The answer: When you are Handcraft Cleaners & Launderers, Inc. The business, founded by John A. Nichols as a single retail dry cleaning store in Richmond’s north side in 1956, has grown from a single store into a multifaceted company comprised of 13 retail locations and several business operations.
HandCraft is a family-owned whose business philosophy has always been going the extra mile for each and every customer—a philosophy that has guided the business for more than 50 years of success. It is no wonder that on quality and customer service, their tag line is “Our Business is Your Image”.
In 1978, Nichols expanded into the laundry business by purchasing Richmond Steam Laundry in south Richmond and within a few years later was approached by several local hospitals including Johnston Willis Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital to handle their hospital’s laundry services. To meet the demand, HandCraft then purchased a 90,000 square foot building which focused solely on the healthcare industry. Shortly afterwards, other customers followed suit as they learned of Handcraft’s business values and service.
In September, 2008, the company expanded into a second 60,000 square foot $10 million state-of-the-art facility located in Richmond’s south side, enabling them to double their production capacity to more than 50 millions pounds annually. The new state-of-the art equipment that makes this possible was funded, in part, by the SBA’s 504 loan program and allows the company to provide healthcare linen services to 40 hospitals and over 400 medical and dental practices, surgery centers, and nursing homes throughout Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina, Delaware and Washington D.C.
The SBA 504 Certified Development Company Loan Program is a long-term financing tool for economic development within a community. The program provides growing businesses with long term low fixed interest rate financing for major fixed assets, such as land and buildings and major equipment with an emphasis on economic development for the community. A Certified Development Company is a nonprofit corporation set up to contribute to the economic development of its community. CDCs work with the SBA and private-sector lenders to provide financing to small businesses. There are about 270 CDCs nationwide. Each CDC covers a specific geographic area.
Typically, a 504 project includes a loan secured with a senior lien from a private-sector lender covering up to 50 percent of the project cost, a loan secured with a junior lien from the CDC (backed by a 100 percent SBA-guaranteed debenture) covering up to 40 percent of the cost, and a contribution of at least 10 percent equity from the small business being helped.
On November 25, 2008, over one hundred staff special guests, dignitaries, and friends of HandCraft Services, Inc. gathered at the new HandCraft Healthcare Linen Services Facility on Cofer Road in south Richmond to dedicate the company’s new corporate headquarters and healthcare laundry facility. Lieutenant Governor Bolling, the Commonwealth of Virginia, delivered keynote address.
“The opening of this new, technologically advanced healthcare laundry facility”, Lieutenant Governor Bolling said, “is another manifestation of the spirit, innovation and vision that has made Virginia the most pro-business state in the nation. I commend HandCraft Services and the Nichols family for their continued investment in Virginia and the healthcare industry.”
The entire plant was designed primarily around three (3) criteria: employee ergonomics and safety; energy efficiency; and high productivity and quality control. A number of “green” practices were incorporated into the building’s operations including the capacity to recycle 230,000 pounds of plastic linen bags and 276,000 pounds of worn out hospital linen annually. The increased benefits of the new equipment are the cost cutting and “go green” technology being utilized through the significant greater efficiencies and productivity gains. These gains will provide the capability of more than doubling Handcraft’s existing operation and allow them to expand into new markets in the region.
Today, more than fifty years later and with approximately 250 employees, the family business continues to grow with John A. Nichols sons, Keith, Jay and Jeff, all graduates of nearby Benedictine High School, carrying the torch, each having learned the business from the ground up and having held a variety of jobs throughout their careers. Their original location on Patterson Avenue in the West End of Richmond is still in operation, a reminder of their humble beginning.
HandCraft is successful family-run business that is very community-oriented and environmentally conscious. HandCraft participates annually in Earth Day functions, blood drives, children's charities and much more.
If you are going to take time to serve dessert, put some love into it. That’s the special ingredient that makes the products of Daystar Desserts, the bakers of the “World’s Best Cheesecake,” so great. However, it takes a lot more than just love to make a successful business. It also takes “a lot of hard work and dedication,” says John Fernandez, Daystar’s CBO (Chief Baking Officer) and co-owner. Add to this mixture a lot of devotion, great customer service and a dose of entrepreneurial spirit. This is the recipe that co-owners Russell Cobb and John Fernandez poured into their business to make it successful.
Russell and John met while they were students at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. After graduating, while starting their careers at some of the best restaurants in New York, they noticed a demand for fine desserts in area restaurants and hotels that could not afford to hire their own pastry chefs. In 1998, with a dream and some product ideas, they decided to grab on to the opportunity to combine their cooking skills with their entrepreneurial spirit and go into business for themselves. They began selling fine desserts to the upscale restaurants and hotels in New York City and on Long Island. They started by baking these desserts in John's mother’s kitchen on Long Island using freezers in her garage to store their product. At times working 36 hours straight, they did everything from baking to selling and even hand-delivering their creations.
Struggling to make ends meet and realizing that the exchange rate in Canada was more favorable; they formed a partnership with a factory in Quebec and moved operations to Canada. It was a bold move and was profitable for a while, until the exchange rate became less favorable and freight costs began to escalate. They were “on the verge of a major disaster and could no longer afford to do business in Canada,” said John.
Since they had no intention of throwing in the towel, this entrepreneurial duo decided to move operations back to America and started to look for a new home. It was now May of 2004 and the “World’s Best Cheesecake,” a 50 year old business from Ashland, VA was on the market. Although Daystar was struggling itself, they saw a gem of an opportunity and purchased the business.
Losing nearly $700,000 during the first year of operation, they almost lost everything just trying to keep the business afloat. The purchase of the “World's Best Cheesecake” business came with a number of conditions which severely impacted their bottom line. However, with hard work, they were able to turn the company around and they made a profit within two years. Still struggling, they sought out the help of the Greater Richmond Chamber, The Greater Richmond Partnership and the Greater Richmond Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
As a result of an annual business valuation performed by The Greater Richmond Chamber along with the Greater Richmond Partnership, the SBDC provided research and counseling to assist the business with a growth strategy while assisting them with other development and human resource challenges. After several visits and a financial analysis, the SBDC was able to identify a number of cost improvements as well as a strategy for the next stage of growth for Daystar Desserts.
The Greater Richmond SBDC is part of the Virginia SBDC network, a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, which is comprised of 30 centers throughout the Commonwealth. The SBDC provides guidance and assistance to small businesses from start-ups to existing businesses, like Daystar Desserts, to help them grow and prosper. SBDCs nationwide meet the counseling and training needs of 650,000 start-ups or existing business clients annually. Based on the needs of their clients, SBDCs tailor their services to meet the evolving needs of the small business community.
As a condition of the acquisition of the “World’s Best Cheesecake” operation, Daystar Desserts was also obligated to buy their building within 5 years under a lease purchase option. Although for years Russell and John had been working with a large bank in the area and were told all along that there would be no problem funding a mortgage, when the economy turned sour and the credit crisis hit, the bank could no longer help them. Frustrated, John made a call to the SBA for help. The SBA provided general guidance and referred them to several area banks to discuss financing options including the SBA 504 Loan Program. Intrigued by the 504 Program’s low down payment requirements and long term, below-market interest rates, John called Jim McClure of the Crater Development Company.
John remembers, “At the time it seemed hopeless, [but] Jim made me feel quite confident. With his leadership we got the loan and it turned out to be much better than any other loan we could have received.” John praised the elimination of SBA loan fees through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, saying “[the] 504 loan saved us close to $200,000 over the term of the loan and we are taking those savings and applying them to our marketing efforts.” He credits Village Bank for its key role in making Daystar's 504 loan and said, "We couldn’t be happier."
The SBA 504 Certified Development Company Loan Program is a long-term financing tool for economic development within a community. The program provides growing businesses with long-term, low fixed rate financing for major fixed assets, such as land and buildings and heavy equipment.
Incidentally, on the day of the 504 loan closing, a national retailer awarded a large contract to Daystar that will nearly double the size of their business. Once again John called Village Bank for additional working capital to support this growth. Village Bank is an active SBA lender in both the 504 and 7(a) loan programs.
Daystar’s story proves that small businesses can succeed and prosper even in challenging economic times.
Automotive Classics, Inc., ‘Home of the Honest Mechanic’ finds a Permanent Home with SBA 504 Financing
Automotive Classics Inc., a car repair and service business, can attest to the positive side of acquiring commercial real estate in a sputtering economy. Dave O’Connell , who started Automotive Classics Inc. in Fredericksburg, Virginia, was finally able to locate the right site, a home for his business through the Small Business Administration’s 504 Loan Program. The repair shop is located on half an acre at 175 Chatham Heights Road, Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Automotive Classic Inc. was started over 20 years ago with a focus on restoring classic cars and expanded to a repair service station. The business operated in many rental locations until O’Connell decided it was time to take the plunge into commercial real estate ownership and gain more control over his business. He located a promising ½ acre site.
For financing this new venture, O’Connell approached Rappahannock Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), a licensed non-profit, Certified Development Company that offers long-term fixed-rate financing for small business through the SBA 504 Loan Program. The CDC/504 Loan Program is a long-term financing tool for economic development within a community. The 504 Loan Program provides growing businesses with long-term fixed-rate financing for major fixed assets, such as land and buildings, including expansions, renovations, and construction projects. CDCs work with the SBA and private-sector lenders to provide financing to small businesses. There are approximately 270 CDCs nationwide. This year REDCO hired two new staff members to invigorate economic growth of its programs: Jeff Rouse, Senior Business Development Officer and Diana Lupe, Operations Manager.
When asked whether the ’Cash for Clunkers’ Program had much of a negative impact on his service business, O’Connell replied in the negative but added “maybe a little.” Actually during a time of shortages, jobs and money, he noted that folks generally cut back on general maintenance and service, not repairs. His mission, to provide quality diagnosis and service for a reasonable cost, is what he thinks the customers want and the sign outside the building says it all succinctly in five words, ‘Home of the Honest Mechanic.’ Automotive Classics’ gross receipts have grown each year since 2006 when it acquired the real estate. This indicates that O’Connell is indeed aware of what customers want in an automotive repair shop. In 2008 the business broke the $1 million dollar mark in total sales.
Jeff Rouse, Senior Business Development Officer of REDCO, describes the structure of the 504 program, as a bank loan for 50% and then REDCO provides 40% of the capital with the borrower coming up with a 10% down payment. The interest rate is fixed and is generally lower because of SBA backing. The bank is in a protected position because it has a senior lien on the project. “It’s a great way for our local businesses, like Automotive Classics Inc., to take the next stepping stone by acquiring commercial real estate to house their business. Automotive Classics’ projection of providing continuing employment to five individuals is vital to the economic health of our area.”
O’Connell employs 6 individuals at present, one above the original projection. As President of Automotive Classics Inc., O’Connell no longer works on cars but instead oversees development of the business. The 504 program, by financing businesses like Automotive Classics Inc., contributes to the economic vitality of the greater Fredericksburg area.
O’Connell is working on expanding his business by opening a second location and the announcement of the company’s new branding as “Doc Auto” which is on display in the lobby of the business. After the second location, he will entertain the possibility of several additional stores. When asked if he has a recommendation for budding entrepreneurs, he quips “in this business, I’d tell them ’don’t do it.’” He adds “I already have enough competition.” However when he focuses on the 504 program, he sums it up by stating that “it is a phenomenal program and I’d recommend it without hesitation.”