A long-empty, abandoned ruin of a convenience store across from her driveway was the first glimpse Marla Edwards had of the vision that would become the Crooked Road General Store. Once known as Collins Market, an establishment famed for its corned-beef sandwiches, it was now an eyesore, and years of disuse had left it filled with dust and debris. “Despite that dark, windowless, cinder-block interior,” Edwards recalls, “I felt warmth.”
Under Edwards’ care, it has become “a convenience store and a little more.” Today, instead of corned beef, the Crooked Road is known for its Monday Night Singing Suppers, featuring local as well as celebrity bluegrass and gospel musicians and a reasonably priced Blue Plate Supper. “My first love is music, and my second is my community,” Edwards says. “What I’m doing here with the store allows me to bring those things together.”
The Virginia Highlands SBDC was one of many team players who helped Edwards turn her vision into reality. With encouragement at the project’s beginning and continued support along the way, Edwards credits the SBDC’s Client Specialist Sue Wagner, as well as a host of loving friends and family members, for making her country store a success.
Wagner helped Edwards create a business plan and walked her through every step of execution. She also encouraged her to participate in local business-plan “challenges” that allow business owners to compete with each other for prize money. Edwards says these competitions were great learning opportunities.
Initially tentative about her bold decision to buy the property, Edwards credits the SBDC and her support system for putting her worries to rest. “The apprehension disappeared,” she says. “And only the good memories, uplifting attitudes, and the complete fun of cleaning up, clearing out, and rebuilding remained.”
Today the bustling Crooked Road Convenience Store is a far cry from the rundown building it once was. On Monday evenings the rooms swell with the sound of fiddles, banjos, and guitars. Regulars, who have attended nearly all of the 300+ supper events, line the weathered wood floors. In the end, like the last sweet note of an old melody hanging in the air, the thing that remains for Edwards is the love and the memories.
Pat Carson’s business in Locust Grove started with a tea party. “I held a tea for my sister Pami-Sue,” Pat says. “And that sparked my interest in the lost art of tea parties. I wanted to share it with others, so I decided to start Sassy Pat’s Tea Parties.”
Pat wanted something new to do during her retirement. Fortunately, when she decided to look into a tea-party business, a friend gave some advice. “My friend said, ‘Please do me a favor, and go to the SBDC,’” Pat says. She did and met with David Reardon, the business counselor at the Lord Fairfax SBDC at Culpeper.
“Pat contacted us for startup assistance that would help her understand registration and licensing obligations at the federal, state, and local levels,” David says. “Following the guidelines, Pat set up an LLC.”
Pat developed a business model that minimized her overhead: the client arranges for the location of the tea, often in the client’s home, while Pat provides the food, tea, china, silverware, decorations, etc. “It’s really taken off the last few months,” she notes. “Right now I’m the only employee, and I’ve never been so busy in my life!”
Before pouring the first cup of tea, Pat sits down with each client and makes a plan. “I go over available color schemes and themes, and we look over the menu,” she adds. Sassy Pat’s offers a selection of savory and sweet options and a variety of teas. “There are so many choices to make,” she adds. “Every tea party takes a lot of planning.”
So does, as Pat discovered, starting a business. Pat returned to the SBDC for an in-depth lesson on using QuickBooks. “I showed Pat the various accounting functions in the software,” David says. “This session gave Pat a more comprehensive view of the input and reporting capabilities of QuickBooks.”
As her business grows, Pat plans to return to the SBDC for guidance and assistance with business-related issues. “I will go back to the SBDC— I definitely will,” Pat says. “The SBDC gives you good information that you won’t get anywhere else. Plus it’s free — that’s the best part!”
“Giving these tea parties has become my passion,” she declares. “This is something I want to do for the rest of my life and I want to make sure I do it right,” Pat concludes. “The SBDC pointed me in the right direction!”
Drenna Love had a problem, so she solved it by starting a business. “Our boys attended a church school,” she says. “After September you were just out of luck if you needed a uniform; none of the local retail stores had them.” In 2005, Drenna launched Legacy School Apparel.
According to Drenna, her success started at the Hampton Roads SBDC. “My relationship with the SBDC began in 2004 when I attended my first workshop on how to start your own business,” she recalls. “I gained valuable information on choosing a legal structure, writing a business plan, and financing a business. I really enjoyed the one-on-one coaching sessions with Debra Hamilton Farley, Associate Executive Director at the SBDC. Whenever they held a workshop that I could benefit from, I always made sure to attend,” she says.
One topic Drenna found particularly challenging was marketing. “My background is in accounting and bookkeeping, so when it came to marketing, I was all over the place,” she says. “I attended as many traditional and social media marketing webinars and seminars as I could. My mission for 2017 was to put together a strategic marketing plan.”
Debra, who has remained Drenna’s SBDC consultant over the years, helped. “Mrs. Farley suggested I put together a presentation packet for a new school I was interested in doing business with,” Drenna notes. “I didn’t get that contract, but I used the presentation packet at two other schools and won contracts with them both.” Last March, Drenna met with Virginia SBDC Retail and Restaurant Consultant Marc Willson. “He came out, evaluated our store, and gave me some pointers on marketing,” Drenna says. “One thing I like about the SBDC: if you’re going in the wrong direction, they will tell you, which is what you want.”
“This past summer I won my first SWaM (Small Women and Minority-owned) business contract for $30,000 with Tidewater Community College,” Drenna says. She became a certified SWaM vendor after completing an SBDC workshop on that topic.
Clients for school uniforms continue to grow, and Drenna added graduation apparel to Legacy’s inventory. “Often we moved into career apparel and became the go-to place for small business uniforms,” Drenna notes. “When we added medical apparel, we started working with several medical training schools.”
Throughout 2017, Drenna continued to add marketing initiatives. “Mrs. Farley reminded me of all the great tools and resources on the Virginia SBDC website,” Drenna says. “I felt like a child at the candy store when I found all the webinar recordings I needed to help me put together my strategic marketing plan. I’m at the point now where I feel like I’m on the right track,” she concludes. “Thanks to the SBDC I have a marketing plan in place to grow the business and take it to the next level.”
As a gymnast, Natalie Kelly-Kimmel likes to keep moving. She grew up in a small town in Indiana. “I got my BA in elementary and special education and taught for six years before my husband’s job brought us to Farmville,” she explains.
Natalie, who trained and competed in the USA Gymnastics (USAG) Junior Olympic program, was dismayed to find that Farmville did not have a gym. “I taught tumbling classes at the YMCA for four years. When that position ended, I started thinking about opening my own gym,” she says. “A friend of mine consulted the SBDC for assistance in starting her business, so I decided to give them a call to help me start mine.” Motion Gymnastics & Tumbling Center was born.
At the Longwood SBDC, Natalie found a welcoming attitude and a wealth of information. “Gary Shanaberger, an SBDC Advisor, helped me run the numbers and price equipment,” she relates. “I’d do my homework and then go back, again and again.”
During the planning stages, Gary helped Natalie set up a focus group with local families with young children. “In the focus group we talked about different ideas about classes and pricing,” Natalie says. “That gave me some feedback — and the confidence to go ahead.”
Next, Natalie secured a business loan. “Creating a business plan was a very valuable piece when looking for a loan,” Natalie adds. “With a projection sheet I could speak to the bank. I’m very glad I had that tool.” Natalie, now in her second year as a business owner, still refers to her business plan. “I have that as a sounding board,” she says. “And I know where I stand.”
Natalie started her business with approximately 100 students. “I actually had people sign up a month before I opened my doors,” she says. “That was encouraging.” Now Natalie teaches 20 classes a week with 150 students. While she is currently the only employee, Natalie plans to add more instructors in the future.
Whatever that future brings, Natalie is reassured that she can return to the SBDC. “I called Gary after I opened my business,” she recalls. “I remember asking him, ‘Am I supposed to stop calling now?’” Gary assured Natalie that she was always welcome to come back to the SBDC. “He said that some of his best clients continued to call the SBDC on a regular basis,” she adds. “He told me that if you’re asking questions, you’re doing something right.”
“The attitude at the SBDC office was great,” Natalie concludes. “As a small business owner I appreciate that very much.”
Jr’s Music Store & More began with a dream. Today, through Lloyd France, Jr.’s hard work, it offers everything from instrument rentals to sound system support. “I’ve loved music all my life,” Jr says. “Coming up in school, I played drums in the band and sang in the choir.” Along with his parents, Jr sang in The Family Five Gospel. “The group is special because his grandparents started it 72 years ago,” says Toni, Jr’s wife.
Jr knew the retail music business; he worked for ten years at Woodall’s Music. “I was a sales rep and did guitar repairs,” he notes. “When Sandy Woodall closed the business, I saw an opportunity and seized it.” Woodall’s Music provided band instruments for local schools, and Jr did not want that to stop now. “I wanted these kids to have the same chance I did,” he says.
Plans took shape when Jr met with Longwood SBDC Consultant Kelvin Perry. “Kelvin and I sat down one afternoon and discussed everything I wanted to do,” Jr says. “The second time we met, we started putting plans into action. I worked with Kelvin for about four months.”
Jr attended an SBDC small business class taught by Kelvin at Patrick Henry Community College. “I learned about keeping financial records and how important growth is,” Jr says. “They told us to keep inventory low at first. If you don’t plan carefully, uncontrolled inventory can take you out of business.” Kelvin helped Jr craft a business plan, and his assistance paid off. Since opening, Jr’s customer base has grown.
Jr and Toni also participated in the SmartSTART program offered through Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation’s Small Business Division. “We received two grants through that program that came to about $6,000,” Toni notes. “That was very helpful.”
From the beginning, being helpful hit the right chord with Jr. “We want Jr’s Music to be a hands-on business,” he says. “It is family oriented; come in, sit down, try a guitar!” Jr’s offers sound system support to the local community. If a microphone goes out in church, Jr’s helps, often just before a service starts. Local schools depend on Jr’s for band instruments. Toni points to a display of clarinets, trumpets, and flutes. “We have affordable rent-to-own plans,” she adds. Jr’s also offers piano and guitar lessons for older students.
“Stop dreaming; start playing” is the store motto, which also applies to local recording artists. In the recording studio upstairs, people cut demos and CDs. Soon Jr’s Pickin’ Porch will open to local performers, and anyone who sings or plays is welcome. “For Christmas, we’ll plan a recital for our students,” Toni adds. “The whole purpose at Jr’s is sharing music,” Jr concludes. What more could anyone ask of a music store?