Category: Sales & Marketing

The Rooms Up There

Up and away: Rooms at the top in Marshall

Dan Moore received a $100,000 bank loan to expand The Drawing Room and develop a commercial kitchen.

In a world flooded with ubiquitous hotels, motels, and unfiltered Airbnbs, Dan Moore envisioned offering something different. “I only see what will be when I look at space,” Dan says with a nod to his irrepressible designer eye. When Dan saw the stately building on Main Street in Marshall, he knew it would be home to The Rooms Up There. Three rooms to be exact, as well as Dan’s successful design business located on the first floor along with another small shop.

The structure that houses The Rooms Up There is over 200 years old. Portions of the building have previously housed a fabric shop, a stone storehouse, and a two-story log house. Dan explains, “Now, it is best described as an inn.” The “rooms” themselves are located over the first floor. Guests access them via a private courtyard and then through a coded side entrance upstairs to one of three upper rooms. Each room has a king-size bed and a private bath featuring Italian marble.

For Dan, the beauty of The Rooms Up There lies in how seamlessly it blends into Marshall’s quaint scene. “You would never know we were here. We have rehabilitated and renewed existing space which I think is appropriate in a town like Marshall,” he says. With over 27 wineries in the area, it’s an ideal getaway location for folks looking to enjoy a weekend away from the Northern Virginia and DC traffic.

The Lord Fairfax SBDC was there when Dan needed help with financial projections, market data research, and a marketing plan. “Christine Kriz is sort of like a celebrity here in Marshall,” Dan explains. “She and her team got me out and introduced me to the community. She not only holds seminars, she attends them too.”

The Rooms Up There was named Best of Fauquier 2019 in the hotel/lodging category. Dan feels certain that his business would not have received this recognition without the support of the Lord Fairfax SBDC and Christine Kriz. “I would definitely credit that to the SBDC,” he says. “Christine is ground zero for me. I couldn’t have done it without her help.”

The Rooms Up There also offers space for private events and catering in its banquet hall, The Drawing Room. Dan hopes to expand this space over the coming months with the development of a commercial kitchen. He has his eye on going after Best of Fauquier for another year. “I want to see if we can do it again,” he says. “In April we will go into our fourth year, and I’m excited to see what’s next.”

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Friendly City Dance Room

Room to dance: Dance studio spins into the spotlight

The Fusaros obtained a $19,500 Harrisonburg Biz Loan, started a new business, and currently support 4 jobs.

Phillip Fusaro started dancing at nine years old. For Phillip, dancing is a life-long passion and a way to bring entire communities together. He and his wife Erin founded Friendly City Dance Room in Harrisonburg and based the business on their strong belief that individuals can achieve a better quality of life through dancing. With Phillip as choreographer and Erin as artistic director, the couple seeks to make dance accessible to folks of all ages, incomes, and experience levels. 

Creating a successful dance studio was not without its challenges. The Fusaros found themselves unsure of how to turn their love of dance into a profitable business. “We were put in touch with the Shenandoah Valley (SV) SBDC by a fellow business owner,” Phillip says. “Jalal and Allison helped us so much.” Allison Dugan is the Assistant Director and Business Advisor at the SV SBDC; Jalal Maqableh is a PhD candidate at James Madison University and an SBDC Business Advisor specializing in inclusive entrepreneurship.

After attending a Smart Start workshop hosted by the SV SBDC, the Fusaros were eager to learn the next steps for business ownership. Over the subsequent months, the SBDC team assisted the Fusaros with defining goals, target marketing, social media and website development, sales, accounting, legal and HR issues, funding, and cash-flow management.

“I’m basically a visionary, so Allison’s help with all the details was essential to our start-up success,” Phillip says. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without the SBDC.”

Allison guided Erin and Phillip through the process of applying for a Harrisonburg Biz Loan of $19,500. “Allison’s assistance throughout that process was invaluable. The capital was vital to Friendly City’s start,” Phillip explains. The loan was used to convert office space into a welcoming studio with special floating vinyl floors, a quality sound system, and furniture and décor to make it a truly unique space.

Since opening in March 2019, Friendly City Dance Room continues to live up to its mission of providing a deeply inclusive space for people of all abilities to experience dance and improve their lives. “I love seeing the connections in the studio between people who wouldn’t otherwise meet,” Phillip concludes.

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Ballad Brewing

Brewery taps new markets with the SBDC’s help

Ballad Brewing had 6 new hires totaling 16 jobs supported and a $754,000 investment.

Ballad Brewing opened in Danville in 2017. “The first year, we sold beer in our own tap room to learn what our customers liked and to choose the beers we wanted to put into distribution,” Ballad’s Business Operations Manager Tim Meyers explains.

The brewery was an offshoot of a Danville River District project started by developers Ross Fickenscher and Garrett Shifflett. “Ross and Garrett had been working on this building as a third phase of their loft-apartments project,” Tim says. “Rather than rent the lower floor of the building to other businesses, they decided to get into the brewery game themselves.”

Ross and Garrett, who also restored Farmville’s Hotel Weyanoke, had previously worked with the Longwood SBDC. When the brewery needed financing for its bottling line, visiting the SBDC was the logical next step. “I initially reached out to the Longwood SBDC Executive Director Sheri McGuire, and she told us all the things the SBDC had to offer,” Tim explains. He and Aly Fickenscher, Ballad’s Creative Director, have been working with the SBDC team ever since. “SBDC consultant Brandon Hennessey did a fantastic job of working with us to build various models so we could analyze the types of beers we make, change recipes, and approach new markets,” Tim added.

The Hotel Weyanoke opened and so did Ballad Brewing. “Farmville is a small market, but it has a higher volume than we expected,” Tim says. “Now our bottles are for sale in Farmville’s Food Lion plus several restaurants. Then we added Danville, South Boston, and Martinsville.” Tim adds, “Just a few months ago we brought Lynchburg, Roanoke, and Salem into the fold.”

Tim plans to grow slowly until the brewery reaches full capacity. He credits the SBDC with guiding them through this gradual growth process. “They’ve been super helpful in giving us a roadmap so that the growth we’re experiencing is good growth,” he says.

Tim appreciates the long-term relationship the SBDC offers. “When I first started working with the SBDC, I assumed it would be a one-time deal. They would help us get our things in order, and then we would be on our own,” he says. “What we found was exactly the opposite. I can send Brandon new financials any time I have them, and he’s ready to help. I would absolutely recommend the SBDC,” Tim concludes. “They’ve been extremely helpful for a small startup business like ours. I can’t thank them enough for all the help they’ve given us.”

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Play Now!

No time like now: Abingdon play space makes success fun

Play Now! won a $3,000 grant from the Washington County Business Challenge, increased its sales by 20%, and created 2 new jobs.

When she graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in business, Stephanie Howard knew she would put the degree to good use, but she never imagined how.

Years later, Stephanie, now a mother of three children under the age of ten, found herself dusting that degree off in an unexpected way. She realized she was frequently searching for creative, age-appropriate play options for her kids that did not involve a lengthy drive from her Abingdon home. Stephanie decided to create Play Now! an indoor play-and-party business that would offer unique play experiences in a safe and clean environment.

“There was really a need for something like that in this area,” Stephanie says. Her thoughtfully designed 1,000-square-foot space features a two-story soft playground, a foam ball arena, and a newly added sensory room to help kids (and grownups, too!) calm down and de-stress. “It’s like being at home but without having to clean up,” she laughs. It’s clear that she’s put a great deal of thought into the small space.

Stephanie believes in emphasizing socialization between adults and children. In fact, seeing the connections between the children as they play is for her one of the most rewarding parts of Play Now! “The space is not huge, and I love that about it,” she says. It is carefully designed to be open. Wherever you sit you can see your child at all times.”

Although Stephanie had a business background and several family members were small business owners, she sought the assistance of the Virginia Highlands SBDC when it came to crafting a business plan and marketing strategy for Play Now! Less than five months later, she opened the doors in July 2019. “The SBDC has been a tremendous help, both mentally and emotionally. ” Stephanie says, “Networking has been a huge deal. My advisor, Cindy Fields, always answered her phone and pointed me in the right direction.”

Cindy and the SBDC team encouraged Stephanie to enter the Washington County Business Challenge. She admits, “I was nervous and overwhelmed at first, but Cindy told me, ‘We will have your back and be with you every step of the way.’ Soon I realized how much I enjoyed what I was learning and doing.” And it paid off. Stephanie won a $3,000 grant as part of the challenge.

Since opening Play Now! Stephanie has added two part-time employees and increased sales by 20%. “Our goal is to make each child that comes through the door feel as loved and as happy as possible for the time that they are with us,” Stephanie says. With Cindy and the Virginia Highlands SBDC at her side, Stephanie is ready to take on whatever may come her way.

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Wrap Buddies

It’s a wrap with the SBDC

Bret Wortman credits the SBDC for a “huge upswing” in Facebook hits. Wrap Buddies sales have increased an impressive 250% from 2017 to 2018.

Wrap Buddies began with a gift that never got wrapped. “I was on the floor trying to wrap gifts for my kids,” Wrap Buddies Founder Bret Wortman says. “Working on the floor, you have to get on your knees to cut across the roll of wrapping paper. Then the paper starts to curl back, and the tape’s hiding underneath something.” Bret decided to take his wrapping project to a nearby table. “That was even worse,” he says with a laugh.

A wrapping session that was not a wrap drove Bret to his workshop. In half an hour, he put together some wooden blocks and dowels. Although he didn’t know it at the time, he’d just produced the prototype for his new business. “I came in the house and attached my blocks to the table,” Bret continues. “I added a roll of wrapping paper — and viola! The roll of paper stayed in place, and I could cut a straight line for the first time in my life.”

Bret decided his device was too good to keep to himself. His wife agreed. “She said, ‘You have to figure out how to make those for other people!’” Bret followed his wife’s advice. In 2016 he launched Wrap Buddies, and it’s been evolving ever since.

Through the Mason Enterprise Center-Fauquier, Bret made a connection with the Lord Fairfax SBDC. Bret made an appointment with SBDC Marketing Counselor Dale Maza. “At that first meeting, Dale and I talked about everything from material choice in manufacturing my product to creating a marketing plan,” Bret says. “I had been doing things fairly scattershot and needed to focus.”

Dale put Bret in contact with SBDC Marketing Counselor Jeff Nicely. “Jeff worked with me to hone my message, understand my target market, and come up with ad copy and a template,” Bret relates. “He also showed me how to focus on those most likely to buy rather than hitting everyone in the U.S.”

In addition to the one-on-one consulting, Bret benefited from an SBDC seminar on “Finding your Value.” The course focused on expressing to others the value of a product or service. “That course was pivotal for me,” Bret adds. “I’m now scheduled for two more. Getting our story told has been the big challenge for us all along.”

The course also gave Bret ideas for future growth. “You start with one idea, and it expands from that,” he adds. “I feel like I now have the tools to make my Christmas marketing campaign on Facebook as effective as possible.” Bret credits the SBDC for a “huge upswing” in Facebook hits. “I definitely attribute that to Jeff’s help,” he adds. In addition, Wrap Buddies sales have increased an impressive 250 percent from 2017 to 2018.

“With the SBDC’s help we now have a great grip on where we are,” Bret concludes. “We’ve also got some strong future goals and a way to know what to change as we reach those goals.” Bret sees the SBDC as a gift that keeps on giving — with or without wrapping.

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Thyme in a Basket

Timely connections with the SBDC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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KJ’s Cake Creations

KJ’s finds a recipe for success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FAVE: Facilitating Awareness & Valuable Experiences

No playing favorites: FAVE leads all-ability inclusion movement

FAVE has secured $184,377 in training and consulting contracts over the last year and created 2 jobs.

It all started with a notebook and a series of ‘what ifs.’

The notebook belonged to Lauren Askew, a self-professed behavior-science geek. It was filled with ideas about how businesses, agencies, and organizations could build viable all-ability inclusion programs to meet the needs of people impacted by autism, Alzheimer’s, Down’s syndrome, and other disabilities. What if hotels developed safety plans for families traveling with a grandparent with dementia? What if emergency responders and health care workers received standardized training on autism? What if they had tools to help meet their needs?” It was the void outlined by these piercing questions that FAVE sought to fill.

Lauren approached her mentor at the Roanoke Regional SBDC, Tom Tanner, with the notebook, two decades of experience studying applied research on behavior, and no experience running a business. “The only way for me to get through my fear was to take the first step and learn as much as I could about starting a small business. I came to the SBDC where I have had the chance to not only learn about starting a small business, but also the chance to learn from the very best,” Lauren says. “Imagine Tom’s surprise when I told him my ‘business’ was to facilitate a new competitive market for individuals with communication and intellectual disabilities and to help businesses offer safe and valuable inclusive experiences!” Lauren exclaims.

“With the support of Tom and the SBDC, our amazing think tank members, area business leaders, and partnerships with organizations like Virginia Tech Center for Autism Research, we launched in December 2017,” Lauren says.

At FAVE, a “team of inclusion experts” works to incorporate research-based steps to develop easy, effective, and customizable solutions for people with disabilities. FAVE has trained “Inclusion Support Facilitator” groups from numerous county sheriff departments, two Domino’s franchises, and more. They have also partnered with a technology provider in Michigan to convert some of their trainings into an online management system.

Lauren credits Tom Tanner, Christina Garnett, Amanda Forrester, and the rest of the SBDC staff with helping FAVE break the barrier from science to business. They taught FAVE to craft a voice that maximizes visibility and appeals to their target market. “While we started FAVE with a passion to help families, we had to learn to change our voice to highlight and meet the needs of businesses,” Lauren explains.

It is hard to imagine that this burgeoning, people-driven enterprise began with a simple notebook and some hard questions. For Lauren, those same questions continue to push her and the FAVE team forward: “What if a family can go to dinner and a movie together for the first time in 10 years? What if businesses offered programs that brought together adults with disabilities? Imagine what would happen if we make this work.”

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Big Daddy’s To Go

The go-to place for food

In the past two years, Big Daddy’s has added a second location and reports an increase in sales of approximately 60%.

Big Daddy's To Go

Big Daddy’s To Go is the place to get a take-out meal in Meadowview. Owner Dwayne Duffield worked hard to make it that way. “A restaurant does keep you hopping,” Dwayne says. “The first year I worked seven days a week, but for me it’s not work. I enjoy what I do!”

Big Daddy’s is a take-out and catering restaurant where Dwayne serves old-fashioned meals in a box five days a week. Daily specials, listed on a chalkboard, feature downhome cooking. “This week it’s BBQ chicken leg (2) with cole slaw, green beans and a roll — $8. Everything in a box comes with dessert,” Dwayne says. “I do a lot of old-fashioned pies.” Dwayne’s interest in cooking came from his grandmother. “She cooked for farm hands,” he says. “That’s how I started learning.”

From Mountain City, Tennessee, Dwayne moved to Meadowview in Washington County, where his plan for a restaurant began to take shape. He had been preparing his wife’s lunch every day. When her co-workers started making requests for his lunches, Dwayne saw a need he wanted to fill. “This is not a high-end community,” he says. “I wanted people here to be able to afford to eat. With my meals in a box, a family of four can afford to eat and still have a little money in their pockets.”

Dwayne hopes his home-cooked meals promote family togetherness. “Big Daddy’s takes away the work. When people go home, they can sit down together at the table and put away those hand-held devices,” he explains. “My goal is to bring good food to our small community.”

In January 2017, Dwayne visited the Virginia Highlands SBDC for help starting his business. Virginia Highlands Director Cindy Fields assisted with setting up an LLC for Dwayne and registering his business with the Department of Taxation. The SBDC also counseled Dwayne on local certifications and how to be in compliance with local health department and government regulation.

Once the business opened in 2017, the SBDC showed Dwayne ways to increase business through visibility and government contracting opportunities. The SBDC assisted Dwayne with certification as a Small Woman and Minority Owned (SWaM) business and with establishing his business as a Virginia Certified Vendor through the eVA Procurement system. A year later, Dwayne tapped into the tourism business on the Virginia Creeper Trail and opened a second location in Alvarado. Future plans include a larger location. “I’ve had folks ask if I could open a place where they could come in and sit down to eat,” Dwayne says.

Diversification and hard work paid off for Dwayne. “From the time I started two years ago, I’ve grown a great deal,” he says. “If I had to give it a number, I’d say 60 percent.” Dwayne believes that good food makes for a good community. “When I see someone sitting on the curb I know can’t afford to pay, I’ll take them a meal,” he says. “Nobody around here should go hungry.”

“The SBDC helped set up my business,” Dwayne concludes. “They got me pointed in the right direction.”  

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Amruta, Inc.

Analyzing the way to success

After consulting with the University of Mary Washington SBDC in 2017, Amruta’s revenue jumped from $1.3 million to $4.8 million, a 369% increase.

Beju Rao doesn’t hesitate to go back to the drawing board.

After only two years of operations, Amruta, Inc., Beju’s data analytics firm, had achieved $1.3 million in sales, but he wanted more. It was time to visit the University of Mary Washington SBDC. “I’m an adjunct professor at UMW, so I knew about the SBDC there,” he says. He met with Executive Director Brian Baker.

Beju’s goal was to gain entry into new markets, starting with the state and federal governments. “The SBDC helped me to get registered in the Electronic Virginia (eVA) system and the System for Awards Management (SAM) and to obtain Small-Women and Minority-owned business certification (SWaM),” Beju relates. He also met with procurement specialists from the Virginia Procurement Technical Assistance Program and the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity, who helped him identify which agencies to target and how best to access them.

UMW SBDC’s first Innovation Roundtable, held in the Fall 2017, also helped Beju. Over a period of several months, roundtable participants learned how to assess and achieve their commercialization readiness. Or, as Beju put it — to go back to the drawing board! “The Innovation Roundtable was phenomenal,” he comments. “It helped me design a product and decide what product features would sell in the marketplace.”

The SBDC also helped Beju get a foot in the door of the healthcare marketplace. “For the past couple of years, we’ve been working on a patient enterprise system that uses hospital performance data to improve health quality outcomes,” Beju says. Brian introduced him to Eric Fletcher, Senior Vice President & Chief Strategy Officer at Mary Washington Healthcare. The project involved the use of data management and analytics to improve operating performance, patient assessment , and patient experience initiatives. Currently Beju is working with the SBDC to secure funding to launch the system in other health-care facilities. “It was very helpful to be able to test our system in a hospital setting,” Beju adds.

Beju’s drawing-board concept has already increased revenue for his company. “We are growing again,” he says. “We have more than a dozen clients now, so the cumulative revenue is $4.8 million.” That is 3.7 times more than 2017.

Beju credits the SBDC with helping him achieve that growth. “They are continually helping me,” he says. “I know I can reach out to Brian Baker or Susan Ball whenever I need help.” He plans to maintain his relationship with the SBDC. “I want to reach $20 million in the next three years.”

Beju has entered markets in the healthcare and financial industries. His next focus will be to improve the scale of Amruta and grow new clients. “The SBDC is a trusted advisor,” he concludes. “And I certainly appreciate that.”

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