Jean Hawks has had to overcome a lot of challenges throughout her business career, but it hasn’t affected the outlook she has on life. Hawks, Chief Executive Officer and Director of the Fort Hill Child Development Center in Charleston, WV, is never without a smile or a positive word.
Her daughter, Jamie Gaeger, who recently began working as the co-director and accreditation administrator, best describes Hawks as someone who has been “given the gift of patience, understanding, perseverance and forgiveness which she shares with every person she has touched.”
Hawks has always dreamed of helping her community in every way she could. That dream turned out to be the opening of a daycare and child development center. Hawks has two attributes that are essential elements of being a successful childcare giver. The gifts of being able to love and teach and managing the many challenges pursuing that dream presented.
“I was a single parent with three children, barely making enough to survive when the opportunity to purchase the Fort Hill Elementary School, the school I attended as a child, came along,” said Hawks. “I was the childcare director at the Oakhurst Presbyterian Church, which had outgrown its capacity. I approached them to see if they were interested in acquiring the building, but they weren’t. I also asked the Kanawha County Board of Education if they were interested in establishing a day care center in the old school, and they weren’t.”
Not knowing where to turn, but still very much determined to see her dream fulfilled, Hawks mentioned her situation to a friend whose husband was in the investment business.
“The investment company, who managed the West Virginia venture capital fund at the time, felt it was a feasible project and provided their support,” Hawks states. “However, they weren’t able to fund the entire project and referred me to Huntington National Bank who provided a loan for a little more than $200,000 with a U.S. Small Business Administration guaranty.”
The 7(a) Program is SBA’s primary lending program which 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. With the combination of the venture capital funds, and the SBA guaranty loan, Hawks was soon on her way to creating her vision of a day care center.
“On January 2, 1990, we opened our doors with 140 students and a staff of 23,” said Hawks. “We quickly reached our capacity of 200 students, which led to the expansion in staffing to 53 who provide care for children from ages 6 weeks through 12 years of age.”
Gaeger adds, “Mom’s name and business are well known because she’s a people pleaser, nurturer and she has a heart the size of the Grinch, after it grew. She’s a firm believer in problem resolution and hasn’t encountered a problem that couldn’t be resolved.”
That statement was put to the test at least twice over the past fifteen years as the center not only overcame an embezzlement, but a multi-million dollar frivolous lawsuit. These incidents didn’t weaken Hawk’s resolve to succeed in business, they only strengthened it.
“Tenacity, a belief in what you are doing, a positive attitude and integrity are strengths that are necessary when running your own business,” states Hawks. “It also takes a high energy level and long hours to keep your business strong and growing.”
Hawks isn’t resting on her laurels either. She constantly is striving to improve the learning environment and make sure of the health and safety of each student.
“We’ve most recently added classroom security cameras that can be accessed through our web page which provides the parents the ability to check on their child at any time over the Internet,” said Hawks. “We’ve also added an additional playground and are in the process of becoming accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.”
Her personal touches throughout the center also make it inviting to the families. Flower gardens and plants are in abundance throughout the facility as well as two friendly resident cats. There is also an annual musical production held on the gymnasium stage that is always very popular among the children and parents.
Does dealing with 200 children and their parents on a daily basis ever deter Hawks? She responds, with a humble smile, “Every day I get up, I look forward to coming to work. Caring for children is a labor of love; one that I’ll never grow tired of.”
For information on the SBA and the resources available to help small businesses, contact the West Virginia District Office at 304-623-5631, by email at email@example.com, or visit them on the web at www.sba.gov/wv.
Larry Zaccagnini is opening lots of doors for companies in West Virginia. No, he isn’t a doorman at some exotic resort or hotel, but the owner of a small business called Capital Doors located in Fairmont.
“We install and service industrial and commercial garage doors, coiling doors, shutters, fire doors and many other specialty doors,” said Zaccagnini. “We’ve installed doors from the size of a regular entry door to hanger doors. Sizes can extend to 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide.”
Zaccagnini purchased the business, which employs 15, in 1999 from Lyle and Bradley Helmick. He has worked at Capital Doors since 1990 as a sales representative and jumped at the opportunity to buy the business from the Helmicks.
“I worked and helped my father run a construction business for about 20 years,” Zaccagnini said. “So I guess you can say entrepreneurship runs in the family.”
Chances are you’ve seen or walked through a product from Capital Doors without even knowing it. “We’ve installed doors in funeral homes, churches, convention centers, schools, federal prisons, the Stonewall Resort and the new Radisson hotel in Morgantown,” he said. “We are gearing up for an exciting project on the horizon at the Institute for Scientific Research.”
Before he could purchase the business, Zaccagnini knew he had to put together a good business plan and do some research before he approached the bank for financing. That’s where the local Small Business Development Center, SCORE Chapter and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Business Information Center came in handy.
The SBA is a federal government agency that helps maintain and strengthen the nation’s economy by aiding, counseling, assisting and protecting the interests of small business and by helping families and businesses recover from national disasters. SCORE and SBDC’s are valuable SBA resource partners who provide counseling services and management assistance, free of charge in most instances, to current and prospective small business owners.
“I didn’t have access to a computer at the time, but knew the BIC had several I could use to do the research I needed,” he said. “The BIC was also an excellent resource, along with the counselors from SCORE, in helping me put together a great business plan.”
Once the business plan was complete and the funding secured, Zaccagnini turned to another SBA resource partner to help with the accounting aspect of running a small business.
“The previous owners were not using the latest technology help to manage the business,” he said. “I knew in order for the business to grow and for me to keep a handle on the finances, we would need to purchase some computers and get the employees trained on the software programs.”
Zaccagnini and a few of his employees took advantage of a SBDC training course on QuickBooks, which was being used by Capital Doors at the time. The training and new equipment helped put the company on the right track and resulted in a sales increase of 40 percent.
The assistance Zaccagnini received from the BIC also led to the recent hiring of a new employee. “We were having some strange problems with our PC’s which I couldn’t figure out,” Zaccagnini explains. “I contacted the BIC and asked if they knew of anyone who could look at the PC’s and provide a solution. Through his contacts, the BIC manager had someone at the office almost immediately. They discovered the problem as well as incorporated some additional controls on the computers.”
Zaccagnini was so impressed with the service provided and the knowledge displayed by this person that he offered him the position of administrative assistant, which was accepted.
When asked for the keys to operating a successful business, Zaccagnini said, “You must have good employees, take time to make sure the customer is satisfied, provide good service and sell good quality products.”
He added, “It takes a lot of hard work and long hours to operate a small business, but its well worth it.”
Zaccagnini is also quick to tout the assistance he received from SCORE, SBDC and the BIC. “Just knowing they are there is very assuring,” concludes Zaccagnini. “You know you can trust them. They have the knowledge and experience to help out in just about any business situation.”
For additional information on the programs and services offered by the SBA and its resource partners, contact the West Virginia District Office at 1-800-767-8052, ext. 8 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit their web site at www.sba.gov/wv.
D.J.’s Diner located in Fairmont, WV, a family-owned restaurant specializing in classic American style food, is a classic example of how hard work can lead to success. It is also a good illustration of how the road to success is not without its ups and downs.
D.J.’s is owned and operated by the Rundle family, Donnie and Suzanne, along with their sons, D.J. and Erik. They work together to make the diner a unique experience for anyone who stops in. Donnie makes the sauces and specialties, including meatballs. Suzanne makes the desserts and D.J. handles the day-to-day management of the restaurant. Erik pitches in wherever needed.
“When we first opened in 1998, we worked at least 18 hours a day,” said D.J. “I personally worked over 100 straight days and a number of times brought a change of clothes with me.”
The Rundles came up with the concept of a 1950s and 60s style diner after years of research and community involvement. Donnie is a member of a local car club which holds “Cruise-ins,” a gathering where vintage car owners and enthusiasts meet to socialize and “show off” their cars.
“I was surprised at the number of people of all ages and walks of life interested in classic cars,” said D.J. “We noticed the “Cruise-ins” needed something extra, a place to get something to eat or drink and a place to sit and relax. The product is what you see today, D.J.’s Diner.”
They had a great location situated in a rapidly developing area of the state and near Interstate 79 already secured. To get the project rolling, they needed a little capital. Armed with a business plan, put together with the assistance from the local Small Business Development Center and Business Information Center, and the determination to make a success of their idea, the Rundles approached a local lending institution for funding. What resulted was a U.S. Small Business Administration 7(a) guaranty loan.
The SBA is a federal government agency that helps maintain and strengthen the nation’s economy by aiding, counseling, assisting and protecting the interests of small business and by helping families and businesses recover from national disasters. The 7(a) loan program, one of many program offered by SBA, is provided through lending institutions, called participants.
7(a) loans are only available on a guaranty basis, meaning they are provided by the participants who structure their own loans by SBA’s requirements and who apply for and receive a guaranty from SBA on a portion of the loan.
“We planned on constructing a facility from the ground up and were just about ready to start when we received a call from my Uncle in Maryland,” D.J. recalls. “He happened to drive by a 1950s style diner and thought it might be what we needed.”
His uncle was right. The diner was a custom pre-fabricated sectional building constructed by StarLight Diners which was trucked to their location and put together with two large cranes. It was definitely faster than building a facility.
“We had a huge grand opening featuring waiters and waitresses dressed in period clothing with several guest waiters from the community, including a few from SBA,” adds D.J. “Business was going great for a while, but once the novelty wore off business soon began to slow.”
But persistence, determination and the old American adage of hard work soon paid off for the Rundles. “We learned a lot about financing and how to run a business those first few years,” D.J. said. “When business began to slow and things weren’t looking good, we approached the local SCORE chapter and asked for assistance. The advice and guidance they provided made all the difference in the world.”
Business has picked up and the Rundles are enjoying a little success. “It’s like one huge family,” he said. “We have some customers we see sometimes three times a day since we offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus; and especially at our Friday night cruise-ins.”
When asked to provide some advice to those thinking about starting a business or just starting out, he doesn’t hesitate to inject, “Make sure you cover the bases before starting and learn all the aspects of running a business if you want to succeed, D.J. advised. “Put together a good management team and find good honest employees. And most importantly, if you need help somewhere along the line, swallow your pride and ask for it. SCORE and the SBDC counselors have a lot of knowledge and can provide a lot of assistance.”
SCORE and SBDC’s are valuable SBA resource partners who provide counseling services and management assistance, free of charge in most instances, to current and prospective small business owners.
For information on the SBA and the resources available to help small businesses, contact the West Virginia District Office at 800-767-8052 ext 8, by email at email@example.com, or visit them on the web at www.sba.gov/wv.