Category: Sales & Marketing

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%.

https://reflectionsimagecenter.com/

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.”

Read More

Dinamic Cuts

From old school to top of the class with the SBDC

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

https://www.dinamiccuts.com/

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!”

Read More

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.”

Read More

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.

https://www.latdentistry.com/

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.”

Read More

Little Daydreamers

The SBDC helps children’s boutique turn play into profit

Doubled sales; created 3 jobs

Little Daydreamers LLC

Child’s play is not how most entrepreneurs describe a venture into the world of small business. However, Jade Murray turned child’s play into a winning strategy by opening a children’s boutique in January 2022. With guidance from the Virginia Highlands SBDC, Little Daydreamers has doubled sales and added three employees.

Jade started Little Daydreamers as an online storefront in 2019. When transitioning from online to a brick-and-mortar location, Jade chose to include an art room and play area. While moms’ shop, kids can enjoy a playroom with a Jungle Jumparoo, slide, kitchen set, playhouse, tunnel, grocery store, LEGO bricks, and puzzles. There’s also an art room to inspire young artists.

“I saw a need for a place for kids to play and moms to socialize and have coffee while shopping,” Jade says. “When the space next door became available, we were able to expand even more.”

Jade began planning a new direction for her business in the summer of 2021 when she found the Virginia Highlands SBDC online and emailed Director Cindy Fields.

“We started meeting every week,” Jade relates. “Cindy helped find the right location and gave me a template for writing a business plan. She also helped with numbers on what I needed to make a profit.”

That advice paid off with a business loan used for purchases and to renovate her store. Marketing strategy was next on the list.

“We had a brainstorming meeting on targeting customers from groups like MOPS and home-schoolers,” Jade adds. “Cindy also suggested newspaper, radio ads, and flyers.”

Along with that traditional marketing outreach, Jade hosts special events at Little Daydreamers that have added to her customer base.

“We do a lot of birthday parties,” she says. “We also have character parties with characters from ‘Frozen’ and ‘Paw Patrol’ and employees who dress up as princesses and pose for photos.”

Fees charged for events add to store profits and customers tend to return after attending a function.

“Our children’s line is exclusive,” Jade explains. “You can’t find it anywhere else.”

Jade credits Cindy and the SBDC with much of her success.

“If Cindy can’t help, she’ll find someone who can,” Jade concludes. “The first thing I would say to anyone opening a business is: Call the SBDC!”

Read More

DBHomes4Hope

DBHomes4Hope renovates houses and realizes mission with the SBDC

Received $10,000 loan.

https://www.dbhomes4hope.com/

Davina and Danny Bare saw a need for housing during a visit to Lynchburg, and it spurred them to action. In June 2020, they launched DBHomes4Hope with assistance from the SBDC – Lynchburg Region.

“Housing has always been an interest,” Davina says. “The problem is the disparity in home ownership. My husband, a contractor, and myself, a former Army human resource officer, have the knowledge base to make homeownership happen.”

The first move for DBHomes4Hope was purchasing a fixer-upper house. The price tag was $7,000. Subsequently, they purchased a fire-damaged house for $5,000. Their goal is two-fold: renovate homes and guide clients toward home ownership.

A certified credit trainer, Davina started holding weekly counseling sessions with neighborhood residents.

“The focus was improving credit scores by budgeting and reducing debt,” she says. “Our goal – 80 percent home ownership – helps build up a community.”

To establish a solid business foundation, Davina turned to the SBDC, which connected her with Pinnacle Financial and enrolled her in the SBDC’s Start Smart Class. Pinnacle approved a $10,000 loan, and the Start Smart class helped her formulate a business plan.

“Everybody in Lynchburg, especially the SBDC, seemed willing to help,” she says. “SBDC Executive Director Stephanie Keener and SBDC Mentor Jamie Reynolds were great cheerleaders.”

To gain more business acumen, Davina joined the SBDC’s Business Game Plan Cohort.

“During the seven-week course, we talked about networking, funding, and entities needed for starting a business,” Davina notes. “Each step was a building block for the next thing.”

Over the past two years, the SBDC’s guidance helped DBHomes4Hope realize its mission.

“Our mission is to help families gain homes for generations,” Davina says. “DBHomes4Hope offers the whole journey to home ownership.”

The SBDC, she adds, helped make this journey possible.

“I’m seeing progress in the families we’re coaching and a sense of community — and we’re making a living,” Davina concludes. “The entity that brought it all together was the SBDC.”

Read More

Elite Culinary Staffing

Elite Culinary Staffing provides solutions for the hospitality industry with guidance from the SBDC

Received approximately $160,000 in grant funding; launched mobile app.

https://www.eliteculinarystaffing.com/

When employee call-outs left chef Jermaine Boothe short-staffed during a busy evening at the restaurant where he worked, he said to himself, “I wish there was someone I could call.”

“I wanted to create something where you have a bunch of professionals on call,” explains Jermaine.

Jermaine previously met Hampton Roads SBDC Assistant Director Debra Farley in 2012. As his vision of owning a restaurant shifted to staffing, he knew exactly whom to contact. With Debra’s help, he began planning his new venture.

“Debra has been there in every stage of my business and growth so far,” he says. “She knows my business inside and out.”

In 2013, Jermaine founded Elite Culinary Staffing, a temporary staffing agency. Elite Culinary seeks to meet the growing needs in the hospitality industry, and offers transitional job opportunities and skills training for military veterans, foster children aging out of the system, and formerly incarcerated individuals in the Hampton Roads area. In 2018, he expanded services, opening a training facility for hospitality professionals ranging from servers to small-business owners.

Since Elite Culinary launched, the SBDC has facilitated growth through one-on-one advising and workshops, and helped Jermaine with marketing strategies and insurance options. During the pandemic, Debra provided professional insight, keeping Jermaine up to date on available resources.

“I can Google things and take a shot in the dark, or I can contact Debra and say ‘this is what I’m looking for,’ and she will connect me with people I can trust,” Jermaine says. “Like many businesses, ours was adversely affected by the pandemic. Debra assisted me in pivoting. We began working on a mobile application, which connects employers to employees directly.”

With Debra’s help, Jermaine launched his staffing app in 2020. The SBDC also provided support for state and federal grant applications, resulting in approximately $160,000 in funding.

Looking to the future, Jermaine has big goals. He hopes to grow his mobile app to serve 10,000 users, secure more government contracts, and begin consistent workforce development and training in his new facility. He cites the SBDC’s professional network as the organization’s most valuable asset.

“As I grow and sustain my business, it’s so important to me that I have someone I can call that understands business — and most importantly, understands my business and can give me constructive advice,” says Jermaine. “I do and will refer people to the SBDC all the time.”

Read More

Toasters Deli

Toasters Deli serves up bagels and community with support from the SBDC

Raised $80,000 in capital; created 7 jobs and built a strong online presence.

https://www.toastersdeliva.com/

Growing up in the back of his dad’s Brooklyn pizzeria, Joe LaMonaca cultivated a taste for the culinary arts and close-knit relationships. Today, he’s brought an authentic, New York-style neighborhood deli to the small town of Hillsville, serving up delicious, scratch-made bagels with a heaping side of community.

Soon after launching Toasters Deli in April 2021, Joe sought marketing support from Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC Advisor Teresa Catron.

“We started to build a relationship,” Joe explains. “She’s given me a lot of insight and information on different marketing channels.”

Teresa’s advice initially helped Joe connect directly with his audience through mailers and social media. Long-term goals include increasing online presence and community support.

For Joe, the work of developing community comes naturally. As a vendor with the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for the City of Galax, he spent eight months providing meals for the local nonprofit God’s Storehouse and Soup Kitchen. For the deli’s six-month anniversary, he donated 15 percent of the company’s net profit from that day to the town’s inclusive playground project, Britni’s Discovery Park. Recently, Joe has begun donating cookies and milk to the Carroll County Public Library’s story time.

“You gotta take care of the kids,” he says. “It’s nothing big. It doesn’t cost me much, but it puts a smile on all the kids’ faces.”

Joe’s community engagement has garnered Hillsville’s support. However, recent inflation has posed a major challenge for his business, with costs rising 60 percent. That has prompted Joe to develop more environmentally friendly practices, including switching plastic containers for fully compostable sugarcane boxes and purchasing fresh produce from local orchards.

“We try our best to be good stewards of the earth and the community,” he explains.

As Toasters Deli pivots to meet recent challenges, the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC has supported Joe with industry research, marketing guidance, and training on tools such as Facebook, Google My Business, Yelp and Tripadvisor.

In turn, Joe has built a strong online presence and created seven jobs, retaining happy employees during a time when many businesses have struggled with labor shortages.

“One of the best assets you have as a business owner is the great people around you,” Joe explains. “Toasters is helping to support them, and the community is helping to support us.”

Toasters Deli continues to thrive, in large part due to Joe’s ability to cultivate relationships with his employees, his community and the SBDC, which he readily recommends to potential business owners.

“The SBDC is a great tool with a lot of information and a lot of helpful people. It’s a very good idea to be connected with them if you’re going to open a new business.”

Read More

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.”

Read More

A&W Collectables Antique Mall

The SBDC brings new ideas to A&W Antique Mall

Increased safety measures, which led to increased sales.

A&W Collectables Antique Mall is part of the town of Keswick’s history that almost didn’t have a future.

Barbara Fleming took over the business in 2018, when the owners wanted to retire. Barbara, who graduated from Longwood College with a business degree, was pursuing an interest that started years before. “I inherited some costume jewelry from my grandmother and used to go to estate sales with my mom,” she relates. “About 20 years ago, I started a booth with a friend and gradually got several small spaces to include furniture, antiques, décor, and of course a jewelry showcase.”

When it appeared that A&W might close in 2018 after being in business over 25 years, Barbara and several other vendors got together to see if they could keep the business going. “At the end of the day, I was it,” Barbara adds. “But with the help of a great group of vendors, we’ve made it work. We also have to give a big credit to our wonderful and very loyal customers

The COVID pandemic, though, was not part of the business plan. “When COVID shut us down on March 15, I called the Central Virginia SBDC,” Barbara explains. “They connected me with Diane Arnold, who assisted me with so many things, including applying for an EIDL loan. Unfortunately, when completing the application, I checked a wrong block and did not get the loan.

A&W reopened in May 2020, and Barbara continued to collaborate with the SBDC, which resulted in a steady increase in sales. “I talked with Diane a lot during that time,” Barbara says. “She stopped for a visit and took note of the safety protocols we were doing. We had signage regarding local and state ordinances, free masks, sanitizer, an antique frame with plexiglass at the sales counter, and a basket system set up for customers to place their purchases in prior to purchasing them. She looked at the things we were doing and helped us decipher safety regulations. She advised us whenever we came across something in the gray area on local and state levels.”

A&W’s “gray area” included public restrooms and mask mandates. “Diane advised me to keep the bathrooms closed, which I did,” Barbara says. When there was pushback, Barbara compromised. “I rented a Porta John,” she says. “A lot of businesses were doing that.”

Barbara credits the SBDC with keeping her in the loop about other nearby businesses. “I get information from the SBDC all the time,” she relates. “Diane keeps me informed about other businesses and just information in general.”

Now well into 2021, Barbara is optimistic. “I think things are looking up,” she says. “We’re doing better than we did the year before.”

Barbara, recommends the SBDC’s services on a daily basis. “When customers comment on our safety measures, we tell them we’re just following the advice of the local SBDC,” Barbara concludes. “The SBDC was there to advise us on whatever we needed at the moment — our customers appreciate that, and so do we.”

Read More