Brenda Nolby, owner of Jam Hops gymnastics, has been named the 2018 Minnesota Small Business Person of the year!
According to the Small Business Administration website, the Small Business Person of the Year is selected based on growth in sales or unit volume, an increase in the number of employees, financial strength, innovativeness of products or services offered and evidence of contributions to community-oriented projects. Along with all the criteria, Nolby’s efforts to create a thriving business and improve lives in her community outshone all other applicants. She was nominated by the Ham Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, of which she is the current president.
Jam Hops Gymnastics Factory, Inc., in Ham Lake, Minn., is in the business of transforming children’s lives, strengthening their future and improving their community. The business offers many opportunities including youth classes and competitive programs for gymnastics and dance, cheer-leading and ninja classes, an academic preschool and a theater program. These provide families with activities that are beneficial for the over-all development of children. They are continuously seeking out ways to further engage with children and use the various talents of the staff to their fullest potential.
"At Jam Hops we work to transform the lives of children to strengthen their future and improve our community,” said Nolby. “We're very much NOT a ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ organization. We don’t believe in settling on good enough, which has helped us stay flexible to the changing needs of our customers. This mentality has been the main contributor to our growth and development of Jam Hops many programs."
Jam Hops was started in 1997 with the merger of two gymnastics programs and from there grew rapidly, adding a second location for the dance program in 2005, and then a third location for gymnastics and cheerleading teams in 2014. Nolby started working with Jam Hops in the early 1990’s as a competitive gymnastics coach, bought out one partner in 2000, and then the other to become the sole owner in 2013.
Consolidating locations with a loan from Flagship Bank
As Nolby looked to prepare her business for the future, she was in need of a creative bank to provide a structure that would meet her business’s needs. Upon a referral from a local real estate broker, she met with Randy Schultz, Vice President at the Ramsey branch of Flagship Bank. Schultz met several times with Nolby and through great communication successfully structured a transaction to move forward. In 2017, Flagship Bank became a financing partner on the new construction and SBA 504 loan financing of a 43,000 SF facility to consolidate locations.
In late 2017, the new world-class facility was completed. The facility includes 25,000 square feet of main gymnasium that contains three spring floors, multiple training pits, and four trampolines, a 200 stall parking lot, and a pro shop. Since moving into their new facility, Jam Hops has experienced growth of over 30% and now has over 1,300 youth enrolled in classes every week.
All facets of the SBA 504 financing program were completed as proposed. Permanent financing is now in place that provides 50% of the mortgage financing at a fixed rate for 5 years, and under the SBA 504 loan program, 40% of the mortgage financing at a fixed rate for 20 years. Subsequently, Flagship Bank again provided a flexible financing plan for Brenda on the Lincoln Street building that has allowed her to sell the building.
The Challenges of Entrepreneurship
This is not to say that Nolby didn’t have her struggles. When the recession hit in 2007, Jam Hops felt the impact when people's flexible income for things like gymnastics became one of the first things to go as families were struggling to keep their homes and put food on the table. Enrollment dropped by over half. However, Jam Hops continued to have strong programming and dedicated staff under Nolby’s leadership. By 2009, Nolby stopped paying herself a regular salary. Nolby and her husband tightened their finances at home as they went without her income. She struggled with the thought of closing Jam Hops so she could find work to have a steady income; but she couldn't envision telling the hundreds of kids still coming that the programs were canceled, or telling over 40 of her staff members that they no longer had a job. Nolby and her husband took out a second mortgage on their house and opened an additional line of credit, which got them through until 2011 when things finally turned around. She knew the work they were doing at Jam Hops was important and made a positive impact on the kids in all the programs, giving up wasn’t an option for Nolby.
The company was able to pay its bills on time through it all. The experience helped teach Nolby more about keeping track of finances and she was constantly keeping a very good eye on the payroll, supplies, and equipment expenses.
Supporting her community
Going through the recession also brought new respect from staff who now knew they can trust her to be there for them no matter what. And the gratitude she felt toward her community, which had supported her in ways big and small, inspired her to start "Jam Hops Gives Back" with donations and services to local organizations. Since starting the campaign in 2013, it has donated almost $64,000 and hundreds of birthday parties to local organizations to help in their fundraising efforts, and thousands of pounds of food and clothing to the local food shelf.
A few other ways they support their community include: helping families in need by providing scholarships for children to take classes, helping keep the community clean by volunteering in the Adopt-a-Highway program, and having their dancers spend time with the elderly in nursing home visits where they do a performance and share cookies and conversation. Competitive gymnasts and dancers also donate time at Feed My Starving Children each year. Nolby has been able to participate in a mission trip to Haiti and she and her husband support five children in Haiti and Africa.
Flagship Bank is proud to have played a small role in Nolby’s journey and congratulate her on all her success!