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

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.”

Virginia SBDC