Category: 2019

Cranberry Acre

A hobby on the farm becomes a blossoming business

Cranberry Acre created 4 new jobs. It enjoys a following that increases by 300 to 400 people every year on Facebook and Instagram.

At Cranberry Acre, a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Arwen Cayton and husband Wayne create one-of-a-kind art and merchandise from soaps to blacksmith items.

After her father became ill, Arwen and Wayne moved from Texas to Virginia, where she sought to reconnect with the rural life she experienced as a child in upstate New York. Arwen’s vision for her business took time to grow and ripen, but today Cranberry Acre is a multifaceted, inspiring brand. She and Wayne run the farm as an agri-tourist destination for homesteading and crafting. She admits, however, that her initial dreams were small.

“Creating a business never even occurred to me,” Arwen says. “Mandy Archer at Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC happened to be a customer of mine in my early crafting period. After I’d given up making things for about a year, I ran into her at the farmers market. I mentioned that people were still reaching out to me, wanting my crafts, and Mandy urged me to listen to that enthusiasm. She inspired me to commit to Cranberry Acre as a business. She saw the potential this company had.”

When it came to getting a business together with all the necessary parts, Arwen acknowledges that Mandy was essential. In strategic meetings, they worked out tax ID’s, formed an LLC, and discussed each important growth step. By year four, Arwen was generating more income with Cranberry Acre than her part-time job.

With that taste of success and continued growth, she pushed further, and today Arwen spends time planning for new, exciting, educational offerings on the farm, along with enhancing the grounds. Through it all, her connection to the SBDC continues.

“They’re coming this week to drop off stuff for Small Business Saturday. SBDC helps when we celebrate anniversaries, and Ginny and Mandy are incredibly supportive,” Arwen says. “Any time I have a thought like, ‘should I be doing XYZ?’ I don’t panic. I run to Mandy, and she steers me the right way.”

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3 Guys Transport

Mission possible: With the SBDC

3 Guys Transport was financed by a $25,000 EDA loan, a $10,000 VCEDA Seed Capital Matching grant, and $34,000 in owner equity. They now have a fleet of 10 vehicles and created 8 new jobs.

David Ramsey’s 3 Guys Transport is a business driven by a mission. David already knew the needs in Southwest Virginia and started his business to meet them. He already knew the medical transport business; he had worked as a driver for five years. “I saw a lot of people who had terrible health problems and didn’t have any way to get to medical appointments,” he says. “I knew the needs out there.”

David also knew those needs were about to grow. “After the first of next year, we’ll have 400,000 more people on Medicaid in Virginia,” he notes. “I expect at least 200,000 of them will come out of Southwest Virginia.”

David, along with Bo Tackett, Brandon O-Quinn, and Ronnie Deel, decided it was a good time to start a transport company. David’s first stop was the Mt. Empire SBDC. “Tim Blankenbecler walked us through everything,” David says. “The state had so many things we had to do that I wrote out a list.” First, the SBDC assisted David with DMV requirements and with acquiring appropriate licenses. Then Tim helped David develop a business plan. “Tim really helped us out on the business side,” David says. “One of the first things we needed to do was decide on a central location.”

An office in the Pioneer Center Business Incubator in Duffield became the company headquarters. This location also allowed 3 Guys to obtain a low-interest loan of $25,000 from the Scott County Economic Development Authority Loan Program. Using the loan money as matching funds, they applied for a $10,000 Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) Seed Capital Matching grant. “The SBDC really helped us get the EDA loan and VCEDA grant,” David notes. With the loan and grant funds, plus $34,000 in owner investment for a total of $69,000, 3 Guys has been able to increase its fleet of vehicles from four to ten. 

David says each vehicle in the fleet translates into another job for a new driver and the ability to serve more clients. The company currently employees eight people.

David continues to consult the SBDC on a regular basis. “Every two or three weeks, I’ll call Tim and throw some ideas off him,” David comments. “Generally he’ll tell me, ‘Here’s the positive, and here’s the negative on that.’ It’s nice to have someone you can call on, who will give you an honest point of view.”

“Tim and I talked about future plans.” David adds, “We’re actually ahead of our projections.” David hopes to add more drivers and vehicles every year, eventually employing 21 drivers. “It’s not a 9 to 5 job,” David says. It is, in fact, more of a mission. “Whatever it takes to get the job done, we’ll do it,” he says. “We feel blessed to be able to help others in their time of need.”

“I always tell others, be smart about what you do,” he concludes. “Going to the SBDC is smart; it’s the best resource you’ve got to learn the nuts and bolts of business.”

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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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Paladin Bar & Grill

No bull about it: Paladin Bar & Grill bucks into town

Paladin Bar & Grill created 40 new jobs, landed $550,000 in capitol infusion, and went from $0 to $600,000 in revenue in one year.

It definitely wasn’t their first rodeo, but Craig Spaulding and William Waybourn, owners of Paladin Bar & Grill in Stephens City, decided to embrace the wild west spirit all the same.

A massive 1,100-pound bull named Paladin dominates the front entrance to Paladin Bar & Grill. The statue, created by Bettye Hamblen Turner, is constructed from stainless and carbon steel and recycled motorcycle and car parts. “Paladin was created on the LBJ Ranch in Texas and is one of five Longhorn sculptures. This one was the fifth in the series and the only one on public viewing, as the other four are in private collections,” William explains. The eatery’s namesake has been bullish about pulling in curious patrons and photo-op hungry passersby since opening its doors in March of 2018.

Craig and William are no strangers to entrepreneurship. They own Long View Gallery in D.C., the largest private gallery in the capital city, as well as Screen Archives, a massive online film-and-music distributor. When it came to the always-fickle restaurant scene, Craig and William were glad to have the assistance of the Lord Fairfax SBDC and seasoned analyst, Christine Kriz.

“Early on Christine gave us a demographic overlay of the area that was instrumental in our decision to sign the lease. She also provided us with resources of various governmental entities and private businesses to help us get oriented and in business,” William says. “We never would have opened this location had it not been for the SBDC and Christine Kriz. Her assistance and data were invaluable in making a determination to open Paladin Bar & Grill in Stephens City,” William adds.

For Craig and William, the restaurant incorporates pieces from all their ventures. “We try to make all of our companies partner with each other,” William says, “hence the artwork and restored movie posters you see everywhere around Paladin.”

Despite its neighborhood setting, the investment is paying off with continued steady business and growth. “We just recently started paying our servers above minimum wage — that’s unheard of in the restaurant industry,” says William. “Most servers barely survive on tips, so we made the decision to increase their hourly pay in anticipation that customers would agree that better service deserves a higher tip,” he adds.

While Paladin, the bold chrome bull, continues to be the talk of the town, William and Craig are looking to the future, once again with the assistance and resources of the SBDC. “We are currently working with the Lord Fairfax SBDC and Christine on another location in northern Frederick County,” says William.  

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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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Tazewell Co. Mercantile

The ties that bond: Tazewell Co. Mercantile brings the community together

Bond and Reece Strong won a $10,000 VCEDA Seed Capital Matching Grant which allowed them to open Tazewell Co. Mercantile, generate sales, and create a new jobs-all within a few months.

Bond Strong has been dreaming about Tazewell Co. Mercantile at some level all her life. A Tazewell County native, she graduated from Western Carolina University before returning home to open the locally sourced food-and-gift mart in fall 2018. Bond explains, “My mom proposed the idea of an antique store in January, and I began thinking about how I could incorporate my passion for local food and the local economy into that. The store grew pretty organically from there.”

The part-gift shop, part-local market opened in October. Since then, the store has gathered handmade gifts, local food items, and the community itself – all into one warm, bustling epicenter that hosts crafting workshops and other eclectic events almost weekly.

Bond credits the Southwest Virginia Community College SBDC and advisor Margie Douglass for walking every step beside her, which she admits was daunting at first. “As a history major, then a nanny, then a substitute teacher, then a stay-at-home mom, I had no business experience, and I did not know how to turn my idea into a reality. I had no clue what a business plan was, what steps I needed to take, or who to speak with,” Bond admits. “Margie helped me lay out a plan and organize my thoughts and ideas into something coherent and manageable. Going through the business plan development process helped me better understand how a business is run and how feasible my plan was,” Bond continues.

Margie and the SBDC also assisted Bond in competing for and ultimately winning a $10,000 Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) Seed Capital Matching grant which, along with an additional investment by Bond and husband Reece, was critical in bringing Tazewell Co. Mercantile to life.

For Bond and Reece, community is the center of everything they do, and it is what sets the store apart. “Our commitment to locally sourced products and to our suppliers defines us. By making those two things priorities, we are putting our community first and, by extension, our customers,” Bond says. “In fact,” she adds, “one of the most unique challenges our business faces, because it is locally sourced, is that physically getting all the products to the store takes a significant amount of coordinating. I am so proud of how hard working, honest, and committed all of my suppliers are. It’s an honor to work with them,” says Bond.

“The SBDC is one of, if not the, greatest asset in our county,” says Bond. “Not only did I receive practical help, I felt like Margie was my own personal cheerleader, and it truly helped me on the days I was feeling down about the process of starting a business.”

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3R Behavioral Solutions

3R creates Life Sherpa, a breakthrough assistive technology

3R Behavioral Solutions received a $30,000 grant from George Mason University. They signed a contract with DXC Technologies to modify and test the Sherpa platform for use in their Dandelion program.

Doug Meeker, an accomplished digital media and technology veteran, found out that his three-year-old son was autistic. Doug figured he had 15 years to teach Scott the skills he would need to become an independent adult. “It became my passion,” said Doug.

Doug and his team of autism experts, behavioral therapists, and parents distilled complex principles of behavior-changing techniques into three simple activities: remind, reinforce, and reward. These 3 Rs must be applied consistently for every task. “Who has that kind of patience, fortitude and time?” asks Doug. “But changing ‘who’ to ‘what’ changes everything. What has the patience, fortitude, and time? Smartphones, smart watches, computer tablets with visual and touch interfaces – the perfect assistive technology for kids with developmental disabilities.” Voila! The Life Sherpa platform is born.

Life Sherpa displays each child’s task list on his or her digital device. As tasks are learned, more are added. All the tasks build progressively, leading kids to become more independent. Proctors monitor the lists to check that tasks are properly completed.

Doug worked with Bob Smith, Director of the Virginia SBDC’s Innovation Commercial Assistance Program (ICAP). They developed the business plan, identified possible clients, worked on the financials, etc. Bob also introduced Doug to Dr. Heidi Graff, Director of Learning Into Future Environments (LIFE) program at George Mason University. Mason LIFE helps kids with learning disabilities transition into university life. They started a pilot program, using the Life Sherpa platform with Mason LIFE students, along with a $30,000 grant.

Success! Students enjoyed the sense of freedom and independence that was possible with the reminders from the Life Sherpa, instead of being “nagged” by a person. By starting their day successfully, they had a better day overall.

“Scott, who is also a recent cancer survivor, is progressing well. He’s a sophomore at John Champe High School where he is on the cross-country and track teams. Last spring he passed his two SOL’s for the first time ever. And he never misses the bus anymore, thanks to his Sherpa,” Doug reports.

Based on their success so far, Doug and his team are now focusing on the more complex issue of job training. Helping employers hire, train, and support neurodiverse individuals in the workplace is a much larger market. 3R just signed a deal with DXC Technologies – a Fortune 500 end-to-end IT company with 6000 clients across 70 countries – to power their innovative Dandelion Program. Dandelion is an initiative that started in Australia five years ago to train and employ individuals on the autism spectrum in those high-demand tech jobs, including cybersecurity and data analytics. The 3R method continues to grow.

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Granite Countertop Experts

Solid as a rock: The SBDC brings business from shaky to stable

Sales have increased and 1 job expanded from part-time to full-time.

Nelson Mandela famously said, “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Natalie Lago of Granite Countertop Experts in Newport News is deeply familiar with conquering fear.

She and her husband Ken launched their countertop fabrication and installation business in 2005. The business holds licensed contractor (Class A) classifications in commercial and home improvement and is a certified Commonwealth of Virginia SWaM/Micro business. Husband Ken’s years of experience working as a contractor for high-end markets in the Maryland area with an excellent reputation enabled the enterprise to thrive.

In 2008, however, the Hampton Roads area began to feel the fallout of the housing recession. Natalie’s business had just purchased costly but vital equipment, and the outlook for the future looked bleak. “I was literally frightened as I witnessed many business owners closing their doors or filing for bankruptcy,” she says.

Fear moved Natalie to connect with the SBDC. In advisor Debra Hamilton Farley, she found reassurance, guidance, and most importantly a friend. “I credit her with keeping me from becoming a failed small business owner statistic during those challenging economic times,” Natalie adds.

Over a decade of working with Debra and the SBDC proved incredibly valuable for Natalie. She says she has particularly benefited from training sessions hosted by Debra, where industry professionals provide advice and one-on-one interactions with business owners. The SBDC also provided the opportunity for Natalie to network with other small-business owners where she found encouragement and support. “For me Debra makes the SBDC like a sanctuary,” Natalie says. “Debra made a way for me to see a light at the end of the tunnel. She is a gem, and her enthusiasm is genuine and contagious,” Natalie adds.

Although Natalie always sees room for growth, it is clear that the anxiety-riddled days of 2008 are well behind her contracting business. Granite Countertop Experts has experienced steady growth and continues to automate as much as possible, reducing the toll of heavy physical labor.

Thanks to Debra and the SBDC, Natalie has good reason to feel optimistic for the future. The SBDC has turned Natalie’s fear into confidence. “I have learned a lot, and there’s still a lot for me to learn about entrepreneurship. But I now feel better prepared to run my business and have some fantastic resources to turn to for questions and guidance,” Natalie says. “I’m no longer focused on surviving; I’m ready to thrive.”

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