The Biz: WNC Business Briefs

Puzzle solved

Yet another homegrown Asheville business has found a creative way to turn adversity into something special. Ben Biber, the founder and president of BZ Kids, saw that local schools were hurting for basic educational supplies — and teachers were using their own money to buy them.

Puzzled: First grader Makayla Brown, 7, plays with a puzzle designed to teach children the alphabet. She attends Emma Elementary School in Asheville. Photo by Michael Muller

BZ Kids makes custom puzzles, coloring books and trading cards, so Biber turned to Alan Sheppard, the colorful and very successful owner of Alan's Jewelry & Pawn.

Sheppard donated enough money to provide all 2,500 Buncombe County preschoolers with puzzles designed to help them learn the alphabet. "The response was overwhelming," says sales rep Dale Godfrey. "The instructors loved it and the school board loved it. It's a simple concept, but it really keeps the kids engaged."

In a struggling economy, however, it's been hard to find sponsors for additional projects. "We'd love for other businesses who share our passion about children and their education to get involved," notes Biber. "There's still plenty of need."
For more information, call Dale Godfrey at 252-3477 or visit the BZ Kids Web site at http://bzkids.net.

A bottle capitalist

Critter Magazine Publisher Elaine Lite has helped her daughter, UNCA mass communications major Rachael Fisher, turn their mutual passion for recycling into a thriving new business: Repurposing old bottle caps and magazine art as fashionable earrings. "Rachael was traveling out west and ran out of money," Lite reveals with a grin. "She literally woke up one day and thought of this." Fisher started collecting bottle caps from restaurants where she worked and fishing old magazines out of trash bins. The response was positive, so she launched an Etsy site to peddle her wares.

Lite got involved when her daughter was asked to do a holiday craft show here while both Fisher and her inventory were still out west. "So here I am, all by myself, needing to produce 100 pairs of earrings in a week for this thing," says Lite. "So I ended up with an assembly line operation in my kitchen. It was hysterical."

Lite put out a call for materials on Facebook and struck pay dirt. "Wouldn't you know — a friend of mine happened to be collecting bottle caps for a project, and she donated them to me instead. And I'm talking bags and buckets of bottle caps," she recalls, laughing.

The craft show went well, and they decided to open a booth at the new Downtown Market on South French Broad, where they sell earrings and assorted other funky items Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. "The market is really bustling; it's a colorful place with great energy," notes Lite.
For more information, visit http://bellabijou.net.

We car

George Pfeiffer has discovered the secret of success, and he'll share it with anyone who's ready to listen. "In a world that's way too fast, you need to slow down and build relationships, so your customers become your friends," he counsels. "And it's all about giving back to the community," adds Pfeiffer, who donates 10 percent of his profits to local charities.

After moving here from Florida, Pfeiffer opened U-Save Car & Truck Rental in August 2008 with a mere five cars and very little startup money. But his philosophy has already landed him big contracts with the city of Asheville, UNCA, Montreat College and Highland Brewing Co. He now commands a fleet of more than 100 vehicles, and despite the rough economy, he added locations at the Asheville Regional Airport and in Hendersonville last year.

"The world doesn't stop turning," says Pfeiffer. "It just means you have to work harder and knock on a few more doors."

He's also committed to a profit-sharing plan for key employees. "You treat the people who work with you right and it comes back a hundredfold," he maintains.

And though Pfeiffer is a fairly recent arrival, his father served as president of United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County 20 years ago. "My dad taught me that we are all responsible for taking care of one another," he notes.

That sense of community, says Pfeiffer, is why he and his family chose to settle here: "In Asheville, your word is still your bond. Most bigger cities have lost that."
For more information, go to http://usaveash.com.

Black Business Alliance is listening

Mountain BizWorks' Black Business Alliance wants input to guide the group in preparing an upcoming workshop for black-owned businesses. The alliance aims to provide the resources, tools and networking opportunities to help local black entrepreneurs prosper.

The meeting will be held Monday, April 19, from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Asheville-Buncombe Institute of Parity Achievement, 39-A S. Market St. in Asheville.

[For more information, contact Naomi Langsner (253-2834, ext. 11; e-mail: naomi@mountainbizworks.org).]

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