Category: Sales & Marketing

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!”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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Albemarle Limousine

Wedded together: Unique concept says “I do” with the SBDC

Bought a 10-bay building that allowed the company to expand its services; created 60 jobs.

https://www.albemarlelimousine.com/

Albemarle Limousine & Travel Service, LLC, was an idea that started with a wedding.

“It was my daughter’s wedding, and I was planning it,” CEO Andrea Saathoff says. “I was looking for a classic wedding-car rental and was surprised to learn that the closest one was in Washington D.C.”

In 2008, Andrea decided to start her own classic-car business in Charlottesville. “I quickly learned that vintage transportation was more of a hobby than a business,” Andrea adds. “So we added modern cars that first year.”

Being a business owner, the former elementary school teacher noted, was a learning experience. “That’s the fun of being an entrepreneur — we were doubling in revenue every year,” Andrea explains. “Within five years, we had a fleet of premium sedans, SUVs, shuttle buses, and vintage limousines.” As the company grew, Virginia Auto Detailing was added, and a mechanic was hired to manage a growing fleet of vehicles.

When COVID struck, the business was blindsided and nearly crippled. The situation quickly became critical. “We immediately lost 90 percent of our revenue,” Andrea says.

With the pandemic slamming the brakes on her business, Andrea contacted the Central Virginia SBDC. “I met SBDC Advisor Dillon Franks through a small business group I joined,” she relates. “He’s been our advisor ever since. We also worked with Central Virginia Director Rebecca Haydock.”

Rebecca provided additional guidance as the company grew. “Rebecca connected me with a QuickBooks specialist and helped with marketing, and Dillon provided guidance with our biggest customer, a very large corporation. He suggested things I never would have thought about.”

As COVID continued, Andrea looked for ways to diversify. “We already had a detailing business,
but it was seasonal due to lack of indoor space,” she says. “When a realtor I knew found a
property with 10 auto bays going on the market, we decided to buy it, as it would significantly expand our car and truck maintenance and service offerings to the public through our ACE Auto Center Express. We are now experiencing strong growth, due to our expanded physical plant and more central location.”

Andrea added, “Dillon and Rebecca were very helpful with the purchase of that building and issues related to growing our staff.”

Continuing to combat COVID, Albemarle Limousine launched a bicycle repair business, ACE Bicycle Charlottesville, in the spring of 2020. “Riding bikes offered socially-distanced exercise, so our shop was very popular,” Andrea adds. “Now all three businesses are in recovery, we have 60 employees, and everything is going gangbusters.”

Andrea continues to be enthusiastic about the SBDC and Dillon, who she describes as “a seasoned advisor who really cares about my business and our employees.”

“The SBDC helped us significantly through the pandemic,” Andrea concludes. “The SBDC has all the resources you need to help a business succeed and grow.”

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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.”

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Abingdon Gifting Company

Creating memories one basket at a time

Won $5000 in Washington County Business Challenge Competition and moved to Main Street and invested $25,000 in new inventory and a new location.

https://abingdongiftingco.com/

Like many, Cassie Rowe long entertained the idea of starting her own business. And while it wasn’t until 2017 that she finally got her company off the ground, the owner of Abingdon Gifting Company hasn’t looked back.

Armed with a knack for creativity and a desire to follow in her parents’ footsteps as a small business owner — but little in the way of her own personal business experience — Cassie made one of the first stops in her journey toward becoming a small-business owner at the Virginia Highlands SBDC for initial guidance on starting her business.

“I initially wanted to open a kitchen, because I love to cook and had been cooking for people on the side, but the food regulations were more than I wanted to deal with,” Cassie said. “A friend of mine suggested gift baskets, and, after I looked into what that would look like, I called Cindy Fields [center director at the SBDC] back and started again. I told her we were going in a different direction. She helped me do it, and they’ve been on board ever since,” she explains.

By February 2018, just two months after Cassie quit her job to pursue the business full time, Build-A-Basket was up and running. Renamed Abingdon Gifting Company in April 2020, the customized store-crafts gift baskets are filled with a variety of boutique products that Cassie sources from small businesses both local and nationwide. Working within budgets of any size, customers can choose from a wide range of preassembled gift baskets of Cassie’s design, or they can create their own.

Through personal goals, dedication, and the encouragement and strategic planning with the SBDC, Cassie competed in and won the top prize of $5,000 in the local business challenge and worked hard to find local unique and high-quality products that she can offer to her customers.

In the fall of 2020, she was ready to rebrand her store and prepare for a move to a bigger location. She received biweekly visits from the SBDC team and counselor Patrick Horn to assist her with growth in the area of marketing, to provide small business education and to help her collaborate with other local professionals to achieve new sales levels. Cassie has doubled her sales each year and is on track to do the same in 2021.

Regardless of what’s in the basket, Cassie says that the goal is to create something uniquely memorable for whoever receives it. “That’s what we do,” she says. “Our mission is to create a feeling, create a memory or a lasting impression through a gift.”

“It has taken a lot of research and a lot of learning,” she says. “The SBDC has been a really good resource, as far as continued learning. I’m pretty confident that anytime I get into a situation I’m not sure about, all I have to do is call Cindy or Patrick.”

“They’ve been on board since I started,” Cassie says. “Owning your own business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It can be tough, and there are ins and outs you don’t know. But anytime I need a resource, a connection with somebody I need to reach, or just some advice, they’re always there.”

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L’Auberge Provençale

Clark County inn survives the pandemic

Secured $231,000 in grants and other income.

Forty years ago, Alain and Celeste Borel used ingenuity and hard work to convert a “broken down Virginia farmhouse” into a first-class French country inn. That ingenuity, along with support from the Lord Fairfax SBDC, helped the Clark County innkeepers survive a pandemic.

“When the pandemic hit, our inn shut down like everybody else,” Celeste says. About that time, Celeste received a call from Lord Fairfax SBDC Center Director Christine Kriz. “The SBDC had grant money to help small businesses with marketing and advertising,” Celeste recalls. “Christine contacted me to see if she could help. We accepted her offer and worked with the SBDC on several marketing projects.” The marketing strategy included a video and flyers. “We used flyers to get the word out,” Celeste explains. “Yes, we’re open, and we’re COVID safe!”

The innkeepers literally turned the tables to reassure guests. “We put tables from the restaurant in guest rooms so people would feel safe while enjoying our amenities,” Celeste relates. “We also put tables in the grass, on the terrace, and on the porch. We changed up the way we did things to make people feel comfortable.”

Pandemic challenges, Celeste notes, were reminiscent of the obstacles the couple faced 40 years ago, when they purchased what was then known as Mt. Airy. “There were ‘groundhog condominiums’ all over the place when we bought it,” she says, referring to the vast underground networks the vermin had created over the years. “Basically, the whole property was in need of loving care.” Undeterred by the many renovation challenges, the couple transformed Mt. Airy into an intimate, 11-room inn with dining space, featuring three- and five-course meals. The result was, as one reviewer described it, “a true French countryside experience right here in America.”

The many challenges and final success of Mt. Airy helped remind Alain and Celeste that all was not lost. Yet, closing the inn because of the pandemic was still difficult for them. Fortunately, that shutdown was short-lived. “We closed in March, but by June we were doing very well,” Celeste says. “Advertising a COVID-safe experience in the country brought guests back. We’re very appreciative of the SBDC’s help.”

In addition to marketing assistance, the SBDC offered tutorials on applying for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other government assistance. “The SBDC kept us informed on how to weave our way through all the US Small Business Administration requirements,” Celeste notes.

Celeste continues to value her SBDC connections. “The SBDC knows people, and if you need a project done, they will connect you,” she says. “I think that’s very valuable.”

That value was apparent in the inn’s year-end financial report. “By the end of the COVID year in 2020, we recovered more than we made the previous year,” Celeste concludes. “The SBDC definitely helped make that happen.”

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Barbara H. Smith LLC

Business basics add to corporate trainer’s success

Income increased 40%

https://www.barbarahsmith.com/

Everyone is familiar with having their boss or company CEO lead a training, but who do they call when the boss or CEO themselves need the training? Cue Barbara H. Smith of Barbara H. Smith, LLC.

Barbara had been employed in workforce training for various companies and educational institutions for over 20 years. In 2012, she decided to strike out on her own. Known as “the celebrity speaker and masterful presenter,” Barbara launched a speaking, training, and coaching business to help company leaders. “My background was in information technology, but I also had a personality,” she explains. “Basically, I was a geek with personality.”

Barbara previously connected with the Hampton Roads SBDC while working for a construction firm. “I needed to learn about government contracts at that time, and Debra Farley [Associate Executive Director] from the SBDC advised me,” Barbara recalls.

That SBDC connection would help Barbara as she started her new company. “I was working in my business, but I didn’t know how to work on my business,” she relates. “Debra sat down with me and talked about things like cash flow projections and marketing strategies — stuff I’d never thought about. She really guided me through the process,” Barbara recalls.

Barbara’s business specializes in helping small business, corporate, and government clients with their training needs using technology. “These clients use the technology but sometimes do not understand that technology is only one tool for training”. Understanding how to get results with training using the technology is where being a liaison helps,” she relates. “My business had really taken off. At the start of 2020, I had just set a date for sexual harassment training for the Coast Guard — a $30,000 contract.” But the pandemic took a savage bite out of Barbara’s newly gained momentum, wiping out existing contracts and making new work difficult to find. “That contract evaporated along with others — at that time my contracts were all face-to-face,” Barbara says.

Not one to despair, Barbara turned to her specialty: technology by turning a face-to-face business into something workable for these new times. “I knew how to do use Zoom,” she says. “Because of my technology skills, 2020 turned out to be my best year ever.”

As the nation enters the COVID recovery phase, Barbara’s speaking business is growing by leaps and bounds. Recently, she was selected as one of 13 speaker delegates to represent the United States in Kenya, she has her own TV show (The Barbara H. Smith Show) streaming on the IBMTV network, Amazon Fire, and Roku, and is looking forward to a corporate training session on Excel in Las Vegas.

Barbara credits the SBDC with helping her achieve much of this success. “My income has increased at least 40 percent as a result of guidance from the SBDC,” she notes. “Debra has connected me on so many levels — those connections allowed me to work with platforms and companies that I otherwise could not have accessed.”

Barbara readily recommends the SBDC. “Because of the SBDC, my small business stayed in business during COVID,” she concludes. “I know I can count on them to always point me in the right direction.”

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Delany Products

SBDC networking connects Delany Products to future success

Received COVID financial assistance; featured in Virginia Business.

www.delanyproducts.com/

Delany Products, a plumbing products manufacturer since 1879, needed a makeover. “We had multiple issues as we entered the 2000s,” Scott Delany says of his company. “We had not adapted well to globalization, and as a result our business had started to dwindle.”

Adding to Scott’s problems, the price of copper, a major component of plumbing products, rose dramatically. “We started to lose money hand over fist,” Scott continues. “We closed our foundry and laid off three quarters of our workforce. It became obvious that the only path forward was restructuring.” That restructure involved a complete shift from manufacturing to outsourcing.

“Currently, Delany Products does research and design in house and depends on outside suppliers to make product components,” Scott explains. “We still do 100 percent of the assembly and final operational testing.”

The company was moving ahead with its outsourcing model; then COVID hit. Fortunately for Delany Products, when the pandemic arrived, so did the Central Virginia SBDC. “When the pandemic struck, Rebecca Haydock at the SBDC called to see if she could help,” Scott recalls. “We immediately said — ‘sounds great!’”

The Central Virginia SBDC Center Director put the Delany team in touch with a marketing firm to assist with the launch of its new product, TruStop, a patented innovation that reduces maintenance costs for institutional toilets. “The Fellows Group, now our marketing firm, did a complete update of our website,” Scott says.

In addition to the marketing assistance, Rebecca connected Scott with Aaron Miller, the Virginia SBDC’s Director of International Business Development. “Aaron had students from George Mason University do a study of potential markets,” Scott says. “We’ll explore those markets once we build our sales for TruStop in the United States. We really believe TruStop will be a game changer for us.”

Rebecca also offered help with applications for COVID assistance. “We applied for everything we could to keep us afloat during the pandemic,” Scott notes. “Rebecca helped us through all the confusion. Additionally, she put us in touch with Lisa Wood at the Procurement Technical Assistance Center who’s trying to locate government contracts for us.”

With a restructured business model in place and a new product on the market, Scott is hopeful about the future. “Right now, our backlog list is huge because of supply-chain issues,” he comments. “Once that clears up, things will change. Business is already better than last year.”

Scott says Rebecca and the SBDC team were at the right place at the right time to make things happen for his company. “The SBDC helped us out at a very critical time during the pandemic,” Scott concludes. “Rebecca Haydock and the SBDC are a great resource.”

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