Avalon Dudinsky and Aaron Wilhite share a lot in common – they’re both Troy University marketing majors, both juniors and both serve in the Student Government Association.
They’re also both small business owners, and they recently put their minds together, with the help of TROY’s Small Business Development Center, to launch a website for Dudinsky’s unique all-purpose seasoning.
Dudinsky, a Panama City native, worked during her high school years at Howell Tackle Supply, where she met Stan Cooper, a part-time store worker and charter boat captain.
In addition to his full-time job, Cooper had developed an all-purpose seasoning, Stan’s Stuff, that he bottled and distributed to his customers and a few Panama City stores.
The seasoning was popular locally, but Cooper and his wife, Georgia, decided to retire in 2014. That’s when Dudinsky stepped in.
“They had some more seasoning left, but once they retired, they weren’t going to make anymore, so once it was gone, it was gone,” Dudinsky said. “In the summer of 2015, I went back to work and tons of people came into the store trying to buy as much of Stan’s Stuff as we had, because we were the last place that had any.”
Dudinsky had a plan, but she needed some help putting it together, so she went to the SBDC and got the advice she was looking for.
The TROY SBDC provides free consulting to help new entrepreneurs evaluate their business ideas and existing businesses remain competitive in today’s global marketplace.
“After meeting with Avalon, I knew that she would be a success,” said Judy Callin, director of the SBDC. “She just needed to know the steps to make a reasonable offer, acquire the business and understand legalities in selling a food product. We helped her develop her business plan (and) shared different marketing strategies.”
Dudinsky approached Cooper with an offer to buy the rights to Stan’s Stuff, and Cooper, with whom Dudinsky had become close, quickly agreed.
“He was very happy to do that. We have a great friendship, and he’s always been very helpful with the little bumps in the road I’ve come across,” Dudinsky said.
But today, it’s not enough to have a local presence for your product. A website is a necessity for a small business looking to grow.
Wilhite’s passion is photography, but along the way he’s picked up skills in videography, graphic design and web design.
After a few years of designing websites for free, a fraternity brother suggested he begin charging for his services.
Wilhite and Dudinsky, who had already been classmates and acquaintances, were about to become business associates.
“I had met Aaron in a class before but never really spoke to him, although I knew he did website design,” Dudinsky said. “What happened was I was at the SBDC and (SBDC senior advisor) Betsy Baker said, ‘You need someone to work with you on a design, and we have another student who needs somebody to let them work on a website.’ They connected us so he could use his talents for my project and we could work together to create something really beautiful and help both of our businesses out.”
For Wilhite, the arrangement was a natural fit. He could elevate his portfolio while helping another small business owner grow.
“Collaboration is essential to any business,” he said. “You have to humble yourself and be at the bottom of the totem pole, and from there you can grow. I saw Avalon as a catalyst for that, where we could both grow. I also loved her seasoning.”
The two collaborated on a website, but the partnership didn’t end there.
“I made her that website last fall, and she said, ‘Let’s go farther than that,’” Wilhite said. “I told her that social media uses videos as the highest rated material that shows up, and I said, ‘You need a video.’ We took a whole day down in Panama City, and we ended up coming out with a 30-second advertisement and a two-minute 30-second documentary about her seasoning.”
The shared spirit of entrepreneurship between the two TROY students brought them together, and it’s a sign of what can be accomplished when small business owners put their minds together.
“What a great opportunity for both of them,” Callin said. “It gave Aaron a chance to build his portfolio to show potential clients as well as make some money and it helped Avalon out at an affordable price. It was definitely a win-win situation.”
Dudinsky hopes to see Stan’s Stuff distribution continue to grow, as it’s already in stores like the Piggly Wiggly in Troy, seafood markets in Dothan, Marianna, Fla., and Panama City, and even a hardware store.
The eventual goal is to become a national brand, she said, with a variety of different flavors.
Wilhite, meanwhile, is focusing on his company, Aaron Wilhite Productions, where he focuses on his passions of photography and videography.
“My dad gave me some wise words: Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” he said. “I love photography. My ultimate goal is to just live off of this business. If I can’t, though, the portfolio’s there.”
Dudinsky said any students looking to start a business should contact the SBDC.
“Go use the SBDC, because they’re an awesome resource,” she said. “They’re great to bounce ideas off of, and they help with everything from marketing to writing a business plan to accounting and how to file taxes, all these things you might not think of. They’re a hidden gem in TROY’s system.”