Celebrating Alexandria’s Little-Known Manufacturing Sector

Manufacturing Day (using the hashtag #mfgday on Twitter) will be celebrated across the country next week. October 3 is a day for highlighting the importance of manufacturing to the economy, showcasing the diversity of modern manufacturing technology and promoting the rewarding and skilled jobs in the field. Manufacturing includes much more than the heavy industry… Read more »

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ME Swings

Coffee roasting equipment at M.E. Swings. Photo credit: Swings Coffee

Manufacturing Day (using the hashtag #mfgday on Twitter) will be celebrated across the country next week. October 3 is a day for highlighting the importance of manufacturing to the economy, showcasing the diversity of modern manufacturing technology and promoting the rewarding and skilled jobs in the field.

Manufacturing includes much more than the heavy industry that immediately might come to mind when you hear the word. It includes all types of fabricators who create new products, industries like woodworking, doll making, soap and cosmetic manufacturing, as well as jewelry design and production. We don’t often think of Alexandria as a hub for that kind of industry. However, the city has a rich manufacturing history, from unglamorous pork rendering along the waterfront to spark plug production along Washington Street.

Today, manufacturing in Alexandria encompasses a broad range of services, including commercial printers, bakers, chocolatiers and sign makers. Are you curious about modern day manufacturing in Alexandria? Here are a few success stories that illustrate Alexandria’s industrial diversity:

  • The Port City Brewing Co. is an award-winning craft brewery that celebrates Alexandria’s tradition of brewing beer for the region. Established in 2011, the company distributes its products to Virginia, D.C., Maryland, New York and North Carolina.
  • House of Doors was founded in the early 1970s and now is led by a second-generation owner. Within their 10,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Alexandria, the company has built customized doors for the U.S. Capitol, legislative office buildings and the White House.
  • The M.E. Swing Co. was located in the District for almost 100 years and, in 2013, moved its roasting operation to Del Ray. The company focuses on providing high-quality and ethically sourced coffee with a commitment to customer satisfaction.
  • Vie de France, an internationally known bakery and supplier of French and European pastries, employs 150 people in Alexandria and works around the clock baking and assembling croissants. The facility provides all of the croissants sold by the company from Denver to the East Coast.
  • The National Capital Flag Co., founded in Alexandria in 1962, is one of the largest flag manufacturers in the country. Customers include U.S. government agencies, all branches of the U.S. military and other commercial entities. The flags are made, embroidered and appliqued on site.
  • Mom Made Foods is headquartered in Alexandria and makes low-sodium, preservative-free frozen foods, prepared meals and handheld snacks for children and families. Mom Made Foods products are carried in the freezer aisles of more than 3,000 stores, including Giant, Target and Whole Foods.

With such a diverse and significant manufacturing presence in Alexandria, it is clear that this industry is a vital piece of our city’s economic fabric. Join us as we celebrate both Alexandria’s manufacturers and other manufacturers across the country on October 3.

This article first appeared in the Alexandria Times on September 25, 2014.

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Six Smart Ways for Retailers to Spend $1,000

Our friends at the Hampton Roads Retail Academy have six smart ways to choose from to spend $1,000 on your store: Get a Google Business View 360 Tour of your store. What it is: A stitched together collection of high-resolution photos becomes a 360-degree interactive virtual tour of your store. The photo shoot takes just a… Read more »

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Bakery DisplayOur friends at the Hampton Roads Retail Academy have six smart ways to choose from to spend $1,000 on your store:

  1. Get a Google Business View 360 Tour of your store.
    What it is: A stitched together collection of high-resolution photos becomes a 360-degree interactive virtual tour of your store. The photo shoot takes just a few hours, and the Business View 360 Tour can be published on Google in less than a week. It will appear everywhere on Google – in Search, in Maps and your Google+ Local page. Potential customers, when they click on you during a Google search, can explore your entire store… whether they’re on their desktops, tablets or smartphones. The Tour will cost you anywhere from $300-$1000 dollars depending on your store’s square footage.
    Why it’s smart: Seeing is believing. Letting potential buyers view your displays, merchandise, and brand from the comfort of their own home, gives them a compelling reason to shop your store over a competitor’s. Seeing your store in a professional way elevates your brand and your clientele.
    Caveat: Be ready for a close-up, or like a bad profile picture on a dating site, you will be turning off shoppers.
    To get started, go to Google Business view.
  2. Get your products professionally photographed.
    What it is: Hire a professional to shoot your products to look their best. For under a grand, you can get custom shots that make you stand out from your competitors.
    Why it’s smart: This will pay off in the long run as you upgrade your website, as you use the photos across social media, and as a way to differentiate yourself from others who carry the same items.
    To get started, call a local photographer, or visit Elance to look for a professional in your area.
  3. Add an e-commerce store to your website.
    Why it’s smart: Adding an e-store lets your customers, both current and potential, buy from you 24/7, 365 days a year. It allows you to sell products you already carry in your store, and products that aren’t in your store and are only available online, which allows you to have an endless aisle of choices. If you already have an online store that you designed yourself, and it’s not doing too well, know that a good e-commerce store converts lookers into buyers up to 30% more often.
    Caveat: Don’t try to put your entire inventory online to start; curate the best or most requested items and add from there.
    To get started, check out Big Commerce.
  4. Get listed in all web directories.
    What it is: Web directories feed your local store information to search engines and other websites. Think Yelp and Facebook, but know there are about 50 other web directories you have never heard of that affect your ability to attract new buyers. Most local retail business information is out-of-sync with those web directories most of the time. Hire Yext, a company that enables you to update and publish your business information on multiple web directories in a timely manner across a vast network. While they work with about 35 of the top 100 chains in the US, their premium plan for a single location costs about 900 dollars for a year.
    Why it’s smart: Many local searches give the wrong information to your customers. You know nothing is worse than receiving wrong information. Your shoppers use multiple sources for local information – not just Google; you have to be everywhere and your information has to be current. Yext makes that easy and automated.
    To get started, go to Yext.
  5. Signup for retail sales training.
    What it is: Sales training can be done in person or online to teach your employees how to sell.
    Why it’s smart: Paying money for traditional marketing like a newspaper or TV ad has a large upfront cost and in the end, lasts about as long as a puff of smoke. Training your employees on how to sell makes the chances of turning every shopper who browses into a buyer much higher. And with sales training, every buyer will have a higher likelihood of leaving with more than one item. That means you get more out of the employees you already have. And the more ofien you close sales, the more those shoppers will spread the positive word to their friends.
    Caveat: Just like buying a diet book will tell you to eat less carbs, less fat and exercise more, if you aren’t committed to making the changes in your behaviors, any training you purchase, hire or subscribe to will not bring you results. You have to commit to change.
  6. Learn your locals’ language
    What it is: Either an online course, a course at a local college, or a course like Rosetta Stone can have you speaking like a native of another country for anywhere from $400-$800.
    Why it’s smart: Many shoppers with limited English skills may avoid your business simply because no one can speak to them in their language. I learned this the hard way working with a large Hispanic community in Southern California. Your local language might include Russian, Spanish, or French, and though you may not master it, those customers will appreciate your effort.
    To get started, go to Rosetta Stone.

There are plenty of ways to spend $1000, just like there are plenty of ways to say you can’t afford it. The only constant in retail is change. Unless you are actively planning on increasing your abilities and your marketing, you will be attracting less and less profitable shoppers to your doors. Begin by choosing one from these six tips, and don’t be afraid to spend $1000 on your business. Continue to work through the list, and watch the increase in your sales.

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Local Market Updates for Alexandria Small Businesses

As a small business, it can be difficult to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the regional or national economy. Many business owners know that these issues are important to their businesses, but it can be time consuming to sift through all of the information and news to distill the important… Read more »

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AEDP_StateoftheMarketReport_MidYear2014_9 22 14As a small business, it can be difficult to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the regional or national economy. Many business owners know that these issues are important to their businesses, but it can be time consuming to sift through all of the information and news to distill the important facts.

The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership has recent released a State of the Market report for Mid-Year 2014. This publication is part of their research and data series on the City of Alexandria. This report is released twice a year and provides the latest updates on the City’s economy, the status of different development projects, insights into the office and retail markets, and residential sales patterns.

Each report features a spotlight section that goes into more depth on a particular topic. For this report, the focus is on development activity in Old Town North. With this information, AEDP hopes to provide a comprehensive snapshot of the City of Alexandria for real estate professionals, business owners, and the general public.

We believe that this report will be a helpful tool for all small businesses in the City and encourage everyone to take the time to read it. To access the report, please visit the Market Reports page on AEDP’s website.

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Know Your Cash Flow

Jack Parker is the Business Analyst at the Alexandria SBDC and can assist Alexandria small businesses with all of their financial issues, including cash flow analysis. In this blog post, he discusses the importance of knowing your cash flow. As a business owner, I am sure that you have heard the term Cash Flow and… Read more »

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Jack Parker is the Business Analyst at the Alexandria SBDC and can assist Alexandria small businesses with all of their financial issues, including cash flow analysis. In this blog post, he discusses the importance of knowing your cash flow.

Cash FlowAs a business owner, I am sure that you have heard the term Cash Flow and that all owners should be aware of where their cash is going.  Some ask, “Where did it go?”. Others have found out, are taking corrective measures and are now planning for the future by projecting their position over the next 12 months.

This process is not as difficult as it may initially seem and all banks want to see these projections and learn how your business works to judge loan repayment ability from operations. Projections should be presented monthly on Excel spreadsheets with line items supported by separate written assumptions. These assumptions are composed using your best business thinking and judgment of what will happen within and to your business over the period. Without these assumptions, your banker will be unable to understand the performance data. And later, you may not be able to remember how certain numbers were derived leaving you in a poor position to re-forecast or prepare projections for the following year.

There are two forms of projections that should be addressed to show a different financial picture for the same period:

The Income Statement (P&L): Shows performance over a stated period of time (Monthly, Quarterly, Annually)

The Cash Flow Statement: Shows the movement of cash from one period to another and specific cash position at the end of any one period (Month, Quarter, Year End)

The structure for creating the Income Statement version is based on accepted accounting principles and IRS rules. There is only one rule for the Cash Flow Statement – “Into the checking account & out of the checking account”. Each of these statements has a purpose and can help you plan for the future growth of your business. Financial modeling tasks such as these can assist with hiring plans, expansion into new product lines or opening a new store or office location.

Always remember, the SBDC is here to help you with any business matter – and we invite you to explore our website, which contains a wealth of information for business owners and entrepreneurs.

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Community Resources for Veterans

At the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, we’re always looking for new ways to support Alexandria businesses. We continually seek opportunities to partner with members of the community and to identify new initiatives. We’re very excited about our newest program: the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC). In 2013, Alexandria veterans, government agencies, non-profits, and… Read more »

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Emily McMahan, AVBECAt the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, we’re always looking for new ways to support Alexandria businesses. We continually seek opportunities to partner with members of the community and to identify new initiatives. We’re very excited about our newest program: the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC).

In 2013, Alexandria veterans, government agencies, non-profits, and local businesses joined together to discuss how the City could better support its veterans. The group recognized that the defense drawdown represented an opportunity to grow our regional economy if the City could attract top veteran talent to join our workforce and start new businesses.

The group also acknowledged that there are hundreds of private companies, nonprofits, and government programs that support veterans during their transition from the military and beyond. From the veteran’s perspective, the sheer magnitude of potential options can be quite overwhelming.

What would it take to for veterans to be successful in business, integrated into the local business community, and contributing to the City and region’s economic growth? The answer is the AVBEC.

AVBEC’s mission is to create an ideal community for veterans to open a business, build a business, or start a new career through transition support, assistance for entrepreneurs, and enduring support for professional needs. The program is a regional hub for veterans in business, connecting them to existing programs and resources, providing opportunities to engage with other veterans and businesses, and creating a space where veterans can collaborate and share information.

AVBEC has partnered with local, state, and national organizations and businesses to provide services to veterans. This includes the Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs, SCORE, Boots to Business, and other well-regarded programs. In building these partnerships, AVBEC is able to be a “one stop shop” for veterans as they seek the appropriate resources.

As a program of the Alexandria SBDC, veterans also have access to objective and highly-regarded business guidance. The center’s resources include one-to-one counseling, educational programs, and a robust online interactive resource library. AVBEC clients can take advantage of the center’s existing connections with the business community.

One of the most innovative parts of the program is the AVBEC incubator, now being constructed adjacent to the Alexandria Small Business Development Center. As one of the only veteran business incubators in the country, this center will give veterans a physical space to collaborate and share information as they start a business or launch their careers.

In addition to entrepreneurial support, AVBEC also facilitates veteran hiring. Veterans who are transitioning will be connected to resources to help them identify potential career paths and opportunities. There really is something for every veteran at the AVBEC.

AVBEC leverages all of the SBDC’s existing relationships and has established new partnerships to provide a comprehensive array of resources and services focused on veterans – whatever their priorities or concerns. I encourage all veterans to contact AVBEC now to take advantage of this fantastic resource that Alexandria is offering.

For more information, visit the AVBEC website at www.AlexandriaVeterans.org.

This column originally appeared in the Alexandria Times on August 28th, 2014.

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Get to Know Your Banker

Jack Parker is the Business Analyst for the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.  He is a retired banker, and is familiar with all of the services offered by banks and the qualities that a small business owner should look for in choosing a banker.  Jack assists SBDC clients in refining their business plans to seek… Read more »

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Jack Parker is the Business Analyst for the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.  He is a retired banker, and is familiar with all of the services offered by banks and the qualities that a small business owner should look for in choosing a banker.  Jack assists SBDC clients in refining their business plans to seek financing from banks and other financial institutions.  In this video, Jack explains the importance of developing a relationship with your banker even before you seek financing.  He also outlines the kinds of services that most banks offer to their small business customers.

Small businesses located in the City of Alexandria can Request a Counseling Session with Jack to discuss the financial aspects of their business.

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Does Your Small Business Need an Attorney?

At a recent Alexandria Small Business Roundtable, business owners discussed whether they needed an attorney for their business. All businesses must deal with some legal issues when they get started including the first step of registering and licensing their business. Determining which business structure (sole proprietorship, LLC, S-Corp, etc.) will work best for your business… Read more »

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Do You Need An Attorney BlogAt a recent Alexandria Small Business Roundtable, business owners discussed whether they needed an attorney for their business. All businesses must deal with some legal issues when they get started including the first step of registering and licensing their business. Determining which business structure (sole proprietorship, LLC, S-Corp, etc.) will work best for your business is a question that involves issues of liability and taxation.

There is some legal advice on the internet regarding these different business structures (www.nolo.com and www.bos.virginia.gov are among the best), but each business owners’ circumstances and desires are unique. It is always recommended that you have a consultation with an attorney to pick the structure that is right for you. If after this consultation you determine that a sole proprietorship will work for you, the business license is something that you can file for yourself.

Likewise, if a simple LLC will be your structure, you can file the paperwork, whether through an attorney, directly with the State Corporation Commission, or through the Virginia One-Stop website (www.bos.virginia.gov). If you will be structured as a more complicated LLC (several persons being members) or some form of corporation, it is always recommended that you work with an attorney to get set up correctly. Things like by-laws for a corporation or Operating Agreement for a LLC should also be reviewed by an attorney.

There are other areas where the consulting services of a small business attorney are recommended. Often, people come in to see us at the SBDC because their landlord has invoked some clause in their lease that they feel will hurt their business. If an attorney had reviewed the lease and explained important provisions to them before they signed it, they would be less likely to be surprised by “hidden clauses”.

Likewise, if a business owner is hiring employees, he or she may want to review Human Resources laws and regulations with an attorney or HR professional to be sure that they are complying with all federal, state and local requirements in hiring. Depending on the type of business, there may be contracts with vendors or customers that should be completely explained and understood before they are signed by the business owner.

If you have a relationship with a small business attorney because they have helped you to get set up, lease space, develop contracts, or hire employees, you have a business partner who is engaged in your business. While there will be some cost involved in this relationship, you need to consider that the price for peace of mind. Over the life of your business, there are always things that can happen that will put you in “crisis mode” – someone falls in your shop, claims to get sick from your food, an employee files a complaint, etc. Whether these issues have merit or not, business owners must deal with them.

Having an attorney who already knows you and your business can go a long way to furthering your success.  It will also make sense financially, since you will not be paying someone to come up to speed at the higher “emergency or representation” rates or fees, rather than the generally lower fees for consulting services. “Pay a little bit now, or a lot later” is something to keep in mind.

The Alexandria SBDC has a referral list of local attorneys that our clients have used and liked. We do not put anyone on the list unless we have seen how they operate and we are comfortable with them. All of the attorneys on our list have also agreed to offer a brief free “parameter setting” consultation.

You may wish to interview a few attorneys to find one that fits both the needs of your business and your comfort level in terms of personality and cost. Do not be afraid to ask questions about specialty areas and cost – your attorney expects these questions and should be eager to respond to them.  If you establish and grow this relationship with your small business attorney, you have a partner for the life of your business.

Photo credit

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How to Get the Most from a Small Business Workshop

Alexandria SBDC staff and speakers do our best to provide meaningful educational programs for small business owners. We hope that you are able to take advantage of these free learning opportunities to strengthen your business. Whether you’re attending one of our workshops or any kind of educational programming, here are a few tips to get the… Read more »

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Alexandria SBDC staff and speakers do our best to provide meaningful educational programs for small business owners. We hope that you are able to take advantage of these free learning opportunities to strengthen your business. Whether you’re attending one of our workshops or any kind of educational programming, here are a few tips to get the most out of your experience:

  • Most programs require pre-registration (for our events, there is a registration link on our website). Make sure to click the register button just one time, or you may accidentally register yourself for the event multiple times. Registering before the last minute will ensure that the event sponsor has enough time to prepare adequate materials for all participants. Keep in mind that not all programs accept walk-ins, so make sure to register!
  • When you have registered, make sure to attend the event or send the an e-mail letting the host know that your plans have changed. Printed materials are expensive, and organizers want to have enough for everyone without printing unnecessary packets.
  • Arrive on time, or preferably early. This gives you time to get settled in and to network. Most  programs are timed to begin and end right on time, so they may not take the time for attendee introductions once the program has begun. If you’re interested in chatting with other participants, being early is key.
  • Be prepared! You will probably want to take notes, so make sure that you have a pen and something to write on. Not all programs provide copies of the presentation, so it’s good to come prepared with your own notebook.
  • Out of respect for the speaker and fellow attendees, make sure to turn off your phone before the events begins. If you must check on an urgent business matter, please step out of the room to make or take a call. Similarly, please refrain from checking e-mails, playing games on your phone, etc., which is distracting to the speaker and to other attendees. If you find yourself more engaged with your phone than with the workshop, you may want to evaluate the type of workshops you are registering for and how those help you achieve your goals.
  • You will get the most out of any program by paying attention to the speaker and actively participating in the conversation. Questions are generally welcome, but those that are specific to your business should be saved until after the presentation, unless the speaker specifically requests individual scenarios.
  • If there is an evaluation or survey for the class, please complete the form and hand it in. For many organizations, this information is required by funders and enables them to continue to provide programs without charge. Your feedback is also valuable as they plan for new programs and consider topics for upcoming events. Feel free to make specific requests for new or follow-up topics.
  • If the event uses plastic name badges, please return them to the organizer, along with any extra folders or program materials. These items are expensive, and many organizations operate on a limited budget.

We hope you will find these reminders helpful and will continue to gain insight from small business programs across the region.

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