Category: Restaurant & Retail

Lizzy Lou Boutique

Lizzy Lou Boutique

College dream becomes downtown success

Lizzy Lou Boutique grew from an online-only store to a profitable brick-and-mortar store with 2 part-time employees in only 2 years. 

The Lizzy Lou Boutique in Danville’s River District started with a plan Sarah Rodden wrote while studying at Virginia Tech. “I was taking a small-business class my last semester, and we had to write a business plan for opening a small store front,” she says.

Sarah graduated with a degree in communications and apparel product development. Facing a difficult job market, she remembered her plan.

She started with an online boutique that she operated from home on nights and weekends. “I did a few trunk shows and my customer base grew,” she adds. Sarah wanted to bring the latest style in women’s apparel and accessories to Danville at an affordable price.

In 2015, Sarah opened a storefront on Main Street in Danville. “The building was an empty shell. I put up the racks and lighting and planned the layout,” she said. “I still sell online, but most of my business is in-store. I’ve found that customers prefer to touch and feel — and try things on.”

“My business grows every year,” she said. “The tremendous growth of River District Association over the last two years has helped. It’s great when we all work together. For example, if all the stores decide to stay open at night, downtown becomes more of a shopping destination. We emphasize the ‘shop local’ aspect.”

It was through the River District Association that Sarah connected with Lin Hite from the Longwood SBDC and Marc Willson, Virginia SBDC’s Retail and Restaurant Consultant. The Association had contacted the SBDC to work with downtown merchants in Danville. “We each got an hour to spend with Lin and Marc and bounce ideas off them,” Sarah added.

Lin and Marc have gone back to meet with Sarah, discussing marketing strategies and even social media marketing. “It has all been so helpful,” says Sarah.

“The people I meet in my store make this job fun. I have amazing employees and customers,” Sarah says. “I’m glad I took a chance and opened my business in Danville. I feel blessed to have this opportunity.” She believes advice is also important. “Have a plan and have it evaluated by a professional,” Sarah concludes. “The SBDC is definitely a good resource.”

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JRs Music & More

Jr’s Music Store & More

Jr's strikes a chord

Jr and Toni, strong community supporters, won 2 grants worth $6,000.

Jr’s Music Store & More began with a dream. Today, through Lloyd France, Jr.’s hard work, it offers everything from instrument rentals to sound system support. “I’ve loved music all my life,” Jr says. “Coming up in school, I played drums in the band and sang in the choir.” Along with his parents, Jr sang in The Family Five Gospel. “The group is special because his grandparents started it 72 years ago,” says Toni, Jr’s wife.

Jr knew the retail music business; he worked for ten years at Woodall’s Music. “I was a sales rep and did guitar repairs,” he notes. “When Sandy Woodall closed the business, I saw an opportunity and seized it.” Woodall’s Music provided band instruments for local schools, and Jr did not want that to stop now. “I wanted these kids to have the same chance I did,” he says.

Plans took shape when Jr met with Longwood SBDC Consultant Kelvin Perry. “Kelvin and I sat down one afternoon and discussed everything I wanted to do,” Jr says. “The second time we met, we started putting plans into action. I worked with Kelvin for about four months.”

Jr attended an SBDC small business class taught by Kelvin at Patrick Henry Community College. “I learned about keeping financial records and how important growth is,” Jr says. “They told us to keep inventory low at first. If you don’t plan carefully, uncontrolled inventory can take you out of business.” Kelvin helped Jr craft a business plan, and his assistance paid off. Since opening, Jr’s customer base has grown.

Jr and Toni also participated in the SmartSTART program offered through Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation’s Small Business Division. “We received two grants through that program that came to about $6,000,” Toni notes. “That was very helpful.”

From the beginning, being helpful hit the right chord with Jr. “We want Jr’s Music to be a hands-on business,” he says. “It is family oriented; come in, sit down, try a guitar!” Jr’s offers sound system support to the local community. If a microphone goes out in church, Jr’s helps, often just before a service starts. Local schools depend on Jr’s for band instruments. Toni points to a display of clarinets, trumpets, and flutes. “We have affordable rent-to-own plans,” she adds. Jr’s also offers piano and guitar lessons for older students.

“Stop dreaming; start playing” is the store motto, which also applies to local recording artists. In the recording studio upstairs, people cut demos and CDs. Soon Jr’s Pickin’ Porch will open to local performers, and anyone who sings or plays is welcome. “For Christmas, we’ll plan a recital for our students,” Toni adds. “The whole purpose at Jr’s is sharing music,” Jr concludes. What more could anyone ask of a music store?

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Kylla Custom Rock Wear

Kylla Custom Rock Wear

Kylla Custom Rock Wear

The SBDC connected Kylla Custom Rock Wear with resources that helped with day-to-day operations and provided important information on customs and shipping overseas. Kylla currently has customers in 52 countries. 

Metal vocalist and designer Kim “Kylla” Dylla had a vision: start a business to dress her fellow musicians and entertainers with high-quality, yet affordable, stage wear. Today, that vision is alive and well at Kylla Custom Rock Wear.

“We create unique designs from salvaged, distressed, and reclaimed materials that echo our artists’ music,” Kylla explains. “Designed by an experienced touring musician, our jackets, vests, jeans, shirts, dresses, and accessories fill a unique niche in the rock fashion market.”

As Kylla Custom Rock Wear grew and issues about running a business emerged, Kylla visited Betty Hoge, Director of the Central Virginia SBDC in Charlottesville. “As an artisan who formed a startup business, shaping myself into an entrepreneur and connecting to others in my industry is challenging,” Kylla says.

Kylla had the additional challenge of shipping overseas to her worldwide customer base. Betty introduced her to the Virginia SBDC International Business Development Program and VITAL (Virginia International Trade Alliance). VITAL works with clients to develop export readiness and performance. “The advice from VITAL helped me avoid customs hassles and delays when sending important wardrobes for tours abroad,” Kylla says. “Now my international buyers have more confidence. I also feel confident in my ability to connect with and take on investment in the future.”

Betty also worked with her on the day-to-day tasks of running a business. She recommended some contacts and trade shows, helped expand the reach of Kylla’s website by using key words and search engine optimization techniques, found a manufacturer and distressing house, and taught her how to keep the books. “These steps took me leaps and bounds forward in my development of the new line,” Kylla attests.

Kylla concludes, “The SBDC has been immensely helpful in growing and progressing my business, and I have many new ideas to implement in the coming months.”

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Baby Change-n-go

Baby Change-N-Go

A change is gonna come

In addition to strategic marketing and development assistance from the SBDC, Baby Change-N-Go received help from the VITAL program to identify better efficiencies and cost savings for exporting, including the reduction of export shipping costs by 1/3 by using a specialist in small parcel shipping.

You are out and about with your baby, and it is time to change the diaper. You might find one of those changing tables in public restrooms, if you are lucky (and a woman, because there is almost never a changing table in the men’s room). Unfortunately, those well- used tables are teeming with bacteria and other nasty things. Thanks to two mompreneurs — and a little help from their mentors — an innovative product, Baby Change-N-Go, is putting many minds (and bottoms!) at ease.

“People were so frustrated, trying to find a safe, sanitary place to change a baby or a product that could fit in a diaper bag. But there was nothing out there,” says Mahnaz Moosa, Baby Change-N-Go co-founder and chief executive officer. “So we just sketched out a concept of a device that would fit over a door or side of a bathroom stall. Often we began to develop it.”

Mahnaz talked with safety experts, hazard experts, design engineers, child development experts, human behavior experts, and other parents to develop a unique product that fills a widespread, existing need. Often she talked with mentors at the Greater Richmond SBDC, which is directed by Greg Hofbauer. “The timing was perfect,” says Mahnaz, “because they offered just what we needed — expertise in branding and marketing, as well as a range of other issues.”

After launching, opportunities arose for international distribution of the Baby Change-N-Go product. Mahnaz and Brenda Lee Moosa, co-founder and chief operating officer, were referred to the Virginia SBDC International Business Development Program and VITAL.

VITAL (Virginia International Trade Alliance) works with clients to develop actionable market intelligence and research to improve export readiness and performance. Aaron Miller, International Trade Manager for the Virginia SBDC, explains, “Through VITAL, we helped them create export documentation and identify inefficiencies and cost savings. We provided translations of marketing material into Portuguese and Spanish. We obtained a grant to cover the cost of exhibiting at an international trade show and delivered a market report with demographic information applicable to Baby Change-N- Go’s target market.”

“We were very fortunate to have found the Greater Richmond SBDC. We have worked with outstanding mentors and even have an export plan,” says Mahnaz. “We wouldn’t have had such a smooth process without them,” Brenda adds.

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