Small businesses are often the economic backbone of communities, providing goods and services that make the area a better place to live.
Here is a look at several small businesses in or around Winchester that address different community needs, from providing technical products and expertise to food/agriculture-related, family-run businesses that have thrived for several decades.
Custom Computers/Winchester Wireless
When you own a business, you’re always working, whether on customer service, production, accounting or, of course, building the business. Multiply that by two and you have the extremely busy life of David Williamson, owner of Custom Computers and Winchester Wireless.
Williamson started his career as an IT professional in 1992 and took over Custom Computers in 2003.
“My background is in programming, network engineering, mortgage finance and real estate,” he said. “Taking over Custom Computers was a stepping stone toward my goals of being an independent business owner of a brick-and-mortar business model.”
Custom Computers provides professional IT support and strategic solutions for businesses. The company is an authorized retailer for several computer companies and also specializes in repairs.
In 2008, Williamson added another business – Winchester Wireless – “because there was a need for rural broadband in our community. Today we service several thousand residents of our local community with broadband, in both residential and commercial applications.”
The reason for the companies’ success? Customer service, which is exemplified by showing up early and staying late, doing whatever it takes and not being stopped by obstacles, Williamson said.
“I have remained true to my vision of building something that has lasting value to our community,” Williamson said. “Your success in life is directly proportional to the level of value you bring to those whom you serve.”
As the business continues to grow, Williamson is working on hiring key staff and implementing more process management.
“We have found that doing a good job at what we do has allowed us the opportunity to gain referral business from local clients and even some competitors,” Williamson said. “Being an active member of the Chamber allows us to stay plugged in to what is going on in our community, as we seek to help make it a better place to work and live.”
Apps TwentyFour Seventeen
For a small business or a nonprofit, it’s tough enough to keep up with technological change, never mind create your own app. That’s usually something a larger business or organization will do in-house or spend plenty of money to hire someone to create.
John Doleman started a business called Apps TwentyFour Seventeen to bridge that gap.
“I wanted to provide affordable options for small businesses to create mobile apps to increase customer engagement, brand awareness and sales,” Doleman said. “The focus was on helping small businesses and nonprofit organizations that did not have large marketing budgets be able to implement mobile apps for marketing purposes or to just use internally within the company.”
Apps are a valuable tool for a business or organization, as they can help build customer engagement, brand awareness and, ultimately, increase sales.
One issue Doleman has encountered is that some small business owners and marketers are not sure how mobile apps can make their businesses more efficient and profitable.
“To overcome this challenge, we are repositioning the company to be more educationally focused so we can be consultants for our clients and offer a one-stop-shop for our client’s mobile app needs,” he said.
The Chamber of Commerce has been a valuable connection for Doleman, providing networking opportunities and professional leadership development.
“The connection I get from the networking events and peer-to-peer educational services really helps my business,” Doleman said. “I love the fact that you can meet great people who want to see you succeed.”
That’s exactly the positive environment Doleman wants to be around.
“I realized to achieve success, you must work hard and never give up because success doesn’t come easy and things don’t go according to the way you want it all the time,” he said.
Four generations have invested in the growth of Gore’s Meats in the Shenandoah Valley and it has certainly paid off. Levi and Josh Gore, fourth-generation butchers, are continuing to build the business their great-grandfather and grandfather started almost 60 years ago.
The family business has processing plants in Stephens City and Edinburg, plus Gore’s Fresh Meats in Stephens City. The Stephens City store is a full-service retail butcher shop with fresh cuts of meat and an impressive selection of gourmet items.
“Gore’s Meats is comprised of a family and staff devoted to the Shenandoah Valley,” said Keighley Gore, spokesperson for Gore’s Meats. “We work and play here, raise our families here and buy our goods here. We are so lucky to have a diverse supply of businesses in the Valley to take care of our growing business and family.”
A major key to Gore’s success is its dedicated employees, which number more than 30 currently.
“Gore’s staff are the backbone of the business and they are the faces that greet you, help you choose the cuts of meat you need; voices that guide you on how to cook the meats you chose and hands that guarantee you receive the best quality, most consistent product, cut and wrapped with professionalism,” Gore said. “The Gore’s standard is high and we are proud to have such an impressive group of folks to show up, work hard and put the customer first every day. This method has allowed Gore’s to become not only the preferred name in livestock processing, but also in local retail meats.”
The Shenandoah Valley area has changed quite a bit from when Gore’s started several decades ago; now there are fewer farmers around, but the ones they work with have much larger operations. Interest in its products has grown, too, with the recent move toward more local sourcing of food.
“We are certified in humane handling of livestock and take the utmost pride in being the go-to processor for demonstrations and new safety initiatives,” Gore said. “Food and animal safety has always been a priority for Gore’s and it will continue to be in the future, no matter what challenges arrive.”
Gore’s was named the winner of the TVRC Small Business Award in 2018, “recognized for community involvement, economic impact, leadership and ingenuity in small business for our region,” Gore said. “This recognition has fueled our passion to make even more connections within the Chamber to grow our business.”
Marker-Miller Orchards Farm Market
There is nothing quite like a trip to the country to buy fresh produce, and Winchester residents are fortunate to have a longtime orchard/farm market nearby.
The Marker-Miller Orchards Farm Market property was purchased in 1908 by Amos Marker and was used as pasture land for beef cattle until apple orchards were planted in the 1930s.
“Since then we have diversified in order to continue farming and we now have a retail farm market, a pick-your-own operation and a bakery on-site here at the farm,” said Heather Marker McKay, manager of the market.
Although apples are still the main crop, the business has diversified into peaches, pears, plums, red raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and apricots. Vegetable production includes a large variety of garden vegetables, pumpkins and winter squash.
Marker-Miller was selling its fruit to grocery stores and farmers markets in Northern Virginia for years.
“When people started to call us and ask if they could come out and buy peaches or apples, we would set up a time to meet with them,” McKay said. “As more and more people started to come out to purchase the fruit, we decided that instead of just selling wholesale we should build a farm market here on the farm and start our own retail site.”
The first half of the farm market was built in 2001, followed by the other half three years later. Since then, they’ve added a bigger bakery, a fudge/ice cream room and a meeting room.
John and Carolyn Marker were the driving force for the market expansion and are still very active. McKay was a physical therapist at a local hospital for 16 years, worked part-time at the market for a while then managed it full-time starting in 2014.
“One thing that has helped our business be successful is that we are hands-on every day,” McKay said. “We are in the market working, in the fields gathering the vegetables, talking and interacting with our customers on a daily basis. Our mission is to grow and provide the best quality produce that we can at a reasonable price.”
There is also some education involved, making sure the community realizes the importance of agriculture and the benefits of buying fresh and local.
“Having everything right here on the farm we try to make each visit not only a farm experience but a family experience,” McKay said. “We have wonderful staff members that have been with us for many years and without them we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”