Category: Sales & Marketing

Knead Bread

Knead Bread

Adding SBDC to the mix brings rising sales to Knead Bread

Opened brick-and-mortar location in 2023; expanded business to 10 employees.

Lenora Schmecko and her brother, Vincenzo Mazzone, opened Knead Bread in Winchester in May 2023 as a labor of love, bringing their lifelong passion for baking to the masses. But just as even the most well-kneaded bread will not rise without yeast, Lenora and Vincenzo knew they needed one final ingredient to make their bakery grow.

Enter the Laurel Ridge SBDC.

“Retail was a new concept for us,” Lenora says. “We needed advice, so we contacted the SBDC and met with Dale Maza, a Marketing Advisor. He helped with a business plan and provided analytics and projections. By the time we opened, we knew what to expect.”

Lenora and Vincenzo originally launched their business as an in-home wholesale bakery in Louisa County, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to cut the venture short…or so they thought. That delay turned out to give the business “proofing time,” and the brother-sister tandem opened Knead Bread’s brick-and-mortar location on May 20, 2023.

Sales quickly exceeded expectations as word spread about the new bakery featuring artisan breads and sweets.

“Business was a lot better than we thought it would be,” Lenora says. “In May and June, we were selling out by noon. We needed to hire more staff.”

Along with staffing resources, the SBDC suggested website and social media contacts. Currently Knead Bread has 10 employees and is looking to expand.

“The SBDC’s been with us every step of the way,” Lenora says. “They made everything a lot easier.”

Lenora believes every small business should start with a trip to the SBDC.

“The SBDC offers professional resources at no cost to you,” she concluded. “It’s worth it to reach out to the SBDC. They have a wealth of information and will use it to steer you in the right direction.”

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SBDC’s business know-how + creativity = Jpixx success

Utilized the SBDC to help with increase sales, define costs, and talent development.

Teviya and Jon Abrahams rely on creativity. It’s the foundation of Jpixx, the creative video agency the couple spearheaded in Virginia Beach in 2013.

Jpixx started ten years ago when video had just become a necessary tool all the way down to the local level, so they did not need heavy sales to get going. However, when the COVID pandemic allowed for forced downtime, Teviya relied on her creative instincts and contacted the Hampton Roads SBDC.

“I reached out to the SBDC to build our business knowledge,” Teviya says. “We were experts in our field, but we learned about running a business as we went along.”

By that point, Teviya and Jon’s team had already produced thousands of videos, traveled the world, and built an impressive roster of clients, including government contracts. But it was a pivotal time to leverage the experience they had gained over the years.

SBDC Business Analyst Bill Holloran helped Teviya and Jon gain perspective and realize what would help cinch up their business processes and structure to grow more mindfully.

“Bill got to know how we run our business,” Jon relates. “He gave us confidence in areas we were excelling in and suggested other areas to adjust and points to consider.”

“One of our favorite projects is a video about booster seat safety that went viral with over 20 million views,” Jon says. “Knowing we could reach so many parents all over the world and actually save lives was a huge moment for us. Reframing our thinking with the SBDC, we now like to use this to help others understand the impact of video marketing. It became fuel for us to define what projects and goals to focus on going forward.”

“Bill helped with increasing sales, defining costs, and talent development for our staff,” Teviya says. “He helped us prioritize growth options and the delineation of duties for us as owners.”

“When soft-launching a new website, Bill compiled notes from professionals and business students, making our website more effective for future clients,” Teviya mentions.

Jpixx has grown to 12 staff and counting. They produce commercials, but are particularly adept with 3 – 5 minute videos that tell in-depth, complex stories. “Jpixx is stellar at making the viewer feel as if they are in the room to experience it firsthand. So many things in life cannot be communicated or understood fully in writing,” Teviya says. “That visual element is crucial, and we love being a part of that.”

Capture Life Creatively is the motto Jpixx began with, and it’s still prevalent today. Teviya is so very grateful she got in touch with the SBDC. “It is invaluable to have a reliable and trustworthy resource to learn from, whether it is the very helpful SBDC webinar library or our very own mentor, Bill, to reach out to throughout the year.”

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Corgi Clay Arts Center

Corgi Clay Art Center

The SBDC helps bring ceramic arts to Stafford

Secured a $150,000 small business loan and received marketing advice and business education.

Debra Balestreri, a former director at the Lorton Workhouse Arts Center and adjunct professor at University of Mary Washington, decided to step into the small business world in 2019. Unfortunately, that first step began in the midst of a global pandemic.

“It wasn’t intentional to start Corgi Clay LLC in a pandemic,” she says.

Debra has learned, as an artist, that perseverance is key to turning a work in progress into a work of art. For her, the complete picture she envisioned was turning her successful web-based pottery business, Corgi Clay LLC, into a brick-and-mortar space dedicated to teaching the ceramic arts.

Following a 2021 crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $40,000 in pledges, Debra turned her attention to securing additional funding to put the finishing touches on her burgeoning business.

“I knew I would need more than crowdfunding, so I reached out to the University of Mary Washington SBDC and was connected with SBDC Advisor Angie Kelley,” Debra relates. “Angie connected me directly to the Bank of Charleston that represents the Small Business Administration.”

That connection netted Debra a small business loan for $150,000, which allowed her to further her goals for Corgi Clay.

“The SBDC gave me a lot of good advice on financials,” Debra adds. “I didn’t study business in school, so I took the SBDC’s advice and hired an accountant.”

The SBDC provided Debra with more than funding advice. Angie and her team also provided marketing advice, business education and professional growth opportunities.

“The SBDC was awesome to send me links to free workshops,” Debra notes. “I stay in touch with them on all the things that pop up for a new business owner.”

On September 23, 2023, Debra unveiled Corgi Clay Art Center’s studio to the public.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the SBDC,” Debra adds. “Starting a new business is a lot to take on. The SBDC helped me through the details and put my mind at ease.”

Debra recently recommended the SBDC to a local friend who runs a farmer’s market.

“My advice to any other business owner is simple,” Debra concludes. “Don’t try to do it on your own — go to the SBDC.”

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Marie’s Hair and Nail Supply

Marie’s Hair & Nail Supply

The SBDC builds on a dream for Marie’s Hair & Nail Supply

Earned approval for a $10,000 business loan; set up and received an $8,500 Kiva loan.

Tawann Scott always dreamed of being a business owner. When she discovered a need in Richmond’s Southside and Northside communities, she found her niche — a beauty supply store for African American customers. When she discovered the Capital Region SBDC, she turned her dream into a sustainable reality.

“After years of going to stores for products for my kinky hair, I wanted to pursue my dream of opening a beauty supply store,” states Tawann, a Southside Richmond native.

Tawann’s beauty supply store was self-funded from the start, but with one daughter in college, another planning a wedding, and widespread economic complications from the COVID pandemic, she was forced to push back her original opening timeline. However, an unwavering commitment to her vision allowed her to persevere and open the doors to Marie’s Hair & Nail Supply in October 2021.

And while that grand opening was a major milestone for a first-time business owner, it had an even bigger impact that led to introductions to the Metro Business League (MBL) and, later, the Capital SBDC.

Initially, the MBL helped Tawann secure a “KIVA” loan of $8,500 made up of contributions from unknown individuals, including family members. When she began working with SBDC Assistant Director Charese Chambers soon after, she gained access to more funding opportunities and, equally important, guidance on the next steps to take for her burgeoning business.

“From the start, Charese was on it,” Tawann recalls. “When she gave me an assignment, I knew I had to do it.”

Charese started by updating Tawann’s Quickbooks account, which included categorizing transactions dating back to 2021 and organizing her accounts. That provided Tawann with the necessary documentation to apply for a business loan of $10,000 through Bridging Virginia. Along with additional guidance from Bridging Virginia’s Michelle Jones, Tawann was approved for the loan.

“Thank the Lord for Charese,” Tawann adds.

From there, Charese and Tawann set their sights on marketing, beginning with a flyer for a braider. The response prompted Tawann to expand Marie’s Hair & Nail Supply’s offerings, which now includes two stylists who rent space in the store.

Tawann credits the SBDC for helping her business grow.

“The SBDC will shoot it to you straight,” Tawann concludes. “To me, SBDC is a necessity — as a small business owner, you need that support,”

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J.C. Spare Parts

J.C. Spare Parts & Consulting

From Colombia to Pulaski — Greater Roanoke & NRV SBDC paves the way for JC Spare Parts’ success

Started their business after receiving her E-2 Visa; increased employees from one to eight; increased repeat customers from one to five, sales grew 800%.

For 25 years in their native Colombia, Jeniffer Sanchez and her husband Juan Carlos Correa owned a successful machinery parts manufacturing business. When they decided to move to Virginia and replant their entrepreneurial roots stateside, a partnership with the Greater Roanoke + New River Valley SBDC was crucial in helping them establish a new business venture.

“As a Colombian I had to start from scratch in the US,” Jeniffer says. “I found the SBDC online and made an appointment with Tom Tanner.”

Working with Tom, an SBDC Business Advisor, Jeniffer found help for everything she needed to open J.C. Spare Parts and Consulting. That process started with acquiring a specific work visa and continued with financial projections, capital formation, and marketing – all of which the SBDC assisted with.

“I came to the US with a tourist visa,” Jeniffer says. “Tom helped me with the business plan I needed to apply for the E-2 visa that allows me and the three technicians I brought from Colomba to work in the USA.”

The SBDC also connected Jeniffer with key educational resources, like SBDC marketing webinars, and profit and budget forecasting and management.

After laying those early foundations, Jeniffer followed Tom’s guidance and began networking within the new community she and her husband now called home. That included joining the Pulaski Chamber of Commerce, Pulaski County Innovation center and connecting with local manufacturing groups.

In May 2020, JC Spare Parts and Consulting officially opened for business. In the three-plus years since, the company has expanded its services by offering Class A electrical installations to its existing services of providing industrial parts, sharpening, and maintenance services.

That growth has been sustained by the formation of a large repeat client base that has grown from one to five clients from multiple states, and a team that has grown from one employee to eight and its sales grew 800% in just two years.

“The SBDC supported us the whole way,” Jeniffer concludes. “Pulaski is projected to grow, and we want to be part of that growth. With SBDC, we believe we can do it.”

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Afton Scientific

Afton Scientific

Afton Scientific expands international foothold with SBDC as a guide

Expanded business to two international markets, Germany and the United Kingdom. 

With an established business, high-quality products, and sound processes, Charlottesville-based pharmaceutical contract manufacturer Afton Scientific, a 30-year-old business, was primed for growth.

Afton Scientific was seeking information on expanding their existing export efforts in the international pharmaceutical marketplace. Specifically, they wanted to develop a plan to gain a greater footing in traditional direct sales to customers as well a tap into and maximize e-commerce sales. Marketing Sales Manager Katherine Brandt and Business Development Specialist TJ Kliefoth turned to the Virginia SBDC Network where they connected with Senior International Trade Specialist Dulce Zahniser and the Virginia SBDC’s International Business Development (IBD) office.

Afton Scientific had long excelled as a manufacturer of pre-sterilized vials and small-batch filling of pharmaceutical products but faced a different set of challenges in expanding their export target market. The SBDC’s IBD programming is tailor-made for businesses like Afton, providing training, resources, and contacts for everything from distribution to region and industry-specific regulations.

“The SBDC initiated a three-part IBD program for us,” Katherine says. “We needed assistance with market research and export regulations.”

That program included participating in the International E-Commerce Program/Accelerator, Trade Compliance Cohort, and International Business Plan Cohort.

“During that program, the SBDC gave specific feedback,” TJ notes. “For example, the E-Commerce Program showed us how to move our inbound marketing strategy to a more strategic outbound marketing with websites in target market areas.”

Following that advice, Afton established websites in Germany and the United Kingdom, which lead to an increase in Afton’s presence in those two international markets.

“These websites helped us reach potential new customers,” TJ says. “The SBDC’s advice definitely paid off for us.”

The International Business Plan Cohort offered additional guidance and mapped out specific steps, goals, and metrics for the expansion.

“Our marketing strategies have been very reactive in the past and this helped us become more proactive,” TJ notes. “Walking through the business plan process with experts was very helpful.”

Afton also took advantage of the IBD’s International Trade Research to explore target markets. This was especially crucial for Afton, whose industry includes an array of highly-specific consumer needs and heavy regulations that vary by country and region.

“We’re not a typical retailer,” Katherine relates. “Our target customers range from small biotechs to large pharmaceutical companies, research labs, hospitals, and universities.”

The IBD Program’s market research helped find those international customers. Employment numbers at Afton Scientific have increased from 50 to 85, which has helped the business meet the increased demand from the international expansion.

“Dulce has been phenomenal and is always there when we need advice,” Katherine says.

“We love working with the SBDC,” TJ adds. “We had heard about the SBDC but had no idea they offered so many programs at no cost. We’re so glad they found us!”

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Reflections Image Center and Skincare Institute

The SBDC combines beauty with business for Reflections Image success

Received a Rebuild Virginia Grant; an Economic Injury Disaster Loan; doubled staff; increased revenue by 20%.

LaSondra Gray, owner of Reflections Image Center and Skincare Institute in Leesburg, Virginia, believes beauty is more than skin deep. With the support and guidance from the Loudoun SBDC, her business continues to successfully grow and flourish based on that belief.

“Reflections Image Center takes a holistic and integrative approach to aesthetics and wellness,” she explains. “It’s in our slogan — Healthy Skin Within: Look Good, Feel Good.”

Previously a licensed quality auditor in the corporate workforce and business management consultant, LaSondra developed an interest in the medical spa business 20 years ago and never looked back. She celebrates the 10-year success of Reflections.

“I wanted to get into something to make a difference,” she says. “It started when my son’s doctor asked if I would take a quality control look at his practice. I really enjoyed adding my skills to a profession that made people look and feel better.”

When she discovered the Loudoun SBDC a few years ago, LaSondra experienced her own feel-better moment. Her initial contact, Loudoun SBDC Director Eric Byrd, connected her with a team of advisors, including Business Advisor Subodh Nayar.

“Subodh is amazing,” LaSondra adds. “He’s committed to making sure my business is successful — that means a lot.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, SBDC resources were especially helpful.

“I received a Rebuild Virginia Grant and Economic Injury Disaster Loan,” she says. “The SBDC team helped keep my business going during the pandemic.”

LaSondra did not idle during her COVID shutdown; she used the time to develop a virus-fighting product line.

“The SBDC connected me to the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), and I was able to get my product out to local hospitals,” she explains. “Our product concept was selected for invitation to the National Science Foundation’s Project Pitch.”

The SBDC also assisted with marketing.

“The SBDC helped me take baby steps into digital marketing,” says LaSondra. “Our Purity Kit products developed during the pandemic will soon be available to the public.”

LaSondra is enthusiastic about continued partnership with the SBDC. With its guidance, the Reflections Image Center has doubled its staff and increased revenue by 20 percent.

“The SBDC is an amazing resource,” she concludes. “It makes sense to capitalize on that experience to help your business grow.”

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Dinamic Cuts

Dinamic Cuts

From old school to top of the class with the SBDC

Received $13,000 in grants; created 1 job.

Diane Madden began her career as a hair stylist going door-to-door with a portable hair dryer.

“I was laughed at, but I was determined,” she recalls.

However, those early difficulties helped Diane strengthen her resolve, and in 1995 she opened her hair and barber salon, Dinamic Cuts, with little more than word-of-mouth advertising and determination.

“I was old school,” says Diane, who recalled that her salon didn’t even have a phone when she first launched.

Diane’s relationship-driven business model survived for decades through personal grit, but in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to close. However, that setback proved temporary, as Diane tapped into her personal fortitude and took steps to reopen, including advising from the Shenandoah Valley SBDC.

“That’s when I met Business Advisor Diane McCarthy,” Diane Madden relates. “I needed to connect with someone who saw my vision; Diane [McCarthy] really did.”

With updated business tools and techniques, McCarthy took Diane’s business from old school to top of the class in two years. First, McCarthy helped Diane acquire a small local grant to purchase touchless soap, sanitizer and towel dispensers. Next, the SBDC offered Diane support to apply for a Comcast RISE grant.

“The RISE grant gave me $10,000 that provided a desktop computer, a year of internet service, two phone lines, a fax line and iPad,” Diane says. “I also got a Square POS system to take card payments and manage sales, inventory and appointments.”

The SBDC offered more ideas on updating the salon, including lighting and a new sign. Diane procured another local grant – for $3,000, awarded in September 2022 – that she will use for the new outdoor sign.

With help from McCarthy and the SBDC’s webinars, Diane learned how to build a website and market on social media. McCarthy also helped restructure Dinamic Cuts into an LLC.

“When I got my computer, Diane [McCarthy] sat down with me and showed me how to use it,” Diane relates. “I keep all the webinars so I can review them. If you take the knowledge presented and apply it, things will happen for your business.”

Previously the sole employee at Dinamic Cuts, Diane recently added a barber. Her optimism, paired with the SBDC’s expertise, point toward the hiring of new employees in the near future.

“I’m living testimony to what the SBDC can do,” Diane concludes. “Help is there at the SBDC. All you have to do is listen — and not give up!”

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Blue Dragon

Blue Dragon Publishing, LLC

The Virginia SBDC salutes Small Business Veteran of the Year

When the Virginia SBDC Small Business Veteran of the Year Award was established 22 years ago, the SBDC had someone like Dawn Brotherton in mind — a veteran whose business ownership has made a significant contribution to the economy and a difference in the community.

Comments Jolie Spiers, Executive Director of the Hampton Roads SBDC, made during the 2022 Virginia SBDC Veteran of the Year presentation, summed up the award’s criteria.

“Dawn Brotherton, owner of Blue Dragon Publishing, is a decorated veteran,” the SBDC Director noted. “She is also a distinguished business owner and a dedicated citizen of Hampton Roads who supports our community organizations.”

As an employer, Blue Dragon Publishing, LLC., is a certified Virginia Values Veterans (V3) company and champions hiring veterans. She takes on interns through the Department of Defense SkillBridge Program, the College of William and Mary, Christopher Newport University, and James Madison University. Dawn also supports community organizations such as the summer reading program in Newport News; Bacon Street Youth and Family Services; Williamsburg Book Festival; Richmond Book Lovers’ Festival; and Rappahannock Writers’ Conference.

Dawn, who retired as an Air Force colonel, transitioned into the publishing business in 2010 for a practical reason — she wrote a book and wanted to publish it.

“During my first duty assignment in the Air Force, a stalker broke into my house,” she explains.

That experience inspired Dawn’s first book, The Obsession, which sparked the start of her publishing business. She didn’t want to simply self-publish; she wanted to create professionally published books. The recent release of her fifteenth book attests to the focus on professionalism and shows how much her company has grown since she launched it more than a decade ago.

“A few years after I started my company, people started coming to me for advice,” she notes. “When I decided to take on clients, that’s when I went to the SBDC.”

“Once a month, an SBDC advisor came to the Williamsburg Launch Pad, a place dedicated to working with new business owners,” Dawn recalls. “It was really helpful to bounce ideas around with him.”

Those idea sessions bounced back with benefits.

“To date, I’ve helped over 80 authors through Blue Dragon,” Dawn says.

When Dawn was ready to expand, she went back to the Hampton Roads SBDC for advice. They talked her through the paperwork required for payroll and best hiring practices.

“When COVID hit, I decided to shift gears and offer coaching to people who wanted to publish instead,” she relates. “I don’t have a marketing background and honestly hated that part of the business. Now I’m having much more fun helping writers become authors.”

Combining her coaching skills with her military background, Dawn recently launched a new project on behalf of the Women Veterans Alliance titled “Sisters in Arms: Inspiring Future Generations.” Dawn says the goal of the anthology is to inspire women veterans to share their experiences with women joining or considering joining the military.

For the writers, it’s about more than getting published. It’s about learning how to be an author, and that includes working with a writers’ group to give and receive feedback.

“Being part of a team is an absolute requirement,” she says.

From her time in the Air Force to her work with the SBDC, a team-centered approach has been a constant throughout Dawn’s career. It’s a valuable asset, Dawn says, and one she encourages others to pursue.

“I’ve recommended the SBDC many times,” she concludes. “The SBDC is a great resource when you need them.”

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LAT Dentistry

LAT Dentistry

LAT Dentistry inspires healthy smiles with a little guidance from the SBDC

Received $550,000 in loans; created 1 part-time and 2 full-time jobs.

In March of 2022, LAT Dentistry opened its doors to a purposefully different dental experience in Roanoke. Since the practice’s beginnings, founder and dentist Dr. Lindsay Thorn set a vision: to make every patient feel heard. Her intentional, personalized approach puts relationships at the heart of her business, empowering patients to take control of their long-term wellness.

“I’d worked at a handful of different offices, and I just realized that I had more to offer,” Lindsay says. “I wanted to spend more time with people to get to know them and not feel so rushed. I got to a point where I was like, I really think that there’s a different way to go about delivering dentistry.”

With more than a decade of experience, a DMD in dentistry, a master’s degree in microbiology and immunology, and a bachelor’s in chemistry, Lindsay possesses a wealth of professional knowledge. As she began to navigate the complex process of launching a small business, a friend introduced Lindsay to Roanoke Regional SBDC Advisor Tom Tanner, who helped her begin a new journey of entrepreneurship.

“Tom walked me through every step of the process and made it feel easy and simple,” says Lindsay. “He was also really good about putting me in touch with other local business owners.”

Tom helped her find an appropriate location and analyze demographics. He introduced Lindsay to Roanoke’s small-business network, including real estate brokers and marketing professionals. The SBDC completed a complete review of LAT Dentistry’s social media campaigns and mailers, which was crucial for business growth.

“The marketing team connected us to similar businesses so that we could see what they had done,” Lindsay explains. “Our initial influx of patients were people that followed us on social media. Now, most of our new patients come from Google reviews.”

Today LAT Dentistry treats between 30 and 40 patients per week. With one part-time and two full-time employees, Lindsay built a practice committed to increasing accessibility to dental care, especially for families. Her SMILE club membership offers all-inclusive preventative care, lower rates for children, and a 10% discount on additional services.

While Lindsay acknowledges that starting a small business has been a massive undertaking, feedback from her patients confirms her decision on a daily basis.

“Hearing them say that they really feel heard and cared about — not just pushed through — has been really affirming,” she explains.

With LAT Dentistry now thriving, Lindsay consults Tom and the SBDC on an as-needed basis. She has also referred her husband, who is in the process of launching his own small business in commercial construction, to the SBDC.

“I have friends who have gone through starting their own businesses and practices in other parts of the country, and I can’t tell you how much they’ve paid for legal counsel and other things that the SBDC provided for free,” says Lindsay.

She recommends the SBDC wholeheartedly, “It’s a major gem that’s hidden in the state of Virginia that everyone should know about.”

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