STRASBURG — To save more wear and tear on himself, Neal Jacob quit his information technology career and decided to rescue everyday items from the wear and tear of daily use.
For years, Jacob drove from his home in Front Royal to Northern Virginia as a matter of course for his job. The trek from the valley to the city was wearing him and his car down, he said. To get away, he made a change, taking jobs closer to home but with less prestige — and a smaller paycheck.
Working in customer service, bouncing everywhere from Target to an Amazon warehouse, Jacob decided it was time for another change. He said his cousin had been pestering him to step away from the edge and start his own business.
In May, Jacob said he decided to take his cousin up on his offer and spent a week learning about the tool sharpening business.
To help him get started, Jacob’s cousin gave him most of the equipment he needed so he didn’t need to start from scratch.
After a week of training in Philadelphia, Jacob came back to town and got ready to set up shop for his Neal Sharpens business. He posted in Facebook groups that he was open for business and soon struck up a relationship with the Strasburg Farmers Market. Every Saturday, Jacob sets up his tools in the pavilion, sharpening all kinds of items ranging from knives to lawnmower blades. The only thing he won’t touch, he said, are hair-cutting shearers. He said he needs more experience before he trusts himself with those.
“You have to have some know-how for hair-cutting shearers,” Jacob said. “Hair-cutting shearers cost a couple of hundred dollars so in sharpening them, you have to know what you’re doing.”
His launch as a small business owner has been successful, Jacob said, and the reception from locals and the support for his business has been outstanding. Still, one thing is getting in his way of thriving and expanding.
Jacob doesn’t have a storefront. Every day he has to load up his small 2008 Honda Civic with his tools and rely on the location he goes to if he wants to work rather than setting the terms himself.
As business began to pick up and his limited hours began to grate, Jacob saw an opportunity. Mercedes Benz and Inc Magazine are hosting a competition that caters to small businesses that might benefit from a new van. For Jacob, the competition was a godsend.
Jacob just met the deadline, submitting his application about a week before the window closed.
Jacob found out he was a finalist for the grand prize — a 2019 Mercedes Benz Sprinter van — last month.
Now he is pitted against three other businesses for the prize, scratching for who can receive the most votes until the competition closes on Oct. 12.
Melding his two careers, Jacob set up a website to direct customers to that will allow them to vote for him. Voters, Jacob said, can vote an unlimited number of times between now and Oct. 12.
If he wins, Jacob said he plans to outfit the van, turning it into a mobile workshop so he isn’t constrained to farmers markets and back rooms in restaurants.