Jeff Smoot, owner of Sahara Dry Basement, LLC, located in Martinsburg, West Virginia, is smiling as he watches his latest television commercial. In the ad, he’s sitting on the couch in the den with his wife, Stephanie. The couple is reading the paper when three of their children jubilantly rush by, wearing swimsuits, snorkels, face masks and fins. Stephanie looks up from the paper and remarks matter of factly, “honey, the basement is leaking again.” The ad, written by Jeff, then unveils the many virtues of the company’s unique basement water proofing system and ends with one of the children rapturously observing, “thanks to Sahara Dry Basement, we can save enough money to buy a real pool!”
That clever commercial vividly underscores Jeff’s basic business philosophy which is “market, market, market.” He estimates that 80% of the money he spends is on advertising. He is a self described “bulldog” on “branding.”
“Every place I went, I handed out business cards,” he enthusiastically reveals. “I was marketing before I even had my first truck.” He concocted a bright, eye-catching logo; sent out thousands of flyers; purchased yellow page ads in all the surrounding states; participated in internet chat room discussions until the wee hours of the morning; hired students at $5 an hour to distribute cards; maintained a high visibility at trade shows; placed books detailing the dangers of wet crawl spaces into doctor’s office waiting rooms; and sponsored golf tournaments, soccer and wrestling teams.
“Anything you can put your name on is good,” he relates with a grin. “I want everybody to know who we are—just like McDonald’s, Burger King and Roto-Rooter.”
The other secret to Jeff’s success is his complete honesty, forthrightness and total dedication to his customers. Before one of Jeff’s teams arrives on a job, the customer receives an introductory package explaining the procedure, setting forth the exact time the crew will arrive and giving a picture and short biographical sketch of each person in the crew.
In addition, in order to ensure ultimate quality control, Jeff gives each customer his personal cell phone number and promises a one hour response time to any service call issue. “I will go out in the middle of the night myself and vacuum out a basement if that’s what it takes,” Jeff states. His methodology certainly seems to work since he’s had 100% success. “I’ve never had a basement fail,” he proudly relates.
Sahara Dry Basement, LLC opened its doors in July, 2002 with three employees. Jeff worked sales and marketing and did the installations with the assistance of a friend. Stephanie handled all the administrative details. Due to an unseasonable drought, the company began floundering as its initial working capital diminished. Knowing he needed some business expertise, Jeff met with Nancy Ferner of the West Virginia Small Business Development Center located in Martinsburg.
“Nancy guided us through our options and recommended obtaining working capital to carry our business through a six month time period at which point the business would hopefully generate enough revenue on its own to become successful,” Jeff recalls.
Nancy helped the Smoots with their business plan and through her efforts, the business obtained a $50,000 7(a) loan through Huntington National Bank. Sahara Dry Basement indeed prospered and now, with the help of a second SBA line of credit loan, the company has eleven full time employees, a growing fleet of trucks and its own building.
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. However, the maximum dollar amount of the SBA guaranty is generally $1.5 million.
The SBDC is one of SBA’s valuable resource partners, providing counseling services and management assistance, free of charge in most instances, to current and prospective small business owners.
Sahara Dry Basement offers several waterproofing systems along with moisture barriers for floors, walls and crawl spaces. “The majority of our systems consist of installing a sub-floor drainage system that routes water to a sump pump outside,” Jeff elaborates. “We also offer floor and wall moisture product installations for homeowners who want to convert their basement into a safe and comfortable living space. I can make a crawl space livable, if you’re short enough to live in it!”
Jeff is full of innovative ideas and ultimately has plans to start additional businesses—one for each of his five children. His greatest joy comes from improving the quality of life not only for his customers, but for his employees as well.
“I genuinely care about my employees,” he says with immense concern. “I know what it’s like—I used to be one. The best part of this business is knowing I’ve created something that helps support families.”
For more information on the SBA and the resources available to help small businesses, contact the West Virginia District Office at 800-767-8051 ext. 8, by email at email@example.com, or visit them on the web at www.sba.gov/wv.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 email@example.com. You can also visit their web site at www.sba.gov/wv.