Showalter Orchard & Greenhouse
In 2003, Sarah and Shannon Showalter purchased Showalter’s Orchard & Greenhouse in Timberville, VA, from Shannon’s parents, who had started the orchards in 1965. The greenhouse provides wholesale and retail bedding, vegetable, and fruit plants, plus container gardens. The orchard was mostly retail for about 20 varieties of apples. They made and sold sweet apple cider through retail outlets locally and through distributors in Virginia. The commercial cider sales were limited due to no UPC code on the packaging.
The Showalters knew they had potential to expand and diversify but were not sure how to go about it. Dealing with the day-to-day tasks while working harder each year just to maintain sales did not allow them time to focus on long-term planning or to step back and assess the profitability of their various enterprises. They knew the farm, the orchards, and their market, but they lacked confidence that they knew what was best for the business. They came to the Shenandoah Valley SBDC in July 2011 for assistance in setting strategic goals and making concrete plans to achieve them.
At the SV-SBDC, Sarah and Shannon explored their options. One was to expand into grapes as a commodity and to add a winery to take advantage of state incentives being offered at that time. Betty Hoge, SV-SBDC Business Advisor, suggested that rather than branching into an unknown crop and new production methods, they look instead at a product they already knew well – hard apple cider. The Showalter family has been making hard cider for personal use for generations, and the market in Virginia was just opening up. The SV-SBDC provided them with market research, and they quickly learned about the requirements and regulations. They began production of Old Hill Hard Cider in the fall of 2011 and applied for a USDA Value-Added Grant for $300,000 marketing project for Old Hill.
The Showalters met on a regular basis throughout 2012 at the SV-SBDC and began to identify specific activities as revenue centers for their business. They wrote new mission statements, set clear goals, and established budgets for each segment of the business. Their traditional fall festival changed from a simple activity to a popular full-day event of local food, artisans, and activities (including “pick your own”) with more than doubling attendance and increasing revenues by 50% in two years. They introduced the first bottles of Old Hill Hard Apple Cider at their Spring Festival and quickly sold out.
Today, the Showalters are primed for growth and success. “Our SBDC counselor has become a trusted, necessary part of our business management team. The SBDC has offered us access to resources and expert advice that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford at this point in our business development,” they said.
Gross sales for this business have increased 53% since 2010, they have added 3 new jobs, and are well-situated for continued expansion.