Category: Start-up

Balance Gymnastics

Exercising success with the SBDC

Started a new business, received a loan of $64,000, created 12 jobs and retained 2 jobs

Balance Gymnastics opened for business in June in the midst of a pandemic. A COVID-19 success story, the newly-launched business is not only surviving, it’s thriving. Owners Matt and Brandy Knabb credit their success to the SBDC-Lynchburg Region. “Opening a gym was a goal of ours,” Brandy says. “We just wanted to find the right time and location.” Mid-2020 was not an optimal time, Brandy admits, but a lease was signed and plans had been made. The couple decided to go ahead with the June opening.

Brandy, originally from Concord and a gymnast from an early age, explains her motivation: “There was nothing like this in Concord. We wanted to provide the community with something it didn’t currently have.” Fortunately, Matt and Brandy connected with the SBDC during planning stages for the project. “A friend who has a gym in Charlottesville recommended the SBDC,” Brandy says. “We went to the Start Smart class last October and set up some one-on-one sessions with Stephanie Keener, Director of the SBDC-Lynchburg Region.”

The first order of business was writing a business plan. “We had all these ideas in our head but didn’t have a formal plan on paper,” Brandy recalls. “We knew we would need to have a business plan in hand to apply for a loan to buy equipment. Stephanie helped us with the beginning steps and told us what the plan needed to include. SBDC Business Advisor Jamie Reynolds helped us create financial projections to make sure a gym in Concord was feasible.” Matt and Brandy also found the SBDC classes helpful. “I know gymnastics, but I’m not a business major,” Brandy relates. “There were so many little things we could have missed had we not had the SBDC on our side.”

Balance Gymnastics was able to open at 30% capacity in June. “We started with a small group of staff and 35 kids whose parents were brave enough to register during COVID-19,” Brandy says. “After we opened, we relied on word-of-mouth and the guidance Stephanie gave us on marketing and social media. As restrictions lifted, we were able to offer more classes. Currently, we have classes for children 18 months old through college age.” As the year progressed, enrollment grew. “We have grown rather quickly,” Brandy notes. “We now have 175 students and a coaching staff of ten.”

The couple is already thinking ahead to the future. “After the first of the year, we plan to go to our next phase and offer adult fitness classes,” Brandy adds. “There are so many things we didn’t have a clue about when we went to the SBDC,” Brandy explains. “If we hadn’t worked with them, I doubt we would have ever been able to open, and definitely not in the same time frame.”

Matt and Brandy happily recommend the SBDC to others interested in starting a business. “The SBDC has something for every aspect of running a business,” Brandy concludes. “They keep you pointed in the right direction, and they really set you up for success right from the start.” 

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Your Dinner

Success to-go with the SBDC

Invested $45,000 in equipment, created 3 jobs and retained 2 jobs

When Diane Roll hit the streets with one of the first food trucks in the Rockingham/Augusta county region in 2011, her first stop was the Shenandoah Valley SBDC. “Just because you’re a good cook doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good business person,” Diane says. “The SBDC helped me find a bank that would give me the small business loan I needed when I first got started.”

Diane’s original plan included “grab-and-go” dinners prepared in advance and sold at nearby factories for $6. The idea never took off. “But during that time, I built relationships with companies that would pick up the tab for us to come in and cook,” Diane relates. “That led us into catering.” Another opportunity came when the town of Dayton approached Diane about opening a restaurant. “I was lucky enough to open Dayton Tavern, a full-service restaurant,” she adds. “We had a higher-end clientele there — not to mention the best steaks in 100 miles!”

Diane’s restaurant and catering business continued to expand and prosper, until, as she puts it, “2020 happened.” “COVID temporarily closed the restaurant,” she explains. “We had zero catering and $250,000 in canceled events.” Undeterred by this downtime, Diane began to think about her original idea of “grab-and-go” dinners. She started selling freshly prepared family meals through the Dayton Tavern, a business venture that quickly became popular. “I don’t care how much money you have, everybody likes meatloaf,” she says.

With the “grab-and-go” dinner concept (renamed Your Dinner) now off the back burner, Diane went back to the SBDC for advice. Advisor Don Crawford met with Diane to discuss management, operations, financing, and marketing. The SBDC team also arranged for Diane and her staff to meet with the SBDC’s Retail & Restaurant Advisor Marc Willson.

“We already had a rental space for our catering business,” Diane says. “I decided to rent the whole building for the Your Dinner business. Since we didn’t need all of it, I contacted several other small business owners I knew about sharing the space.” Diane invested her own money to purchase display cases and appliances and to hire three employees to launch Your Dinner. The commitment also allowed two other small businesses to re-locate there and expand. “We now have gourmet popcorn from PrePOPsterous and produce from Radella’s in the North River Marketplace.”

Your Dinner offers everything from fresh soups, salads, and sandwiches to pre-made dinners to take home and heat up. “When you take our food home, put it on your own plate, and heat it in your own microwave, it feels like you made it. There’s a good feeling to it.”

Diane believes in down-home hospitality. It works for her, and she’s happy to pass it on. She is also appreciative of the help she’s received from the SBDC. 

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The Difference Baker

Making a difference with the SBDC

Started the business, gained equity investment, and created 2 jobs

Alyssa Sobecki found success by making a difference. The Difference Baker, the business she launched for individuals struggling with food allergies, is doing well in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. With multiple food allergies herself, Alyssa found it difficult to find restaurants that catered to gluten, soy, or nut allergies. The solution, she decided, was to open one of her own. “I wanted a local place where gluten-free families could come and enjoy delicious baked goods, sandwiches, and wraps,” she says.

After locating a building approved for a commercial kitchen, Alyssa and her husband, Jason, went to the Loudoun SBDC. “We worked with them from the inception of our business,” Alyssa relates. “We met with Eric Byrd, manager of the Loudoun SBDC office.” Eric gave the couple an overview of their proposed business and advised them on rules and regulations. “Eric walked us through the entire process,” Alyssa says. “It was awesome — help from A to Z even before we signed a lease.”

The Difference Baker officially opened November 7, 2019. Five months later, it closed due to COVID-19. “We were closed to foot traffic for six months,” Alyssa notes. If customers couldn’t come to her, Alyssa reasoned, she would go to them. “I started doing deliveries,” she says. “That summer was slow, but we were able to keep afloat.” Helping with that effort was the Loudoun SBDC. “Eric reached out to see if we were okay,” Alyssa adds. “He kept us informed about all the assistance that was available.”

During the shutdown, Alyssa looked to her marketing team to maintain sales. “One thing I didn’t do was let my marketing team go,” she explains. “That helped us reach new markets. When something like a pandemic happens, you have to find new ways to market your products.”

The Sobeckis also depend on a bookkeeping team to manage the financial side of the business.

“I know what I’m good at doing and what I’m not good at doing,” Alyssa comments. “What I’m not good at, I outsource to professionals.” The Sobeckis consider the SBDC to be a valuable part of their team. “Eric Byrd has been the bridge when I need a point of contact,” Alyssa says. “All I have to do is reach out to him, and he’ll put me in touch with the right people.” It’s a business relationship the Sobeckis plan to continue. “Just last month I had a coaching call with Eric to go over the future of the company,” Alyssa relates. “He’s already in the process of making some connections toward the path of our growth.”

In addition to baked goods and sandwiches, The Difference Baker offers freezer meals to take home, such as chicken pot pies and baked ziti. The menu is growing and continues to change. “My mission goes beyond what you see in our kitchen,” Alyssa says. “The main focus is to bring peace to those who have to deal with food allergies.” 

The Sobeckis are glad they made the decision to visit the SBDC early on. “I connect with a lot of people who want to start a business,” Alyssa concludes. “The first thing I say is, ‘Go to the SBDC.’ I’m so glad we did.”

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Mason & Greens

Parlaying personal views of sustainability

Received a $135,000 loan, a $10,000 line of credit, and started new business

In mid-2019, Justin and Anna Marino were searching for the “right” business to open in Old Town Alexandria, with “right” meaning a retail business that represented their personal environmental views on preservation and sustainability. 

When they found a two-story townhouse on King Street in the Historic District, they began writing a business plan for a first-floor retail shop and a second-level Airbnb property designed to be an eco-conscious alternative to a hotel suite. Alexandria SBDC’s Business Analyst Jack Parker helped them create a viable plan and found a bank interested in the project that was to become the first such brick-and-mortar, zero-waste sustainable products store in the region. They would be offering bulk-grocery products, sustainable-living products, health & beauty, and children’s products. Anna is a “runner” and has over 7,000 viewers on her Blog, in addition to being a well-versed social-media marketer for her online athletic clothing business. Their store also received local media attention prior and during their opening.

In early January, they closed on the $125,000 SBA term loan and a $10,000 line of credit with M&T Bank. Then they began the build-out process on Mason & Greens when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded, causing a veritable shut down of retail businesses. In effect, they were forced to open in the teeth of the storm without eligibility for the EIDL or PPP loan programs. 

The online store, on their well-designed website, was relatively easy to launch, but in-store shoppers and guests for the suite upstairs were another matter. They had some success in May with by-appointment shopping, but the website sales took off right away, surprising everyone including themselves that they were able to breakeven for their first month. After reopening, in-store sales continued to improve and since August, the Airbnb suite has generated enough revenue to pay the monthly rent for the building.

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AquaFloat & Charlottesville HyperBaric

Water and air: Finding success with the basics

AquaFloat saw a 20% increase in sales between 2018 and 2019, plus a $400,000 capital infusion. In addition, BB&T Bank provided a loan of $300,000 for Charlottesville HyperBaric.

Ted O’Neill launched AquaFloat in October 2014. Ted had been a practicing pharmacist for almost 23 years before he discovered float therapy for sensory deprivation. He was intrigued by the seemingly endless application of the treatment, which involves floating in highly salinated water in a completely dark tank. Since floatation therapy was a rapidly expanding market, Ted wanted to explore the business opportunities. He knew that Charlottesville would be an ideal place to launch his new business.

A fellow business owner connected Ted with Betty Hoge, Director of the Central Virginia (CV) SBDC, who charted a tailored plan of action for Ted that proved successful. “Hearing Betty’s objective suggestions and advice were very much welcomed. I spent one or two sessions with her providing the details about AquaFloat — its history, current status, and my vision for the future,” Ted explains. “She began collaborating with me to achieve the goals I had set.”

AquaFloat opened to an enthusiastic welcome from the Charlottesville market. In the past six years, the business, which also offers specialty massage and infrared sauna sessions, has grown, thanks in part to collaborating with Betty. Between 2018 and 2019, AquaFloat saw an approximate 20% increase in sales, thanks to the partnership with the CV SBDC.

As AquaFloat thrived, Ted turned to Betty for assistance with a second closely entwined business endeavor, Charlottesville HyperBaric. This facility will focus on hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which research shows works as a primary or complementary therapy for autism, strokes, PTSD, enhanced wound healing, pre- and post-surgery recovery, and more than 40 common conditions.

Once again, Betty readily assisted Ted with the “humongous” business plan for the sister company. “I made Betty aware of CHB early in our relationship but didn’t begin working on a business plan until 2018,” Ted says. “Betty was essential to the creation of the business plan for Charlottesville HyperBaric. She coached me on its structure, syntax, and necessary financials. After a lengthy process, we are excited to announce a March 2020 launch date.”

According to Ted, Betty has been the key to Charlottesville HyperBaric’s successful materialization. The business received a $300,000 SBA 7(a) loan through BB&T Bank in October 2019. Ted feels Betty’s coaching gave the team greater credibility with the bank because of the long-standing relationship between BB&T and the CV SBDC.

“This would never have happened without her help,” Ted says. “Betty is an unbelievably competent and enthusiastic supporter of small business. She has helped me beyond measure.”

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Caring Hearts Academy

The SBDC helps Caring Hearts find success

After one year, Caring Hearts Academy opened with a bank loan and equity of $205,000, created 17 jobs, and doubled enrollment.

In a little over a year, Shannon Facchina turned a love for children into a successful South Hill business, Caring Hearts Academy. “We started one year ago with 23 families, and yesterday my enrollment increased to 45,” Shannon says.

The Longwood SBDC, Shannon notes, has been with her every step of the way. “I kept children in my home for nine years,” she relates. “Then I worked in a church pre-school for 11 years.” When she heard about the grant program offered by the Virginia Growth Alliance (VGA), she decided to participate. That’s where she met and began working with SBDC Business Analyst Brandon Hennessey. “That’s how I became familiar with the Longwood SBDC,” she adds.

“During the competition, Brandon helped me put together all the numbers and demographics I needed to develop a budget. That helped me realize that I actually could start my own business.” Compiling this data gave Shannon the answers to important questions. “There was another licensed childcare facility in our area,” she continues. “Did we have enough children to support another facility? We looked at median income to see how many families in the area would want private childcare and who could afford it.”

The SBDC helped Shannon write a business plan. “That’s what I took to the bank when it was time to purchase the building,” she explains. “That plan was pivotal to obtaining the loan.” While she did not receive a VGA grant, Shannon considers her connection with the SBDC to be more valuable than  dollars and cents. “The SBDC helped me develop everything — from my handbook to my budget to my pricing,” she adds.

Caring Hearts Academy continues to thrive as it enters its second year of operation. “We started with seven employees,” Shannon notes. “Now we have 17 on the payroll, and we’ve doubled our enrollment.”

Parents appreciate the educational component Caring Hearts provides. “We use a child-friendly curriculum for each age group from six months to kindergarten,” she explains. “Our goal is to get children ready for public education, while allowing them to be little for as long as they can — something else I’m passionate about.”

Shannon plans to keep in touch with the SBDC on a regular basis. “I will continue to check in with Brandon every other month as things come up,” she says. “I feel very comfortable working with the SBDC, and future plans for the business are on an annual-review basis. The SBDC has so many resources to help you build your knowledge base,” she concludes. “The SBDC gave me all the tools I needed to start my own business.”

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Hiner Diesel and Auto

Revved up: Diesel mechanic shop takes off

In the last six months of 2019, Hiner Diesel and Auto was started, $196,150 in financing was obtained, and 3 jobs were created.

Since he opened the doors to Hiner Diesel and Auto, a diesel mechanic and auto repair shop in Tappahannock, Hank Hiner says it’s been pedal to the metal. “We pretty much got started and hit the ground running.” In fact, the bustling shop had diesel vehicles lined up before they opened the doors. The secret to the clamoring throngs? The Hiners’ sterling reputation for excellent work.

When it comes to diesel mechanic and auto repair work, the Hiner family have it in their blood. Father Hank, who owns the shop, has worked on diesel vehicles his whole life, including during his time in the military. Son Chris, the lead mechanic, learned the trade early at vocational school. Cementing the family aesthetic is daughter Krissy, the office manager and bookkeeper.

The decision to open their own shop felt like the logical next step for the highly experienced team. Hank carefully researched the area to see if a diesel mechanic shop would be a good fit. With no comparable services accessible for over an hour’s drive in any direction, he knew that he was on to something.

The Hiners turned to the University of Mary Washington SBDC – Warsaw and Director Joy Corprew. They required a loan in order to purchase their building. Joy worked with Hank and his family to draft a business plan, and with help from the Rappahannock Economic Development Corporation, the Hiners received a SBA 504 loan for $167,500, thereby turning their diesel dreams into reality.

Hank is confident that they would not have received this funding without the direct guidance and support of Joy. He plans to partner with Joy again in the near future regarding vocation programs and training opportunities at the local community college.

In the meantime, Hank and the rest of the family have their hands full with Hiner Diesel and Auto. A recent contract with the town has the shop servicing all the municipality’s ambulances and brush trucks. Hank, who plans to expand the shop and add a towing and roadside service in the upcoming year, feels that providing for the needs of the community is what keeps their customer base coming back.

“We are committed to getting it right. We don’t throw parts at it,” Hank concludes “I am proud to say our reputation as a good diesel mechanic shop is really getting around.”

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Box Office Brewery

Box office hit: Brewery wins big

Box Office Brewery created 43 jobs.

One of the most popular places in downtown Strasburg to grab a pint, catch the game, or listen to live music is Box Office Brewery, owned by Tom Price and Karl Roulston. But it was not always that way. Built in 1918, the spacious location at 177 East King Street was originally the Strand Theater, believed to be the first movie house in Shenandoah County.

The high, pressed-tin ceilings caught the eyes of Tom and Karl when they were scouting for a location. “When they visited the building, they knew the high ceiling would accommodate the brewing equipment,” explains Mary Price, Tom’s wife. They were eager to have a role in maintaining such a meaningful piece of community history. “It has been a gathering place since 1920,” Mary adds. “We are proud of the environment and space and what it has offered to the community.”

For Tom and Karl, the path into beer brewing was unexpected. Karl dabbled in home brewing but didn’t find real results until he started milling his own barley. Tom, on the other hand, had always considered himself a wine connoisseur. “The story all makes sense if you know what you’re looking for,” says Tom, a former engineer. “The whole brewing side — the design of the brew house and how it functions — is all engineering. The actual brewing process — how yeast converts sugar into alcohol — is all biology and chemistry.”

After they carefully and painstakingly turned their love of barley and hops into a marketable product, the pair decided to pull the trigger on the large downtown property. They approached Christine Kriz, Director of the Lord Fairfax SBDC for help. “The SBDC was a key resource for assisting us with building a business model that we could use to get financing. They also provided resources and templates when it came time to fulfill our human resource needs and hire staff,” says Mary. “Christine Kriz was always available. When we contacted her, she was always quick to respond.” With the help of the SBDC, Tom and Karl were able to secure a major investment to help fully renovate the building while maintaining several of the original murals.

Since opening last year, Box Office Brewery has hired over 20 additional staff members including a head brewer and head chef. They received numerous local accolades including the Northern Virginia Daily’s Best of 2019 for beer selection/restaurant, beer selection/retail, and best Brewery and Sports Bar. Thanks to the strong business plan and strategy developed with Christine and the Lord Fairfax SBDC, Box Office Brewery is a hit.

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Rivertime Seafood Market & Deli

Seafood market brings new life to Surry

With a $260,000 equity investment, Rivertime Seafood Market & Deli created 2 jobs.

When Everett Howell came back to Surry in 2015, he found his hometown didn’t contain a single grocery store. “When I was growing up, Surry was a thriving community,” Everett recalls. “There was a drugstore, hardware store, and this grocery store where I worked as a bag boy when I was in high school. Sadly, things have deteriorated — there’s no grocery store at all now. When I heard folks say they had to drive all the way to Smithfield to buy an onion, I knew I had to do something.”

Ellen Templeton, Director of the Longwood SBDC – Eastern Region, heard about Everett’s project and went to see him. “Ellen sat right here in what was then a trashed building and explained what the SBDC could do to help me,” he relates. “I’d never heard of the SBDC,” he says. “Someone at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommended I contact her. She helped me with my business plan and gave me information on what’s available through the SBDC.”

Everett’s first step was renovation, followed by a soft opening for his Rivertime Seafood Market & Deli in October 2018. Funny enough, he initially didn’t know much about seafood. “We started with oysters — now we’re certified as a shucker/packer, so we can box, ship, and sell oysters,” he says with a note of pride. “It’s on-the-job training in its truest form.”

Everett is glad to have the SBDC standing by to help as his business grows. “It helps to know there’s somebody I can talk to,” he adds. “Ellen’s been very supportive — that’s helped a lot.” The SBDC seminars on financial statements, funding, and dealing with the IRS were also a boon. “I’m a process guy,” he adds. “I want to make sure I’m good with the housekeeping stuff.”

While Everett has yet to put a permanent sign out front (it’s on his final “to do” list), customers have already found him. “Right now it’s word-of-mouth,” he says. “All we did was turn on the ‘open’ sign and unlock the door. Now people come in every day to buy seafood. They really want us to succeed.”

Future plans include tapping into the local tourist market. Everett knows the SBDC is ready and willing to help make that happen. “It’s good to know I can pick up the phone and talk to Ellen,” he said. “She always comes through.”

“Bringing this community back has to start somewhere,” he concludes. “We want to be a part of that.”

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Grounded Earth

Grounded in success: The SBDC helps crystal shop shine

Grounded Earth had a capital infusion of $24,300 and created 1 new job.

Some businesses begin with an idea. Others start out of necessity. Heather Erb began hers with a revelation. While mourning the passing of her stepfather, Heather took time to reevaluate her career as an art teacher in the Lynchburg school system.

“After diving deep into my own spirituality, I began to find myself attracted to the idea that spirituality was bigger than any idea I had previously held, and spirit started to show up in my life in ways I hadn’t expected,” Heather relates. “Fortunately, it led me to crystals.”

Heather realized that starting a business of her own could look different than she imagined, but still provide the fulfillment she sought. She explains, “I had always had the inclination to start a business of my own and had seen it in my life through my parents, as they both successfully worked for themselves. However, I was under the misconception that my business would be one that supported me as a local craftswoman.” She went on, “That’s when it occurred to me that if I couldn’t find the type of healing I was in search of, then I could create my own healing and open a store that catered to the needs I had, in the hopes that it could also cater to others in need like me. And so the idea was born to open a crystal shop.”

Grounded Earth was born. In addition to crystals and gemstones of all types, the shop offers Reiki, energetic clearing and chakra balancing, as well as psychic readings, and other spiritual guidance.

Heather explains that Grounded Earth has thrived thanks to direct support from the SBDC-Lynchburg Region Center Director Stephanie Keener. “Working with Stephanie has been a godsend. She was very knowledgeable and made me feel confident that opening a new business was actually not scary. She answered my questions and gave me resources that exponentially propelled me forward,” explains Heather. “Stephanie continued to check in with me after I started the process, encouraging future meetings with her to make sure I was going to be successful at starting a new business,” Heather adds.

For Heather, Grounded Earth is a small retail shop with a big mission. Heather sees the SBDC and Stephanie as a critical part of that mission. They worked with Heather and Grounded Earth to design and build a website for the fledgling business free of charge.

“Stephanie took a process that felt overwhelming and broke it down into steps that made it easy for me to manage,” Heather says. “She went above and beyond my expectations and presented me with opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Thanks to Stephanie Keener and the SBDC-Lynchburg Region, Grounded Earth can begin establishing a presence within the community.

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