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You might say that Andrew Kratz and Joel Graybeal have always aimed for the top. To be more precise, the former Marine and ex-mortgage banker both share a passion for rock climbing. Kratz was the former High Adventure Instructor at the Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia and opened the first indoor rock climbing gym, Triangle Rock Club (TRC), in 2007. Graybeal was an early TRC client and quickly became friends with Kratz. In 2011, Graybeal exited the mortgage business and began helping his friend grow TRC – he climbed aboard full-time as a managing partner in 2012.
The owners attribute their success to their focus on the customer experience and the high quality of their staff. Since 2010, TRC has grown from 21 employees in 2010 to a staff of over 50. In addition to staff growth, revenues have also steadily increased from $330,000 in 2009 to over $1.5 million in 2013. They’ve open up two world class indoor climbing facilities with plans for more.
TRC has faced its share of challenges during the firm’s ascent. When scouting for the second location, there were already two parties vying for the space. Knowing it was crucial to their growth plan, Kratz and Graybeal quickly mapped out a strategy to educate the landlord on the strength and reputation of their company and promptly entered into negotiations for a lease-to-own option for the space. The pair opened the new facility within 5 ½ months of signing the lease.
The SBA has assisted TRC in their ascent to success with funding through the SBA 504 and 7(a) loan programs. In July of 2009, TRC purchased their first location in Morrisville with the help of $775,000 through Self-Help Ventures Fund and VantageSouth Bank. In June of 2013, the business closed on a construction loan through SunTrust Bank to fund expanding the original Morrisville location. That project will fund construction of an additional building and will add 17,000 square feet of climbing terrain to the existing 9000 square feet in the original facility. Once completed, the Morrisville facility will be the largest and tallest climbing gym in five states.
In January 2014, TRC closed on a third 504 Loan for over $2.4 million from Business Expansion Funding Corporation (BEFCOR) and VantageSouth. TRC used these funds to purchase their second facility which is in North Raleigh. This facility includes 13,000 feet of climbing terrain and opened in September 2013.
Graybeal added “we would not have been able to grow our business at the pace we have without the great lending terms we have gotten thru the three rounds of SBA financing to purchase real estate and equipment.”
TRC adds over 2,000 new customers per month - guests use a monthly membership, a day pass or participate in a group activity. In the next 1 – 2 years, Kratz and Graybeal plan to open up a third gym in the Raleigh-Durham area. In the next 1 - 3 years, they’re looking for locations in the Triad and possibly the Charlotte area.
TRC also holds a strong commitment to give back to the community. TRC actively supports public and private schools plus a whole host of charities. In addition TRC has also been supporting the Durham Ronald McDonald House (RMH) through its new fund raising event called the Climbathon, where teams of climbers climbed overnight from 8pm until 8am the next day. Teams were awarded prizes for raising the most money and the most ascents. In two events, TRC raised over $100,000 for the Durham RMH.
Stephen T. Forrest
Sandra F. Forrest
Shane R. Gebauer
Brushy Mountain Bee Farm
Moravian Falls NC
SBA-sponsored counseling helps North Carolina Bee Farm generate more “Buzz”
In the pristine mountains in Wilkes County, North Carolina, Steve and Sandy Forrest turned a passion into a business - Brushy Mountain Bee Farm.
The company has grown from a two person operation in 1977 to over 70 employees today. They currently carry an inventory of over 1,000 supply items for the beekeeping enthusiast. Hives, tools, medications, jars, and protective clothing are just a few of their many products. From its operational sites in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, Brushy Mountain Bee Farm distributes products to both national and international markets. Sales for 2013 are projected to be 81% higher than 2007 figures. A new production facility opened in North Wilkesboro in 2013. Brushy Mountain has taken advantage of SBA-sponsored counseling which contributed to some of the bee farm’s “buzz.”
Over the past two and half years, North Carolina’s Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) has supported the efforts of Steve, Sandy and general manager Shane Gebauer. This relationship has produced extraordinary results. Sales, margins, productivity and employment numbers have all improved since collaborating with the SBTDC. Steve needed help with a specific problem: assistance in evaluating the warehousing systems needed to reduce the time from order to delivery. SBTDC’s support has since expanded to financial analysis, strategic organization analysis, tactical and strategic planning, import/export training, and web analysis. The business model jointly developed and now in place has strengthened Brush Mountain Bee Farm’s confidence and financial resources.
Brushy Mountain Bee Farm has also turned to state agencies for technical and financial guidance. Recently they reached out to NC State School of Textiles for aid in developing a better beekeeper’s suit. The School of Textiles provided them with a non-woven fabric solution. Not only does the solution provide performance and cost benefits, it will allow Brush Mountain Bee Farm to modify their supply chain. They will now be able to source both fabric and fabrication in the State of North Carolina instead of overseas. Through training and planning, the company is positioned to grown its international base.
Using other partners such as the NC Department of Labor, EPA, and the NC Industrial Extension have helped them be better employers, provide a safer work environment, plan for the future, increase profits and hire more people. Sales have doubled since adding general manager Shane in 2007. They’ve increased their web presence and opened a branch in Pennsylvania in 2009. All this assistance and effort has led to the expansion to a new 31,000 facility to house future growth, new product development and hiring more employees.
Some people start a business for financial gain, others to engage in an activity they enjoy. Leah Brown's business was born out of a tragedy, the death of a loved one.
At the age of 25, Leah was commuting to Manhattan, working twelve hour days for a Fortune 500 company. She was happy to be a part of the fast-paced New York life style back in the mid-eighties. Some days, rather than make the long return trip to New Jersey, she would stay at her uncle's apartment in the city. Leah was very close to her uncle. To Leah, he was a friend, a confidant, a parent. She was absolutely devastated when he lost his life to AIDS. After years of pain, she decided to turn her misery into a successful business enterprise. She wanted to make sure that treatments could be made available as soon as possible to save uncles and aunts all over the world.
In 2004, ATEN (A10) Solutions, Inc. was born. Brown's mission was to support research and healthcare delivery. A10 helps its clients get investigational drugs to market faster and safer by managing critical clinical trials. These trials contribute to FDA approval of these drugs and treatments. This support takes many forms. It can be one employee monitoring the progress of the trial, or providing a dozen to collect data from patients. While combating HIV was the driver of the firm, the firm also focuses on other diseases that greatly affect the African American community.
Brown sought SBA help to grow A10 and help her achieve her goals. She took advantage of SBA sponsored counseling through the North Carolina Small Business & Technology Development Center and the SBA Women's Business Center of North Carolina in Durham.
In 2009, A10 was accepted into SBA's 8(a) Business Development Program. The 9-year development program offers incentives to help socially and economically disadvantaged firms increase opportunities with federal prime and sub contracts with the U.S. government. Prior to entering SBA's 8(a) program, A10 employed 78 and had sales over $5 million. The firm as grown to almost 200 employees with $11.3 million in revenues.
"The SBA served as our compass as we hiked our way through the federal government maze," said Brown.