Wanting to offer a “one-stop shop” customer experience, brother and sister duo Eugene McCurdy and April Cope decided to operate their respective businesses under one roof last fall. Eugene launched two22 Production and Marketing (formerly Manna Graphics) in 2014; April Cope joined her brother with a complementary business, Manna Tees, in 2020. Adding the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC to the team helped work out the details.
“Previously, my training was architectural drafting,” Eugene says. “In 2008, I was laid off and had to figure out what to do next.” After working for a local graphic design company for a time, Eugene decided to start his own business. One of his first stops was the SBDC.
At the SBDC, Eugene received advice on a variety of topics related to starting a business from Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC Director Mandy Archer and Administrative Assistant Ginny Plant. “They showed me everything it would take to operate a business,” Eugene recalls. “That started with a business plan to see what my business should offer. The SBDC followed that with analytics on local competition. The SBDC really spelled it all out.”
Advice from the SBDC allowed Eugene to open and grow his business without accumulating business debt. “I didn’t need funding at the start,” he recalls. “Basically, all I needed was me and a computer. There wasn’t a lot of overhead.”
While graphics was the focus of the business, website design turned out to be the name of the game for Eugene. “The SBDC helped me see my biggest income producer,” Eugene says. “For me, website design offered the most return on investment.”
With the SBDC onboarding process helping him organize the “big picture” of his business, Eugene was able to concentrate on graphics and website design. “I have a tendency to work in the business but not on the business,” Eugene admits. “The SBDC really helped me with that.” Website development brought in more business. “I started with a small handful of clients,” Eugene notes. “Today I have over a hundred website customers.”
April Cope joined her brother’s entrepreneurial venture last year. Following Eugene’s example, she went to the SBDC first. “I started talking to the SBDC last fall,” April says. “Manna Tees had a grand opening in November 2020.”
An interest in t-shirt design started at a Christian concert some years before, and it grew into a business for April. She was excited to get started but needed direction. “I had a lot of ideas, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do,” she relates. “Mandy Archer at the SBDC really helped me with that. She’s really good at thinking outside the box. For me, it’s been a learning process.”
April’s learning process included funding. With help from the SBDC, April applied for a loan to secure needed equipment. “Mandy Archer walked me through the application process step by step,” April says. “The loan I received for $5,000 was huge for the business.”
Manna Tees was also able to take advantage of the SBA Debt Relief Program. “The SBA paid off half of the loan for equipment,” she adds. “The SBDC also helped with that process.” Overall, the SBDC assisted April in the creation of one job and a total of $7,500 in capital for her business. “I started from zero six months ago, and I now work with about 30 clients,” she says.
Like her brother, April credits the SBDC with turning her toward success. “The SBDC pointed me in the right direction,” she says. “The SBDC really does stay on top of things,” Eugene adds. “Not only do they know every angle, they spell out every detail for you.”
Both Eugene and April appreciate the SBDC’s proactive approach. “The SBDC kept us informed during COVID,” Eugene says. “Mandy definitely keeps up with everything.” Eugene and April also enjoy the creative vibe they share. “We bounce ideas off each other,” Eugene says. “When you’re in a creative business, it helps to have another set of eyes.”
Despite the pandemic, business has been picking up for both businesses. “We recently got spirit-wear orders from a local school,” April notes. “That includes t-shirts, shorts, and bags. Hopefully, that will continue next year as well.”
“Since I started in 2014, my business has doubled,” Eugene concludes. “Anyone who comes in the door for a website — I tell them to go to the SBDC. When you’re starting a business, the SBDC has a huge amount of knowledge for you. It really helps to take advantage of that.”