Enjoy this month’s mix of business stories from around the Shenandoah Valley! You’ll also find ideas to help grow your business and some reminders about why living and working here is so exciting.
Great business stories abound all around the Shenandoah Valley, so join us each month as we gather them all in one place. Blogs, podcasts, video series, and more!
As someone with years of experience working in gyms, Dawn Flowers has always enjoyed giving private workout sessions. It was this passion for personalization that ultimately inspired her to open her own, small-group training facility.
At first the idea seemed far-fetched. She questioned if it was an achievable feat, but deep down she knew that she could offer clients more as a personal and group fitness trainer out on her own. She visited the SV SBDC to re-assess her business concept and get help with financials. At this point, she had just opened U Fit, LLC in a small rented space near an industrial park. Now, U Fit is a full-fledged training facility with over one hundred regular clients and has cultivated a highly successful Weight Loss Accountability program.
The process was not as easy as it sounds. Like any business owner, Dawn confronted many obstacles. Since opening in 2015, U Fit has moved locations twice. Facing issues with leasing agreements and then discordant neighbors, Dawn went through a highly stressful process of finding the right location. “I called Allison Dugan out of desperation during this time period,” said Flowers, “I didn’t know if I should move that second time to a third location or just close. She helped me realize that U Fit’s unique atmosphere and client loyalty would carry to any appropriate location.”
What made this transitional phase even harder was the fact that a new interval training center moved into the region at the same time. This worried Dawn and she began exploring memberships and offering discounted packages in direct competition with those other gyms. However, with the help of the SV SBDC team, Dawn was able to re-focus and center on her core values that keep her customers returning. “Allison kept asking me why. Why did I want to change services and prices and make my product more like theirs? Questions like this brought me back to the core reason why I started U Fit. A deeper understanding the needs of my current clients helped me make clear decisions moving forward.”
Dawn proudly trains a variety of clients who have had their lives transformed. Pam Lewis, who has been training for 19 months and lost 185 pounds to date explains “U Fit provides an atmosphere that is safe, secure and non-judgmental. You are welcomed by every person there! Dawn is outstanding at determining, coaching and encouraging you at your fitness level while being able to push you beyond your limits.”
Prospective restaurant owner Hotiman Ridwan had been developing his dream business for quite some time when he joined – and won – the Shenandoah Valley SBDC’s “What’s Cooking” Business Concept Plan Competition. A restaurant manager and 18 year veteran of the hospitality industry, Ridwan began his culinary endeavors growing up in his home country of West Java, Indonesia.
Ridwan recalls, “My passion for food started as I helped my mom prepare her food for the market. My parents owned stores at traditional farmers markets in my small town in Indonesia. My late father was a produce seller, and my mom made and sold Indonesian foods and snacks. Through the following years I learned by experimenting and blending South East Asian ingredients and western ingredients to create a fusion food with a twist.”
In addition to being a seasoned food industry professional, Ridwan is also quite active on social media and the online food community, blogging recipes and posting pictures of his signature dishes to his website, www.riceandcoconut.com.
“I started blogging about food and recipes in June 2011, and use the blog as a hobby as well as a way to share my passion for foods. Riceandcoconut.com gets 10,000-12,000 visitors a month with some blog posts shared on buzzfeed, Boston magazine, and Yummly. My food photography is published in Foodgawker and Tastespotting.com.”
Ridwan moved to the United States in 2001 as a worker in the hospitality industry under the H2B Visa program. In 2008, he became a permanent resident under company sponsorship and in 2016 became a US citizen. After working in various hotel and restaurant departments, he now boasts an impressive and diverse 18 years of experience.
When he won the competition, he was awarded a monetary prize and professional assistance. This helped him to open his dream restaurant – the BoBoKo Fusion Café – in 2016. Located in the IceHouse in Downtown Harrisonburg, BoBoKo has enjoyed bringing its unique cuisine into the already vibrant culinary culture of the city.
To learn more visit www.BoBoKoIndonesianCafe.com
It was mid-December 2015 when James (Jay) North learned that the vendor-based market where he sold his home décor and antiques was being shut down. He and the other vendors were facing the end of their small businesses.
Not willing to accept this, Jay and a committed group of owners stepped up to create a new organization that would serve the local business community. They sought guidance from the Shenandoah Valley SBDC and advisor Sara Levinson, who lives and works in Page County.
The first item of business: establish The Hawksbill Trading Company as a co-operative. According to Jay, without the SBDC’s guidance this would never have been possible. The new board worked diligently with Sara to create membership applications and vendor contracts, draft by-laws and other organizational documents, set up a new accounting system, and manage all the other aspects for a new venture.
“Every vendor now has a say in how we operate and grow. We each have a role in the success of not only our own business but our neighbors’ as well” says North, who serves as Board President. “By working together we can accomplish great things.”
The new business opened its doors on January 20, 2016 with 20 local vendors selling antiques, jewelry, up-cycled furniture, original art, home goods, meats, and produce. Unlike many “mall-type” markets, HTC does not work around pre-defined stalls or booths. Some vendors need only a few shelves for their products; others need lots of floor space, so HTC’s board works hard to find the right space and lay-out for each vendor, which allows businesses of all sizes to participate.
One year after opening, HTC hosts nearly 60 vendors. Merchants and local artisans offer a variety of workshops in everything from essential oils to painting to fly-tying. HTC is a thriving hub of entrepreneurial spirit and activity – a place to share ideas, gather resources, be inspired, and find support. In partnership with the SV SBDC, HTC offers business development resources to budding entrepreneurs throughout the community. Together they are partnering with Page County Public Schools to conduct the Young Entrepreneurs Program in 2017, and plan to expand their cooperative retail model to the food and service sectors in the future.
To learn more, visit www.hawksbilltradingcompany.org
This success story is dedicated to Paul Keppel III, Principal Broker of the ProRealty Group in Harrisonburg, VA . Paul was extremely helpful in the leasing process with the SV SBDC and Blossom Spas. Paul suddenly passed away one week after Vunly signed the lease. He would be proud of their achievement.
Starting a business is neither an easy, nor a quick process – and if anyone knows this to be true, its Vunly Luangrarj, owner of Blossom Spas in Harrisonburg. Vunly, who is originally from the country of Laos, came to the Shenandoah Valley SBDC for advice and support as she was determined to open her own nail salon. Although she had previously owned successful food businesses in the past, Vunly faced skepticism from family and colleagues who were concerned about her competing in the pre-existing and saturated nail salon market.
With unwavering determination and support from her daughter Mim, Vunly was able to realize her dream of building a 1700 square-foot full service nail salon within just one year. Along the way, Vunly faced many obstacles; a language barrier proved to be one of them. Proficient, but not yet fluent in English, Vunly relied on the assistance of her daughter and the SV SBDC to help translate and explain important forms and documents. Updated building codes and new regulations for air quality affected the budget dramatically. A local attorney, Jared Burden helped to decipher terms of the lease agreement enabling her to negotiate with the landlord, while the architects from Blue Ridge Design were patient and careful to understand Vunly’s vision for the salon. Just three months after signing the lease, the spa was fully built and furnished with a new ventilation system, pluming, flooring and lighting.
Today, Blossom Spas employs approximately 6 licensed technicians and cosmetologists specializing in Nail Care, Facial Services, and a full range of Eye Beauty care including Lash Extensions. Daughter Mim Luangrarj has been instrumental in adding to the interior design, and developing marketing materials plus constantly keeping up with social media. “Something I take the most pride in is the supportive culture that we’ve cultivated with our staff. Each person brings a unique value to our team. We are culturally diverse staff and collectively, we take pride in providing the very best service for our clients together.”
Blossom Spas has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from customers, including those who travel an hour over the mountains of West Virginia to Harrisonburg for services. Customer Carrie Moyers reviewed Blossom Spas on Facebook in November and said: “Today was my first time visiting & I was blown away by how nice & clean the environment was! There was no smell of fumes or anything! The ladies were so very sweet & kept me laughing the whole time! I was also given a pomegranate smoothie to try & it was amazing! I am very pleased with how well my nails look. I have officially found my new place to get my nails done!”
To learn more visit www.blossomspas.com
A Shenandoah Valley landmark for over 25 years, the Dayton Market brings visitors and residents together in a casual, friendly setting.
Located two miles south of Harrisonburg, the Town of Dayton is one of the oldest settled communities in Rockingham County. Surrounded by prime agricultural farmland, this historic land is populated by many members of the Old Order Mennonite community. With working farms and open spaces, traveling through Dayton and the surrounding area is a step back in time. Horse-drawn buggies remain a common form of travel on rural roads throughout the community.
Since 1987, The Dayton Market has been a shopping destination for both locals and tourists including Massanutten Resort’s weekly annual visitors. The Dayton Market (formerly known as the Dayton Farmers Market) is an eclectic collection of 20 specialty shops owned by individual, local merchants. When owner Fred Shank was faced with the need to update the façade and internal layout, he was referred to the Shenandoah Valley SBDC. Director Joyce Krech and VSBDC Retail Consultant Marc Willson met Fred for a tour of the Shops and discussed the market’s physical layout and “wayfinding” challenges as well as the outer façade and signage. Fred in turn recommended that the merchant-run Advertising Committee meet with the SBDC. Business Advisor Allison Dugan joined the effort and over the next few months led the committee in an extensive review and assessment process of their advertising needs and business brand.
They reviewed the Market’s Web presence, usability of the existing Website, the “findability” of their directory listings, and major referral sources. Rich and lively discussion continued to identify attributes of their customers and target markets, as well as brainstorming key historical descriptions of the Market. Were their descriptions up-to-date and accurate? Were the meeting customer expectations?
Allison introduced some of the SBDC’s GrowthWheel® tools to the group, including the Branding Opportunities Framework that highlighted the four areas that form the brand of a business: Visual Identity, Physical Identity, Voice Identity, and Attitude Identity fit together like a puzzle to create a full customer experience. The Committee discussed some complex considerations such as how can individual shops, in addition to their own marketing efforts, support the overall marketing message of the Market (and vice-versa), for a united effort and message? How can the exterior and interior designs and layout of the Market support the branded marketing message? And finally, the big question: should we look at re-naming the Market if “farmer’s market” has a different meaning to customers than it did two decades ago?
The SBDC brought in local branding expert Jaye Brumfield to discuss visual identity and the importance of building a distinctive and easily recognizable name and simple logo. Then they facilitated an independent Focus Group comprised of local business owners, destination marketers, and front-line hospitality managers with the goal of gathering a fresh and objective perspective, honest feedback, and candid comments on the continuing development of the name, logo, and tagline for the Market.
The Committee used all the data and feedback to present findings to the full meeting of shop owners. Change of any kind, especially of a branded name, is always challenging but the committee worked diligently and used the resources available to them to present sound reasoning and a plan for adapting a new logo and name. On November 7, 2015 The Dayton Market was re-introduced with the tagline “a community of shops” which the merchants felt expressed all of the aspects of their past, present and future as a very special place for merchants and customers – for friends – to gather.
The committee, shop owners, and Dayton officials continue to work closely with the SBDC to expand marketing strategies and grow as one community.
To learn more, visit www.thedaytonmarket.com