Somewhere, on acres upon acres of hills in Hardy, Virginia, there are fields of fluffy alpacas enjoying the Southern summer sun. They’re roaming the farm of Smith Mountain Lake Farm Alpacas, to be exact!
The Martinelli-Pratley family, who owns Smith Mountain Lake Farm Alpacas and US Alpaca Company & Boutique, relocated to Smith Mountain Lake in 2010 with their 23 alpacas to bring one of the finest fibers in the world to Southwest Virginia. Today, they own and host a herd of over 70 alpacas, provide tours of their farms up to three times daily, and distribute luxury clothing, pillows, and accessories locally and around the country.
Bringing a Three-Pronged, International Business to Rural Southwest Virginia
Formerly a professor at the University of Connecticut, Robbin Martinelli had a strong desire to find something new that would be less impacted by the high tax rates of the North. That’s when she discovered alpaca farming! Alpacas are considered tax deductible. Therefore, as an incentive to grow the presence of alpacas in the United States, and therefore grow the textile industry, owning and insuring alpacas can be written off as a tax deduction each year. Simply put, Robbin had stumbled across a brilliant business model that would not only provide the fulfilling work of agriculture and animal care but a route to building a solid business with a variety of revenue streams.
“When we decided to move from Connecticut, we looked for a place that has agriculture, commerce, tourism, but still had that hometown feel!” says Robbin. “Smith Mountain Lake really had that special mix we were looking for.”
Smith Mountain Lake is a unique melting pot of natives from the pre-lake era and those who have that have relocated from all over the country to live a simpler, lake-paced lifestyle. It’s proved to be the perfect “breeding ground” for Smith Mountain Lake Farm Alpacas and, in turn, US Alpaca Company.
The business is unique in that they have a wide variety of revenue streams. While the team at HomeTown Bank readily helps Robbin Martinelli manage the different financial facets of the business, it’s easy to lose track of everything they have spinning, so we’ll break it down for you!
Smith Mountain Lake Farm Alpacas is the locally-based business that attracts individuals from all over the country to visit their alpaca farm in Hardy, Virginia. This is where the heard of over 70 alpacas have the opportunity to frolic and meet plenty of curious people. Tourists have the opportunity to learn about alpacas, the alpaca fiber industry, and interact with these sweet creatures by feeding, petting, and even snapping a few photos with them! The alpacas that live on the farm are from some of the top alpaca bloodlines in the world, primarily imported from Peru. Essentially, they’re the alpaca version of Secretariat’s (the horse) progeny! They’re also the source of fiber that the Martinelli’s use for their other business.
The US Alpaca Company is a national brand that designs and sells luxurious clothing, accessories, and pillows! Fibers from a sheared alpaca are able to make apparel that is half the weight of wool, three times warmer than wool, and seven times stronger! This fiber can be made into silky-soft, but durable fabrics; everything from scarves to socks, sweaters, and coats. Because the alpaca fiber is light, fluffy, and they make great hypoallergenic pillows, too!
“Most pillows have toxins in them that can cause severe allergies and health conditions,” says Robbin. “When I discovered that you could make healthy, organic, toxin-free pillows with alpaca fiber, I was sold! ”
The tachmana alpaca pillow is sold to customer nationwide.
You can purchase US Alpaca Company products on their website or at their storefront, the US Alpaca Company Boutique, in Westlake. (Right around the corner from your local HomeTown Bank branch!) Here, they sell all of their finest products along with a few hand-selected brands from around the country, Peru, and Ireland. Just a few of their favorites are organic bedding sheets to go along with your alpaca pillow, goat’s milk products, Vermont maple syrup, and imported cotton fabrics from their friends in Peru!
Growing Community Roots with a Community Bank
Moving a business to a new town isn’t always the easiest, but with a warm, welcoming community and friendly faces at HomeTown Bank, Smith Mountain Lake Farm and US Alpaca Company have flourished.
“Our farm is fiber to fashion. One of the things we love about working with HomeTown Bank is that, like us, they reach out to their customers to educate them on the things that matter,” says Robbin.
Robbin works with eight other designers and showcases the new designs each year at her annual fashion show. Going on it’s eighth year, which includes her daughters, at the Westlake Country Club.
While the US Alpaca Company designs their products here in the US, they are made in Peru and returned to the United States and to Southwest Virginia to be redistributed into the local economy and the nation. Because the company does business internationally, there are a lot of ways the HomeTown Bank helps them facilitate that process. While you may not think of a local bank having the products and services to help with international trade, we do have most of the services you can find at a larger bank.
“Sometimes I have to transfer money around the world for international sales and transactions and I feel very confident doing that with HomeTown Bank.” says Robbin. “We’re also looking to take the next step in our business with some big plans coming up. We recently purchased some land in Westlake near our store and plan to get HomeTown Bank’s help with moving forward on the next project we have planned.”
One of the other ways that HomeTown Bank and Robbin and her husband, Jay Pratley, are similar is their desire to give back to their community. Like HomeTown Bank, much of the money that comes through their businesses makes it back into the community. Smith Mountain Lake Farm Alpacas, and the US Alpaca Company make a point to give to approximately 100 different local organizations a year. They support programs from Lake Christian Ministries to the local Boy Scouts as a way of showing their appreciation to such a welcoming community.
Needless to say, the alpaca farm and fiber business has brought people from all over the country to our sweet little corner of Southwest Virginia on Smith Mountain Lake, and for that, we are eternally thankful to have Robbin Martinelli and Jay Pratley as HomeTown Bank customers!