Amy Gillespie and partner Jon Curtis opened Good Stuff in the sleepy town of Marshall with a simple idea: They'd stock their shelves with things they and their customers would need if the economy tanked.
With less than $5,000 in startup capital and a tiny space (less than 300 square feet), their marketing strategy for the Madison County health-food/convenience store consisted of a beat-up, hand-painted sandwich board, a couple of ads in the local weekly paper and a Facebook page. But to their surprise, it's worked.
"Like everyone else, we've struggled, not only through the recession but through being new, relatively inexperienced, underfunded entrepreneurs in a town that has been essentially snoozing for the last 30 years or so," says Gillespie about the journey the couple embarked on in 2006. "We actually began paying people to shop in our store!"
The following year, they moved to much bigger digs: a newly renovated former car dealership at the other end of town. And when an adjacent storefront became vacant, Gillespie relocated her tea and gift shop from Hot Springs, knocking out a wall to more than double the space yet again. And in the process, they added an old upright converted player piano along with items their customers had requested, such as Spam and tofu.
"Our monthly sales began to level off in 2009, and we are still unable to survive without side jobs," Gillespie explains. "We decided to make some pretty major changes to Good Stuff." After a weak Christmas season, the two took a rare day off and dismantled the entire store. "We moved all the grocery shelves and coolers and freezers into the gift-shop side, started getting rid of a lot of gift items and grocery items that never sold very well, and turned the old grocery-store section into a performance space for music, poetry and film."
A referendum the previous year had approved beer and wine sales, so they decided to add a bar. "By Friday of that first week, we were ready to have our first event: a very well-attended open mic night. The next week, we started having bands play in the space, and since then we have had live music with no cover almost every weekend," Gillespie notes. Good Stuff also provides space for group meetings, dances and talks, and this year, they hosted an indoor artists market on Valentine's Day. More recently, they've added a Wednesday-afternoon tailgate market featuring local farmers and artists, and a small café.
"The changes we made at the beginning of the year had an immediate and positive effect on our sales," she notes. Gillespie and Curtis attribute their success to a few simple principles: flexibility, basing business decisions on what locals (as opposed to tourists) want, community outreach, appreciating their customers— and making profit a secondary measure of success.
"If something doesn't work, change it, as fast as you can," counsels Gillespie. "And don't let fear stop you from trying something new. Don't be afraid to make small mistakes."
But what about that last idea, the one about success? "If doing this didn't ultimately make us really happy — at least most days," she adds with a smile, "All the money in the world wouldn't mean a thing. Having a business seems a lot like having a kid," she continues. "You may not like it all the time, but you love it. And you know in your heart the emotional payoff is well worth all the sacrifices."
For more information, visit http://goodstuffgrocery.com.
Mr. Landlord to visit Asheville
The Carolinas Real Estate Investors Association, a nonprofit association dedicated to providing networking opportunities and education to real estate investors in Western North Carolina, will host nationally known expert Jeffrey Taylor Saturday, May 15, in the Haynes Building on A-B Tech's Enka campus.
The author of several best-selling books and founder of MrLandlord.com, Taylor will cover such topics as finding qualified tenants, getting them to leave property in move-in condition, and increase monthly cash flow when filling vacancies.
You can register online for the three-hour seminar ($30 CREIA members, $50 nonmembers, additional $10 for spouses) at http://creianc.org; same-day registration begins at 8:15 a.m. on May 15. For more information, contact Neal (768-5498; e-mail: email@example.com).
Project Give Back supports local school
Ken Gaylord Architects and Black Hawk Construction of Hendersonville have kicked off a special promotion called Project Give Back, offering to provide a free design and/or building service to a qualifying nonprofit at no charge. "We know that many nonprofits are struggling with fundraising in this difficult economy," Gaylord explains.
The winner, The Mountain Community School in Hendersonville, edged assorted candidates in Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina. "As a charter school, it does not receive any facilities funding from the county or state," notes Chris Kaselak, Black Hawk's general manager. "Their facilities needs are considerable. Combine this with their mission to provide the best learning environment for children, and it makes them an ideal fit for Project Give Back."
Several other companies have volunteered to contribute to the project, including T.P. Howard's Plumbing, Landmark Painting, Brogden Drywall, Stickels Heating and Alliance Electric. Work at the school is expected to begin this month and continue during the summer break.
Mincozzi named Downtown Association's new executive director
The Asheville Downtown Association has hired Joe Minicozzi as its interim executive director. He'll be responsible for overall operations, serve as ambassador for both downtown businesses and residents, and pursue opportunities to further the group's mission as the voice of the downtown community.
With extensive experience in urban planning and design as well as project management, Minicozzi will lead the nonprofit's efforts to develop a more sustainable management system for downtown and make it cleaner and greener. "Community involvement is pretty much my hobby, and community design is my passion and profession, making heading up the ADA a great fit," Minicozzi notes.
"Joe brings a wealth of knowledge to our organization as an urban planner, Harvard graduate and through his community involvement," adds Downtown Association President Byron Greiner. "The ADA is making a real commitment to downtown with this appointment as we move closer to achieving the goals and initiatives outlined in the Asheville Downtown Master Plan."
To learn more about the Asheville Downtown Association, go to http://ashevilledowntown.org.
Richardson named to credit union board
The Local Government Federal Credit Union, a statewide organization with more than $1 billion in assets, has announced the appointment of Black Mountain resident Al Richardson as vice chair of its board of directors. Richardson, the former Black Mountain town manager, is a charter member of the credit union. The board's nine members receive no compensation, donating their time and effort.
Send your business news to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Michael Muller at 251-1333, ext. 154.