Category: 2020


Planet Chopper

Easy Rider Meets Mad Max

Planet Chopper supports 5 jobs and had a 6-figure infusion of capital.

Thanks to the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC, four unlikely friends found a way to turn motorcycle tours into transformative experiences and forge bonds among strangers — all while doing what they love.

“This might sound like a cliché, but when you do what you love for a living, it’s not work.” When Wayne Cayton talks about Planet Chopper, you can hear that love.

Wayne met New Zealanders Mark Van Leeuwarden, Mark’s son Ben, and John Devonshire a decade ago at a gas station. “We met on the road riding motorcycles somewhere in New Mexico,” Wayne relates. It turned out that the four of them were going to the same place in Rockingham, NC. They agreed to meet up whenever they arrived, having no inkling that their eventual destination would turn into a joint business venture.

Their company, Planet Chopper, offers one-of-a-kind tours on unique custom motorcycles. Wayne says, “The four of us had been riding together as a group for 10 years. And we’d go on these journeys that were just unbelievable.” With boots-on-the-ground experience in riding, mechanics, and motorcycle tour destinations, they offer life-changing trips to groups of riders throughout the United States. With a company tagline of Where Easy Rider Meets Mad Max and tours named The Kiwi Crusade, The Southern Joyride, and The Sturgis Stampede, you’re bound to attract a diverse crowd.

The four founders share a deep and abiding love of riding on the open road, and their diverse array of skills complement each other. Wayne and John practice the art of chopping, that is, they customize one-off bikes for the tours. Mark brings expertise in international business. Ben focuses on marketing, but he found that establishing local points of contact was difficult. He contacted the SBDC for help with “connecting the dots in the local environment.” Mandy Archer, Director for the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC, knew where to start.

“Ginny and Mandy put us in touch with Larry Davidson, founder of Back of the Dragon [Larry’s story is also in this publication]; Becky Nave, the Destination Development Specialist at Virginia Tourism Corporation; and Steve Helms of Primland,” Mark explains. Back of the Dragon is a 32-mile stretch of winding road from Marion to Tazewell, famous among riders throughout the world, and Primland is a luxury resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounded by a 47-mile loop favored by riders. “Their support was invaluable and made all the difference,” says Wayne.

Musing about the experience, Wayne says, “What begins as a group of 15 complete strangers at the start of a trip — not even two weeks later, with the laughter and conversation happening at the table — you’d think they’d been friends and family for decades. That is really cool to see. These are stories that they’re going to be able to tell for the rest of their lives.”

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Anne Vaughan Designs

Anne Vaughan Designs

Designed to Shine

Anne Vaughan Designs supports 17 jobs and increased sales. 

The Vaughans didn’t start out to create a successful jewelry making business. In fact, Anne originally intended the venture to supplement husband Aaron’s income. They invested $500 from their personal savings to purchase some basic tools and gemstones. Between her children’s nap times, Anne created her first designs and exhibited them at the Roanoke City Market on a busy Black Friday in 2006. It marked the launch of a thriving business with online and wholesale customers across the country. “We have a unique product in the American handcrafted jewelry marketplace, specifically layered gemstone jewelry collections,” Aaron explains.

Creating a unique product in a rural area comes with challenges. “We had to train our staff in jewelry making, since most of them come to us with no prior experience. The upside is that most of our makers have been with us between three and nine years, so we are blessed to have a committed staff,” says Aaron.

Anne Vaughan Designs learned about business through the trainings offered by the Roanoke Region SBDC, including the GrowthWheel® program. GrowthWheel provided Anne and Aaron with a “360 view” of the business process. “It covers almost every part of a business, from customer relations to organizational operations and more,” Aaron explains. “The program was especially helpful, because we worked with other local small businesses to see their specific challenges, and then used the GrowthWheel® Framework to walk through the decision-making process and identify ways to resolve and overcome those challenges.”

Aaron and Anne worked closely with SBDC counselors Tom Tanner and Amanda Forrester. “We consult regularly with Tom on quarterly financial reviews and Amanda on networking leads, marketing, and other topics. Having their guidance has been invaluable,” Aaron says. Tom and Amanda helped Aaron and Anne develop cost-efficient systems to maximize profitability, as well as streamline operational systems and software. “Tom Tanner came to our office and spent a half day just going through our financials and making recommendations on how to track expenses differently, make changes to our books, and do an initial cleaning of our data. It was invaluable,” Aaron declares. “Since then, Tom has met with us quarterly to review our financials, ask probing questions about our profit and loss, and identify areas to look into, further based on his expertise.”

The Vaughans are proud to say that they never borrowed any capital, yet have accomplished year-over-year growth since 2006. Anne Vaughan Designs is doing so well that Anne and Aaron are set to participate in a peer advisory group where they will pass on the lessons they have learned over the past 14 years to new start-ups and other businesses in the area. “I am excited to work with other small businesses in our community to help guide them in the same ways that the SBDC has helped us,” says Aaron.

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AquaFloat & Charlottesville Hyberbaric

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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Careing Hearts Academy

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

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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Dragon Fire

Dragon Fire

Winding road holds big dreams

$1.6 million capital infusion from Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, Tobacco Commission, and private investors.

For Larry Davidson, it all started with a road — a 32-mile, serpentine stretch of Route 16 between Marion and Tazewell, Virginia, known as the Back of the Dragon. Larry loved to ride the 435 snaking curves of the road and suspected that many other motorcyclists and driving enthusiasts would as well. But he needed help marketing the road that spanned the Big Walker, Brushy, and Clinch Mountains.

Larry turned to the Southwest SBDC for assistance. Once the campaign started, Larry’s suspicions proved true; others came, eager to experience the thrill of navigating all those curves and switchbacks.

As the Dragon’s popularity grew, Larry started Dragon Fire to sell souvenirs and memorabilia to riders and drivers. It wasn’t long before Larry found himself outgrowing the 400-foot doublewide trailer where he sold Back of the Dragon merchandise. The next step was to build a welcome center. It was time for the dragon to spread its wings.

Larry worked with Margie Douglass, Center Director, and the Southwest SBDC team to find funding for the new space. He wanted a welcome center that incorporated retail space, a coffee bar, yogurt bar, brewery, and lounge. In short, he wanted a 5,000 square-foot edifice. With the SBDC’s help, Larry received a $150,000 Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) grant and a $650,000 loan from the Tobacco Commission. With the addition of investor financing, the $1.68 million facility was built, and opened in December 2019.

For Larry, the SBDC was the glue that made all the pieces fit together. “You can have the best idea in the world but, if you don’t know how to implement it, that idea isn’t worth anything. It doesn’t do you any good,” he says. “I had so much knowledge about my market, but I was unsure how to take that head full of knowledge and make it work to pay dividends for my business. This is where the SBDC program bridged the gap.”

Larry is confident that the SBDC will be an ongoing resource that he will rely on as he navigates the curves of the future.

“Looking back, if it hadn’t been for Margie and the SBDC, I am confident that I would not be where I am,” said Larry. “It’s been the most positive factor for me being successful up to this point, and I have no doubt that it will continue to be so in the future.”

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Enterprise e-Support

Enterprise e-Support, Inc.

Global connections add security

Enterprise e-Support added 3 jobs and obtained a loan of $60,000.

Chintan and Shikha Dixit have always had a sharp eye for innovation, and they brought it to the IT sector with their business by keeping pace with the changing world of technology. “In order to stay smart and transformative, customers need better visibility into and control of their IT assets,” Chintan explains. “We help customers improve enterprise-level processes and at the same time support their legacy portfolio — like building a car while driving it.”

Enterprise e-Support connected with the SBDC at the Community Business Partnership (CBP) to help solve a familiar challenge: how to do more with less. “Two years ago, we turned to the SBDC at CBP to utilize their shared services and support. Our experience with the SBDC has been great ever since,” Shikha says. “Their staff is great, and they have helped us organize and prepare for government contracting.”

Chintan and Shikha are particularly impressed with how thoroughly the SBDC advisors helped them with their federal clientele. “The federal government expects companies to have past performance, to understand government contracting, and to be able to apply their solicitations with technical and pricing proposals,” Shikha says. “A small business needs to be knowledgeable in these areas and be able to review forecasts, review agency spending habits, and more.”

The SBDC consultants have guided Enterprise e-Support through the intricacies of working with this type of client. “They provided us with training on every aspect of the process. They also helped us with our IT Schedule 70 and our 8(a) process,” Shikha continues. The IT Schedule 70 is a long-term contract issued by the General Services Administration to a commercial technology vendor. 8(a) is a federally funded business-development program through the Small Business Administration.

In addition to this vital assistance, the Dixits say they have utilized the other resources available at the SBDC to hone and improve their product. “Our team enrolled in a weeklong, SBDC sponsored, Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) for entrepreneurs,” Chintan says. “CBP and SBDC consultants sat through our product demo, provided feedback to us, and reviewed all our marketing material. Recently they reviewed and improved an EeS marketing pitch for a live TV program that gave us much needed visibility.”

Enterprise e-Support is thriving with the assistance of the SBDC consultants. They are thankful to have a trusted partner and resource to come alongside and carry some of the load. “Small businesses do a lot of heavy lifting,” says Chintan. “Just being small and running the business is a big task. You need a lot of helping hands. We are so thankful to the SBDC and CBP for being our partner and helping us grow.”

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The Rooms Up There

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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Box Office Brewery

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

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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