Category: 2021

Albemarle Limo

Albemarle Limousine

Wedded together: Unique concept says “I do” with the SBDC

Bought a 10-bay building that allowed the company to expand its services; created 60 jobs.

https://www.albemarlelimousine.com/

Albemarle Limousine & Travel Service, LLC, was an idea that started with a wedding.

“It was my daughter’s wedding, and I was planning it,” CEO Andrea Saathoff says. “I was looking for a classic wedding-car rental and was surprised to learn that the closest one was in Washington D.C.”

In 2008, Andrea decided to start her own classic-car business in Charlottesville. “I quickly learned that vintage transportation was more of a hobby than a business,” Andrea adds. “So we added modern cars that first year.”

Being a business owner, the former elementary school teacher noted, was a learning experience. “That’s the fun of being an entrepreneur — we were doubling in revenue every year,” Andrea explains. “Within five years, we had a fleet of premium sedans, SUVs, shuttle buses, and vintage limousines.” As the company grew, Virginia Auto Detailing was added, and a mechanic was hired to manage a growing fleet of vehicles.

When COVID struck, the business was blindsided and nearly crippled. The situation quickly became critical. “We immediately lost 90 percent of our revenue,” Andrea says.

With the pandemic slamming the brakes on her business, Andrea contacted the Central Virginia SBDC. “I met SBDC Advisor Dillon Franks through a small business group I joined,” she relates. “He’s been our advisor ever since. We also worked with Central Virginia Director Rebecca Haydock.”

Rebecca provided additional guidance as the company grew. “Rebecca connected me with a QuickBooks specialist and helped with marketing, and Dillon provided guidance with our biggest customer, a very large corporation. He suggested things I never would have thought about.”

As COVID continued, Andrea looked for ways to diversify. “We already had a detailing business,
but it was seasonal due to lack of indoor space,” she says. “When a realtor I knew found a
property with 10 auto bays going on the market, we decided to buy it, as it would significantly expand our car and truck maintenance and service offerings to the public through our ACE Auto Center Express. We are now experiencing strong growth, due to our expanded physical plant and more central location.”

Andrea added, “Dillon and Rebecca were very helpful with the purchase of that building and issues related to growing our staff.”

Continuing to combat COVID, Albemarle Limousine launched a bicycle repair business, ACE Bicycle Charlottesville, in the spring of 2020. “Riding bikes offered socially-distanced exercise, so our shop was very popular,” Andrea adds. “Now all three businesses are in recovery, we have 60 employees, and everything is going gangbusters.”

Andrea continues to be enthusiastic about the SBDC and Dillon, who she describes as “a seasoned advisor who really cares about my business and our employees.”

“The SBDC helped us significantly through the pandemic,” Andrea concludes. “The SBDC has all the resources you need to help a business succeed and grow.”

Read More
AWL Creative _ Wedding Loft

AWL Creative

Wedded together: Unique concept says “I do” with the SBDC

Received $2,000 in loans and $52,000 in equity investments.

https://awlcreative.com/

When Barbara Kriss started AWL Creative in 2019, she was motivated more by the services she didn’t see than by those she did. A former stationery and graphic designer with close ties to the wedding industry, Barbara was struck by the lack of centralized resources for those who worked in wedding planning and production, as well as for those looking for wedding service providers.

“I began noticing all these gaps,” Barbara recalls, as she remembers the early days, prior to opening A Wedding Loft. “I observed the industry was missing resources, spaces, and education overall,” Barbara adds.

With AWL, Barbara and her business partner, Paul Tartaglioni, sought to fill these gaps. The downtown building contains studio space for event planners, photographers, makeup artists, and more. It also has rentable event space as well as coworking space. A membership option is also available to guests, which offers varying levels of access to the facilities.

Back in 2019, when Barbara and Paul were considering the idea of AWL Creative, Paul decided to attend a basic small business prep class at the local library, where he connected with Eric Byrd, Lead Business Advisor at the Loudoun SBDC. Eric would go on to be a mentor and advisor for Barbara and Paul as their project moved forward.

“We are so grateful to the SBDC for everything,” Barbara says. “They have been there for us for everything, every step of the way,” she adds.

Things were just taking off for AWL when the full impact of COVID-19 caused the fledgling business to close its doors. It wasn’t long before Barbara found a pandemic workaround, offering intimate marriage ceremonies in the event space, until distancing restrictions were lifted earlier this year and the space could reopen.

Now as things return to normal, Paul says that they continue to utilize the SBDC on a daily basis and even return the love whenever possible.

“We have grown so much through the SBDC,” Paul says. “We actually try to pay it forward. We refer people to the SBDC all the time as they try to find their path.”

The concept of finding one’s own path is special to Barbara and Paul, who are aware that their own concept is unique. All the more reason, Paul says, to feel grateful for the expertise and support of the SBDC.

“Eric was just here the other day,” says Paul. “You know he describes us as a blue-ocean concept, because we are trying something that hasn’t been done before. It’s been a difficult process overall. It’s been a strength and a comfort having the SBDC by our side throughout the process.”

Read More
Saratoga Urgent Care

Saratoga Urgent Care

SBDC adds business know-how to Saratoga Urgent Care

70% growth; 3 new jobs.

During the pandemic, Sherwood and Rina Richers saw a need for medical care in Springfield. With help from the Community Business Partnership (CBP) SBDC, Saratoga Urgent Care opened in March 2021 to meet that need. “Our perspective has been to help others,” Sherwood says. “It’s not about money for us.”

Rina, who previously provided OB/GYN services in El Salvador, hoped to open a clinic in the United States. A retiring doctor in Springfield provided that opportunity. “My wife fits a critical niche here,” Sherwood says. “This area has a large Hispanic population with many uninsured.” Recently retired as a senior engineering manager for the Boeing Company, Sherwood turned to the SBDC to learn the ins and outs of operating a small business.

CBP SBDC Center Director Vijay Vaswani was happy to assist. Vijay connected Sherwood with a medical professional for advice on credentialing and other medical issues. He provided guidance on bookkeeping and QuickBooks. “I had the basic idea, but knowing the nuances were useful,” Sherwood adds.

Vijay worked with Sherwood to complete a business plan, and another SBDC advisor helped with the lease. “That SBDC advisor was a property manager and understood the [lease] situation from both sides,” Sherwood says.

SBDC’s marketing videos were an added boost. “Between working with Vijay and my own experience, I was 98 percent there on marketing, but it was good to watch the videos and make sure I wasn’t missing anything,” he says.

Sherwood built relationships with nearby industrial customers. “It was a matter of making phone calls,” he relates. “Local people who knew about the practice also came by, as did many Hispanic clients who followed my wife from a previous clinic in Woodbridge.”

Confidence grew as Sherwood worked with the SBDC, which was a major plus. “Confidence allows me to make better and faster decisions,” he says. “The SBDC gave me confidence to start a business in an unfamiliar field.” That confidence is already paying off, as demonstrated by Saratoga Urgent Care’s 60-to-70 percent growth since March 2020.

Sherwood readily recommends the SBDC. “I found a breadth of knowledge at the SBDC,” he concludes. “When you’re unsure about something, there’s always somebody at the SBDC who can help you. I find that very, very valuable.”

Read More
A&W Collectables Antique Mall

A&W Collectables Antique Mall

The SBDC brings new ideas to A&W Antique Mall

Increased safety measures, which led to increased sales.

A&W Collectables Antique Mall is part of the town of Keswick’s history that almost didn’t have a future.

Barbara Fleming took over the business in 2018, when the owners wanted to retire. Barbara, who graduated from Longwood College with a business degree, was pursuing an interest that started years before. “I inherited some costume jewelry from my grandmother and used to go to estate sales with my mom,” she relates. “About 20 years ago, I started a booth with a friend and gradually got several small spaces to include furniture, antiques, décor, and of course a jewelry showcase.”

When it appeared that A&W might close in 2018 after being in business over 25 years, Barbara and several other vendors got together to see if they could keep the business going. “At the end of the day, I was it,” Barbara adds. “But with the help of a great group of vendors, we’ve made it work. We also have to give a big credit to our wonderful and very loyal customers

The COVID pandemic, though, was not part of the business plan. “When COVID shut us down on March 15, I called the Central Virginia SBDC,” Barbara explains. “They connected me with Diane Arnold, who assisted me with so many things, including applying for an EIDL loan. Unfortunately, when completing the application, I checked a wrong block and did not get the loan.

A&W reopened in May 2020, and Barbara continued to collaborate with the SBDC, which resulted in a steady increase in sales. “I talked with Diane a lot during that time,” Barbara says. “She stopped for a visit and took note of the safety protocols we were doing. We had signage regarding local and state ordinances, free masks, sanitizer, an antique frame with plexiglass at the sales counter, and a basket system set up for customers to place their purchases in prior to purchasing them. She looked at the things we were doing and helped us decipher safety regulations. She advised us whenever we came across something in the gray area on local and state levels.”

A&W’s “gray area” included public restrooms and mask mandates. “Diane advised me to keep the bathrooms closed, which I did,” Barbara says. When there was pushback, Barbara compromised. “I rented a Porta John,” she says. “A lot of businesses were doing that.”

Barbara credits the SBDC with keeping her in the loop about other nearby businesses. “I get information from the SBDC all the time,” she relates. “Diane keeps me informed about other businesses and just information in general.”

Now well into 2021, Barbara is optimistic. “I think things are looking up,” she says. “We’re doing better than we did the year before.”

Barbara, recommends the SBDC’s services on a daily basis. “When customers comment on our safety measures, we tell them we’re just following the advice of the local SBDC,” Barbara concludes. “The SBDC was there to advise us on whatever we needed at the moment — our customers appreciate that, and so do we.”

Read More
Brewski’s Barkhaus

Brewki’s Barkhaus

Bar plus dogs equals success for Brewski’s Barkhaus

Significant funding from private investors.

https://brewskisbarkhaus.com/

Alex Benbassat and Justin LeGore took an idea for a dog bar, that started when they were roommates at Virginia Tech, and turned it into a reality during a pandemic in October 2020. They succeeded with careful planning, hard work, and help from the Alexandria SBDC.

“We visited a dog bar in Charlotte, North Carolina, while we were at Tech,” Justin explains. “The idea sort of stuck with us.”

Justin, who majored in business management with a concentration in entrepreneurship, and Alex, who holds an architecture degree, connected again after graduation. “I was seeking a business partner,” Justin says. “Alex was working on his thesis for an architecture program, which, incidentally, was for a dog bar. It worked out.”

First and most important was gauging interest for a dog bar business in the Alexandria area. Alex and Justin contacted the Alexandria SBDC for help with planning a festival incorporating people, dogs, breweries, and live music. “One of my professors at Tech had told me about the SBDC,” Justin explains. “We started working with Business Advisor Jack Parker, and he helped us write our business plan and make the necessary connections for the festival — which, in turn, locked in our investors.”

“We organized the Old Town Beer and Dog Festival with 30 vendors,” Justin relates. “It was wildly successful.” With an attendance of 3,000 to 4,000 people and 400 dogs, the two entrepreneurs knew they were on the right track.

With investors onboard, Alex and Justin went to work establishing Brewski’s Barkhaus. Using his architectural skills, Alex put together a floor plan for Barkhaus in a former hamburger restaurant. “We did a facelift and remodeling and added a dog park outside,” Justin explains. “Then we had to apply for a variance to allow dogs inside a restaurant.”

In setting up their new business, Alex and Justin again took advantage of the SBDC’s connections. “The SBDC helped us align our finances in appropriate ways by connecting us with accountants and attorneys,” Justin says. “In a way, Jack was like a father. We knew we could call him at any point if we had questions — and we did that a lot.”

While the pandemic-forced downsizing on many businesses, Barkhaus actually expanded. “We made it through the COVID winter and did well enough in the spring of 2021 to double our outdoor area,” Justin states. “The SBDC was a huge help to us in planning our festival, which is what brought in the investors to get us started. If it hadn’t been for the SBDC connections, I doubt if we could have made it all happen.”

Read More
American Shakespeare Center

American Shakespeare Center

The SBDC stages grant success for the American Shakespeare Center

Received a SVOG grant for $1,017,656 with supplemental funding eligibility for $698,590.

https://americanshakespearecenter.com/

The American Shakespeare Center (ASC) in Staunton has a dual mission: theatre and education. When the COVID pandemic threatened that mission, the ASC turned to the Shenandoah Valley SBDC.

“We had been in contact with the SBDC off and on over the last 11 years,” ASC Interim Controller Amy Wratchford says. Contact with the SBDC switched from “off and on” to “on” when Congress approved the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) in December 2020. The SVOG included over $16 billion in grants to shuttered venues such as live venue operators, theatrical productions, and museum operators.

Sara Levinson, an SBDC business analyst, reached out to see if she could help. “Sara was very proactive,” Amy reports. “She told us the SBDC partnered with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and asked if we wanted help applying for the SVOG.” The ASCs answered with a resounding, “Yes, please!”

Like the rest of the state, ASC shut down in mid-March 2020. “We had four shows running on stage and three shows on the road,” Amy recalls. “Fortunately, we had volunteer filmmakers, who filmed the shows for us. We were able to give our audiences a little joy with these films at a very low price.”

ASC’s Education Department also leapt into action. “Our education department realized that suddenly every parent was a homeschool parent, so they managed to get workshops up and running virtually,” Amy continues. “The education work we were doing was so successful that we had to pull back some of our staff.”

While the ASC received two rounds of Paycheck Protection Program Loans (PPP) for $421,000 and $359,000 respectively, obtaining the SVOG grant was crucial for continued operation. “When we applied for the SVOG, there was a lot of conflicting and vague information,” Amy relates. “The SBDC helped us navigate the details.”

Subsequently, the ASC received a SVOG for $1,017,656. “We’re also eligible for supplemental funding of $698,590,” Amy adds.

The next step for the ASC was to get in-person productions up and running again. “We were incredibly lucky that Dr. Allison Baroco, head of infectious diseases at our local hospital, is an ASC fan,” Amy relates. “She did a walk-through and helped us figure out how to make productions safe and possible.”

Since reopening, the ASC has held approximately 80 performances. “We’ve had roughly 10,000 people come through,” Amy adds. “We have not had one case of COVID in our staff, acting company, or volunteers.”

Would the ASC consider an encore performance with the SBDC?

“Without a doubt, we would recommend the SBDC,” Amy concluded. “COVID brought us to the SBDC, but now that we know about the services they offer, we’re excited about working with them in the future.”

Read More
Monday’s Child

Monday’s Child

Monday’s Child continues Old Town success with the SBDC

Received $85,000 in loans and a line of credit, plus a PPP loan and grants for $17,000.

https://mondayschildclassics.com/

Old Town Alexandria, noted for cobblestone streets and a tavern where George Washington once slept, is a place that appreciates old-fashioned, personal service. It follows that Monday’s Child, a children’s clothing store that provides just that, has been successful in Old Town.

Store owner Maura Burchette reports that sales were, in fact, great in March 2020. Before the month was out, the COVID pandemic would change that dynamic.

“We went from full steam ahead to shut down,” Maura says.

Maura purchased the store two years before. With only a month to prepare for an opening date of October 1, 2018, Maura reached out to the Alexandria SBDC. “Jack Parker, a business advisor there, told me to write a business plan and come see him, but I put it off for nine months,” Maura recalls. “After I caught my breath a little, I contacted Jack again.”

Maura found Jack waiting with a checklist. “He told me a business owner wears 12 different hats — and I was wearing about two,” she recalls. “But Jack had a plan to show me the rest.”

The first step was writing a business plan. “Writing the plan was very helpful,” Maura notes. “The SBDC tells you like they see it — Jack would say, ‘your strength isn’t here, but here’s the right person to help you.’ The SBDC connects you to the right people to help your business.” It also helped her obtain $85,000 in loans and a line of credit.

During the pandemic, another big help was information on federal assistance and grants. “The SBDC worked very hard to educate us on all the opportunities,” Maura notes. “With help from the SBDC, we got PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] and grants totaling about $17,000 — help that really made a difference.”

The pandemic, Maura adds, did have silver linings. “COVID pushed us to improve our web site,” she says. “We’re much more efficient now.”

By March 2021, the tide began to turn. “People were ready to shop again,” Maura says. “Right now, I’m on track to do double what the previous owner did in her best year. While other businesses were closing during COVID, we, in fact, expanded.”

Maura decided to lease a small shop next door for a first communion/baptismal gown space. “It’s been a big hit,” Maura says.

The SBDC also falls into the “big hit” category for Maura. “Having the right guidance makes all the difference,” she concludes. “The SBDC’s help is indispensable to me — and, even more amazing, it’s offered for free.”

Read More
My Car Service

My Car Service

Driving forward in a pandemic

$954,000 loan; expanded from five employees to 18

https://www.mycarcorporation.com/

When businesses around the country were scrambling to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, CEO Tariq Alam and COO Tahid Alam of My Car Service had other plans.

“The owner of the commercial property for our business was planning to sell, and we knew we needed to buy it,” Tariq says. “We had been building My Car Service for five years, and we didn’t want to see all of our hard work disappear, in case a new owner wanted something different for the property. But in order to buy it, we needed guidance on how to put together a good company portfolio to submit to the lenders and the bank.”

Tariq’s first shot at pitching his company’s ambitious business plan — in the midst of a global pandemic in the spring of 2020, no less — didn’t take off. The bank and lenders didn’t bite, but Tariq and Tahid were undeterred. As longtime entrepreneurs and business partners — and brothers — they were confident in what they had built. They simply needed somebody to help them craft a pitch that would get others just as excited as they were.

Through the US Small Business Administration (SBA), they connected with the University of Mary Washington SBDC in Fredericksburg, and received the push they needed from Center Director Susan Ball and her team.

“We reached out to three different places, but the SBDC, especially Susan and the team she works with, showed us the path forward,” Tariq explains. “They helped me put together a business plan and an effective way to present it to the lenders. Right away, the reaction was very different. [The lenders] were wowed with the plan and our mission, and they really believed in us,” Tariq continues.

Tariq says that this shift made a critical difference for their business. “The funds became available, and we were able to purchase the property along with a construction loan and equipment loans. That has really helped propel us into the future,” Tariq explains.

The revamped proposal netted My Car Service a $954,000 loan that included not only funds to purchase the property, but also loans to expand their business. They have since added an eight-bay car-service center and grown their workforce from five employees to 18. “Our business grew about 300%,” Tariq says. “It helped us create a full-service dealership, as opposed to just reselling cars.”

Now, thanks to their own market awareness and preparation heading into the pandemic — and an assist from the SBDC — Tariq and Tahid have been able to make headway on the next phase of My Car Service’s expansion, which will include a franchise.

“One thing that was great to see was how much the SBA and the SBDC care about small businesses and how much they support them,” Tahid says. “Their level of concern is awesome. They’re advocates. I can’t thank the SBA and the SBDC enough. They’re making our dreams come true.”

Read More
Virginia Beach

Virginia Aquarium

A lifeline to grant funding for the Virginia Aquarium

Received a $4.5 million Shuttered Venues Operators Grant (SVOG). 

https://www.virginiaaquarium.com/Pages/default.aspx

Since 1986, the Virginia Aquarium has offered a uniquely personal view of the marine environment. In 2020, when COVID challenged the aquarium’s mission, Director Cynthia Spanoulis wisely turned to the Hampton Roads SBDC for help.

Cynthia, who holds a master’s degree in public administration, started her career in economic development. It was her work for the Department of Economic Development that led her to the SBDC. “That’s where I met Jim Carroll, Executive Director of the Hampton Roads SBDC,” Cynthia relates.

When the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant for entertainment, museum, and theater venues was announced, Cynthia called the SBDC. “We’re a government entity and that made the process of applying more complicated,” she relates. “For example, they asked for a tax return, but the city of Virginia Beach doesn’t have one. Another challenge was to document payroll. What documents could I print from the city’s payroll system? I had a whole list of questions.”

The SBDC provided clarification on all of those questions. “Jim helped me with the nuances in language in the grant application,” Cynthia says. “We lost significant revenue due to COVID, so the SBDC’s help in applying for that grant was especially valuable.”

The aquarium received a grant for $4.5 million in July 2021, which presented an accounting problem. “July was the start of a new fiscal year, and I had to figure out which expenses to report in which fiscal year,” Cynthia adds. “Jim walked me through the accounting with that as well.”

Cynthia views the SBDC as the lifeline that connected the aquarium with much-needed grant funding to continue operations and implement COVID-related changes. “COVID did have a few shining lights,” Cynthia says. “With COVID, our educational programs all went virtual, so now we’re able to get programs into more school systems across the state. That’s always been a goal of mine.”

With the end of the pandemic not yet in sight, the aquarium plans to maintain its relationship with the SBDC. “I recently found out about another federal grant for entities that provide STEM education,” Cynthia says. “I plan to reach out to the SBDC about that as well.”

Cynthia enthusiastically recommends the SBDC. “If SBDC doesn’t have the information you’re looking for, they’ll find someone who does,” she concludes. “Whether you’re starting a new business or applying for a grant, SBDC’s advice and one-on-one assistance is invaluable.”

Read More
Abingdon Gifting Company

Abingdon Gifting Company

Creating memories one basket at a time

Won $5000 in Washington County Business Challenge Competition and moved to Main Street and invested $25,000 in new inventory and a new location.

https://abingdongiftingco.com/

Like many, Cassie Rowe long entertained the idea of starting her own business. And while it wasn’t until 2017 that she finally got her company off the ground, the owner of Abingdon Gifting Company hasn’t looked back.

Armed with a knack for creativity and a desire to follow in her parents’ footsteps as a small business owner — but little in the way of her own personal business experience — Cassie made one of the first stops in her journey toward becoming a small-business owner at the Virginia Highlands SBDC for initial guidance on starting her business.

“I initially wanted to open a kitchen, because I love to cook and had been cooking for people on the side, but the food regulations were more than I wanted to deal with,” Cassie said. “A friend of mine suggested gift baskets, and, after I looked into what that would look like, I called Cindy Fields [center director at the SBDC] back and started again. I told her we were going in a different direction. She helped me do it, and they’ve been on board ever since,” she explains.

By February 2018, just two months after Cassie quit her job to pursue the business full time, Build-A-Basket was up and running. Renamed Abingdon Gifting Company in April 2020, the customized store-crafts gift baskets are filled with a variety of boutique products that Cassie sources from small businesses both local and nationwide. Working within budgets of any size, customers can choose from a wide range of preassembled gift baskets of Cassie’s design, or they can create their own.

Through personal goals, dedication, and the encouragement and strategic planning with the SBDC, Cassie competed in and won the top prize of $5,000 in the local business challenge and worked hard to find local unique and high-quality products that she can offer to her customers.

In the fall of 2020, she was ready to rebrand her store and prepare for a move to a bigger location. She received biweekly visits from the SBDC team and counselor Patrick Horn to assist her with growth in the area of marketing, to provide small business education and to help her collaborate with other local professionals to achieve new sales levels. Cassie has doubled her sales each year and is on track to do the same in 2021.

Regardless of what’s in the basket, Cassie says that the goal is to create something uniquely memorable for whoever receives it. “That’s what we do,” she says. “Our mission is to create a feeling, create a memory or a lasting impression through a gift.”

“It has taken a lot of research and a lot of learning,” she says. “The SBDC has been a really good resource, as far as continued learning. I’m pretty confident that anytime I get into a situation I’m not sure about, all I have to do is call Cindy or Patrick.”

“They’ve been on board since I started,” Cassie says. “Owning your own business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It can be tough, and there are ins and outs you don’t know. But anytime I need a resource, a connection with somebody I need to reach, or just some advice, they’re always there.”

Read More