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February 2006 issue

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Return to Virginia Business - March 2005

News & Features

The changing face of Virginia business
Cynthia Gardner
Twist & Turns

by Deborah Nason
Virginia Business

March 2005

Cynthia Gardner is revved up like a race car. Petite and forceful, she is the owner of Twist & Turns, a furniture store and manufacturing operation based in Roanoke. The company is known for its custom-designed metal furniture, etched with precise and striking designs. The store features indoor and outdoor furnishings with a certain look: oversize, eclectic, fanciful and even regal. “Heirlooms waiting to happen,” she says.

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Web Pointers: For more information
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Virginia Department of Business Assistance
U.S. Small Business Administration
Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce


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Sitting on the edge of her chair, Gardner, 55, describes her entrepreneurial journey.

Twist & Turns began as a family business about 15 years ago. “Wood was extraordinarily expensive,” she says, “and metal took off in a big way.” In 1992, the operation moved from a garage to a 1,000-square-foot retail space. Since then, it has grown about tenfold, and a manufacturing facility was established a mile away.

The store’s expansion was a boon not only to Gardner, but also to Roanoke. In 2000, she was a partner in the renovation of an old hotel, The Shenandoah, whose lobby the store now occupies. “The building was a huge eyesore, and the gateway to downtown,” says Phil Sparks, who was the city’s economic development director at the time. “Her store has been a tremendous boost for downtown.”

Success has resulted from a combination of customer service and customization. For instance, Gardner approached local businesses such as the venerable Hotel Roanoke, and asked “Why are you buying your furniture from Mexico? We’re cheaper, and we’re local.”

Gary Walton, Hotel Roanoke’s general manager, enjoys working with Gardner. “She always has a big smile, and provides a tremendous amount of customer service. And their stuff is so interesting. I’ve never seen this type of [merchandise] with other vendors.”

Much of Twist & Turns’ work is custom-made. “If not, we’d be gone,” says Gardner, citing low-price foreign manufacturers. But because of the unique look of the company’s designs, she says competition is “negligible.”
She describes her revenue as “under $4 million” a year, with approximately two-thirds coming from outside the region. A recent $30,000 order for a zoo is typical, encompassing 12 tables, 48 chairs and 12 benches. The manufacturing side has three divisions: retail, commercial and equestrian, which focuses on horse shows. To grow the business, she is looking into licensing designs on certain furniture. Potential growth markets include universities, country clubs and zoos.

Over the years, Gardner says she has had to overcome gender bias. “I’ve had a tremendously difficult time in securing funding,” she says. “I would listen to other people who had lines of credit, and they never had to put up as much collateral as I did. When you have to put up $400,000 to get $50,000, that’s ridiculous.”

Focusing on her vision has enabled her to weather many obstacles: a bout with cancer, a devastating flood, the retail-dampening effects of 9/11, and a fire that destroyed everything in her manufacturing facility. How does she go on? “When you have had so many things happen to you, each time makes you stronger,” she says.

Return to Virginia Business - March 2005

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