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Last October, Rhonda Jordan’s husband asked her what she wanted to do with her life. “Run a fabric store,” she answered. “Write a business plan,” he told her. So she did.
In March 2012, Rhonda’s plan became a reality when she opened Tabby Fabric and Studio in downtown Beaufort.
Fast forward to the summer, and bolts of fabrics line the shop’s left wall and sit in stacks on a cutting table. In an adjoining room that serves as the studio, a large table sits across from a row of sewing machines. Just months after starting, the business is already breaking even.
Rhonda credits three factors with Tabby Fabric’s successful start: the business plan, SBA financing and her own ingenuity.
Five years ago, instead of returning to her nursing career, Rhonda decided to enroll in the Savannah College of Art and Design. She had intended to study painting but soon found herself drawn to textiles instead and changed her focus to fabric design.
“I’m not really a plan kind of person,” Rhonda admits.
But when it came to starting and running a business, she knew the plan was essential.
When creating the plan, Rhonda considered how the fabric industry had been changing over the past decade. Quilting fabric had undergone a renaissance – a “soft revolution” in industry-speak. The 21st century designs and new materials were attracting both younger generations of quilters and, despite the historical barrier between quilting and garment fabrics, clothing makers.
With this knowledge, Rhonda wondered why quilting shops weren’t marketing to garment makers or even carrying modern fabrics.
“I looked at what other places were doing wrong instead of what they were doing right,” she says.
Rhonda also knew she wanted to get the community involved in her business. Sewing had become more and more popular over the past decade, and Rhonda wanted to give local sewists a place to not only buy fabric, but also to work on their creations and meet like-minded people. And, she wanted to teach more people how to sew.
“Sewing is very social and that’s the idea behind the sewing room,” Rhonda explains. “I had this, ‘If you build it, they will come’ philosophy.”
Through Rhonda’s plan, her business vision took shape: a shop serving the fabric, space and educational needs of both quilters and garment makers of all generations and all skill levels.
Rhonda’s husband, who had recently gotten his MBA, also got involved, helping out with the business’s financial projections.
When she finished her business plan draft, Rhonda made an appointment with Martin Goodman, area manager of the Beaufort Area Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to see if she was on the right track. The SBDC is part of the SBA’s team of resource partners, which provide free and confidential small business counseling. Martin reviewed the plan and was impressed.
Now that she had a strong business plan, Rhonda’s next step was securing the financing she needed to make the plan a reality.
Martin worked with Rhonda on the presentation aspect of the business plan, helping her streamline her own plan to successfully submit to lenders.
“I don’t know if I would have actually put my plan into a banker’s hands if it weren’t for Martin,” Rhonda says.
Despite the strong business plan and her own strong credit, Rhonda was turned down by three banks. To borrow cash, you have to have cash, the lenders told her. But with two young sons, Rhonda didn’t have thousands of dollars of her own to invest in the business.
Once again, she turned to the SBDC. Martin recommended that she apply for an SBA-backed loan from Borrego Springs Bank, a participant in SBA’s Preferred Lender Program. Rhonda was hesitant—Borrego Springs Bank was an out-of-state bank and she would have to submit an online application. But she took Martin’s advice and applied.
“The process was tedious and a little scary, but all in all it was a good process,” she says.
The process paid off – literally. On February 15, 2012, Borrego Springs approved Rhonda for the business loan.
Rhonda secured a location in downtown Beaufort, where her shop would share the block with two businesses in similarly creative industries: a knitting and yarn store and an art supply store. Not only would her shop appeal to existing customers of the two other businesses, but its downtown location would also appeal to tourists.
Rhonda budgeted the loan proceeds “down to the dollar,” she says.
To save money, Rhonda and her husband took on any task they felt they could do themselves. They did all their own painting and even performed some of their own construction. With her artistic flair, Rhonda was also able to design her business’s website, spending only a few hundred dollars for coding assistance instead of a few thousand to hire a web designer.
Today, Tabby Fabric and Studio counts clients from throughout the community and even from as far away as Atlanta and Kansas City. Customers come to shop, to sew, to chat and to learn.
“You can do this when the economy is the way it is,” Rhonda says. “This is a niche store in a small town, and we’re keeping our head above water. If you have a plan and keep a budget, anything’s possible.”