Years of Industry Experience
Best Small Business Honoree
Having just purchased a three-story, old brick building in need of much renovation, Jay and Heather Allen sought out grant opportunities to assist them with funding the updates and guidance on walking through the grant process. The couple’s plan to turn the building into a mix-use space of retail and lodging.
How the SBDC helped
The Allen’s tapped into the services of the Michigan SBDC West Michigan Region for assistance with developing their business concept for the grant application. They were guided through the steps of developing a business plan, researching their market audience and competition, calculating financial projections, devising marketing strategies, and connecting with contractors.
Immediately after purchasing the building, the couple made minor updates to the main floor that is being used as an artisan space. When Market 41 reopened, it grew their dealer space from 17 to 60 and added greater diversity in the products offered. A couple years later, they received a $718,000 grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) for renovations needed to create the Muskegon River Inn –a boutique-style hotel –to be located on the second floor. The Inn is on progress to open in spring/summer 2020.
After more than 20 years of working in the hospitality industry, helping other entrepreneurs to build their dreams, Jay and Heather Allen decided it was time to work on their own. The Allen’s had spent many of those years splitting their time working for tourist-related businesses in Newaygo (MI) and Jackson Hole (WY). Jay operated a guided fly fishing service while Heather worked in hospitality. Together they would plan and execute guided vacations for folks of all ages.
In 2014, the couple realized there was a shortage of available accommodations in Newaygo County (MI), which was becoming a tourist hot spot. Travelers were coming to the area for the vast waterways and public lands in the Huron Manistee National Forest, which covers over half of the county. With only about 130 rooms available, compared to the neighboring county (Lake) that had over 500 rooms, the Allen’s decided to look for an opportunity to add additional lodging.
Within a couple years they found the ideal spot. It was the oldest building in historic downtown Newaygo and the only building to survive a fire that swept through the town in the late 1800’s. With close to 13,000 square feet and three floors, there’s plenty of room to create a unique place for travelers.
The Allen’s launched Guided Life, LLC, in 2017 and purchased the building. The 5,500 square foot main floor had been used as retail space for over a decade but the two remaining floors were unusable. Immediately after purchasing the building, the couple spruced up the retail space and rebranded it as Market 41, which is an upscale artisan space featuring over 60 dealers.
In order to renovate the remaining two floors and the exterior of the building, the couple searched for a grant program that could help. This led them to find a façade grant program through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).
“Without the funds provided by the MEDC, it really wouldn’t be possible to restore the old girl back to the way people remember it,” Jay shared.
While working on their business concept for the grant application the Allen’s connected with a SCORE mentor, who directed them to the Michigan SBDC West Michigan Region. The couple was paired with Business Consultant, Marie Elliot, who guided them through turning their concept into a business plan that included strong market research and accurate financial projections. She also served as a valuable resource for their human resource needs and working with contractors; as well as, being a sounding board for marketing ideas and outreach tactics.
“The grant process is complicated, it took us four years and two grant applications to find the ideal program,” said Heather. “Thankfully we had Marie here to support us through what was needed and when to do it.”
After five years of dreaming, planning, and lots of paperwork, the Allen’s received go ahead to begin construction on the second floor. The 4,300 square foot space will be turned into a seven-room boutique hotel as part of a matching $718,000 façade grant received from the MEDC. The MEDC funds will be used for the exterior of the building, including new bricks, windows, doors, storefront, and fire escape. Their matching funds will be invested in the construction of the hotel. The Muskegon River Inn is slated to open in the spring/summer of 2020.
The renovation of the third floor will have to wait for now. The goal is to add eight rooms on that floor but timing will depend on demand, traffic flow, and funding.
“We are beyond grateful for the ongoing support of the SBDC, without their services we would not be able to build our dream,” expressed Heather. “We are excited to watch the hotel and market grow.”