The SBTDC introduced me to EXIM Bank which has allowed me to take on more international business that I wouldn’t have taken on otherwiseWHAT THEY DO Versatrim has been a manufacturer of vinyl floor moldings since 1998. Early on, Thilo took a step back from what they were doing to figure out what their customers actually wanted in terms of product and delivery. It turns out the answer was specialty coloring with no commitments, and they have built their business model around those needs. With more than 8,000 available colors, they have achieved a unique level of customization in their products. As for delivery, they have developed a special process that allows customers to order a single stick of molding with only a two-day lead-time. UNDER THE CAPE Back in Germany, Thilo Hessler’s father manufactured vinyl floor moldings. So, when Thilo had the opportunity to open a business in the United States, following in his father’s footsteps simply made sense. At the time, North Carolina had a partnership with Stuttgart, Germany, which brought overseas businesses to the States. He has high praise for the program, which put him in touch with the resources he needed to be successful from the start. Thilo Hessler is not a man to sit still. His most recent project is a line of wall panels covered in extremely realistic, high-resolution photography of materials like tin tiles or chipped paint on wood. For now, it is just a little side project; but they are already the mandatory manufacturer for many of the Rooms To Go being built across the country. He is not sure it will turn into anything yet, but it exemplifies the energy and enthusiasm he has for the industry. LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION Thilo set up shop in Raleigh for the first five years. After that, he moved Versatrim to Henderson as a way to reduce costs. He was able to purchase a building with a mortgage payment that is half the rent he was paying in Raleigh. With the freed up capital, he can funnel more money into marketing, leading to greater sales and the ability to hire additional staff. GOING GLOBAL Vance County Economic Development put Thilo in touch with the SBTDC in order to take advantage of more exporting opportunities. His counselors introduced him to EXIM Bank and the credit insurance that they offer before walking him through the application process. Now, Thilo is able to give customers 30-day terms, allowing the product to reach the customer before they are required to pay, or with 60-day credit terms they have a chance to sell the product before paying Versatrim. This flexibility can be the difference between making a sale and watching your potential customer walk away. With credit insurance, Versatrim is not held back by any concern that some misfortune may occur and keep them from receiving payment. It is peace of mind. “I’ve yet to take advantage of a claim, but it is a lot of comfort knowing that if something were to happen, the credit insurance would be there. It has allowed me to take on more international business that I wouldn’t have taken on otherwise.” Now they have $1 million in export sales to Canada and they are doing some exporting to the Caribbean, England, and Australia. THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX Thilo’s habit of putting himself in his clients’ shoes to discover what they really need has allowed him to offer some innovative options to his customers. Recently, he realized that his vinyl flooring manufacturing customers need more than a color and style match for their current line of products. They need a whole new method of distribution. Currently, the flooring manufacturers purchase the molding in bulk, but often end up with a warehouse full of discontinued product. Thilo’s solution allows the customers of the flooring manufacturing companies to make direct purchases from Versatrim. The flooring manufacturers get a commission for promoting Versatrim and they free up warehouse storage. Versatrim, in return, gets the sale of the entire floor molding for the company. THE RIGHT PEOPLE Thilo opened the doors with three employees. Today they employ between 75 and 80 people in the Henderson area. He believes in investing in his people because, like he says, “I can always go out and buy a machine off the shelf, but I can’t go out and buy a good machine operator or a good customer service person.” In an area with an unemployment rate at 7.5% and slower than average job growth, Versatrim is changing the lives of their employees every day.
This story was originally published in the SBTDC 2018 Success Stories. View the entire publication here.
More Success Stories
The UNCW MBA teams and undergraduate interns work hard with Flow Sciences to produce great results. From viable industry analysis to tangible marketing programs, their deliverables have improved our company and increased the students’ future job prospects…Several UNCW alumni from both graduate and undergraduate programs are employed by FSI and work among its talented family-oriented atmosphere.
The SBTDC pointed the SBIR program out to us in a good bit of depth and connected me with some of the solicitations to look into and learn more about. At later stage, [the SBTDC] even reviewed one of our early grant proposals with a little more scientific content and gave us some feedback…
The ability to call on experts for help and guidance with planning and facing new challenges is invaluable and has helped me grow 3C strategically…We would not be here without SBIR.
DryCorp / DryCase
The SBTDC’s business counseling has made a huge difference in our success by providing us with the tools and confidence needed to survive in an international marketplace. Alex has helped us review many contracts with new international distributors to guarantee that we are entering into a successful business relationship overseas.
ImmunoReagents’ strategic alliances with the SBTDC and the connections with NC Department of Commerce, SBA, and NC State University have given me a sounding board when I have to make important decisions related to ImmunoReagents.
Alex anticipated my needs before I knew I needed them… The SBTDC has helped me take risks and compete with larger businesses with more confidence.
Miss Jenny’s Pickles
After Owen was contacted by a CBS 60 Minutes producer seeking a Triad export business for a show, he contacted Jenny. After receiving her permission, Owen submitted a company profile and Miss Jenny’s Pickles was selected. On October 28, 2012, the show aired nationally to a potential audience of 22 million households. That exposure has resulted in increased sales and more opportunities, including a contract for a reality show and the honor of introducing Vice President Joe Biden at EX-IM Bank’s 2013 Conference.
ERD LTD, Inc
Our international presence began the day our international business counselor called to let us know about the possibility of obtaining an NC Step grant to support travel to a trade show in Thailand. Since participating in the Thailand trade show, we’ve traveled to Hong Kong, Beijing and South America with support from grants that SBTDC helped procure. This is the perfect example of how the SBTDC counselors are constantly thinking of ways to use the resources at their fingertips to help the small businesses in their community grow and thrive.
H&H Farm Machinery
H&H has grown significantly with doubled revenue growth and the addition of 10 new employees to make a total of 18…. We’re ready to continue expanding but we’re working with the SBTDC on planning that growth to make sure it is controlled growth.
The SBIR grant assistance is the most valuable thing the SBTDC has provided. Receiving the SBIR funding is what allowed us to move forward and we’ve actually been able to win three grants, although we had to turn one down. They have provided much needed advice on business development and we have also paired up with several student interns for marketing analysis.
JB Media Group
Probably the biggest impact on the business I’ve seen as a result of working with the SBTDC is the funding for the new office. With the help of my counselor I was able to borrow $201,000 and open up $35,000 in new credit lines. The new space is a much better fit and will allow for future growth.
I had the customers and knew the industry, but the SBTDC was able to help me come up with and implement new strategies for success.
The SBTDC has made us a stronger company by providing better intelligence, counseling, and resources. In a lot ways, it has been like a board of directors or an extension of our organization and team, which is how I’m modeling my own company to be a resource to our own clients.
I have taken advice from the SBTDC counselors at every major decision point through the last couple of year and my business has benefited greatly from the sound advice and research provided by the SBTDC.
Getting a loan seemed simple enough, but without my business counselor’s knowledge of the system I never would have received the funding to purchase Converters Unlimited.
A.W. Brinkley Hardware
One of the most important ways the SBTDC has influenced the business was by helping us receive a workforce development grant. We’re using it to send two of our mechanics to specialized training for standby generators. We will be the only business in 75 miles licensed to work on these types of generators.
Speech 4 Kidz
The SBTDC is a fountain of never-ending information. If they don’t have the answers ready, they will tell you exactly where to look to find the answers you need. I have learned more, truly, in my 30-60 minute sessions about small business and strategies than in all my years of just breathing.
Sanesco International, Inc
The SBTDC is a great program with a fantastic vision for helping small businesses succeed. We have a wonderful relationship with our mentor and advisory. She always keeps us in mind and regularly informs us about opportunities or partnerships that could positively impact and grow our business.
Sales are up by 15% compared to last year, and we’ve expanded into two new countries.
The bottom line is: if you have a business and don’t make wise financial decisions, it doesn’t matter how passionate you are, you won’t stay in business long. That’s why the SBTDC is so instrumental to small businesses and start-ups. It’s free so you don’t have to pay for those resources.
Owen helped with renewing our EXIM credit insurance policy, which has supported us for more than $2M in sales. Because our work is so specialized, marketing and finding international partners is extremely difficult, but Owen has been the most beneficial in finding programs and people that are a fit for what we do.
The thing about the SBTDC is that I’m never actively looking for these opportunities, but my counselor comes to me and says, “what do you need now?” and offers these students, or interns, or a workshop, or whatever will help us at that moment. We’ve seen a 20% increase in sales and the addition of seven employees. The biggest benchmark, however, was getting to a point where Calibration Solutions was big enough and attractive enough to buy.
The SBTDC have been incredibly helpful in supporting our decision making process, in determining how we can optimize our procedures economically. They have reviewed our marketing, our accounting systems, recommended new approaches and highlighted areas for development.
We increased our revenues by over 550% in four months, we have tripled the number of direct labor employees and added three new engineers to our staff.
We were aware there was a communication issue, but we’ve been able to fully understand the deeper issues, we have a plan to improve, and assurance that those improvements would take hold. There isn’t a finish line for this sort of thing, but the improvements have been recognizable and have made an impact on the company. Since working with the SBTDC, we’ve had a 20% increase in employees, and our revenues are increasing as our changes begin taking effect.
East Coast Umbrella
Now that we’re started, it is getting even easier. We have reps in the Middle East region and with the STEP Grant to help pay for the booth and samples, our reps will be on site to handle the tradeshow. Work with the SBTDC. They held our hands through the process, and we never would have gone to those other countries without their help. Work with the SBTDC, and you’ll find out just how easy exporting can be.
Applying for an SBA loan was a stressful process. My counselors have given me the support, the heads up, and the understanding for why things are done this way. They have been my backbone, a support group, someone to vent to and positive reinforcement. And the thing of it is, I didn’t have to pay for anything.
Now we just accomplished one of my biggest goals, which was to open up the option for a 401K plan for the employees. I am so excited about that.
Game Theory Group
Raising capital has to be the most influential way the SBTDC has helped. Our counselor literally took us through the projections for five years and helped us get the rest of our paperwork in shape. With those in hand we’ve been able to win some local grants, which our counselor brought to the table. He also introduced us to IMAF and they’ve been our largest investor.
First Flight Adventure Park
When we came to the SBTDC, we were so frustrated. We had tried everything, but they just looked at us and said, “We can help!” Our schedule was so tight and stressful. We didn’t even get our Occupancy Permit until Friday at 4:30 p.m. They were right, though, they were able to help. Our counselor was so supportive and flexible, even showing up at the construction sight to make sure things got signed. Without the SBTDC, we wouldn’t have found out about the Revolving Loan Fund, and we wouldn’t have been able to open at the critical moment.
As of this article, the client has secured four Task Orders on the contracts totaling $37,292.92 over a three-month period of performance. As these are five-year IDIQ’s, the client’s potential revenue for subcontracting during the life of the contracts could total almost $750,000 in federal government subcontracting revenue for his company. This will go a long way in “building” the financial track record performance section of his company’s capability statement in his NAICS.
Mind Your Business
Mind Your Business has accomplished impressive results in government sales, including award of a GSA schedule contract for background screening and EEO services, certification as an 8a firm by the Small Business Administration, recognition for owner Karen Caruso as the NC Small Business Person of the Year in 2011, and countless contract awards across a broad range of Federal, state and local agencies. The business has steadily grown their government sales to an all-time high in 2015, with no sign of slowing down.
The SBTDC takes the fear away. Now I look at my financials and I understand them. Similar to my kayaking analogy, I can now hit my roll and plot my downriver course with confidence. I’m by no means a pro, and I still have a lot of questions. But I’m in there every month, and I know where I’m going to be at the end of the year. We’ve already hit our projections for the end of 2016; our gross revenues are up 20%. And we’ve just added two new employees.
Barringer Moving and Storage
When we found the right building, our first call was to our SBTDC counselor, Byron. He was a tremendous help. He educated us on what the bankers needed and asked us all the questions that the bankers would ask. The banks loved it. They didn’t have to ask the questions, because we had the packet ready and we looked like a professional company. Honestly, without that assistance, no banker would have even looked at us to find out our story, and we never would have gotten this building.
I met John and Chris at the start of the SBIR grant process and they helped fine tune my proposals. The first round, we received a very favorable review with the suggestion to try again. We did and we were funded… Without those grants, I don’t know where we would be today. They’ve been great to work with and they’re nice people too. John is always coming up with ideas for the next step.
You don’t know what you don’t know. As a small company, it’s easy to grow organically and never step back and question how you’re doing. Are you doing the best you can? Do you know where your weaknesses are? What are you doing about them? That’s one area where the SBTDC has really helped us…What a great service. Honestly, we likely would have lost a lot of revenue and a lot of momentum had we not started really evaluating where we are.
I was searching online and stumbled upon the SBTDC’s website, and I got really excited reading through the services available. The website is fantastic with resources for finding funding options and starting a business. I was able to download an outline for a business plan, which felt kind of like cheating because I just had to fill in my own information. Then, I met with Pieter Swanepoel and Whitney Hildebran. They sat down and walked me through my financials and marketing strategies to get this going. Since Pieter is a very successful businessman himself, he gives insightful feedback when I need someone to bounce my ideas off of.
Stay Online Corp
There is a lot to know for exporting. There are a lot of questions, and a lot of discomfort. That’s where organizations like the SBTDC have helped a lot. We’re constantly asking,”What do we do? How do we go about it? What certifications are required by the countries on our products?” Our counselors have the answers. They took a company that was clueless about interacting outside the US and helped pave the way to our comfort zone.
The location of each site has been very strategic. Before we open any office, we call Johnnie at the SBTDC and he gives me demographic information about the community. We really take advantage of his expertise, which allows us to pinpoint areas that best fit our business model. Today we have 17 offices from the coast to the mountains and currently serve more than 100,000 kids each year from 64 counties in NC. We have 152 employees and will add at least 25 or 30 this year.
Our counselor, Janis Mueller, helped us find the right bank, figure out my financials, and put together our presentation to get an SBA loan. We still work with Janis regularly; in fact, I called just yesterday with some concerns. She was able to bring in an expert in the field that I had questions about while I was still on the phone with her. It was that quick. I think it’s unique that I can call her spur of the moment and get that kind of response. It has been very valuable to us and I would say we probably wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t reached out to the SBTDC. I talk about Janis like she’s magic but she is kind of magic.
Our annual revenue has grown a minimum of 10%. In the last year we have placed 35 to 40 employees with federal contracts that we received with the help of the SBTDC and we placed approximately 2000 employees throughout the Southeast. We have a total of three federal contracts, one of which is expanding and those probably generate three-quarters of a million annually.
Outer Banks Craft Distilling
We thought we had a pretty good idea of what we were doing, then we met these awesome guys and realized how far away we really were. They prepared us for talking to the banks. It’s tough for start ups and they knew what red flags to look for so we were prepared…. The SBTDC sat with us through the meetings and helped us figure out why they were hesitant and what we could change. We’ve never done this before, so it’s awesome to be able to call someone who has answers at the drop of a hat.
Baker’s Southern Traditions
When Danielle first started out, they were processing about 4,000 pounds of peanuts a year and now they are doing that every week. Her first customers were people she met at shows and festivals before eventually getting some permanent spots on shelves at specialty shops across the state. Two years ago, Danielle also picked up a distributor and can be found in more than 550 grocery stores across the state, but she is careful not to loose touch with her smaller retail shops.
Green Clean Auto Spa
John sat down with his SBTDC counselor to crunch some numbers. He was ready to build a brand new facility, but his counselor pushed instead for a retrofit. John eventually purchased a building from the city of Charlotte and describes putting it together like blocks of Legos. He expanded the existing building from 53 feet to 81 feet, saving tens of thousands of dollars. “I didn’t want to hear it when Robin said I needed to find an existing site, but it was smart. If I had been stubborn and built something new, I wouldn’t be here.
His counselors introduced him to EXIM Bank and the credit insurance that they offer before walking him through the application process. Now, Thilo is able to give customers 30-day terms, allowing the product to reach the customer before they are required to pay, or with 60-day credit terms they have a chance to sell the product before paying Versatrim. This flexibility can be the difference between making a sale and watching your potential customer walk away.
Before Benny came on board, the SBTDC helped Dignify write a business plan and SBIR/STTR grant application, landing them $150,000. Benny says, “We really appreciate the support of the SBTDC and think it’s a great organization for early-stage technology companies that just need someone to show them the path to getting the company off the ground and funded through these SBIR/STTR opportunities.”
She came across an ad for the SBTDC in Business North Carolina magazine and gave the number a call, which started her relationship with counselors Robin and Nick. “It can be so lonely as a business owner when you have to make hard decisions. They are my objective sounding board. They don’t have any skin in the game, so it has been really helpful getting their support and feedback to help me make decisions.”
Goat Lady Dairy
By 2015, they had made it. The business was profitable enough to put the dairy up for sale. There was interest from many prospective buyers, but eventually, they chose to sell to long-time employees Bobby and Carrie Routh Bradds in May, 2017. Now Steve is technically retired, though he is still invested through owner financing and helps with sales and marketing. Steve says he cannot overemphasize the role that Andy and the SBTDC played in getting to this point. “I think we would have had just to stop and then all those jobs and everything we built would have been lost. It was crucial to our success.”
Lakeside Project Solutions
“For me, internships were about getting a little bit of work done for the business, but it was more of a community service project.” Then she became involved with the SBTDC’s internship programs and her whole philosophy changed. One of LPS’ first interns created a 12-month marketing program including all of the content created, addresses loaded and ready to launch. “It was good enough to use without editing. Suddenly I realized we could be more effective and profitable with the SBTDC interns.”
Alfredo Ristorante Italiano
If they were going to award him $200,000, they were going to need some substantiated information to warrant that kind of money. They suggested reaching out to the SBTDC, so he did. Alfredo’s counselor Ron said, “Let’s shave this thing down and give a little more detail to it.” And that’s what they did. Ron sat with Alfredo several times, asked the necessary questions to pinpoint what was needed and then provided the details including market research that placed Alfredo’s Ristorante within the context of industry averages. “It was critical to my success and that grant, no doubt.”
ASI has already grown to 40 employees since working with the SBTDC, a 33% increase. Revenues are up 15%, and in the machinist division, they are up 50%. They added the new metal bonded wheel in January, and they are now in 26 countries.