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The sign on the door encourages customers to "Waft on in" to the newly-opened Main Street Bel Air business. Inside, you'll find owners Wendy and Marc Mills, who'd always considered opening a shop of their own and had been searching for a concept that would gel with their passion and interests. The answer came after Wendy visited a pour-your-own candle shop in Michigan. She began researching the idea and found a store that offered a partner program that allowed businesses to be independently owned and operated while utilizing a similar blueprint and their best practices.

Wendy and Marc learned about the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) during a Lender's Lounge event at Harford Community College in last May. Lender's Lounge is an SBDC-sponsored event where business owners can engage one-on-one with lenders to discuss their business growth plans and financing options. A few weeks later, the Mills became clients of Ryan Del Gallo at the SBDC, with assistance from HCC intern Armond Edmonds, to pursue their dream of opening Aroma Candle Studio in downtown Bel Air.

Wendy and Marc first met with the SBDC to discuss necessary start-up tasks including business planning, filing an entity, financing, franchise policies, marketing, and selecting a location for the business. They had never before owned a business and knew they had much to learn. "Ryan provided us with the guidance and advice we needed to make smart business decisions related to opening our store. He was extremely supportive and responsive throughout the entire process," said Wendy. While they encountered many challenges including knowing who to contact for various required permits, constantly following up on submitted paperwork, and finding all the local resources available for the assistance they needed, they always looked at these issues as learning opportunities that led to the successful opening of their shop.

They returned to the SBDC for a follow-up session to finalize their business plan and financial projections for loan packaging. The couple pursued a loan with Freedom Federal Credit Union, secured a location at 18 South Main Street, Bel Air, and in late November 2019, opened for business!

Aroma Candle Studio specializes in a pour-your-own candle experience. With over 80 fragrances to choose from such as Baked Bread and Key Lime, customers enjoy the unique opportunity to create their own custom-scented home and body products. Patrons begin by browsing Aroma's scent wall and compiling a list of their favorites. After selecting a product such as a candle, reed diffuser or aromatic mist, customers sit down at the fragrance bar and work with a scent consultant to select two or three scents from their list that will blend perfectly together. Once the customer is satisfied with their mix of scents, they combine them into their own one-of-a-kind product.

Customer service is the top priority. Says Marc, "We want every single customer to feel that they were given the highest level of attention and leave feeling positive about their experience."

Maryland Small Business Development Center

The SBDC offers free, individualized consulting to aspiring entrepreneurs or existing business owners in Maryland, from start-ups to established businesses. It also offers comprehensive training programs for those just thinking about starting a business to executive training, with most classes at low to no cost. The network provides Maryland small business owners with access to trusted business advisors with experience in starting and growing businesses.

The Northern Region of the Maryland SBDC serves Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Cecil Counties from several regional offices; the office that serves Harford County is located at Harford Community College in Bel Air. Business assistance services are also available at a second Harford County site at The GroundFloor on Rt. 40 in Havre de Grace, where they are co-located along with their funding partner, the Harford County Office of Community and Economic Development.

Since 1988, the seasoned staff of the Maryland Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network has provided sound advice, consulting and support to entrepreneurs and small businesses across the state. The Maryland SBDC Network is part of the national SBDC network founded in 1979 that helps more than 500,000 U.S. businesses annually.

New at Harford: SBDC Series 1: Introduction to Digital Marketing for Business and Series 2: Business Basics – An Entrepreneurship Overview

Harford Community College, in partnership with the SBDC, is offering two series of courses for the aspiring or new small business owner. The first series, offered on four consecutive Tuesdays from 3 to 4:30 beginning April 7 is an introduction to the world of digital marketing including courses such as Digital Marketing 101, Diving into Facebook, Diving into Google, and Data Driven Marketing–Creating a Recipe for Success.

Series 2, offered Tuesdays from 6 to 7:30 p.m. beginning April 7, covers a variety of topics regarding starting a business and building an idea into a successful company. Courses include Ready, Set, Go–The Nuts and Bolts of Turning Ideas into Opportunities, Smart Start Your Business–An Evening with the Experts, The Business Model Canvas–Painting a Picture of Your Business, and Demystifying Business Plans.

For more information, call 443-412-2440 or email training@harford.edu. For course details, click here.

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