Category: Management

The Bower Center for the Arts

Arts and culture center set for success

The Center secured $86,900 in loans: $19,400 in PPP loans, $4,000 in EIDL, and $3,500 in grants.

When COVID-19 forced the Bower Center for the Arts in Bedford to close, Executive Director Susan Martin was prepared, and her secret weapon was the SBDC – Lynchburg Region.

Susan was familiar with the SBDC from her work with the Bedford Area Chamber. “I knew the SBDC from their collaborative efforts and youth programming from my time with the chamber,” says Susan. “I knew that they were a great resource.”

When Susan became the Executive Director at the Bower Center in the summer of 2019, she had no way of knowing the hardships that were waiting just ahead in 2020. “The Bower Center for the Arts highlights local and regional culture through multiple exhibits, as well as classes for youth and adults. You name it, we do it,” Susan explains. “We collaborate with public schools, and the Center is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary this year,” Susan adds.

Susan originally reached out to the SBDC for insights on how to reintroduce the Bower Center into the Bedford community. She also needed skilled advice on working productively with a board of directors to accomplish goals and create growth.

“It was a time of transition. There was a need for internal processes since we were essentially reinventing the business,” Susan says. “I reached out for help with marketing, promotion, and training. The SBDC helped us get back out into the community. There was definitely some complexity involved since we were rebranding, in a sense, under a different foundation, and also because we are a 501(c)3 nonprofit. The SBDC was able to guide me through all of that,” Susan continues.

The most invaluable assistance the SBDC provided was guidance applying for vital grants and loans before, during, and after COVID-19. According to Susan, the SBDC was able to locate and assist the Bower Center with two Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration, which offset the hardest portions of the COVID downturn. Additional loans and grants also kept things bolstered as the center waited to return to regular operations.

“The SBDC also provided mentoring during COVID, particularly on how to return to normalcy, even with less staffing opportunities. I am so grateful for their mentorship,” says Susan, who still meets with her advisor once a month. “They have allowed me to vent, and have been a sounding board. They’ve provided me with so many tips and tricks on how to make it through.” The SBDC — Lynchburg Region has kept Susan and Bedford’s Bower Center for the Arts going strong..

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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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Caroline Thomason Nutrition Consulting

Nutrition coach uses new business model for the win

Sales increased from a low six-figure to high seven-figure range in five months.

On a whim, Caroline Thomason called the Shenandoah Valley SBDC last year. Today, she’s operating a nutrition coaching practice in the five-figure range. “On paper, all the odds were against starting a business during the pandemic,” Caroline admits.

She decided to do it anyway. “Somehow I just knew the time was right,” she adds. “I’d always wanted my own business. My plan was to go full-fledged into private practice with nutrition coaching.”

Caroline called the Shenandoah SBDC, and Business Analyst Don Crawford returned her call the same day. “We’ve been talking every other week since then,” Caroline says.

Early on, Caroline learned not to follow her inclination to jump the gun. “From the start, Don hit home by emphasizing the importance of having an organized financial plan,” Caroline says. “He helped me lay the foundation for the systems I use in my business today.”

Starting a business during the pandemic, Caroline notes, did have one advantage: telehealth. “Virtual visits were very accepted at that time, which was amazing for me,” she marvels.

Caroline began by developing a plan she believes helped her business grow so quickly. “I started doing memberships — like monthly gym memberships,” Caroline explains. “That gave my clients a more personalized service, and it was more flexible for all of us.”

It was, in Caroline’s words, “a huge hit.”

“Don and I crafted the membership plan together,” Caroline relates. “The SBDC helped me understand the membership model and how it was used in other industries. With the SBDC’s help, I was able to grow my business from a low six-figure to a high seven-figure range in five months.”

“I really think the SBDC’s help with my membership plan allowed the business to take off so fast,” Caroline says. “I was able to leave my full-time job after five months.”

Caroline is happy to recommend the SBDC to others considering a business venture, and plans to continue her relationship with them for the foreseeable future. “I feel like Don Crawford at the SBDC is my best friend,” Caroline concludes. “The SBDC has been with me from the beginning; just knowing they are there is extremely comforting.”

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Your Dinner

Success to-go with the SBDC

Invested $45,000 in equipment, created 3 jobs and retained 2 jobs

When Diane Roll hit the streets with one of the first food trucks in the Rockingham/Augusta county region in 2011, her first stop was the Shenandoah Valley SBDC. “Just because you’re a good cook doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good business person,” Diane says. “The SBDC helped me find a bank that would give me the small business loan I needed when I first got started.”

Diane’s original plan included “grab-and-go” dinners prepared in advance and sold at nearby factories for $6. The idea never took off. “But during that time, I built relationships with companies that would pick up the tab for us to come in and cook,” Diane relates. “That led us into catering.” Another opportunity came when the town of Dayton approached Diane about opening a restaurant. “I was lucky enough to open Dayton Tavern, a full-service restaurant,” she adds. “We had a higher-end clientele there — not to mention the best steaks in 100 miles!”

Diane’s restaurant and catering business continued to expand and prosper, until, as she puts it, “2020 happened.” “COVID temporarily closed the restaurant,” she explains. “We had zero catering and $250,000 in canceled events.” Undeterred by this downtime, Diane began to think about her original idea of “grab-and-go” dinners. She started selling freshly prepared family meals through the Dayton Tavern, a business venture that quickly became popular. “I don’t care how much money you have, everybody likes meatloaf,” she says.

With the “grab-and-go” dinner concept (renamed Your Dinner) now off the back burner, Diane went back to the SBDC for advice. Advisor Don Crawford met with Diane to discuss management, operations, financing, and marketing. The SBDC team also arranged for Diane and her staff to meet with the SBDC’s Retail & Restaurant Advisor Marc Willson.

“We already had a rental space for our catering business,” Diane says. “I decided to rent the whole building for the Your Dinner business. Since we didn’t need all of it, I contacted several other small business owners I knew about sharing the space.” Diane invested her own money to purchase display cases and appliances and to hire three employees to launch Your Dinner. The commitment also allowed two other small businesses to re-locate there and expand. “We now have gourmet popcorn from PrePOPsterous and produce from Radella’s in the North River Marketplace.”

Your Dinner offers everything from fresh soups, salads, and sandwiches to pre-made dinners to take home and heat up. “When you take our food home, put it on your own plate, and heat it in your own microwave, it feels like you made it. There’s a good feeling to it.”

Diane believes in down-home hospitality. It works for her, and she’s happy to pass it on. She is also appreciative of the help she’s received from the SBDC. 

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Anne Vaughan Designs

Designed to Shine

Anne Vaughan Designs supports 17 jobs and increased sales. 

The Vaughans didn’t start out to create a successful jewelry making business. In fact, Anne originally intended the venture to supplement husband Aaron’s income. They invested $500 from their personal savings to purchase some basic tools and gemstones. Between her children’s nap times, Anne created her first designs and exhibited them at the Roanoke City Market on a busy Black Friday in 2006. It marked the launch of a thriving business with online and wholesale customers across the country. “We have a unique product in the American handcrafted jewelry marketplace, specifically layered gemstone jewelry collections,” Aaron explains.

Creating a unique product in a rural area comes with challenges. “We had to train our staff in jewelry making, since most of them come to us with no prior experience. The upside is that most of our makers have been with us between three and nine years, so we are blessed to have a committed staff,” says Aaron.

Anne Vaughan Designs learned about business through the trainings offered by the Roanoke Region SBDC, including the GrowthWheel® program. GrowthWheel provided Anne and Aaron with a “360 view” of the business process. “It covers almost every part of a business, from customer relations to organizational operations and more,” Aaron explains. “The program was especially helpful, because we worked with other local small businesses to see their specific challenges, and then used the GrowthWheel® Framework to walk through the decision-making process and identify ways to resolve and overcome those challenges.”

Aaron and Anne worked closely with SBDC counselors Tom Tanner and Amanda Forrester. “We consult regularly with Tom on quarterly financial reviews and Amanda on networking leads, marketing, and other topics. Having their guidance has been invaluable,” Aaron says. Tom and Amanda helped Aaron and Anne develop cost-efficient systems to maximize profitability, as well as streamline operational systems and software. “Tom Tanner came to our office and spent a half day just going through our financials and making recommendations on how to track expenses differently, make changes to our books, and do an initial cleaning of our data. It was invaluable,” Aaron declares. “Since then, Tom has met with us quarterly to review our financials, ask probing questions about our profit and loss, and identify areas to look into, further based on his expertise.”

The Vaughans are proud to say that they never borrowed any capital, yet have accomplished year-over-year growth since 2006. Anne Vaughan Designs is doing so well that Anne and Aaron are set to participate in a peer advisory group where they will pass on the lessons they have learned over the past 14 years to new start-ups and other businesses in the area. “I am excited to work with other small businesses in our community to help guide them in the same ways that the SBDC has helped us,” says Aaron.

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Box Office Brewery

Box office hit: Brewery wins big

Box Office Brewery created 43 jobs.

One of the most popular places in downtown Strasburg to grab a pint, catch the game, or listen to live music is Box Office Brewery, owned by Tom Price and Karl Roulston. But it was not always that way. Built in 1918, the spacious location at 177 East King Street was originally the Strand Theater, believed to be the first movie house in Shenandoah County.

The high, pressed-tin ceilings caught the eyes of Tom and Karl when they were scouting for a location. “When they visited the building, they knew the high ceiling would accommodate the brewing equipment,” explains Mary Price, Tom’s wife. They were eager to have a role in maintaining such a meaningful piece of community history. “It has been a gathering place since 1920,” Mary adds. “We are proud of the environment and space and what it has offered to the community.”

For Tom and Karl, the path into beer brewing was unexpected. Karl dabbled in home brewing but didn’t find real results until he started milling his own barley. Tom, on the other hand, had always considered himself a wine connoisseur. “The story all makes sense if you know what you’re looking for,” says Tom, a former engineer. “The whole brewing side — the design of the brew house and how it functions — is all engineering. The actual brewing process — how yeast converts sugar into alcohol — is all biology and chemistry.”

After they carefully and painstakingly turned their love of barley and hops into a marketable product, the pair decided to pull the trigger on the large downtown property. They approached Christine Kriz, Director of the Lord Fairfax SBDC for help. “The SBDC was a key resource for assisting us with building a business model that we could use to get financing. They also provided resources and templates when it came time to fulfill our human resource needs and hire staff,” says Mary. “Christine Kriz was always available. When we contacted her, she was always quick to respond.” With the help of the SBDC, Tom and Karl were able to secure a major investment to help fully renovate the building while maintaining several of the original murals.

Since opening last year, Box Office Brewery has hired over 20 additional staff members including a head brewer and head chef. They received numerous local accolades including the Northern Virginia Daily’s Best of 2019 for beer selection/restaurant, beer selection/retail, and best Brewery and Sports Bar. Thanks to the strong business plan and strategy developed with Christine and the Lord Fairfax SBDC, Box Office Brewery is a hit.

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Silver Knights Enrichment

Checkmate: Chess is key to success for Fairfax business

This year, Silver Knights’ sales have almost doubled, and it has created 100 new part-time jobs.

While many people enjoy a good game of chess, few people ever dream of making it their profession. But that’s exactly what Adam Weissbarth, founder of Silver Knights Enrichment, did. “I always loved playing chess,” Adam explains. “In 2004 when I was a graduate student in statistics in Seattle, I began coaching chess at a local elementary school. I not only enjoyed the coaching, but I quickly realized, once I saw the flyer and did some quick math, that I could be teaching and administering the class, too,” Adam adds.

Adam began intensive market research to find out what parts of the country would be best suited to supporting an after-school chess-enrichment program. The research took Adam from Arizona to Philadelphia and ultimately to Fairfax, where Adam connected with the Mason SBDC and Director Timm Johnson. “Timm is always available to help me figure out if an idea is good or not,” Adam says.

Today, Silver Knights Enrichment teaches students in approximately 300 schools. In addition to chess, they offer coding and LEGO robotics, and have a staff of over 100 chess and STEM instructors throughout the DMV area. This growth partly resulted from the assistance of Timm and the Mason SBDC team. The SBDC team actively works with Adam in recruiting qualified chess and STEM coaches, plus they also help deal with the HR intricacies involved with such a large, remote, contract staff.

Adam has developed a robust quality-control process for all instructors that involves plenty of feedback between instructors and office staff. “The quality of the classes we offer is probably the most important thing to us,” Adam says. “We are really bothered if something doesn’t go right with a class. We’ve worked hard to develop a detailed check-in process for the coaches to make sure we maintain the highest level of quality.”

Timm and the Mason SBDC team recently helped Adam acquire Enrichment Matters, a company that assists Adam with handling the administrative back-end of holding classes in such a large number of schools. Although acquiring a new company has not been without challenges, Silver Knights Enrichment has experienced phenomenal growth since coming to Virginia — surging from 44 jobs in 2013 to 290 in 2019 and over 700% in sales growth in the same period.

Despite his background in statistics, when Adam looks at Silver Knights Enrichment, he doesn’t see numbers. “I’m a math and chess nerd who also loves kids,” Adam says. “We have people who were students in our classes who are now aids and coaches. Watching people get new skills and confidence is what I love the most about what I do.”

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Thyme in a Basket

Timely connections with the SBDC

A new website and increased social media marketing have increased sales. Melissa also carries the work of other artists and Thyme in a Basket is now on the River to Bay Artisan Trail.

The song may be “Time in a Bottle,” but Melissa Foster felt thyme in a basket was a more viable option.

Melissa has been making baskets since 1992. “When the Bay School Community Arts Center of Mathews County was founded in 1997, I was one of its first instructors,” she explains. Melissa continued to teach novice weavers over the next 20 years. “I also did craft shows — as many as 11 a summer,” she recalls. “Putting up and taking down took a lot of time, so I just decided to open my own store.” In June 2014, Melissa opened Thyme in a Basket in Tappahannock. “I was also into herbs, so the name just seemed to fit,” she says.

A few years ago, a friend told Melissa about the University of Mary Washington SBDC in Warsaw. Although Melissa had started her business on her own, she felt the time was right for some expert business advice. “I decided to go,” she says. She attended a Small Business Roundtable where business owners meet in a facilitated discussion format. “Through the roundtable meetings, I met SBDC Director Joy Corprew and Client Relations Specialist Bonnie Haywood,” Melissa adds. “That’s when I knew that the SBDC was there to help me.”

The first order of business was a user-friendly web site. “The SBDC helped me with the design process and gave me some advice on Facebook and social media marketing,” she notes. “With Joy and Bonnie’s help, I’ve learned a lot about the new ways people shop.” Since Melissa is currently the only Thyme in a Basket employee, the SBDC roundtable discussions were especially helpful. “Getting to know other business people in the area and learning how we could work together was a big help,” she adds.

Melissa now displays the work of other local artists in her gift shop, and her inventory has grown to include jewelry, home décor, women’s accessories, books, art, and gourmet food. “I find things that will make you feel good and encourage you to take care of yourself,” she adds. Feeling good about business, Melissa found, is also important. “At the SBDC I took a class on financial records and bookkeeping, and I’ve learned about building a brand and the story you need to tell about your business,” she adds.

Overall Melissa is pleased with the help she has received from the SBDC. “They helped me to be a better businessperson, which should help my business grow,” she says. “Just knowing that the SBDC is there helps a lot. I know if I go to them with a question, they’ll give me good advice.”

Melissa is happy to recommend the SBDC to others. “It has been very helpful to me,” she concludes. “They know how to point you in the right direction.”  

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KJ’s Cake Creations

KJ’s finds a recipe for success

KJ’s Cake Creations opened at the end of 2017, with a $7,500 grant and $10,000 owner investment; 3 jobs have been created.

LaKisha Jackson does not believe in giving up. When she was laid off from her job in 2009, LaKisha didn’t despair; she made cakes instead. Now she has her own business on South Boston’s Main Street.

“My aunt got me into cake decorating,” LaKisha say,. “and I took four courses to be certified.” For the past eight years, LaKisha has been making a name for herself – KJ’s Cake Creations – selling cakes and other baked goods from her home.

“Last year a friend asked if I’d heard about the SoBo Start Up program,” LaKisha continues. She filled out an application and started attending the classes taught by Lin Hite, Director of the Longwood University SBDC – Western Region.

“A lot of different people came in to talk about starting a business from the ground up — all the things you needed to know,” LaKisha says. “They gave us analytics that showed what competition we would have. They talked about how we could reach people in our area and how to target them.”

Preparing a business plan was another important component of the class. “The SBDC has a packet for doing a business plan,” LaKisha explains. “It was pretty much self-explanatory and a big help.”

With funding from the SoBo Start Up grant award, LaKisha was able start her business without additional financing. Her family pitched in to transform a former tattoo parlor/beauty salon into a bakery. “If I purchase the building, then I will need to obtain financing,” she adds. “And, if I do purchase, I would fix up the second and third levels and rent it out for meetings and conferences,” she adds.

LaKisha, who uses family recipes and does all the baking herself, depends on customer feedback to fill her display cases every day. “I didn’t think my business would take off like it did,” she notes. “There’s been some days we’ve sold out by 5 o’clock.”

“Lin Hite is a big asset,” she says. “He will just pop in and ask, ‘How are things going? Do you need any help?’ I’m very appreciative of that.” LaKisha doesn’t hesitate to tell others about the SBDC. “I highly recommend them,” she concludes. “The SBDC is a good backbone for your business. They’ll get you headed in the right direction, and with the SBDC you don’t have to fight the battles by yourself.”  

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Premier Pediatric Therapy Source

Problem solved: Private practice takes big steps

Premier Pediatric Therapy created 3 new jobs and exceeded their previous yearly sales by 21%.

Where many might see problems, Debbie Allen, owner and clinical director of Premier Pediatric Therapy Source in Alexandria, sees only new ways to succeed.

Debbie founded her private practice in 2011 to offer the best therapeutic resources available for children. While living in California, she helped her employer create an occupational and physical therapy department from scratch. “That job inspired me to start my own practice and build it in a way that allowed me to stay true to what I value as an occupational therapist and how I wanted children and families to be served,” Debbie says.

And that’s just what she did when she moved to Virginia and started Premier Pediatric Therapy Source. The group includes speech pathologists, occupational and physical therapists, and a registered dietitian, who all work with special-needs children in Northern Virginia. Debbie, who holds a doctoral degree in occupational therapy from the University of Southern California, is passionate about making a positive impact on her clients. “I believe the families we serve sense our motivation not only in me, but in my team as well,” Debbie adds.

In 2016, Debbie joined the Business Incubation Center at the Community Business Partnership (CBP), that offers offices to startups and entrepreneurs, along with business assistance and resources. It was here that she connected with the SBDC at CBP. 

“The SBDC has helped me in every area of my practice,” Debbie says. “I use their counseling services religiously, because my practice is constantly evolving. I’m entering into unchartered territory, and I know someone in the SBDC can always help me navigate or at least find me someone who can. They have helped me with HR issues, financial projections to plan for future growth, contracts and lease proposals, hiring interviews, marketing, and so much more,” Debbie adds.

All the help paid off magnificently. In 2017, Premier Pediatric Therapy Source launched an outpatient program and opened a clinic in Alexandria. “This program took off much faster than I anticipated,” Debbie says. “It’s been exciting to see so many children being served who are benefiting from our services. In early 2019 we are moving into a larger clinic, because we’ve outgrown the one we are currently in,” she adds.

“The SBDC counselors and volunteers have been instrumental in helping me increase my knowledge and confidence in business ownership,” Debbie says. “Because of their guidance, I’m confident my practice is heading in the right direction.”

Looking back over the last seven years, Debbie feels a deep sense of pride in the steady growth that Premier Pediatric Therapy Source has maintained. Even with 10 full- and part-time employees and sales figures already nearly a third higher than the previous year, Debbie remains unwavering in the vision that started it all. “I think when you’re motivated to make a difference in someone’s life, people are naturally drawn to you, and we have certainly seen that by the amount of referrals we receive on a weekly basis.”

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