Small but Mighty: 15 Thriving Local Businesses
Grand Ideas, Powerful Ambition and Big Accomplishments Come in Small Businesses
Innovative, creative, motivated and tenacious. These qualities emerge again and again within the success stories of these 15 small businesses. Each started out with a vision, and through dedication and persistence, these owners and founders were able to bring their ideas to life. In the pages ahead, they share some of their most rewarding efforts, the obstacles they overcame when first starting out and advice for others looking to join the team of small business owners that make Coastal Virginia a vibrant place to work, live and grow.
Compiled by Barrett Baker, Angela Blue, Jamie McAllister and Melissa M. Stewart
Owner: Alison Dodson Anderson
Location: Suffolk, Norfolk and Virginia Beach
Number of Employees: 33
A. Dodson’s is a unique boutique, offering customers an exquisite assortment of clothing and accessories, distinctive home furnishings and cultivated gifts. Owner Alison Dodson Anderson and her staff puts much thought and planning behind buying and merchandising. “We listen to our customers, and we also analyze a lot of numbers every week—and month—and quarter,” explains executive assistant Lexi Larson. “We don’t go to market and just buy what we like; we have to make sure our customers like it based on past numbers.”
Another important step in ensuring the best experience for A. Dodson’s entails each employee asking themselves four questions: 1. Why do you want to do this? 2. What goal does it meet? 3. Is it sustainable? And the most important question — 4. Are we having fun?
We sat down with owner Alison Dodson Anderson, president Kathy Lovko, director of marketing Kim Glover and executive assistant Lexi Larson to learn more about the behind-the-scenes business and fun of A. Dodson’s.
What was the inspiration/motivation for starting your business? My grandfather owned a general store, and my mother ran an antique store. I just always knew that I always wanted to have my own small business. Retail’s one of those things—it’s in your blood. It’s not something that you just wake up and choose to do. It’s part of who you are.
What are some benefits of being a small business? A lot of people say, ‘We’re like family.’ The reality is we grew up together. We’ve known each other since 5th grade. I consider these women my sisters in so many ways. We try to compensate what we don’t give you in the corporate world with what we give you back in family time and family values. Out front, our customers are our friends. We know their children’s names, we know their mommas’ names, we know their pets’ names. We know them.
What strategy or idea has proven to be a success for your business? On our merchandising side, we break down things into stories, and we buy to those stories. It’s all planned. Also, by flipping the store every couple of weeks, we are able to give the customers a completely different experience with the exact same merchandise. Each of our stores is different. We tailor our layouts based on the flow of the store, what we know our customers love.
How has your business evolved since opening? Price point from the first time I opened to now. Really finding that sweet spot for customers and providing a product that’s considered a value.
Axis Global Enterprises, Inc.
Owners: Ross D. Vierra, president; Joshua C. Canada, vice president; Earl W. Walker IV, partner
Location: Corporate Office: 2824 Shipps Corner Rd., Virginia Beach; Peninsula Office: 12674 Patrick Henry Dr., Newport News
Number of Employees: 34
Axis started as a road markings company in 2009 and has since evolved into a design build, contractor and security technology firm, serving both commercial and government customers with revenue that increased 204 percent from 2013 to ’14. Its solutions range from full-service general contracting and development in the construction division to providing integrated security and fire technology solutions through the ASI Security division.
This year, Axis (as ASI Security) became a lead dealer for Active Shooter Detection Systems, a life-saving technology that is changing the way public and private institutions nationwide are responding to active shooter scenarios. Upcoming jobs include the new manufacturing facility for Back Bay Brewing and a brewing facility near Virginia Tech. In March they were awarded a $6 million firm-fixed price construction contract with NASA Langley Research Center that includes complete building renovation for more than 43,000 square feet of new laboratories at NASA Langley Research Center.
What obstacles did you face when starting your business? How did you overcome them? When we first began, we were in a single-room warehouse with two employees. We were a small business with a big vision, but resources were limited, budgets were tight, and finding top talent in a competitive market was a challenge. Owning a small business is always a challenge, but we work hard to ensure our team is motivated and believes in the vision, and through that, we will continue to grow together.
What’s something your business is doing that sets you apart from other businesses in the same field? We focus on service in everything we do! Servicing our clients is our first priority. Our team is dedicated to providing the best solutions and cutting-edge technology, while simultaneously being a strong contributor to the community.
What strategy or idea has proven to be a success for your business? Business is more than what you earn—it’s also what you give back. Our business is consistently committed to giving back to the communities we serve.
How has your business evolved since opening? We went from two people in the company to 34-plus and continue to grow and expand substantially each year. We have an extraordinary team that serves our customers with passion and skill each and every day. We currently have two office locations, one on the Southside in Virginia Beach and the other on the Peninsula in Newport News and have future expansion opportunities on the horizon for 2017.
Taste Tidewater Tours
Owners: Lisa and Rex Hamaker
Location: 425 West Plantation Rd., Virginia Beach
Number of Employees: 7
When you live in one of the most impressive foodsheds in the country, the obvious thing to do is share the love of enticing eats and locally crafted beverages with others. Lisa and Rex Hamaker do just that, offering guided services for both visitors and locals to tour breweries, wineries, culinary treasures or historic sites in Coastal Virginia. Passengers on an excursion with Taste Tidewater Tours board an executive coach that seats 12 people, then embark on one of their five craft beer tours, three winery tours or four food tours, two of which are focused on oysters paired with wine or beer.
When they’re not introducing others to the delicious culinary culture of our region, the Hamakers get involved in the local food movement in other ways, including their own nonprofit, Hunger for Health; serving on the board and volunteering for Buy Fresh Buy Local; and being members of the Beekeeper’s Guild of Southeastern Virginia.
What obstacles did you face when starting your business? How did you overcome them? As vibrant as the local craft beer/wine scene has become, most locals still don’t know we have local beer/winery options—let alone a larger-market amenity like a guided tour service. Being patient, figuring out the best channels for marketing and networking/building trust with local government and venues has gone a long way to getting the word out to potential customers.
What are some benefits of being a small business? Being small and local, the networking we’ve been able to achieve has been very rewarding. Of course, it’s stressful being responsible for all aspects of a small business, but the relationships that have come out of it—especially with other small, family businesses—has been wonderful.
What’s something your business is doing that sets you apart from other businesses in the same field? Frankly speaking, we don’t have any competition offering all the tour experiences we do, especially with the quality of experience we provide. No other tour company has yet done the work or established the relationships with local farms, restaurants, breweries, wineries and even oystermen. The quality of tour we’re able to give stems from the personal and professional network of trust we’ve built so that our tours don’t have to rely on gimmicks to add value.
What strategy or idea has proved to be a success for your business? Cultivate and maintain strong relationships with your business partners, and embrace social media. Social media has brought us more then we could have imagined, and it stuns us that businesses still do not use it.
Owner: Jeanne Fiocca
Location: Home-based in Yorktown
Number of Employees: 2
Most people have cars and lawn equipment in their garages. Jeanne Fiocca has ovens.
Fiocca, founder and owner of Cookie Text, creates homemade treats in a variety of sizes in her garage, which has been remodeled as a small cookie-making setup. Customers can add a personal message or design, making them ideal gifts for business clients, college students or anyone who needs a sweet pick-me-up.
When Fiocca began baking and decorating cakes for her children, she found a creative side she hadn’t been able to nurture in her former role as an occupational therapist. She loved working with people and decided to go into business selling sugary goodies. The idea for the business came to her while she was taking a nap, and she hasn’t stopped dreaming up ways to improve her business since. Fiocca shares challenges she’s faced, what has worked best for her business and why being the cookie lady is the sweetest job ever.
What was the inspiration/motivation for starting your business? I had been a stay-at-home mom since my oldest son was born, and when my youngest started school, I became active in volunteering. I looked at renewing my OT license, but I wasn’t the same person anymore. I started making cakes for my children, and then people started asking me to make cookie cakes. I found a creative side I didn’t know I had.
What are some benefits of being a small business? The level of customer service I can provide. Most people think they’re the only order of the day. I am also able to maintain a high level of quality. I am a giver by nature, and I am also able to contribute to lots of nonprofits. It’s a win-win because I get my name out there, and it helps them.
What’s something your business is doing that sets you apart from other businesses in the same field? We use all-natural ingredients and real stuff in our cookies. No one ships us vats of stuff. Everything is personalized, and we have so many options. I am the Imelda Marcos of sprinkles.
What’s a piece of advice you’d like to share with current or future small business owners? If you do what you love from the right place with good intentions, it’s all going to turn out OK. Be yourself. Don’t try to copy. Put a little bit of yourself into your business.
Owner: Ken Trinder
Number of Employees: 32
EOS Surfaces, LLC, based in Norfolk, is an innovative technology company developing products that reduce the risk of infection in the healthcare industry through the reduction of bioburden. EOS offers a variety of progressive surface materials.
Their product portfolio includes EOS, its award-winning 3 cm solid surface that offers premium design and durability at an affordable price; GEOS, the most functional recycled glass countertop available and EOScu, the only synthetic hard surface EPA-registered for public-health claims, continuously killing 99.9 percent of Gram negative and Gram positive bacteria within two hours of exposure.
What was the inspiration/motivation for starting your business? About six years ago, I heard about a proprietary copper technology that was demonstrating biocidal activity in soft textiles. I knew that if I could find a way to suspend that material in my own solid surface, EOS, there would be a material that could help us reduce hospital-acquired infections and, in turn, help people and make a difference. And so began the production and launch of EOScu Preventive|Biocidal Surface™.
What are some benefits of being a small business? In terms of EOScu, a significant benefit is being able to personally monitor the quality of the product as well as the education of the end user. EOScu is a strange (but powerful) concept for people to understand. Because nothing like this has ever existed, potential users need a personal introduction to the material and its attributes, something that I am able to attend to myself as a small business owner.
Do you have goals to expand and grow in the future, or are you happy remaining a small business? We believe EOScu should become a part of the standard of care for any healthcare facility. And we believe that the science will continue to support that mission. As a result, we would expect our business to grow as the product becomes recognized as essential and our clinical data is published.
How has your business evolved since opening? We have expanded our team and created relationships with distributors around the country. The impact EOScu has had on the entire EOS team, however, has been profound. I believe we all feel that whatever task we are doing, from boxing samples to presenting to world-class healthcare facilities, we all feel that we are helping make a difference in healthcare.
Owner: Zack Miller
Location: 111 Granby St., Norfolk
Number of Employees: 6
Hatch is in the business of helping other businesses develop, grow and thrive. Think of them as a gym for entrepreneurs, where they create the environment for people to start and grow their business.
Hatch provides the “free weights” and “treadmills” through business workshops, events and content, but businesses still have to do the work (just like a person who wants to become fit still has to get on the treadmill). Hatch provides their customers the knowledge of what they’ve learned in business, and what they continue to learn in business.
What obstacles did you face when starting your business? How did you overcome them?Creating something that had never really been done before locally was a challenge because you’re trying to explain to people what it is, and they have one thought of what it is or they say, “Oh, this area doesn’t need that.” So hearing a lot of “nos” and just really pushing through those “nos” and turning them into “yeses”.
What do you enjoy most about your business’s location? Density. I love the density Downtown Norfolk has because I don’t have to get in my car to go to a meeting, to another meeting, to another meeting. I can just walk out my door and go and have that meeting that I need. I think that’s one of the keys that is missing from this region.
What strategy or idea has proved to be a success for your business? The one thing that has worked very well is in-person events, so meet-ups and events around starting and growing a business. We’ve done that through an event we created several years ago called “Start Norfolk,” which was a build-a-company-in-a-weekend competition. We also do weekly workshops. And now—taking that same kind of experience and distributing it online. Businesses can search our database of over 100 pieces of content to get that information.
What’s a piece of advice you’d like to share with current or future small business owners? I think people quit too early. You can’t live the employee mindset and have a successful business. You have to be willing to give up something early and often to make your business succeed. When businesses fail, often times I believe it’s because they didn’t give it their all. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you can do everything that you want.
The Village Blacksmith
Owner: George Cramer
Founded: September 18, 2015
Location: 6641 Gloucester St., Gloucester
Number of Employees: 2
As the name would imply, The Village Blacksmith is about blacksmithing, welding and metal fabrication. But they don’t just stick to metal; they repurpose or upcycle other items and do woodworking, too. They also collaborate with other artists to create one-of-a-kind pieces in the hopes of eventually becoming a one-stop shop for everything handmade and custom.
Although Cramer creates a few production items, most pieces are custom work. Word-of-mouth advertising has helped them create a huge portfolio of work that goes even beyond the imagination of what they thought they would—or could—do.
What was the inspiration/motivation for starting your business? As I was in the process of trying to start my business, a “Launch Gloucester” entrepreneur contest came along. I said, ‘Why not? I might as well apply for this Entrepreneur Package.’ We ended up being one of the winners, and it really helped push me further than I would have gone on my own. Putting a deadline on the competition really drove me to ramp up my timeline.
What are some benefits of being a small business? I’m doing what I enjoy doing, and you can’t replace that with anything. It allows you to help your customers bring their ideas to life.
What’s something your business is doing that sets you apart from other businesses in the same field? This summer we plan to start teaching classes in blacksmithing, bladesmithing and welding and fabrication to allow others to know what it feels like to make something with their hands.
Do you have goals to expand and grow in the future, or are you happy remaining a small business? We’re looking at having multiple locations eventually. We’ll have a retail location, a production location and a school location sometime down the road. We’re also looking at doing some Northeast and East Coast tours, networking with some bus companies and travel agencies.
Mouth Meets South
Owner: Tanya M. Howard
Founded: Early 2015
Number of Employees: 1 (Tanya also works with a co-packer to translate her family recipes for the mass market.)
Consider the quintessential Southern dishes that accompany family gatherings and Sunday suppers: barbecue ribs, fried chicken, fried catfish, smothered pork chops, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, red beans and rice, corn pudding, steamed cabbage and black eyed peas. Now combine those foods with the convenience of a frozen meal. The outcome is Mouth Meets South.
Mouth Meets South will bring delicious down-home meals to dinner tables across the country by merging farm fresh ingredients with flash-freezing technology to lock in nutritional value and superior flavor. The frozen food products will be competitively priced and convenient for busy families looking for a way to bring everyone together at the table. “Soul food was a staple in our home,” says founder and CEO Tanya M. Howard, who started Mouth Meets South to honor the history, culture, tradition and comfort of Southern cuisine.
To begin financing her plan, Howard started an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign where she was able to raise $10,000 in 60 days. She anticipates Mouth Meets South products being available in stores and online by the end of the year.
What’s something your business is doing that sets you apart from other businesses in the same field? Mouth Meets South is a game changer; it’s a disruptor. Frozen food meals have been around for quite some time, but this is the first time that we’re making soul food meals available in individual servings.
What strategy or idea has proved to be a success for your business? It’s been suggested to me that you have to get out and talk to people; you have to be very present. I’m networking with the purpose and intention of letting more and more people know what I’m doing, and when I have a need, I try to identify the right people to talk to, the right meetings to go to, to share and give information.
Do you have goals to expand and grow in the future, or are you happy remaining a small business? Expand and grow. I’m small now because I’m introducing this, but I am an entrepreneur. I imagine that at some point when the time is right that we will have a national rollout if not global—my intention is not to be small.
What’s a piece of advice you’d like to share with current or future small business owners? As an entrepreneur you learn as much from your mistakes as you do from your success, and you just keep going. That’s what separates those who are successful to those who may drop out at some point.
Owner: Pratik Kothari
Location: Coastal Virginia and beyond
Number of Employees: 8
A privately held computer software company, TechArk Solutions is a technology consulting and development company based in Coastal Virginia that serves local, national and international clients. The company is comprised of an award-winning, nationally recognized team of entrepreneurs, experienced developers and talented designers.
TechArk Solutions are a premier software applications and consulting firm with expertise in development of native and cross-platform mobile apps, custom enterprise applications, cloud solutions, business processes consulting and tactical marketing expertise. Their design and development team also specializes in responsive website design, graphic design and consistent branding to “Reimagine Your Business.”
What was the inspiration/motivation for starting your business? I’ve known many entrepreneurs and business leaders with great ideas and business models, but they just needed that extra push to help their business run more efficiently or gain the visibility they needed. They were missing a key piece of functionality on their website or had an idea for an app but didn’t have the technical resources in-house to get it past the finish line. The passion to help them with their technology gaps is what gets me up in the morning and keeps me up at night!
What do you enjoy most about your business’s location? Coastal Virginia is such a unique melting pot of businesses—from the enterprise organization to the garage startup. I think when you blend the variety of businesses, the diverse backgrounds and the Southern hospitality, you get a business environment that is conducive to building great, long-term relationships.
What are some benefits of being a small business? Flexibility. We can react to the marketplace more quickly and move swiftly on decisions. Also, as a small business, all of our team members have a voice in shaping the company. Even as we grow, that will always be an important part of our team culture.
What’s something your business is doing that sets you apart from other businesses in the same field? The web and mobile development market is definitely competitive, but there aren’t many agencies with the breadth of technology solutions we offer. Clients can work with us on all their technology needs and do not have to work with multiple agencies to manage their website and apps.
Integrated Virtual Solutions
Owners: Dr. Steven and Karen Richter
Location(s): Offices in Williamsburg and Norfolk
Number of Employees: 2
For the millions of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in the U.S. and around the world, the educational simulation technology created by Integrated Virtual Solutions (IVS) may give them a boost in the classroom. Dr. Steven Richter and his wife, Karen, cofounders and co-owners of IVS, have created T.H.I.S. (Three-Dimensional Haptic Interactive Simulator), a tool that pairs images taken with a 3-D camera with haptic (sense of touch) technology.
Originally created to teach young surgeons techniques for operating on the human body, Dr. Richter found another use for the device when he discovered children with autism could use it to explore the world through their fingertips. The system consists of a 40-inch 3-D TV and a device with an articulated arm with a stylus at the end that transmits sensations to correspond with the image on the screen. So when the user sees a 3-D image of an apple, he or she will then be able to feel the smoothness of the apple’s skin through the stylus.
Following is a look at the company’s journey to develop T.H.I.S. and Dr. Richter’s hopes for the future of the product.
What was the inspiration/motivation for starting your business? I wanted to create a surgical simulator and change the way healthcare residents are trained. My youngest son is an Air Force pilot, and he was always training on a simulator. No one ever threw him the keys and told him to fly the jet. When someone told me autistic children learn through touch and feel, I thought maybe this device can help.
What obstacles did you face when starting your business? How did you overcome them? My first obstacle was when I asked myself, ‘I’m a doctor; what do I know about business?’ Most people would say funding and money are obstacles, but you are going to fail if you don’t know what to do with that money when you get it. You really have to know the business side.
Do you have goals to expand and grow in the future, or are you happy remaining a small business? Our plan is to roll out multiple applications for the product. Eventually we want to start an application for animal surgery. We also want to look at military uses.
What’s a piece of advice you’d like to share with current or future small business owners? Keep going. Don’t listen to your head; listen to your heart. Your gut and heart will bring it home.
W.P. Large, Inc. (WPL)
Owners: Billy Almond, Brian Large, Eric Garner, Walter Weeks, Eric Smith, Jack Slagle
Location: Virginia Beach
Number of Employees: 30
WPL Site Design—a civil engineering, landscape architecture and land surveying firm—has grown from one employee in 1960 to 30 today. They focus on design markets for resort and hospitality, coastal site design, Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area site design and high-end residential landscape design and have recently supported Virginia Beach in many efforts at the Oceanfront, including the original Laskin Road Master Plan for 31 Ocean and continued support of the Strategic Growth Area (SGA) office in their resort planning. They have also volunteered support of JT Grommet Island Playground for EveryBODY and Camp Grom by donating site design and master planning and engineering services.
With the growing need for green infrastructure that supports sustainable design and building practices, WPL’s landscape architecture department works daily to promote public welfare. Landscape architects design public open space, parks and recreation that are on the cutting edge of wellness, which is now considered a major component of public health and safety.
What do you enjoy most about your business’s location? We are close to I-264, which allows us quick access to almost anywhere we need to be for surveying, construction oversight or design review meetings. We are also located midway between the Oceanfront and Town Center, and we are 15 minutes away from the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.
What are some benefits of being a small business? Everyone is like family. We take care of each other, and each employee invests in WPL’s future and in successful projects. We do not have a corporate mentality since a design firm has to remain non-conforming and creative. We pursue design excellence as a goal and green sustainability as a mission. We are also too small to compartmentalize, so every discipline is looking over most of our projects and making them better.
What’s something your business is doing that sets you apart from other businesses in the same field? We are truly a seamless site design firm. Land surveyors, civil engineers and landscape architects are all collaborating on the same project. Very unique to WPL is the role of the landscape architect, the only design professionals who are truly educated, trained and tested in land planning, site planning and site design.
Do you have goals to expand and grow in the future, or are you happy remaining a small business? We plan to remain the same size for the immediate future while we concentrate on quality and service for our clients. Even though we are a small firm, we operate as a prime consultant on many projects since a number of us came from architectural firms where we learned how to team.
Owner: Matthew Wallace
Founded: 2011 Fairwell Design
Location: 433 Granby St., Norfolk
Number of Employees: 3
“If it holds still, we can print on it” is the motto of newly-Norfolk-based screen printers, Prince Ink.
And they mean it. While T-shirts are the most requested item, they can print on just about anything—posters, business cards, wood, stone, glass—and tortillas. Yes, tortillas.
“A friend of ours owns a taco truck,” explains owner Matthew Wallace. “We used their hot sauce and printed that onto the tortillas. It was exciting and delicious.”
They hand-print all of their products, using manual screen presses and proudly refer to themselves as ‘passionately old-fashioned’ in their approach.
Prince Ink started out on Mellen Street in Hampton. Last June they applied to Downtown Norfolk’s Vibrant Spaces initiative and were chosen to receive a grant and relocate to Granby Street. While their Hampton location was more of a showroom, the new Norfolk store will offer a retail component, selling printed products that either they’ve created or their clients have created—all emphasizing the craftsmanship of the products.
What was the inspiration/motivation for starting your business? I was printing T-shirts on the side as a personal hobby. I used to do stencil art on canvases, and I had a friend say he wanted them as T-shirts, so I looked into how to make that happen and brought a screen print kit. I like having the freedom to just take ideas wherever we want to take them.
What do you enjoy most about your business’s location? There’s so much happening around us. We’re not the only ones who are trying to do something fun and exciting. We can just contribute to what everybody else is doing; I like that. There’s also a lot of foot traffic.
How has your business evolved since opening? We’ve been able to work with more and more people that we admire. Our customer list from when we first started to now is much more substantial. It’s a higher caliber clientele.
What’s a piece of advice you’d like to share with current or future small business owners? Always improve. Always try to make what you’re doing better or make the services that you offer more valuable. We don’t really get too comfortable. We always try to do something different and always look on improving things.
Owners: Heather Kerkering and Steve Woll
Location: Corporate Office: Woll works out of Norfolk. Kerkering works out of Williamsburg, often from the Greater Williamsburg Launchpad office
Number of Employees: 2
As avid water enthusiasts and science professionals, Heather Kerkering and Steve Woll, the duo behind the CoastWize app, recognized a need for improved access and display of relevant marine and weather information for decision-making and planning. As a result, they developed Coast Wize to be an all-in-one boating data smartphone app that takes advantage of access to special data sources and developing technologies.
The first version of their product is targeted to recreational boaters, who currently have to search multiple places for data on tides, waves, weather and where to dock and eat nearby.
What are some benefits of being a small business? There are so many decisions to make when starting a new business. With just two employees, I think we are able to forge ahead quickly with decision-making. As we grow, we will look to expand the business capabilities and staff. For now, it is very manageable, and we benefit from being a small company.
What strategy or idea has proved to be a success for your business? We accepted proposals from a few app developers and chose one most fitting to our budget, short- and long-term goals. The app was initially made available on iTunes by invitation only. This allowed us to receive feedback and revise our app before releasing it to the greater iTunes community.
How has your business evolved since opening? We started with an idea in the summer of 2015. We pivoted, networked, fundraised and developed. We’ve experienced success and setbacks. We are now an established LLC and have a product we think people will find useful.
Do you have goals to expand and grow in the future, or are you happy remaining a small business? We definitely plan to grow as fast as we can, but we’ll probably be a small business for the near term. We want our product to reach more users and provide more information. We do plan to make the app available in both the iOS and Andriod markets. We want to partner with established businesses and create tailored products for various coastal communities.
Owner: Clint Dalton
Location: Downtown Norfolk
Number of Employees: 1.75ish
Sprouthaus (formerly 757 Creative Space) is a community of creative professionals—app developers, architects, marketers, musicians, programmers, poets and more—who share 8,500 square feet of office space in Downtown Norfolk. The “business incubator facility” has a mixture of open work spaces, conference rooms, classrooms and traditional offices that can be utilized by joining one of several membership plans.
Participants can sign up for a daily office or pop in once a month for client meetings. No matter the commitment, there’s always free coffee and plenty of collaboration. Owner Clint Dalton best describes the environment: “There are not too many co-working companies that have a couple mad scientists working on biolabs, besides marketing gurus and crack web designers!”
Sprouthaus is currently embarking on a brand shift that includes a strategy to help people outside of their walls as well. They will introduce a customized tablet to provide specialized value to their customers even when they aren’t physically at the office.
What was the inspiration/motivation for starting your business? There was a lack of quality work space for independents and freelancers in Downtown Norfolk.
What obstacles did you face when starting your business? How did you overcome them? Being all things all the time to all the people. It’s easy to think you can be customer oriented and be hands on, but it turns out that 80 percent of your time is spent on 20 percent of your customers.
What are some benefits of being a small business? We get to dream and do in the best city (Norfolk), in the best region (Coastal Virginia), in the best state (Virginia). Oh, and my daughter Piper can visit me from Governor’s School whenever she gets a chance, and my 4-year-old daughter Harper is my CDO (Chief Distraction Officer) every day at the office after preschool. It was so important early on for me to create an environment where my wife could bring Harper to work with her as an infant and toddler.
What’s something your business is doing that sets you apart from other businesses in the same field? We’re proud and excited to have a diverse group of companies in the space already, including several inventors, a small army of graphic designers and the Biologik biohack/training facility. And, we’re really excited to say that starting in June, Wu Tang Clan Internet Radio will be fully relocated from New Jersey to begin broadcasting out of Sprouthaus!
The Pack Road Trip Travel Club
Owner: Andrae J. Marable
Location: Home-based, Churchland section of Portsmouth
Number of Employees: 1
Andrae Marable believes that traveling together is better, which is why he started The Pack Road Trip Travel Club. Once a shy guy, he is now the leader of the pack. Balancing his day job as a project manager at Norfolk Naval Station with his side business isn’t easy, but planning bus trips keeps him motivated and energized.
Customer service is at the heart of everything Marable does, and he goes the extra mile to ensure those who travel with him get the most memories for their money. He selects unique destinations, including wineries, festivals and NBA games, and then works with venues to create memorable experiences. Marable discusses his business’s trials and successes, the importance of making time for fun and his plans for the road ahead.
What was the inspiration/motivation for starting your business? My parents didn’t have a lot of money, so my family didn’t do much traveling when I was little. I wanted to travel, and I wanted to share my experiences with others at an affordable cost. I had planned road trips with friends, and they had such a good time they pushed me to make it into a business.
What obstacles did you face when starting your business? How did you overcome them? Marketing was an obstacle. I knew it was important, but I didn’t realize how expensive it was. I had to get creative. I advertised my trips on free online calendars, attended networking events and sent press releases to newspapers. I wasn’t a Facebooker before, and that was a huge learning curve, but it was cheap to advertise.
What strategy or idea has proven to be a success for your business? Planning social events. I didn’t think they would be a big deal, but they are. People look forward to them. They like being together and having face time. Working with other businesses in Hampton Roads has also worked well.
What’s a piece of advice you’d like to share with current or future small business owners? Stay positive, and don’t get discouraged. Take time to enjoy life. A lot of people think all about the dollars. Take time away because it’s all still going to be there tomorrow.