Fent’s Dairy Corner was started in 1972 on a corner of Orla Fent’s egg farm property. By the time his daughter Rita Hall and her sister and brother took over the operation of the business, Rita realized the store couldn’t continue to operate without making some changes. “Our utilities were outrageous and it was hurting us. It cost so much money to heat [the store] and the machines were pulling so much money on single phase [electricity].” Fent’s children decided to construct a new building and expand the parking lot.
Rita, who took over all the finances for the business, learned about SBDC through the newspaper and signed up for their “Starting a Business” workshop. That’s where she met SBDC’s loan officer, Mark Keating. “My biggest focus was where is the money going to come from. Mark was my answer. He made me think of things that I never really thought of.”
When she began working with SBDC, Rita was advised to separate the business from the farm and her father’s home. SBDC helped her set up a new LLC entity, navigate through the ownership of the business–which included her brother and sister, keep the land in her father’s name, and restructure the new building to reduce construction costs. SBDC consultants reviewed budgets for Rita and helped her revise the Dairy Corner’s operating agreement.
Mark created comparable income statements, analyzed projections and break-even points for the next three years and reviewed the loan request. “He led me along in what I needed to do,” said Rita. Mark helped her work with an attorney, architect and builder to avoid pitfalls. He took Rita through the steps to get financing for her new building, purchase new equipment and find a bank partner. Mark recommended options on how to structure the loan and explained how the company’s pre-projects expenses could be used to reduce the cash they needed put into the project. He spent many hours working with banks on three different loans, coordinating insurance efforts and overseeing project costs to be sure they stayed within budget. Mark even visited the building during construction.
Thanks to the new dining space, Fent’s doesn’t have to close for the winter so it can stay open year round. They’ve added pizza to their menu favorites of ice cream, subs and hot dogs and will start offering breakfast soon. SBDC helped with newspaper publicity after the new building opened and Rita has started attending local festivals and street fairs to sell ice cream and promote the Dairy Corner to people who don’t know about Fent’s.
“My dad said, ‘if you don’t take a chance, you can never get ahead,’” explained Rita. Meanwhile, she advises businesses to “have your ducks in a row and figure what you really want. Be a planner before you jump into things. Ask a lot of questions–and get support from the community.” Rita added, “We have a pretty big plan. And we’ll be back to SBDC.”
Update: In 2016, Rita returned to the SBDC for assistance with their logo update and building a website. SBDC Consultants Mollie Smith and Lindsey Evans were able to update their look. This included menus, website and a logo that can be used for multiple advertising purposes.