Pitching for a win: Front Royal businessman wins Entrepreneur Café grand prize

Laura Gomez, of Route 11 Outfitters, stands alongside kayaks at her business located on U.S, Route 11 north of Woodstock. Gomez's business won the People's Choice award at the Entrepreneur Cafe competiiton. Rich Cooley/Daily

Bill Long, owner of Bill Long’s Auto Care Clinic, won the Entrepreneur Café grand prize of $5,000 and a $3,500 marketing package this week at at Lord Fairfax Community College’s Carron Community Development Center.

Long was one of six finalists who made their Shark Tank”-style business pitches on Tuesday to judges on everything from IT solutions to a baking business.

The café awarded the grand prize based on the decision of the event’s six judges: Marilyn Finnemore, owner of Bright Box; Darla Guevremont, owner of Distinctions LLC; John Elrick, SCORE mentor and distinguished toastmaster; Len Capelli, director of the Clarke County Industrial Development Authority; Dennis Dysart, COO and president of First Bank.

Long said the $5,000 will be used to further his small business, a general repair shop in Front Royal that services both foreign and domestic cars. The $3,500 marketing package includes membership to four area chambers of commerce.

“Bill Long’s plan was very solid,” said Elrick. “He demonstrated that he had the revenue streams already coming and he wanted to use the funds for something that’s going to generate immediate revenue for his organization, and that was a major selling point.”

Bill Long, owner of Bill Long's Auto Care Clinic, stands along this slab structure that will part of his addition to his auto repair business off Winchester Road in Front Royal. Long was the $5,000 grand prize winner of the Entrepreneur Cafe competition held this week at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown. He plans use the money to purchase a pair of bay lifts in the new three-bay addition. Rich Cooley/Daily

Part of the contestants’ pitches was their planned use of the winnings.

“I’ve got an expansion going on right now with three bays, and this will pay for a lift and a half pretty much,” said Long. “We need three lifts so that’s going to cover about half of that.”

Long opened his business in 1993 when he was a volunteer firefighter. He has since moved on from firefighting to working at his auto business full time.

Long takes pride in the way he treats his employees and said that’s part of what differentiates him from other garages.

“I wanted to work Monday through Friday so I could enjoy weekends and go to my kids’ games on the weekends, and consequently that’s the schedule my employees work, too,” said Long. “I’m able to attract really good employees; I’m able to attract high-quality mechanics.”

Long also vaunts the work done by his staff.

“We go the extra mile. We listen to the customer complaint,” said Long. “We know what questions to ask so we can more accurately solve their problem. Our diagnoses and repairs are more accurate and a little faster sometimes.”

In addition to keeping his employees happy, Long also values his community.

“I’ve got some employees that depend on and rely on me,” said Long. “We’re paying taxes to the county. It’s good for the community and it’s good for us.”

The Entrepreneur Café also awarded a “people’s choice” award of $750 to Laura Gomez of Route 11 Outfitters, a Woodstock-based, outdoor outfitting company that conducts tube and kayak trips on the Shenandoah River’s North Fork. The company also offers guided hunting and fishing trips.

Gomez says she plans to use the winnings to go toward supplies and equipment for their kids camp, which they began offering this season.

Gomez owns Route 11 Outfitters with her partner Gary Phillips. They have been open for about a year. The unique nature of what Route 11 does gives them an advantage, according to Gomez.

“We currently are the only river outfitter on the North Fork,” Gomez stated in an email on Wednesday. “Prior to us opening, people could come to the area to see the seven bends of the Shenandoah but they didn’t have a way to take advantage of it.”

Route 11 is a family oriented operation.

“We strive to provide a relaxing family oriented experience,” said Gomez. “The goal for our business is to grow and be a positive part of this community. We love that we provide a service that encourages people to get outdoors. We want people to visit the Shenandoah Valley and get to experience all the beauty and serenity that comes with the north fork.”

Both Gomez and Long praised the Entrepreneur Café and the education they received by participating. Long said it was a rewarding experience.

“I didn’t miss a class. I didn’t want to be late for a class. I knew I had a lot to learn, and I still have a lot to learn,” said Long. “I know I don’t know everything and I knew a business plan would be a good idea.”

Gomez said they were honored and humbled to be chosen for the people’s choice award

“It was a great experience to meet and learn about so many organizations that are right here in the valley and the services they provide to help small business owners,” she said.

This was the first time that an event of its kind was held at LFCC and was a success, according to Leslie Currle, business development manager for People Inc., a nonprofit human services agency that co-sponsored the event.

“The Entrepreneur Café Committee has been so passionate and dedicated to raise awareness and bring educational opportunities to promote entrepreneurs in the Valley,” Currle stated in an email. “We are pleased with the level of enthusiasm, professionalism and dedication from the entire group of participants…It is what we had hoped for and we hope to grow this event every year going forward.”

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com