Spotlight on Small Business Triumphs

The owners of five unique companies have overcome similar challenges.


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Becky and Randy Lewis, owners of Eaglecraft Door in Moultrie Photo by David Parks

When we hear that Georgia is pro-business or that it has claimed the title of top state to do business for a record ninth year, what comes to mind? A gleaming office tower, a sprawling factory? How about a small business?

Small enterprises account for 99.6% of businesses in the state and employ 42.8% of all Georgia employees. They literally ARE business in Georgia.

Despite their numbers, each one has a unique story, whether it’s a startup, a family business, a company that’s changed hands or something else altogether. Notwithstanding that uniqueness, ask an owner and they’ll tell you that many face the same questions, bumps in the road and moments of joy. We asked five small business owners to share their stories, the resources they found invaluable and what they did to achieve success.

People and Profit

Davis Brothers Logistics, Savannah, Employees: About 25

In Jimmy Davis’ case, it’s not a cliché – he and his brother really did sketch out the plan for their export packaging, logistics and warehousing business on a cocktail napkin at Park Bar in downtown Atlanta. “He worked a block from there,” Davis says. “He would get off in the evenings and walk over and meet me, and we’d sit at a table and put it together on napkins – for months.”

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Jimmy Davis: Davis Brothers Logistics Photo by David Parks

Once they had a plan, they sought help from University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center’s (SBDC) area director Valerie McElveen in Statesboro. (Davis lived in Savannah, his brother in Atlanta at the time.) Davis is effusive in his praise of McElveen and the SBDC, which has 18 locations throughout the state and offers free assistance in everything from writing a business plan to managing to cash flow to planning for growth.

“Without Valerie, we would not be here,” he says. “We had the business plan, but we didn’t really have a clue how to put it together.” With the SBDC’s help, the brothers were able to make realistic projections about revenue. “You don’t want the rose-colored glasses,” he says. “If you’re going to open a business, look at the worst-case scenario [and] make sure you can survive that.”

In 2019, just as the brothers were getting “really close” to launching the business, Davis got a little push – in the form of getting laid off. His employer was getting out of the export packaging business, and Davis says it was perfect timing; in fact, by the end of the day, Davis Brothers Logistics had its first customer.

Davis says the company has been growing rapidly, from about $2 million in revenue in 2020 to about $4.5 million in 2021 and nearly $7 million in 2022. It’s expanded from about 15,000 square feet of warehouse space to 100,000 square feet and also opened a location just across the state line in South Carolina.

Now Davis says the company is slimming down a little, from 35 employees to 25, to focus on profit. “In the beginning, I wasn’t worried about profit,” he says. “I was worried about revenue and cash flow. Cash flow is a challenge when you grow like that. Every penny that comes into the business goes right back out – you make $100,000 in two weeks, and you have to spend $95,000 of it the next week.”

To help increase profit margins, the company has hired a new general manager, while Davis’ brother handles back-office duties and Davis is freed up to concentrate on sales. “It feels like we have the people in place now to really make this thing where it needs to be,” he says.

Networking Near and Far

Becky and Randy Lewis, Eaglecraft Door Moultrie Employees: 18

Some 40 years ago, Eaglecraft Door was born when founder Ron Lewis started building cabinets. He quickly realized that cabinet doors required some special manufacturing equipment and that not many companies in the area were set up to produce them. Move forward to the next generation and Eaglecraft, now helmed by Ron’s son Randy and his wife Rebecca (who goes by Becky), has a well-earned reputation for making custom cabinet doors, drawer fronts, architectural panels and moldings for cabinetmakers and building contractors in Georgia, Florida and Alabama. The company was named a 2022 Small Business ROCK STAR by the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

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Becky and Randy Lewis, owners of Eaglecraft Door in Moultrie Photo: David Parks

“We’re very proud of the business we’ve grown, but it’s also a lot of responsibility,” says Becky Lewis. She and her husband have divvied up areas of accountability, with Becky overseeing the office and personnel-related side and Randy focusing on production. “We tag team,” Becky says. Randy “makes magical things happen with wood,” while she manages schedules, aiming for efficiency by grouping orders from different customers together to ensure quicker manufacturing.

Relationships are key to Eaglecraft’s success – and not just the ones between family members. When COVID snarled supply chains (with still-lingering effects), the company benefitted from some lucky timing: It had just expanded to allow for storage of more materials, which gave Becky some additional time to source wood for orders. But good relationships with vendors really saw them through. “Vendors would reach out and say, ‘I have two units of this, can you use it?’” Becky remembers. “They kept me aware of the shortages they were seeing so we could stay ahead of it.”

Local networking is also key when it comes to growth and workforce needs. Eaglecraft has participated in Project Purpose, a joint program of the Moultrie-Colquitt County Development Authority and the local chamber of commerce to introduce high school students to job opportunities. “We have four students working with us that we hired from [Project Purpose] high school job fairs, two of whom are going to Southern Regional Technical College,” Becky says.

One networking and educational experience Becky found transformative in 2021 was the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Emerging Leaders program (now renamed T.H.R.I.V.E.). Although the program was not specifically geared toward family businesses – it offers free entrepreneurship education and training for small-company executives – Becky says it was invaluable in thinking about succession planning.

“I talked to lots of people who, even though they may not be in my industry, have faced similar issues. It’s hard sometimes to remove yourself and look at the big picture outside of your involvement,” she says. “It helped us take a step back and look at [whether] our business could survive without us and how we can get it to that point. … You don’t want to [be in a position that] you’ve grown this successful business that’s supporting other families and giving to the community, and then it not be able to survive without you – or to never be able to step away from it.” Program participants worked on three-year growth plans that helped the Lewises map that out, starting with an expansion and moving the sanding department to provide climate-controlled space for pre-delivery storage and product loading indoors.

The SBA program gave them a support network across the state – something small business owners often lack. “It gives you a lot of confidence as a business owner to know that you always have this group of professionals in your back pocket that you can reach out to and say, ‘I’m having an issue’ and know they’ll be happy to help you,” Becky says.

Finding Clients that Fit

Elizabeth M’balu Oke, PivotPath Lawrenceville Employees: About 10

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Elizabeth M’balu Oke: PivotPath Photo by Jennifer Stalcup

Elizabeth M’balu Oke swears she didn’t want to own a small business. She had watched her parents, who had immigrated to the U.S. from Sierra Leone, struggle running several enterprises and thought, “there’s no way I’m putting myself through that.” Instead, she worked for nonprofits and Emory University, which is where she was employed in 2017 when her premature baby needed to spend three months in the neonatal ICU. “I could not juggle my role at Emory and go the NICU full-time,” she says. “I left Emory and started consulting, utilizing the project management and communications skills I had obtained. I started getting contracts – that was a new world for me. And then the passion just started unfolding.”

She didn’t start PivotPath, a global brand marketing and communications agency, with a business plan in place, but she was clear about what she wanted to do: pursue projects with a positive impact on society. The company calls its approach “Mother Tongue” – helping clients communicate with and engage their communities with empathy and authenticity.

That approach has led to a steady stream of clients, many of them municipalities, intergovernmental organizations and community nonprofits; the opening of an office in Sierra Leone, which has helped to increase partnerships with international organizations like the European Union and United Nations; and recognition, with M’balu Oke winning the Emerging Entrepreneur Award in 2022 from the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. “I really love what I do,” she says.

Still, M’balu Oke says her journey as an entrepreneur wasn’t easy – especially at first, when expenses were higher than revenue and her family asked if this was really the best thing to do. “It was a season where I had to encourage myself and stand firm with the mission and purpose of what I’m trying to bring to the table,” she says. “I think a lot of entrepreneurs go through that – especially if maybe they had a secure job and now maybe they don’t.”

Being clear about her priorities has meant turning down work that doesn’t fit PivotPath’s mission – projects that are driven only by revenue, no matter the number. She recalls turning down a project for a software company that would have been in the $150,000 range. Although she notes that “revenue-driven doesn’t necessarily mean there is no [social] impact there,” in this case the product wasn’t being used to help an agency or community. So she said no. “I think I cried a little,” she says. “But I don’t ever want to get into a partnership or program where my heart isn’t in it or we can’t at least try to measure the impact of the communications or products we provide…. Maybe we’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who are really interested in what we do, we are exactly the pot of tea you need.”

Cultivating Company Culture

Ryan Loew, Process Equipment & Controls Covington, Employees: 110

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Ryan Loew: Process Equipment & Controls Photo by Ryan Johnson

Process Equipment & Controls (PEC) may fall under the industrial sector category, but it’s really in the people business. Founder Ryan Loew started the company, which provides turnkey services for manufacturing plants ranging from designing and building equipment to installing and maintaining it, in 2012 after a decade working for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer (while he earned his business degree). Initially PEC had two employees, and Loew was one of them.

Ten years later, Loew, now president of the company, was named SBDC Entrepreneur of the Year. Asked about the company’s growth, Loew laughs and says it’s because he’s surrounded himself with people who are smarter than he is. But he’s managed it well by ensuring that as the company added new people, its culture remained consistent. The key, he says, has been finding people who have the right skills and are going in the same direction.

PEC is also focused on finding the next generation of employees and has partnered with the Newton College and Career Academy and other local schools to reach high school students who may be interested in the company’s unique way of working.

Because PEC delivers customized services to each customer, the company’s skilled technicians and employees work in a variety of manufacturing plants, not just one. “We have to know every plant,” Loew says. “And every plant is different, from the safety to the process. So we have to be the experts.” He believes one element of the company culture – continuous learning – is a big draw for employees.

PEC devoted time and energy to developing a framework for how it operates, with a mission statement, core values, critical success factors, aims and strategies for achieving them, and key performance indicators. With the help of a consultant, the leadership team talked through questions: “What’s our passion, what’s our purpose and what’s our core focus of the business?” Loew says. “It is to positively impact the men and women of PEC, their families and our community through the services and products that we offer…. Our core values are around integrity, servanthood, quality, performance and safety.”

Having established the guiding framework, then it’s a matter of communicating it to every single employee. “That’s definitely been a key for us, that we’re all going toward the same thing,” Loew says. “We’ve been able to retain a lot of employees because of our culture.”

Bootstrapping the Business

Jason Jones, S&L Integrated Thomasville Employees: 35

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Jason Jones: S&L Integrated Photo by David Parks

What eventually became S&L Integrated began as a part-time job for founder Jason Jones, who started renting audio equipment as a “side hustle” in the late 1990s. But his journey as an entrepreneur started a lot earlier, when he sold snacks and Cokes at his dad’s John Deere dealership. His father loaned him $100 to get started, then made him keep the books and pay the money back, with interest. “I think he was just getting my entrepreneurial juices flowing,” Jones says.

It worked. S&L Integrated now provides integrated audio, video, lighting and control systems for clients that span the corporate, government, education, healthcare and religious realms, offering design, installation and support services.

S&L – whose values are expressed as “one team, one goal, one button” – has grown organically, says Jones, who decided to follow his father’s advice and bootstrap the company. He found rent-free warehouse space for two years thanks to a generous owner who offered the space in return for Jones and team cleaning it out. When it came time to relocate, Jones was able to get help from a rural development program that offered incentives to build in Cairo. He got advice and training from the SBDC office in Valdosta. When the company moved to its current home in Thomasville, Jones again was able to work with the city and county to find incentives for bringing jobs to the area.

“As we had cash, we expanded, hired more people and solved more problems,” he says. That’s where the “one button” comes in: The company is intent on making any system it designs and installs as simple as possible for the customer. “We try to simplify technology for the customer,” Jones says. “We think really hard about it and try not to do something overly complicated.” S&L has even designed its own apps to use internally and for customers to make things easier to operate.

And although the company has expanded to three locations – one in Thomasville, one in Atlanta and one in Nashville – it still retains its small business ethic. “Trying to scale a business has been hard,” Jones says. Where he once turned to classes for help learning QuickBooks, now his needs are more about finding mentors in his industry. And some typical moves to accommodate growth just didn’t work. A few years after taking the advice of a consultant about implementing a more corporate structure for the business, “We realized that everybody [wasn’t] getting along the way they used to and we needed to go backwards, not forward this way,” Jones says. “They [didn’t want] the corporate structure, where you’re in your silo and can only do this.” They missed the company culture where people could ask for help and other team members felt able to take the time to offer it – which aligned with how S&L approached its customer relationships, too.

“We do what we say we’re going to do, we follow through on things and we don’t ever leave a customer unhappy, even if it costs us money,” Jones says. “Which is pretty rare. I feel like that’s still the small business mentality. As we’ve grown, we’ve tried to keep that standard, with customer experience being the No. 1 piece of that.”

As varied as their stories are, each of these small business owners share a common conviction: Georgia isn’t just a great place to do business – it’s a great place to own a business, too.

Categories: Economic Development Features, Features