Pandemic launches sales for local paint company while also keeping small businesses afloat

Dixie Belle Paint becomes top choice for upcycling
Posted at 4:01 PM, Mar 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-08 23:33:03-05

Suzanne Fulford admits she was going through a rough patch eight years ago and needed a hobby to occupy her mind.

She was fascinated with giving a second chance to old furniture but quickly realized the resurfacing, sanding and staining was too tedious. Fulford then wanted to come up with all-purpose paint that brings new life and looks to old furniture and cabinets.

It was in that search to create the perfect chalk mineral paint that turned into Dixie Belle Paint Company in Port Richey.

"There's no sanding, there's no priming. It does great adhesion. It has a nice matte finish. But you can also use it on concrete. You can use it on glass, you can use it on plastic," boasts Fulford like any proud entrepreneur who sees their vision come to light.

Year after year, Dixie Belle grew. It became so popular, before and after photos started circulating on social media. Then YouTube tutorials starting popping up from around the world touting Dixie Belle.

2019 was a record year in sales, and then came COVID-19. Fulford and her 40 employees braced for the unknown, but that unknown never came. Instead, more opportunities came knocking.

"We were just hoping that we would be able to keep everybody employed and keep the doors open but once COVID hit literally the orders started flooding in because everybody was home wanting to do things," says Fulford.

People wanting to pass the time and try their hand at upcycling furniture turned into such a sales rush for Dixie Belle that online orders were backed up for weeks. For anyone at home during quarantine, it meant the only place to get Dixie Belle on the spot were small businesses like Bella Home Market in Lutz.

Lou Malerba said when COVID hit there were days nobody came through the door for his gifts or rustic home decor.

"We first started thinking we would be here 2-3 days a week for an hour or two," says Malerba, who had only been open a few months before the pandemic.

But with quarantine orders in place, Malerba says something remarkable happened. The phone calls came in and he couldn't believe it.

"They were buying our Dixie Belle line and we were doing curbside, porch delivery and for local, we were doing home delivery as well," says Lou.

"It kept us afloat it really did. Dixie Belle is what helped us to maintain our debt. We paid our rent on time every month. We paid our salaries on time. All of our overhead was because we were selling Dixie Belle out the door," says Malerba with a sense of relief in his voice.

Bay area businesses are helping other small businesses rebound out of this pandemic.

"We're family. They're small businesses trying to keep themselves afloat and have their dreams come true," says Fulford.

Dixie Belle then decided, after a record year, now was a good time to give back and help small businesses in a different way.

Dixie Belle is giving out five, $2,021 grants to any small business that applies and has their application chosen among the hundreds of applicants who have already gone online to apply.

If your business is interested, any business type at all, you can apply here.

The following is more information about loans:



  • The Florida High Tech Corridor Project:
    • The Florida High Tech Corridor Council is an economic development initiative of three of the country’s largest research institutions: the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida and the University of Florida. They do help out with grants.
    • So far, they have invested $80 million in matching grant research projects with 425 companies.
  • The Florida SBDC has a lot of resources for people looking to access capital in a variety of ways including grants and loans. They have a video series to help people with that.

Hillsborough County

  • Edi2 Grants:
    • For any company or organization planning a public event that will highlight the tech industry in Hillsborough County. The grants go to putting on the event. It can’t be a networking event, it has to be an event that showcases the city as one that is tech-friendly.

Pinellas County

  • The Grow Smarter Job Creation and Talent Attraction Program awards companies with 49 employees or less that hire new employees at salaries above Pinellas County’s average wage.
    • Companies must be identified within one of the city’s five target industry clusters: Marine and Life Sciences, Specialized Manufacturing, Financial Services, Data Analytics, and Creative Arts and Design.
    • For each new job created at 115% or more of the average county wage, the incentive amount is up to $8,000 per new job.
  • The South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) was established to promote reinvestment in housing and neighborhoods, commercial corridors, business development and education and workforce development within the South St. Petersburg CRA.
  • Resource Help: Clearwater Spark
    • The network helps you explore the most appropriate financing options available and guides and prepares you for the process with classes, one-on-one counseling, and practice pitch sessions. We have access to partners that assist with traditional loans as well as non-traditional financing options such as angel investors and venture capital.

Pasco County

  • Pasco Microloan Program:
    • The Office of Economic Growth and the Pasco Economic Development Council established a community-based microloan fund that acts as a loan source for eligible Pasco County small businesses, including certain types of disadvantaged businesses who often have difficulties accessing credit, such as women-, minority-, veteran- and disabled-business owners.