Katie McMurray & a friend were talking about the challenge of shopping online for sensory support products for neurodivergent children, when McMurray had a flash of inspiration. If there wasn’t a single store specializing in such equipment anywhere on the West Coast, let alone Washington state—and she was pretty sure there wasn’t—why not open her own brick & mortar store to cater to & advocate for the neurodivergent community?
Almost immediately, McMurray said, the idea for Sensory Tool House began to take shape. In the middle of a pandemic, when so much commerce was going online, her vision was for a physical space where customers were encouraged to explore different products in a relaxed & supportive environment before making a purchase.
"By supporting my business, my SBDC advisor has helped give a voice to the neurodivergent community. It's just a beautiful chain of events that we are seeing happen. The impact is far beyond my retail store."
McMurray had already been meeting with Jennifer Dye, the Washington SBDC business advisor at South Puget Sound Community College, to discuss other business ideas, so she knew exactly where to go for technical assistance.
Together, McMurray and Dye worked on multiple facets of the business, including market research, finding a commercial space, talking through HR issues, setting up business systems and cash flow management.
McMurray credits Dye with supporting her vision and helping her make it a reality. “By supporting this, Dye has helped give voice to the neurodivergent community,” she said.
“It’s just a beautiful chain of events that we are seeing happen. The impact is far beyond my retail store.”
After another conversation with her husband about problems at his work, Mari Borrero told him, "Look, you have a choice. If you don't like the way things are going, do something different." So he did, & she did, too. Today, Mari and her husband Aaron are co-owners of American Abatement & Demo, a business that employs more than a dozen people and in 2022 had revenue of $3 million. That makes them both part of a growing trend and an outlier. Over the past several years, Hispanic entrepreneurs have been starting businesses at a faster rate than entrepreneurs in other demographic categories, but typically, those businesses start small and stay small. Mari said they were able to beat the odds by reaching out to multiple resources, including the SBDC.
"Sometimes you don't need someone to hold your hand. Sometimes you need someone to challenge you."
The Borreros first contacted the SBDC when they decided they wanted to go after larger jobs and needed to be bonded. Kevin Grossman, the SBDC business advisor at Green River College in Kent, began working with them in 2021. "That's where I learned about banking relationships," Mari said, including the difference between banks and credit unions and the importance of financials & credit scores. "It was like peeling an onion." Kevin helped her prepare for meetings with different bankers and also helped her think through her bid proposals. On her first big bid, it turned out she had forgotten to factor in some important employee-related costs, but with Kevin's help, she revised the bid and ended up getting the contract.
When Shannon and Phil D'Avanzo decided to move from the suburbs of Portland, Oregon to the small town of Goldendale, Washington to be closer to family, they figured Phil could open another auto detailing business, similar to the one he operated in Oregon. But, after 16 years in corporate retail, Shannon was ready for a change. Her plan was to open an Italian restaurant, even though she'd never even worked in a commercial kitchen.
The original plan was for the auto detail business to be the family's primary source of income, and D'Avanzo's Family Kitchen would be open two or three evenings a week to provide supplementary income. They were looking for startup funding when they were referred to Lorena Lowell, a business advisor with the SBDC.
"Lorena (my SBDC advisor) was very detailed in our meetings and she would send me follow-up emails to make sure I had the information I needed."
In their first meeting, Shannon said, Lorena was supportive, but did not sugarcoat what they were up against. Together, they created a fairly detailed spreadsheet of the expenses involved in opening and running a restaurant, the straightforward costs as well as the hidden ones. They also discussed how many meals Shannon would have to sell every day just to cover costs.
"It was an overwhelming amount of information," Shannon said, but it was exactly the information she needed. Even more, Shannon knew she had someone in her corner.
In the end, the D'Avanzos self-financed the launch of their restaurant and Lorena advised them to treat their investment with the same seriousness as they would treat a commercial loan.
While the original plan was for the restaurant to be open on a limited basis, customers quickly clamored for more, so Shannon expanded to lunch and dinner five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday.
"The community wanted us to keep it open," she said. In fact, Shannon said, one of the happiest surprises of this adventure is how supportive the community has been.
"I didn't realize how many people would be so thankful to have a new restaurant in a small town," she said. "People thank me all the time and I didn't expect that."
In a small town like Goldendale every job counts, and D'Avanzos Family Kitchen employs seven people, not counting their 9-year-old daughter, Rosie, who also helps out when she can.