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SBA and SBDC Assistance Helps Virginia Artists Realize Their Dream

Appomattox Tile Art located in Petersburg, Virginia has grown since their startup in 1999 to become one of the larger and more successful privately owned national custom mosaic tile manufacturers. Cindy and Sean Haynie, both professional artists, founded the company on the belief that they could offer good artistic design and service to the tile business. Through the leadership of this husband and wife team, Appomattox Tile Art has grown from being a small three-person business to employ 25 people and service 67 high end tile showrooms throughout the United States.

Cindy and Sean’s early interest in the arts led them to Radford University where they both earned Bachelors of Fine Arts degrees. After graduation, they worked in the graphics and advertising industry and saw the market potential which helped to foster their business concept: providing the tile industry with unique custom designs and attentive customer service. During the famous Virginia holiday ice storm of 1998, while Cindy’s extended family was awaiting the return of their electricity, they brainstormed and decided to take a leap of faith and open their own small business. The couple returned to Cindy’s hometown to open a mosaic tile manufacturing facility in historic Old Towne Petersburg. They opened the doors in a 7,000 sq. ft. facility and soon employed 12 people.

Although they knew a lot about artistic design and manufacturing mosaic tiles, their business skills were limited to previous careers. An acquaintance referred them to Diane Howerton at the Crater Small Business Development Center of Longwood University. According to Cindy, Diane’s assistance was invaluable to them and Diane helped with “everything from projections to publicity”. Even more than the hands-on assistance she provided, they appreciated Diane’s support and encouragement. Through the SBDC they applied and were approved for an SBA Prequalification loan through the Bank of McKenney.

As the business grew it needed more space. The Haynies leased a second location down the street to expand their location. By early 2003 the business again needed more space and they wanted to consolidate under one roof for efficiency of operations and to house a multi-blade Italian wet saw. The Haynies purchased a 46,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility on Bank Street in historic Old Towne Petersburg. Built in the early 1900s, the building was formerly used as an assembly plant and showroom for model-A Fords. As Cindy said, “This building was an excellent match for us because the front showroom has mosaic tiles throughout the main lobby and entrance area.”

The Haynies complement each other’s artistic skill with Cindy’s strength in design, sales and business strategy and Sean’s focus on artistic design and technology. The real success story for Appomattox Tile Art is the persistence of the owners to keep the doors open during the transitional and growth oriented stages. They have recently hired an operations manager to help them increase their efficiency of operations.

The Haynies participate in the annual Coverings tile show which is a key marketing opportunity. This is followed up by their personally visiting distributors and showrooms around the country that carry their products. During such visits, a seminar is conducted on the use of mosaic tile and how easily it can be utilized with other decorating materials. The attendance typically includes architects, interior designers and showroom sales people. All of these efforts recently resulted in their securing an exclusive contract with Ann Sacks, a major high-end tile dealer with 17 locations in cities across the country. This will result in a doubling of their production and an increase of an employee base of up to 50 people.

In addition to growing their business, the Haynies also give back to the community through assistance on various boards and the Historic Petersburg Foundation. They are also active members in Downtown Petersburg, Inc. and Fridays for the Arts.