Category: Years

Motion Gymnastics & Tumbling Center

Tumbling to the top

Motion Gymnastics & Tumbling Center received a loan, increased its students by 50% in one year, and plans to add instructors in the near future. 

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.”

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Lizzy Lou Boutique

College dream becomes downtown success

Lizzy Lou Boutique grew from an online-only store to a profitable brick-and-mortar store with 2 part-time employees in only 2 years. 

The Lizzy Lou Boutique in Danville’s River District started with a plan Sarah Rodden wrote while studying at Virginia Tech. “I was taking a small-business class my last semester, and we had to write a business plan for opening a small store front,” she says.

Sarah graduated with a degree in communications and apparel product development. Facing a difficult job market, she remembered her plan.

She started with an online boutique that she operated from home on nights and weekends. “I did a few trunk shows and my customer base grew,” she adds. Sarah wanted to bring the latest style in women’s apparel and accessories to Danville at an affordable price.

In 2015, Sarah opened a storefront on Main Street in Danville. “The building was an empty shell. I put up the racks and lighting and planned the layout,” she said. “I still sell online, but most of my business is in-store. I’ve found that customers prefer to touch and feel — and try things on.”

“My business grows every year,” she said. “The tremendous growth of River District Association over the last two years has helped. It’s great when we all work together. For example, if all the stores decide to stay open at night, downtown becomes more of a shopping destination. We emphasize the ‘shop local’ aspect.”

It was through the River District Association that Sarah connected with Lin Hite from the Longwood SBDC and Marc Willson, Virginia SBDC’s Retail and Restaurant Consultant. The Association had contacted the SBDC to work with downtown merchants in Danville. “We each got an hour to spend with Lin and Marc and bounce ideas off them,” Sarah added.

Lin and Marc have gone back to meet with Sarah, discussing marketing strategies and even social media marketing. “It has all been so helpful,” says Sarah.

“The people I meet in my store make this job fun. I have amazing employees and customers,” Sarah says. “I’m glad I took a chance and opened my business in Danville. I feel blessed to have this opportunity.” She believes advice is also important. “Have a plan and have it evaluated by a professional,” Sarah concludes. “The SBDC is definitely a good resource.”

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Jr’s Music Store & More

Jr's strikes a chord

Jr and Toni, strong community supporters, won 2 grants worth $6,000.

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?

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Kylla Custom Rock Wear

Kylla Custom Rock Wear

The SBDC connected Kylla Custom Rock Wear with resources that helped with day-to-day operations and provided important information on customs and shipping overseas. Kylla currently has customers in 52 countries. 

Metal vocalist and designer Kim “Kylla” Dylla had a vision: start a business to dress her fellow musicians and entertainers with high-quality, yet affordable, stage wear. Today, that vision is alive and well at Kylla Custom Rock Wear.

“We create unique designs from salvaged, distressed, and reclaimed materials that echo our artists’ music,” Kylla explains. “Designed by an experienced touring musician, our jackets, vests, jeans, shirts, dresses, and accessories fill a unique niche in the rock fashion market.”

As Kylla Custom Rock Wear grew and issues about running a business emerged, Kylla visited Betty Hoge, Director of the Central Virginia SBDC in Charlottesville. “As an artisan who formed a startup business, shaping myself into an entrepreneur and connecting to others in my industry is challenging,” Kylla says.

Kylla had the additional challenge of shipping overseas to her worldwide customer base. Betty introduced her to the Virginia SBDC International Business Development Program and VITAL (Virginia International Trade Alliance). VITAL works with clients to develop export readiness and performance. “The advice from VITAL helped me avoid customs hassles and delays when sending important wardrobes for tours abroad,” Kylla says. “Now my international buyers have more confidence. I also feel confident in my ability to connect with and take on investment in the future.”

Betty also worked with her on the day-to-day tasks of running a business. She recommended some contacts and trade shows, helped expand the reach of Kylla’s website by using key words and search engine optimization techniques, found a manufacturer and distressing house, and taught her how to keep the books. “These steps took me leaps and bounds forward in my development of the new line,” Kylla attests.

Kylla concludes, “The SBDC has been immensely helpful in growing and progressing my business, and I have many new ideas to implement in the coming months.”

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Ono Brewing Company

Brewery brings a taste of Hawaii to Chantilly

After being awarded a $3000,000 loan, the Hoffmans opened Ono Brewing Company in September 2017, and soon added 1 full-time and 6 part-time employees. 

At the Ono Brewing Company, you do not need to visit the islands to know that “ono” is Hawaiian for “tasty.” With beach pictures on the wall, tropical décor, Paradise Island IPA, and Mango White Ale on tap, a trip to Ono Brewing Company is like a carefree day at the beach. There is a reason behind the tropical theme. Owners Scott and Cyndi Hoffman lived in Florida and Hawaii for over 20 years before moving to Northern Virginia. They wanted to start a brewery that reflected their beach background. In October 2016, Scott and Cyndi “jumped in head first.”

“We started working on a business plan,” Scott says. Scott, a former engineer, and Cyndi, a former biology teacher, held the right qualifications. “The whole brewing side — the design of the brew house and how it functions — is all engineering,” Scott notes. “The actual brewing process — how yeast converts sugar into alcohol — is all biology and chemistry.” With the basics of brewing well in hand, Scott and Cyndi needed assistance mastering the managing and financing side of the business. “I reached out to the Mason SBDC, and they mentioned that free mentoring was available,” Scott says. “I’m a big fan of mentoring!”

Senior Business Counselor Timm Johnson advised them to apply for a Virginia small business loan. “That solved a lot of problems for us,” Scott adds. “I’d never started a business before, so I’d run my ideas by Timm,” Scott notes. “When he agreed my ideas were good, that gave me confidence to go ahead.”

One of Scott’s innovative ideas was to develop a self-serve beer wall to take the place of a traditional bartender. “As an engineer I rely on automation and a ‘work smarter, not harder’ theme,” Scott adds.

Making a commitment to benefit their community early on, Scott and Cyndi established a competitive wage for employees that dramatically decreased reliance on tips. All tips received at Ono are donated to a local charity, due to their living wage policy.

Since opening in September 2017, Scott reports that business is good. “We’re building our brand slowly,” Scott reports. “We’ve just added a full-time employee to our six part-time employees, and we’ve started getting out into the community. Our business is starting exactly like we wanted it to.”

“Working with Timm and the SBDC has been great,” Scott concluded. “Their help has been invaluable.”

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Exploring Learning & Fun

From home to heart: E.L.F. grows up

Exploring Learning & Fun employs 3 full-time and 3 part-time employees. Their facility has space for 48 children. 

Any mother who has had to leave her children to return to work can identify with the struggle to find good childcare. For Mary Gray, the saying “If you want something done right you have to do it yourself,” holds a special meaning. With one infant and a young child, Mary opened her own daycare business 12 years ago — from her home — to do just that. 

“As a mother, it was very important that my daycare offer everything that I wanted for my own children. I wanted to know that the teachers would love my children, that they wanted to be there, and that the space would be warm and inviting,” Mary explains.

As the years passed, interest and attendance steadily increased, and it became clear that a change was needed. In August 2017, Exploring Learning & Fun (E.L.F.) child enrichment center opened the doors of a new facility. With a capacity for 48 children, Mary’s dream came true.

“The logistics here are very different, but we are able to be a bigger part of the community in this new space. We are able to do so much more for the children here, and that’s what everything is centered on,” Mary adds.

Still, the decision to transition from her home to a brand-new center was a major one. Mary found an ally in her Mason SBDC Senior Business Counselor, Bernard Ferret, who helped her navigate the difficult process.

“Bernard really sat down with me and talked about numbers. Prior to connecting with the SBDC, I think I must have heard about 30 no’s. I felt like I had hit this brick wall. But Bernard found this financing program that worked specifically with childcare providers,” Mary says.

Bernard helped Mary work to get her business plan and proposal completed, so the center could be funded and built. Despite having zero money left over for advertising, E.L.F. already has families on the waiting list until 2019.

Even with the brand new space, Mary still feels a strong connection to the home-based roots that grew E.L.F. for all those years. “Our care is very personalized. We are a part of their family, and we always want each child to feel that they are a part of our family when they are here,” Mary says.

Mary is grateful to Bernard and the Mason SBDC for seeing the potential of not only E.L.F. daycare but also for each of the lives that the daycare and preschool has touched over the years. “Someone was willing to believe in me,” says Mary, “And I’m so glad they did.”

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Sensor Check

Sensors check the heat!

Sensor Check’s customer base grew from 2 to 12 over one year and they expect to exceed 100 new customers in 2018. 

In 2016, one of Tim Smith’s clients, a local catering company, wished they could find a device that would alert them if their refrigerators and freezers were not cool enough to comply with food regulations. Tim designed a sensor to solve the problem. Another customer heard about it and wanted the device for his warehouse freezer. “I kept being asked by one company after another for help with this problem,” says Tim.

Tim and his wife Sara decided to start a company that could offer a more sophisticated version of the sensor, and Sensor Check, LLC, was born. “We used the initial sensors to springboard into a new product, the Sensor Check Temperature Monitoring System™ that would monitor temperatures, send alerts when things weren’t right, keep a log for inspectors, and more,” Tim explains. “We also realized that we needed to learn how to wrap a business around the product,” Sara adds.

The Smiths have been friends with Bernard Ferret, Senior Business Counselor at the Mason SBDC, for years. In fact, Tim was VP of Engineering in one of Bernard’s startups. When Tim approached him for help, Bernard signed him up as an SBDC client and directed him to the Innovation and Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), a program of the Virginia SBDC Network.

ICAP finds subject-matter experts (SMEs) to guide inventors and innovators through the process of getting products to market. Once accepted, Tim and Sara worked with SMEs Brenda Brown and Cassity Jones, co-founders of Frontier Kitchen, a food business incubator and a commercial kitchen.

Brenda and Cassity installed a Sensor Check system in two facilities with walk-in refrigerators as part of the process. Very early one morning an alert went out; something was wrong with one of the walk-in refrigerators. Their technician was able to fix the blown fuse before the food temperature reached 40 degrees. If they had waited until the usual time to go to the Kitchen, 6 hours after the alert, $50,000-worth of food would have needed to be thrown out, potentially putting some of their clients out of business.

Tim and Sara are grateful to ICAP. With the SMEs, they were able to create a market segmentation plan, start fund raising, increase their sales pipeline, and become part of the Frontier Kitchen family – all key parts of Tim and Sara’s business.

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Baby Change-N-Go

A change is gonna come

In addition to strategic marketing and development assistance from the SBDC, Baby Change-N-Go received help from the VITAL program to identify better efficiencies and cost savings for exporting, including the reduction of export shipping costs by 1/3 by using a specialist in small parcel shipping.

You are out and about with your baby, and it is time to change the diaper. You might find one of those changing tables in public restrooms, if you are lucky (and a woman, because there is almost never a changing table in the men’s room). Unfortunately, those well- used tables are teeming with bacteria and other nasty things. Thanks to two mompreneurs — and a little help from their mentors — an innovative product, Baby Change-N-Go, is putting many minds (and bottoms!) at ease.

“People were so frustrated, trying to find a safe, sanitary place to change a baby or a product that could fit in a diaper bag. But there was nothing out there,” says Mahnaz Moosa, Baby Change-N-Go co-founder and chief executive officer. “So we just sketched out a concept of a device that would fit over a door or side of a bathroom stall. Often we began to develop it.”

Mahnaz talked with safety experts, hazard experts, design engineers, child development experts, human behavior experts, and other parents to develop a unique product that fills a widespread, existing need. Often she talked with mentors at the Greater Richmond SBDC, which is directed by Greg Hofbauer. “The timing was perfect,” says Mahnaz, “because they offered just what we needed — expertise in branding and marketing, as well as a range of other issues.”

After launching, opportunities arose for international distribution of the Baby Change-N-Go product. Mahnaz and Brenda Lee Moosa, co-founder and chief operating officer, were referred to the Virginia SBDC International Business Development Program and VITAL.

VITAL (Virginia International Trade Alliance) works with clients to develop actionable market intelligence and research to improve export readiness and performance. Aaron Miller, International Trade Manager for the Virginia SBDC, explains, “Through VITAL, we helped them create export documentation and identify inefficiencies and cost savings. We provided translations of marketing material into Portuguese and Spanish. We obtained a grant to cover the cost of exhibiting at an international trade show and delivered a market report with demographic information applicable to Baby Change-N- Go’s target market.”

“We were very fortunate to have found the Greater Richmond SBDC. We have worked with outstanding mentors and even have an export plan,” says Mahnaz. “We wouldn’t have had such a smooth process without them,” Brenda adds.

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StageCoach Theatre Company

StageCoach on the road to success​

With the new programs Stage Coach now offers in its permanent location, they  estimate a revenue boost of 30% to 40%, with an additional 10% in revenue driven by rental income. 

StageCoach Theatre Company has been on the road in Loudoun County since 2011. By 2017, the traveling theater troupe was ready to find a permanent home, and the SBDC at MEC-Leesburg made it happen, when Jerri Wiseman and Terry Smith, founders, turned to them for help.

“I guess you could call me an SBDC groupie,” Jerri says with a chuckle. “I went to anything and everything they offered. I was looking for information on how to run a business, particularly in Loudoun County, and the SBDC offered a good number of resources.”

“Jerri came to the SBDC in Leesburg to tackle two main challenges,” SBDC Manager Eric Byrd says. “The first was to determine the best location for the permanent theater, and the second was to change her business model to support and fully utilize a permanent location.”

The urgency to find a permanent home was driven by the StageCoach summer camp program. “We have always offered adult classes,” Jerri says. “Finding a space to hold our summer camp for children, however, was a problem.” Eric helped Jerri with planning and revenue projections. “While expenses would go up, our projections showed that increased capacity and program stability would more than pay for extra costs,” Eric explains. “By expanding classes and corporate training programs, like an improv course for business leaders and by renting space in the facility to other groups, these revenue streams gave StageCoach higher profitability through diversification.”

Jerri found the marketing advice that the SBDC provided especially useful. “Eric helped with marketing — who and when we needed to target,” Jerri adds. “We also did some budgeting. Eric showed me how many kids we needed to bring in to make it work.”

With a new theater home and new business plan, Jerri is confident of the future. She says, “The SBDC has been with us all the way. I absolutely will continue to go to the SBDC for advice. I’ve already made plans to meet with them soon.”

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fibre space

Fibre finds a space in Alexandria

fibre space has a staff of 6 plus 7 instructors who teach classes. Their annual revenue is $1.46 million.  

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When Danielle Romanetti opened fibre space™ in historic Alexandria, she was excited to finally have her own space. It was an extension of her original business, Knit-a-Gogo, Inc., which offered knitting classes literally on the go. “I taught beginning and intermediate knitting classes in coffee shops, bakeries, and other businesses in the DC area,” she says. “Using these spaces required a solid relationship with the businesses that hosted us and that, in turn, has led to the collaborative philosophy that fibre space™ still maintains.”

As Danielle’s customers grew, the Knit-a-Gogo community needed a permanent home, a place where stitchers could meet outside of classes, buy quality supplies, and share with other stitchers. In 2008, Danielle met with Business Analyst Jack Parker from the Alexandria SBDC. “I knew how to create a business plan, but the SBDC helped streamline it.” Danielle adds, “The SBDC also helped make connections with banks in an attempt to get $95,000 in funding.” Unfortunately, the bank denied the loan, so she borrowed funds from a friend and her parents and used her credit cards.

“Danielle opened her shop just off King Street in 2009 to a large and immediate customer base comprised of students she had taught,” Jack relates. “Her first year’s projected revenues were ambitious, but she was able to exceed them. She became profitable within a few months and has never looked back.”

Eight years later, Danielle began looking for a property to purchase near her existing location.

“Purchasing our own building was the next natural step for the shop,” she says. “We’ve enjoyed steady sales volume since an initial growth period, and I felt that we were better served by investing in property rather than continuing to pay rent.” Jack Parker helped her again with banks offering SBA 504 Loans. “She closed a loan at EagleBank and the Business Finance Group in mid-2017,” Jack adds.

That September, fibre space™ opened its doors in the only known flatiron building in the historic city. As part of the building purchase, fibre space™ partnered with the City of Alexandria to adopt the public space in front of the building for small community gatherings, including her knitters from the neighborhood. “Danielle’s success comes from her marketing talents and knowing each of her customer’s needs, almost before they do,” Jack notes.

There’s little doubt that fibre space™ has found a place in Alexandria.

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