LA PLATA, Md. (January 16, 2018)—One year ago, Ali Banholzer of Huntingtown was at a turning point with her business.
Banholzer owns Wear Your Spirit Warehouse, a small, local business that creates personalized, promotional gear like T-shirts, mugs, hats, banners and more, much of which is for area school teams and clubs, youth sports teams and Vacation Bible School programs.
For several years, Banholzer had been running the business out of her home. She had a good reason.
Close to 10 years after the business started, Banholzer's husband, Col. David Banholzer, was diagnosed with a primary, aggressive brain tumor in 2014. He had a high-level position as the 14th Presidential Pilot of the United States and Commander of Air Force One, piloting the presidential plane for both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. After her husband's diagnosis, Ali Banholzer moved her business to her home so that she would be available to drive him to and from every radiation treatment and appointment at Johns Hopkins and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. She also drove him to his weekly meetings at the White House.
Having her work at their residence "allowed me to be home for him and the business," Ali Banholzer said. Two close friends, Kitty Berry and Elaine Houser, helped out with the business, picking up extra hours especially as Col. Banholzer's condition worsened. "They were very much the heart and soul of the business," Ali Banholzer said of the two women who still work with the business. "They carried me."
Col. Banholzer died from the brain tumor on Nov. 4, 2016.
Several months after his death, Ali Banholzer was ready to make some decisions about the business. "It was time to pick up the pieces and move forward," she said. "I wanted to grow the business." She turned to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for assistance.
The Southern Region SBDC provides a wide range of low-cost training and no-cost business counseling services to new and existing small businesses throughout Southern Maryland. Regional headquarters are at the College of Southern Maryland's La Plata Campus, and SBDC business consultants also have offices in Calvert and St. Mary's counties, hosted by each county's department of economic development. Ali Banholzer sat down and discussed her plans with SBDC Consultant Kathy MacAdams in Calvert County.
As a military wife, Ali Banholzer views her business as a means to provide employment for those who face roadblocks to employment—those who need a flexible work schedule because they are caregivers for others, inexperienced high school-aged students looking for their first job or college students and those military spouses who can only commit to a couple of years of work due to constant moves.
"I want to provide a flexible and understanding workplace," she said. In addition, Ali Banholzer says she wants to contribute to the community that has been so supportive of her family, and she wants to continue the great customer service that has been a hallmark of Wear Your Spirit Warehouse.
To kickstart some long-needed growth at the business, Ali Banholzer planned to move it out of her home by purchasing or leasing commercial retail space where there would be room for more equipment and storage, where a night shift could work and where the business would be more visible to the public.
MacAdams gathered information about future development plans in the county that might affect Ali Banholzer's decision. What other new businesses were slated to go in and where? In addition, MacAdams set up a meeting with a technical evaluation group that outlined the work that would be required to bring up to code a couple of properties that Ali Banholzer was considering. "So valuable," Ali Banholzer said of this information, which quickly helped her cross her top choice off the list.
Without MacAdams' assistance, "I would have been in over my head," Ali Banholzer said. Instead, armed with the best information available, she rented space on an easy-to-reach, retail space just off Route 2/4 in Huntingtown, near Huntingtown High School.
"It's a perfect location," Ali Banholzer said, and the subsequent growth in her business bears testimony to that. Since moving into the new location in April 2017, Wear Your Spirit Warehouse's business has grown by 62 percent, Ali Banholzer said.
That initial assistance from SBDC has evolved into an ongoing relationship. "Kathy has been a great support," Ali Banholzer said. MacAdams is now working with Wear Your Spirit Warehouse on state matching opportunities for employee training and equipment, reviewing her written business plans and introducing her to potential client leads.
"Now we are gathering research on where this manufacturing industry is going," MacAdams said. "It will help her be more aware of trends … If a business owner wants to do research like this themselves, it would be time-consuming and could be overwhelming. A lot of businesses don't have the time to do all that homework."
All this assistance has been provided at no-cost and is confidential, MacAdams said.
"It's huge … that they're willing to find resources and do the legwork for us," Berry said of all of SBDC's assistance to a small, very busy business like Wear Your Spirit Warehouse, adding that MacAdams has become an integral connection for the small staff. "She's part of us. She's part of the heartbeat. That matters."
"Not only is she good for providing information on what you should be doing," Ali Banholzer said of MacAdams, "but she's good at providing information to help keep you from making mistakes that could cost you your business. The don'ts are as important as the do's … Kathy and SBDC are one of the best-kept secrets in the county."
"We are proud to be a part of the region's economic development priorities which allows this valuable assistance to exist in all three counties. Wear Your Spirit Warehouse is one of nearly 500 businesses that have benefited from SBDC services this year," said Ellen Flowers-Fields, regional director of the SBDC at CSM.
The SBDC is a part of a statewide and national network of experts that work together to ensure entrepreneurs and existing business owners like Ali Banholzer get the information, resources and support they need to be successful. SBDC advisers offer a variety of free business consulting and low-cost training services—business plan development, targeted industry services for manufacturing and technology companies, leadership training, financial packaging and lending assistance, exporting and importing support, business growth strategy, disaster recovery assistance, procurement and contracting aid, retail sales strategies, market research help, 8(a) program support and healthcare guidance. Free workshops are available as well as low-cost classes provided through CSM.
"What's surprising to me is that there are so many businesses that don't know about our services. There's no cost and we'll come out and assist you," MacAdams said.
SBDC won't write someone's business plan and they can't give a business loan, but the consultants can provide feedback on a business plan and can help research things like market demographics as well as put businesses in contact with small business lenders and other business specialists, along with a variety of other valuable services.
The Maryland SBDC Program is funded in part through a partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, with funding also coming from the state, the College of Southern Maryland and Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's county governments, which allows for regional provision of these services.
For information on Wear Your Spirit Warehouse, visit www.wearyourspiritwarehouse.com/ or call 410-474-2889.
For information on the SBDC non-credit CSM courses designed for small business needs, visit www.csmd.edu/programs-courses/non-credit/workforce-training/sbdc/. For information on the Southern Region SBDC and its services, visit www.sbdchelp.com.