Revivals, Innovations & Dream Machines
A surprising mix of enterprises thrives on the state’s network of small business support centers — from motorcycles to good eats to high tech.
Hoo’s Q was born of a tornado, owner Brad McDaniel says, and a desire to start fresh.
Photo by Zach Riggins/University of Alabama
HOO'S Q (Tuscaloosa)
Hoo’s Q, a popular new barbecue restaurant in Tuscaloosa, might not exist at all if not for the mile-wide April 27, 2011, tornado that devastated much of the city — as well as the area SBDC’s assistance, says owner Brad McDaniel. “It’s really been a case of something bad turning into something good,” McDaniel says.
An attractive 3,000-square-foot “modern rustic” brick building has replaced the aging location where McDaniel ran a franchised Mike and Ed’s BBQ restaurant for five years. After the tornado damaged the old building’s foundation and tore off the roof, it was deemed unsafe. McDaniel had to close his restaurant and figure out what to do next. “It forced me to re-evaluate things. I briefly considered closing for good,” he says.
But instead of getting out of the restaurant business altogether or opening up another Mike and Ed’s, McDaniel decided to create his own brand. “Mike and Ed’s is a small franchise known in East Alabama, where there are multiple locations, but it doesn’t really have name recognition in this part of the state,” McDaniel says. “So I thought we’d just start with a fresh slate and our own concept. It was disappointing to lose the old restaurant but it gave us the opportunity to do something different.”
McDaniel wanted to somehow use his name on the new restaurant and thought about “Wahoo,” his childhood nickname. “But if we’d called it ‘Wahoo’s,’ it would have sounded like a fish place, so we shortened it. That’s how we came up with Hoo’s Q,” he says.
McDaniel enlisted the SBDC’s support for obtaining a federal Small Business Administration loan and began the long process of rebuilding. Getting approvals for the new restaurant and meeting building code requirements was arduous, because of strict new regulations created following the April 2011 tornado outbreak. “I don’t know if I would have had the patience to endure the process if it hadn’t been for the SBDC’s reassurances and assistance,” McDaniel says. “They guided me the whole way, from filling out the proper forms to letting me know that the challenges I was going through were also being faced by other businesses in the area.”
Finally Hoo’s Q opened April 27, 2013, two years to the day after the tornado. He gives some of the credit for the 20 percent increase in business compared to the old restaurant to the new look of the building, which has drawn in both new and old customers. “It was a long time in coming, but it’s been worth the effort,” McDaniel says. “Now we’re looking at opening a second location.”
Motus Motorcycles, last July, unveiled full production models at the MotoGP race in Monterey, Calif. After final certifications of its first two models are completed this spring, Motus plans to ramp up production at its 12,000-square-foot facility and begin shipping to 16 dealers across the country by the fall.
MOTUS MOTORCYCLES (Birmingham)
Lee Conn, president and cofounder of Motus, an emerging high-performance motorcycle manufacturing company in Birmingham, is effusive in his praise of his area Small Business Development Center. “We never would have made it near this far this fast without the SBDC,” he says.
The SBDC has been there to offer advice, suggest resources and facilitate business connections since Conn and his cofounder, motorcycle designer Brian Case, launched the company in 2009. Back then, the two veteran motorcycle riders just had a vision to design and build their dream machine, the only American sport-touring motorcycle. “At that point we had zero employees. We have eight now and have raised more than $7 million in capital,” Conn says.
Originally located at Innovation Depot, Motus now is based in the former Barber Motorsports museum location in the Lakeview area. The company finished testing its first two prototypes in 2012 and then last July unveiled full production models at the MotoGP race in Monterey, Calif.
After final certifications of its first two models are completed this spring, Motus plans to ramp up production at its 12,000-square-foot facility and begin shipping to 16 dealers across the country by the fall. Conn hopes to be in full production mode by the end of 2014. “We’re planning to produce 500 motorcycles per year,” he says.
The company has plans to expand distribution internationally thanks to encouragement and facilitation by the SBDC.
“The SBDC has helped us with so many things small and large, including our strategizing to access capital, which was invaluable,” Conn says. “It’s great to be able to call them with a question even on a small issue. I can’t even imagine how much it would have cost us to have paid a consultant with all the SBDC has helped us with.”
Motus also plans to move the manufacturing of its proprietary V4 Baby Block motorcycle engines from Texas to Birmingham and is looking for a location. “We’ve just had such a positive experience in this area that we feel it’s the right move,” Conn says.
Conn believes that Alabama will continue to prosper as part of the new “Southern Automotive Corridor,” luring various vehicle manufacturers and suppliers with its pro-business climate, including reasonable regulations, attractive incentives and a strong SBDC.
The momentum of Barber Motorsports organization in creating a vibrant motorcycle community and increased awareness is also a draw, he says. “We’re not from here but we were attracted by all Alabama offers,” Conn says.
PIGGLY WIGGLY (Dora)
The thriving new Piggly Wiggly in Dora is another small business success story begat by both the April 2011 tornado outbreak and assistance from an SBDC. Long-time grocery store owners Phillip and Mark Bozeman were looking at a potential new location in Dora before the outbreak.
“We knew there was a need, and we were ready for something new,” Phillip Bozeman says.
The brothers had opened Bozeman’s Cost Plus in Sumiton in 1993 with assistance from their SBDC, including help in obtaining an SBA loan. Following the success of that enterprise, they continued calling on the SBDC when needed and launched the Cordova Piggly Wiggly in 1998. “We’ve always benefitted from our association with the SBDC. They offer a wealth of information and resources,” says Phillip Bozeman, who now serves on the advisory board for Alabama’s SBDC Network.
When tornados hit Cordova on April 27, 2011, the
winds tore the town apart, destroying many businesses, including the Bozeman brothers’ 12,000-square-foot Piggly Wiggly. Fortunately, Mark Bozeman had sent employees home before a tornado hit the store, so there was no loss of life. “We really feel we have been blessed by God through this entire experience,” Phillip Bozeman says.
After the outbreak, the SBDC helped the Bozemans apply for a SBA disaster loan. But the brothers soon realized it would be a long time before the debris was cleared in Cordova and the area was ready for a new Piggly Wiggly. The brothers decided it would be quicker to get a Piggly Wiggly up and running in Dora, to serve the area community and help keep employed their 25 workers from the demolished Cordova store.
The Bozemans were able to obtain about 30,000 square feet of space in the former Food World shopping center in Dora. Eleven months later to the day, they opened their shining new Piggly Wiggly, which employs about 40 people. “It’s really the prettiest grocery store in the area and tremendously popular. Business is up 35 percent over the Cordova location, which was smaller,” Phillip Bozeman says. “We feel really fortunate that something so bad could lead to something good in the long run.”
The brothers are still committed to reopening Piggly Wiggly in Cordova and are in negotiations for the right location. “We have too many ties to the area not to reopen there,” Phillip Bozeman says.
Another SBDC success story is Birmingham-based Proventix, which monitors healthcare providers and helps encourage them to use proper hygiene. The company’s radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology has been installed in 47 hospitals across the country. “Our system ensures better hygiene compliance and has been proven to reduce health care-associated infections by 25 percent,” says Louis Henry, Proventix cofounder and vice president.
The company’s nGage system uses badges, sensors and proprietary software solutions to detect where and how often health care providers sanitize their hands. “It’s not hard to forget to clean your hands, especially when you are required to do so frequently,” Henry says. “It’s easy to get distracted — say you come into a room and three people ask you questions — and think you’ve cleaned your hands when you haven’t.”
Data on individual as well as group hand-sanitation compliance can be generated by the nGage system, providing reliable information both to staff and management. Better hygiene results when health care providers are aware they are being monitored and can check their individual track records.
The Proventix system pays for itself, Henry says, because it reduces the costs associated with infections. Insurance providers won’t cover the costs of such infections, so hospitals must absorb them. “There’s a lot of pressure to reduce these infections, which are often preventable with greater hygiene compliance, and our product is proven to do so,” Henry says.
Founded in 2008 and now expanded to include a manufacturing facility in Huntsville, Proventix employs 24 workers. About 100 private investors, primarily from Birmingham and across the state, financed the venture. In late March, Proventix CEO Harvey Nix was named Alabama’s 2014 Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The company’s growth rate has averaged about 40 percent per year, except for last year, Henry says. “With all the uncertainty about health care and Obamacare regulations, many were taking a wait-and-see attitude,” he says. But growth is expected to be up again this year, in the U.S. and abroad.
The SBDC center has been a helpful resource as the company has grown, he says. “We’ve gotten some great ideas from them, especially for marketing and advertising.”
Kathy Hagood is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Homewood.