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West Virginia District Office Success Stories

West Virginia District Office Success Stories

You may never believe that sandals, handmade in Morgantown West Virginia, are gracing the pages of Vogue magazine in Japan, but they are! And the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) had a hand in making it possible.

 Gurkees Sandals are known for their rope sandals that are comfortable, fashionable, and artistic. The small business was established in 1984. Ray Sickles, the product’s largest distributor, decided to “buy his job” in 2009, so he could continue selling a product that he believed in.

To get started, Sickles turned to the SBA and secured a line of credit under the Recovery Act Loan to purchase the supplies he needed to take on owning his own business.

After owning the business for a while, Sickles came across a few challenges in obtaining the rope needed to manufacture the sandals. After attending a financing workshop held by Sharon Stratton, a business coach for West Virginia’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), an SBA resource partner, Sickles realized the answer to his problem was to purchase his own rope machine to improve product delivery to customers by reducing or eliminating having to wait for rope suppliers and delivery of raw materials to make the sandals.

Stratton connected Sickles with Tim James from First Microloan of West Virginia, an SBA intermediary offering microloans up to $50,000 to small businesses. Through SBA’s microloan program, businesses also receive business-based training and technical assistance to help them successfully start or grow their business.

In June of 2013, Gurkees Sandals was able to purchase the machine that would change the way they do business. The company now had the ability to be creative with their product. By using yarn to make rope, Sickles has been able to expand his product line to add additional rope colors to make tie-dye, camouflage, and twisted collections.

The small business employs six to 14 sandal artists depending on the season and exports to 11 countries.  In addition to sandals, the business creates belts, key chains, bracelets, and pet leashes.

Sickles states, “The loan we received through the microloan program has allowed us to remain in business.”

“It is great to see a small business in West Virginia use the resources we have available at the SBA and succeed, especially in the exporting industry,” states SBA’s West Virginia District Director.

The U.S. Small Business Administration helps small businesses start, grow, and succeed. For more information on the programs and services available through the agency, visit www.sba.gov.