When a University of Georgia Small Business Development Center (UGA SBDC) business card landed on  their booth table at the Augusta Market on the River, something told Freshwater Design Co. owners Brianne Martin and Dani Harmadi to hold on to it.

And the sisters did for about three years before they put it to use.

At that time, the pair was working out of Harmadi’s home, making wood-burned wall art and leather accessories using pyrography techniques. After years of vending at large art festivals in the Southeast, they decided to enter the wholesale market with their line of leather accessories. As their wholesale orders increased, Martin and Harmadi were quickly outgrowing their workspace. Keychains, drinkware, jewelry, home décor and elevated branded goods took up every room in the home, and the two knew they needed a larger location. Ideally, they wanted a brick-and-mortar location large enough to include an open concept studio and shop so the local community could see Freshwater’s small team handcrafting all their goods while also shopping.

“We were at a point where we were growing quickly and we didn’t know how to manage it,” said Martin. “We didn’t know how to get funding and didn’t have a business plan.”

Sister Entrepreneurs Use UGA SBDC to Guide Business Growth

They remembered the UGA SBDC business card and found Rebecca Mixson, business consultant at the UGA SBDC in Augusta.

Mixson helped Martin and Harmadi focus on a business plan and projections to include in a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan application. Their work paid off and they were able to secure the funds to move their operation into a building in downtown Augusta that was large enough to accommodate their production space as well as retail.

Mixson also encouraged the sisters to take a deeper dive into their business goals, helping them understand the cash flow of their business so they could set reasonable expectations for growth.

“Rebecca gave us exercises that were super helpful and pivotal,” said Harmadi. “They set us up to meet manageable goals and tactics on how to reach them, and made them more attainable by putting data and numbers behind it. She really helped us navigate the numbers part of the business.”

Through in-store retail, online sales and wholesale, Freshwater diversified its client base to create more cashflow stability. After entering the wholesale market, sales doubled in one year and the team grew from two to eight employees. Now Martin and Harmadi are looking toward retail expansion and rebranding the company.

“We hope the rebrand can propel us to a new level of what we can bring in,” said Martin. “We love the interaction with people in our store and seeing what they like. It’s very helpful for us to use that information to know what to bring to wholesale and our retailers.”

Since putting the SBDC resources to use, Harmadi and Martin have shared the benefits with other small business owners in their network.

“A lot of business owners wear so many hats, but they might not be good at or enjoy all of the tasks. They have the talent, but may need help writing a business plan, looking at the numbers or any of the other tasks that make a business run. And that’s where the UGA SBDC is such a good resource. Making a successful career from just your talent is hard to do if you don’t know everything you need to know about running a business.”

Brianne Martin,
co-owner of Freshwater Designs

Freshwater Studio + Shop is located at 1022 Broad St. Augusta, GA and are open every day, except Sundays. You can also shop 24/7 online at www.shopfreshwater.com or become a wholesale retailer via Faire.

For More Information: University of Georgia SBDC | (706) 542-2762