the other hand, is not. Faced with the prospect of serving temporarily as the business accountant, Diane contacted the Roanoke Regional SBDC. “The SBDC’s help was lifesaving,” she says without hesitation. “I called the SBDC, and Business Advisor Cheryl Tucker walked me through the accounting process. She also, very patiently, helped me learn Quickbooks,” Diane continues.

Micro Harmonics specializes in components needed for new high-frequency technologies.

“When you work in higher frequencies, having the right component is essential,” Diane says. “We develop components needed for these advanced technologies.” She compared the process to plumbing a house. “When you update a plumbing system, you need the right valves to make the system work,” she notes. The same concept, she believes, applies to business — the “right parts” are needed for success.

A number of people and organizations helped supply those “right parts.” Diane considers the SBDC’s connections “a huge help.” She adds, “If the SBDC doesn’t have someone to help you, they’ll find someone who can.” Recently, Diane has been an active participant in the SBDC’s Botetourt GrowthWheel cohort, one of the many benefits available to Botetourt County Businesses through a collaborative partnership between the Roanoke Regional SBDC and Botetourt County Economic Development.

Diane shared about her GrowthWheel Cohort experience, “We were all in different businesses, but had the same problem.” She also shared that “Only knowing your own specialty doesn’t help much in running a business.”

“It has been an absolute delight to provide guidance, support, and connections to Diane and David over the years as they continue to grow and expand their business” states, Heather Fay, Botetourt Advisor.

“All the help we received from the various organizations very much impacted our growth, and the SBDC is certainly among those organizations,” Diane adds. Micro Harmonic’s growth was reflected in year-end figures: from 2018 to 2019 sales rose to $1 million.

Diane doesn’t hesitate to recommend the SBDC. “The consultants at the SBDC are experts in running a business,” she concludes. “Because of the SBDC, I’m confident because I know where I can turn for help.”

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Owners and key financial decisionmakers of for-profit businesses, share your recent experiences. Did your business seek financing such as loans or lines of credit in the last 12 months? How would you rate the financial condition of your business?

The Federal Reserve’s 2022 Small Business Credit Survey is open for responses, and the Virginia SBDC Network is a partner on this effort. By taking the survey, you contribute to data that directly informs the Fed, federal government agencies, service providers, policymakers, and others—ultimately benefitting your business and other businesses like yours. Take the 10-minute survey now. 

The survey is open to businesses currently in operation, those recently closed, and those about to launch. All responses are confidential.

The survey closes November 4, 2022. Questions? Contact Grace Guynn at grace.guynn@atl.frb.org.