When Beaverdam, Va., resident Rick Ivey began work as a dishwasher at 14, he had no idea he was beginning a path into the restaurant food and service industry that would lead to founding a chain of fast food barbeque restaurants with 11 locations already open and more than 43 more sites in development.
His franchise system, Virginia Barbeque, one of approximately 70 Virginia based franchises, is known for its authentic southern barbeque served with a focus on speed and value. The average order time takes less than five minutes and a family of four can eat for less than twenty dollars.
Critics are raving about Virginia Barbeque’s fare, declaring it “The best barbeque on the planet” (Walter Witt, WWBT-TV, the NBC affiliate in Richmond, VA. 2008), “The Region's Best Barbeque” (Richmond Magazine 2005), “4 of 4 star rating” & “Editors' Pick” (Washington Post City Guide 2007), “The best barbeque they ever had,” (North of the James Magazine 2006) and “Simply the best Barbeque in the Region” (Free Lance Star 2004).
During his 25 years in the restaurant industry, Ivey worked his way up through the ranks of several large hospitality companies including Aramark, Hilton, Radisson and Sheraton, until he reached the pinnacle of his industry by being certified as one of the nation’s 2,000 Executive Chefs. He has held this distinction for the last 10 years.
One of the biggest obstacles Ivey had to deal with in his professional career, he said, was “trying to find a way to balance work and family.” Living in a rural area meant long commutes to the commercial centers, on top of long hours in the commercial kitchens. His first solution to this problem was to create Ivey’s Catering and install a complete commercial catering kitchen attached to his home so he and his wife could always be there for their young children while preparing the food. Unfortunately, they still had to leave their family to serve the high-end catering clients—with his wife, Nina Ivey, always dressed up and out front, greeting everybody and serving, with Rick in the back, cooking like a madman.
Ivey knew he would have to do more, especially if he wanted to spend most of the day with his children. It was after a barbeque catering gig came through, by far the most money and low-maintenance meal he had ever prepared for a catering event, when he decided to open a chain of barbeque restaurants. This, he figured, could pretty much run itself once it was up-and-going, and he and his wife would not have to be there all the time to oversee everything. He knew this would be a complex business proposition and he would need help. Luckily for Ivey, he met Brian Baker, Executive Director of the Rappahannock Small Business Development Center (SBDC), a cooperative effort of the private sector, the educational community and federal, state and local governments designed to provide management assistance to current and prospective small business owners.
Beginning in early 2005, Baker met with Ivey once a month and helped him with the initial planning of the barbeque franchise company. They worked on the mission, vision and initial goals to get it off the ground. Baker helped Ivey create his first business plan, review other websites of similar companies to understand what content Ivey would need on his site, and reviewed growth rates of similar franchises to project what growth rate Ivey could initially expect. The success of their collaboration was recognized by the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce in 2005, which honored Ivey with its “Entrepreneur of the Year” award., This award “acknowledges an individual for excellence in the start up of a new business.”
Ivey’s business strength has always been that he finds out who the best experts are, and then he learns as much as possible from them and implements their best practices into his business model. “I find that those who are the best in their field want to help others who are still climbing their way to the top. There is no competitiveness there, just pure altruism and a willingness to share what they know,” explained Ivey.
In addition to the assistance Rick received from the SBDC and Brian Baker, his mentors and business advisors include Fred Deluca, Founder of Subway; Steve Greenbaum, Founder and CEO of PostNet International and Chairman of the International Franchise Association (IFA) 2008; Dick Rennick, Founder, American Leak Detection, Past Chairman, IFA; Matthew Shay, President/CEO, IFA; and Ray Titus, Founder/CEO of World Franchise Group including Sign Rama, EmbroidMe, Billboard Connections and Franchise Mart.
Rick and Virginia Barbeque were both a big hit at the recent 2008 Central Virginia Franchise & Financing Expo, held in Richmond VA. Virginia Barbeque was not only a exhibitor handing out samples of his product, Rich was also a highlighted speaker at one of the seminars for potential franchisees. This event was a popular resource with the community, educating over 825 potential franchise entrepreneurs on the merits of owning a franchise. It was initiated by the SBA’s Richmond District Office and the Greater Richmond SBDC as the principal host for this event with the International Franchising Association (IFA) as the lead event sponsor. within addition, SBA’s Franchise Registry, the Virginia SBDC Network, SCORE, and New Visions New Ventures Women’s Business Center participated as co-sponsors of this hugely successful event. SBA’s new Franchise Registry is a partnership with FRANdata and a prime example of helping small businesses owners through cooperation between government and industry. Although not a member yet, Rick is planning on registering with the franchise registry in the near future citing it’s many benefits.
One of Ivey’s favorite benefits of running a barbeque restaurant is that he can donate his barbeque to charity events, which turns routine public events into true community experiences with a family feel. Ivey has donated his barbeque to such events as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Club, FORD Fredericksburg Off-Road Duathlon, Friends of the Rappahannock, Greater Fredericksburg Habitat for Humanity Affiliate Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and the March of Dimes.
In addition to extensive planning and research, Timberville, Va. entrepreneurs Randy and Shirley Andes brought over 25 years experience and a lifelong dream to realization when they opened Randy’s Do it Best Hardware in July 2001.
Over the past five years, their business has grown quickly due to Randy’s astute management style and their emphasis on excellent customer service. At Randy's Do it Best Hardware, “there is no business without customers”, he said. They go above and beyond what is expected from the minute the customer enters our doors.
Randy’s work experiences convinced him that his management style and customer relations skills would enhance his own business. Their business plan assured them that this small but growing regional community with estimated population of over 100,000 was ready for a new hardware store. Their store is located in Rockingham County and being native to the area, they realized that customer travel patterns are not typical in the Shenandoah Valley, situated between Harrisonburg and New Market, Va. Randy defied market experts by mapping the rural routes that would bring his neighbors across and through the surrounding mountains to build his customer base.
Randy and Shirley are committed to knowing their customers, their families, and their personalities. Their friendly, knowledgeable sales people can usually find a solution for their customers’ projects or problems, and if they don’t have what they need in the store, they get a referral to someone who can help. Not only will they carry and load merchandise, if needed, they also help color match paint to wallpaper and fabrics and even do research and try to locate hard to find items or repair parts. There is also a shipping station right there on premises.
“New customers come in with a referral from friends,” Randy said. “They are told that if anyone could help fix it or find it, go to Randy's.”
Randy's Do it Best Hardware is better know in the community as the Friendly Hardware Store. The store features 8,000 square-feet of retail space and 2,000 square-feet of storage and rental space offering a complete selection of hardware and home improvement merchandise. They also specialize in kitchen and bath cabinetry. The store, which is spotlessly clean, is bisected by the main aisle which stretches the length of the store. Off the main aisle are sub-aisles with floor to ceiling merchandise racks, completely stocked with every conceivable kind of hardware goods. The racks are stocked daily, and goods are plainly labeled. The store carries electrical, plumbing, cabinets, tools, hardware items like nuts, bolts, screws, house wares, paints, etc.
According to Randy, the store has a niche market in the cabinet/remodeling business. There is one full-time designer on staff with more than 40 years of experience. The store has a full kitchen and bath showroom and a dedicated workroom where the designer can customize remodeling plans for customers.
Most of the Do it Best Hardware goods are purchased from, Do It Best Corp., which bills itself as the world's largest hardware store, with 4,100 independently owned hardware and home improvement retailers that are members of Do it Best Corp., the only full-line, full-service buying cooperative in the hardware, lumber and building materials industry.
After approval of a business loan guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration shortly after opening the business, and after its first full year of operation in 2002, sales exceeded $750,000. With the assistance of the SBA guaranteed loan, Randy and Shirley were able to purchase store fixtures, computer equipment and merchandise.
Without this loan, Randy said, “We would not have had enough funds to open and operate as successfully as we have.”
Shirley adds, “We were of the opinion that if we were going to open our store we needed to do it right from the first day and let our customers know that we were a serious hardware store.”
The 7(a) Loan Guaranty Program is the SBA's primary lending program. It provides loan guaranties for small businesses unable to secure financing on reasonable terms through normal lending channels. The program operates through private sector lenders who provide loans which are, in turn, guaranteed by the SBA. A maximum loan amount of $2 million has been established for 7(a) loans. However, the maximum dollar amount of the SBA guaranty is generally $1.5 million.
The program eligibility requirements are designed to be as broad as possible so that this lending program can accommodate the most diverse variety of small business financing needs.
In 2005, sales at Randy's Do it Best Hardware were up 25 percent over the previous year and after four years of successful operations, their business plan and growth projections were proven accurate. Randy’s and Shirley’s commitment to first-class customer service led to this double digit growth in a relatively short amount of time. Randy said, “I am very pleased with the steady growth and I am very positive about the economy and the growth of the Broadway-Timberville area.”
According to Randy, the greatest challenge in starting the business was negotiating the lease agreement. He did not have experience in this important area and sought assistance from the James Madison University Small Business Development Center. “A business analyst reviewed a lease agreement and explained the terminology,” said Henry Reeves, the SBDC director. The store’s current location is where Randy wanted to be and he happily reports that the lease was recently renewed for another five years.
“My involvement with the SBDC and its professional staff has been a very positive experience,” says this entrepreneur. “I used the SBDC to help me develop my business plan, and their resources to find market demographics and sources and methods for financing, all of which were keys to getting the doors opened. I recommend using the resources available through SBDCs to anyone starting or expanding a business.”
Randy considers community service to be very important to a small business owner’s success, particularly in a small town. He is a charter member of the Broadway-Timberville Rotary Club, past president of the Broadway-Timberville Ruritan Club, and a past president and current member of the Broadway-Timberville Chamber of Commerce. Randy is also a member of the JMU Small Business Development Center’s Advisory Council and serves on the Events and Training Committee.
“You have to have a passion for your business to help make it work,” Randy states. “My wife is a vital asset to the success of our business in that she is the dreamer. She also is much more detail-oriented, which helps the budget, payroll, and billing side of the business run smoothly.”
Their working relationship has worked well for the business. Randy joked that not all couples enjoy this dynamic, however, in their experience, it has been very positive and helpful for the two of them to work so closely together.
As Shirley puts it, “Our skills complement each other and we respect each others opinions on how best to accomplish our goals. Working together allows us to share ideas on the many facets of the business.”
Randy’s advice to others going into business is, “Do your homework, know your market, and really take the time to educate yourself about the business. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel, but rather use the resources available like the SBDC and the SBA. That made the difference for me.”
One of Virginia's newest franchise systems is poised for continued success. This success, however, was not found by seeking a mythical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but rather through hard work, dedication and an enthusiastic desire to provide a unique and much needed service.
Gail W. Johnson did just that with the creation of Rainbow Station, a full service franchised multi-building campus setting for early education, after school and summer recreational programs for children. This is the place where “teachers and nurses partner with parents to promote the success of each child” said Johnson. Over the years Rainbow Station has won numerous awards for its pre-school and school-age recreation programs and it is already a successful franchise operation.
This success, however, did not come overnight nor was the road an easy path to follow. Johnson was a pediatric nurse at the MCV/VCU School of Nursing in Richmond when she observed first-hand the lack of services for children with acute or chronic medical conditions. To meet this need, the concept of a unique place where children with chronic health conditions as well as usual childhood illnesses could go for help was born.
In 1989 Johnson launched the Rainbow Station concept which included the Get Well Place to meet the needs of working parents with mildly ill children. It also consisted of a Nursery School for children birth to two years, a Preschool for children three to five years and schoolage recreation for children five to fourteen years of age. The first facility opened on December 18, 1989 with eighteen children overall and only one admitted to the Get Well Place. Within five months 100 children were enrolled, and today the center is filled to capacity with an enrollment of 325 and an extensive waiting list. The key to its success Johnson says is “in the unique services provided by Rainbow Station” and the blending of educational
programs with nursing care. Nurses are always on-hand should any child need care during the day.
It was in 1990 that Johnson sought out the Greater Richmond Small Business Development Center (SBDC), a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, for guidance and assistance to help her business grow. The VA SBDC network has 30 centers throughout the Commonwealth and is a cooperative effort of the private sector, the educational community and federal, state and local governments designed to provide management assistance to current and prospective small business owners of small businesses like Rainbow Station.
In November of 1991 Johnson received her first SBA guaranteed loan under the SBA’s 7(a) loan program for her second campus in the Boulders in Richmond VA. Enrollment, like that of the first location, was slow to start, with only 18 children enrolled. However, it quickly grew to 90% within 11 months.
The 7(a) Program is SBA's primary lending program. It provides loan guaranties for small businesses unable to secure financing on reasonable terms through normal lending channels. The program operates through private-sector lenders who provide loans which are, in turn, guaranteed by the SBA. A maximum loan amount of $2 million has been established for 7(a) loans. The eligibility requirements are designed to be as broad as possible in order that this lending program can accommodate the most diverse variety of small business financing needs.
Johnson then conceived the idea of the Village in 1996, a unique school-age recreation program. The Village at Rainbow Station is reminiscent of times when children played freely in neighborhoods after school. In the Village, enrolled children can go to the village green for town meetings, the café for snacks, the library to study, or the theatre for dramatic play. It’s a complete village within a building. The after school and summer recreation program that parents were seeking! It’s no wonder that in that year Rainbow Station was chosen as a Rising 25—A Top 25 Fastest-Growing Company and was one of 19 finalists for the Virginia State Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Johnson was also named the Greater Richmond Small Business Person of the Year in 1996 and the following year Johnson was named SBA’s Virginia Small Business Person of the Year. But her success and drive did not stop there.
Wanting to grow and make this program available to others, Johnson created PRISM, the franchising company for Rainbow Station, in 1999. The first franchise was sold in 2000 in San Antonio, Texas, and while Johnson still owns and operates the three original campuses, there are currently a total of four campuses in the Richmond area with five more franchises in operation nationwide and 11 more on the books. Franchise operations are in place in Virginia, North Carolina and Texas with facilities soon to open in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It was in July, 2004 that Rainbow Station sold its first franchise operation here in Richmond. Nicole Eubanks- Lambert owns Rainbow Station in Wyndham and already has her sights on a second franchise in the Midlothian, Virginia area.
Franchising, especially with a well established franchise, is often a less risky path to take than starting one’s own business. “Starting a franchise involves hard work, delayed gratification and is expensive. Economic uncertainties have made it harder to get into a franchise” explained Johnson. “Although banks have tightened up credit making it tougher for prospective franchisees to get access to capital, it may be easier to get financing for franchises that are listed on the SBA franchise registry.” SBA has a number of banks and non-bank lenders who actively participate with financing business under the SBA 7(a) Loan Guaranty Program. In fact, SBA financing has been key to the growth of the Rainbow Station franchise.
It is no wonder that Rainbow Station is a golden success especially when you hear Johnson say that she “built this company around five core values, including integrity, and reinforces them at every opportunity.” Starting a business and even franchising can be “intimidating and yet rewarding” but you need that “fire in your belly” to succeed, according to Johnson. With the initial help from the SBDC and SBA’s loan programs, Johnson’s background, hard work, dedication and an enthusiastic desire to succeed, has most certainly poised Rainbow Station for continued growth and success.