2020 Watauga County Business of the Year
Presented by Watauga County EDC & Skyline National Bank
The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce its winners of the 2020 Business of the Year Awards. The winners were unveiled on Thursday, January 28th, 2021 during the 5th Annual High Country Economic Kickoff Event, presented by Peak Insurance Group with additional sponsorship support from 4 Forty Four, Allen Wealth Management, and Skyline National Bank.
The awards were sponsored by the Watauga County Economic Development Commission. Nominations were submitted by Chamber and community members with winners selected by the Chamber’s Business Development committee. The Chamber received 41 total nominations of 28 High Country businesses.
Businesses were awarded based on criteria that includes staying power, growth in sales and/or workforce, innovative products and services, strong response to adversity, contributions to community-oriented projects, and use of local resources in business operations.
Small Business: Local Lion
The word community means different things to different people. It’s a place you live, it’s the company you keep, and it’s a place when you can draw inspiration. When normalcy erodes and people seek a familiar bond to halt the chaos, community can be the settling force.
As the pandemic changed the course of reality, Local Lion clung to the spirit of community impact.
“We talked early on with our staff about making the decision not to be negative,” said owner Josiah Davis. “I told them we must make a decision to have hope, to spread hope, and to just do our best. Regardless of what happens six months from now, whether we make it or not, we are going to make a decision right now to go forward positively.”
Local Lion saw steady traffic through its drive-thru window, with customers seeking the normalcy of a cup of coffee and a fresh-made doughnut. The business saw the impact of the intentional acts of local residents, purchasing gift cards and bulk coffee, just to “help us make it.” As volume increased through the drive-thru, Davis and his team thought about businesses whose doors were closed and worked to connect those local merchants with customers.
“After a few months, my wife Meredith thought about the businesses that were not able to get to market because they were still closed. We set up pop-up markets, where people could drive through our line and get goods from a variety of local businesses, everything from candles, local potters, Easter baskets, to flowers. We did not charge these businesses for the space and we did not take any of their sales. It was such a beautiful moment to see customers pulling up in our drive-thru to buy products from these businesses that would be closed otherwise.”
Retooling operations led to a reimagining of space for Local Lion. While the interior storefront was closed, Davis and team embarked on a significant renovation project, preparing for the return of customers in a pandemic-world, but also making necessary and desired changes to the store with minimal impact. Even with changes to their normal operations, and thanks in part to strong community support, Local Lion finished 2020 a full 30% ahead of previous year sales.
Even with success at the register, Local Lion’s greatest impact continues to be focused on their community support. They continued their annual Doughnut Day fundraiser, earning $2,500 for the Middle Fork Greenway in just one day of concentrated sales. They served as a voice of advice and council for new businesses that were opening doors during the pandemic, along with businesses that were struggling to deal with COVID-induced realities. In the midst of national unrest over racial inequality, Local Lion reached out to support positive dialogue with the Boone Police Department and pastoral community. They also connected and supported a black owned coffee shop in Ferguson Missouri which focuses on racial reconciliation.
“We find 2021 starting out much different than the year prior,” said Davis. “We are pursuing the same vision, although it has been reorganized on many levels. We aspire people to help “conquer their mountains.” We are thankful and I believe we are stronger and more tight knit than ever.”
Other nominees (compiled from information submitted from businesses during the selection process):
828 Real Estate – Local Real Estate business saw continued growth in 2020, with three new staff members hired to help the firm achieve $33M in sales while helping 121 families buy or sell property. Each staff member volunteers time with a local non-profit organization, and the company seeks local vendors and businesses to feature when communicating information about the area to new clients. They bring each customer expert insight of the local area, with each full-time broker also living in the area, thus providing a locally-driven perspective.
Go Postal in Boone – Worked with local restaurants and businesses on quickly addressing signage needs during the shutdown, waved rush fees and dropped art production fees to help make necessary changes as affordable as possible. They worked with Boone Drug, Inc, to label and distribute locally made hand sanitizer and quickly became a distribution option of PPE to local businesses that struggled to get supplies from their regular vendors.
High Country Souvenirs – Local clothing and souvenir shop was one of the first adopters of curbside product delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. A quick pivot to online sales and social media marketing helped the business surpass its 2019 gross sales numbers. A longtime supporter of local businesses and non-profits, they served as a sales point for local product producers and continued their charitable giving to various non-profit organizations.
Jack’s Glass – Sent home all work crews, with pay, at the onset of COVID-19, to keep their families as safe as possible. Once crews returned to work, staff adhered to a mandatory “mask-up,” policy and reworked customer interactions to limit face-to-face customer interactions. The business continues its growth as a supplier to local construction crews throughout the High Country and continued its donation of product to those experiencing economic hardships as well as monetary and volunteer support to various non-profit agencies.
Kindly Kitchen – The Downtown Boone restaurant quickly moved to assist local farms who were faced with fields full of crops ready for harvesting, and a diminishing market for sales to restaurants and other suppliers. In early spring, they started selling produce boxes filled with locally grown goods from area producers. They have since added pantry bags to the mix, highlighting Carolina Gold Rice, pecans, Western NC miso products, and other items grown and processed in Western NC. The weekly box sales provided steady income during the spring and gave customers access to fresh, local food, with limited contact.
Mountain Mama Bed & Biscuit, LLC - Provided care for pets, at no charge, for those experiencing hardships and receiving services from Hospitality House, Caldwell Hospice & Palliative Care, and OASIS. The 5-star pet boarding resort for the High Country Community, serving the High Country community and residents has helped community members, fosters animals for various rescue organizations, and is always eager to work to serve the needs of the community.
The Pet Place – Maintained its support of local organizations and non-profit businesses despite closing its doors to retail traffic for five weeks. Thanks to customer support they continued to feed all active and retired K-9s, donating over $6,500 in food. They worked with distributors to donate dog and cat food to displaced restaurant workers and donated over $1,200 in pet food to the Watauga County Humane Society.
South’s Specialty Clothiers – With roots that date back to the opening of Boone Mall, South’s has tripled its annual sales and profit margin since starting the business. They have added a variety of services over the years, including a new Merle Norman cosmetics line that was timed with their move into a newly renovated space in Boone Mall. They routinely provide advice to area business owners and have long supported local Breast Cancer charitable endeavors.
The Blowing Rock
Sky Valley Zip Tours
Valle Crucis Conference Center
Large Business: Paul H. Broyhill Wellness Center
“More than a Gym,” is a phrase used by the staff of the Paul H. Broyhill Wellness Center to describe the impact the bestow upon their clients. That bumper sticker slogan turned into operational reality overnight, as the effects of COVID-19 realities were felt across the Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS).
“We started to realize that childcare was going to be a big issue for some of our hospital employees,” said General Manager Kris Hartley. “At the time we were closing doors to our regular clients, the local schools were closing, childcare centers were closing, and we knew our doctors, nurses, and staff needed to be available to be in the hospital as the pandemic revved up.”
The Wellness Center staff quickly scaled their Fit Academy to become a childcare resource for hospital staff, ensuring ARHS could avoid a major workforce availability impact. Staff worked to provide care for infants to middle school aged children, helping to facilitate virtual school delivery as students turned to online classwork.
With their doors closed to the public, Hartley and his team knew the Wellness Center’s 5,400 members were going without access to daily routines that promote healthy lifestyle choices – access to workout equipment and cardiovascular care, nutritional services, and other valuable classes. The Wellness Center began providing their class sessions online, creating virtual spin, aerobics, and yoga classes to keep members moving and engaged.
“The Broyhill Wellness Center has always been about community, and we wanted to continue that through the pandemic,” Hartley said. “The response we got to moving some of our services virtually was amazing, and we actually opened that up for free to the entire community. It was so awesome to see people doing yoga, and stretch-and-flex, and weightlifting in this virtual environment. It was exciting for them and it was a new experience and became such a powerful tool for us. I take that back to our staff, and our commitment to the goal of working as an extension of Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and doing what we can to support the community however possible.”
Telehealth options for nutrition and diabetes services kept patients in touch with their health goals. As governmental mandates relaxed, the Wellness Center reopened its doors with a steep commitment to safety. They installed plexiglass around cardio equipment and in public workspaces, moved class outdoors during the summer months to limit close indoor contact, intensified cleaning protocols, and prioritized space for high-risk clients that participate in cardiopulmonary rehab and other activities.
“It’s been a challenging year for everyone,” Hartley said. “We are thankful for those who tuned in to our classes and found ways to connect with us. For those that have come back, we have tried to make things as safe as possible for all who use our facility. We are so thankful to be a part of this community and appreciate everyone’s support as we dealt with these challenges.”
VPC Builders – VPC Builders experienced a profitable 2020 all while maintaining a staff of 19 full time employees and promoting COVID-safety protocols throughout the organization. They continued their community-focused approach, donating breakfast to the teaching staffs at area schools along with providing monetary support to numerous non-profit businesses and efforts.
Blue Ridge Realty & Investments – Experienced growth in 2020 that saw the company execute nearly 600 transactions, achieving a 29.4% increase in number of transactions and a 33.2% increase in sales volume over the previous year. As the largest independently owned and operated real estate company in Northwest North Carolina, the team continues to value its opportunity to impact local organizations, with a strong history of non-profit giving and commitment to growing the next generation of industry professionals through its relationship with Appalachian State University. The company has grown from one office and seven Broker Agents, to now approximately 50 Brokers Agents, and eight full time employees, operating out of seven office locations across the High Country.
Boone High Country Rentals – Experiencing continued growth as a property-management company, expanding to 19 multi-family properties and 217 single-family properties in the High Country in just 11 years. The company also provides absentee homecare services to over 20 properties within the area. The company employs 35 full time employees, including Real Estate Brokers, Leasing, Accounting, and Maintenance teams. The group has also been a local partner working with Appalachian State University Housing, Athletics, supporting Meals for Mountaineers and Family Weekends, and providing local annual Internships going back more than a decade.
Blue Ridge Energy – Launched the In this Together relief fund to help members facing COVID-19 financial struggles with electricity and heating bills. To date, 2,259 individuals have been helped in 2020 by In This Together and Operation Round Up - a total of $256,313 in assistance provided. In addition to other philanthropic work, they awarded $25,139 in grants to 28 classrooms across the Blue Ridge service territory as part of their Bright Ideas for Education grants program.
LifeStore Bank - Assisted small businesses in the High Country market with PPP loans, helped customers by deferring loan payments and insurance premiums while continuing to offer personalized service. During the pandemic, they reached out to the community and customers in a variety of ways and expanded electronic options, providing training and education about alternative ways to do business. Employees volunteer hundreds of hours each year and LifeStore encourages community involvement by offering each employee two paid hours per month for volunteer service during working hours, in addition to the company’s support of various non-profit agencies throughout the High Country.
Startup Business: Mountain Vista Window Washing
As a 15-year-old freshman at Watauga High School, Rowen Todd was ready to go to work. Eager to begin his professional pursuits, he soon learned his youthful age and lack of previous job experience were working against his efforts to find meaningful employment.
Instead of waiting for the opportunity to work for someone else, he formed his own company - Mountain Vista Window Washing. Two years ago, he purchased supplies and began spreading the word about his services, using events like Business After Hours to seek commercial businesses with storefronts that may benefit from his service.
“I was out looking for jobs in the local community, trying to just hustle and make a little extra cash,” Todd remembered. “Nobody would hire me because I was too young and didn’t have job experience. From that, I decided to go out and buy some window cleaning gear, and I just started talking to people. From that, I started getting mo Savere support from other community members, and got connected to some clients through the Chamber, and since then, I have just never stopped providing good service and being responsible to my work.”
After using 2019 to set the foundation for his business, Todd saw his 2020 gross revenues exceed five-times his previous year earnings. Not only has he created steady employment for himself, but he has been able to fund other part-time crew members to assist with high-volume times of year.
“I was hitting my stride with taking on new customers,” Todd said. “That allowed me to be able to let my Dad quit his current job and come work for me. That was just a special moment for me, like it is going to be alright. I think I’ve started to build something that is substantial and can exist in this community for time to come.”
In 2020 Todd expanded to offer additional services beyond window cleaning. He added pressure washing and gutter cleaning to his regular menu and began offering Gutter Guard Installation and screen cleaning in the summer of 2020. He also now offers new construction cleaning, window detailing, and track cleaning options, and even provides some handyman services for small jobs.
Like many businesses, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic saw 80% of Todd’s commercial clients close their doors for a period of time. This adversity caused Mountain Vista Window Washing to shift their client base more towards homeowners. This move required an investment in taller ladders, a work van, and more equipment geared towards servicing homes instead of storefronts. He coupled his transition with his first marketing campaign, using advertising on Rays Weather and Apple Cart busses to gain brand awareness in the local market.
Todd’s strategic moves have helped grow Mountain Vista Window Washing’s customer base to nearly 200 clients, encompassing both the residential and commercial markets. While managing his own growth, he plays an active role in supporting the business community by intentionally shopping local for equipment, vehicles, and supplies.
“I’ve constantly been setting goals into the future, of where I want to be, what kind of equipment I’m going to need, how I can grow, and what my goals are to help serve people better,” Todd said.
A Designer’s Touch by Lauren – Individual consults and recurring relationships with area contractors have provided a solid foundation to a business that opened in February 2020, just weeks before the pandemic impact began to be felt in the High Country. Since May of 2020, the business has grown to a staff of three employees and has eclipsed $50,000 in sales, working with a broad variety of clients on New Construction, Kitchen and Bath Remodeling/Renovations, Full Service Design and Complete Home Furnishings Projects. Regional and national media exposure over the last year has highlighted Lauren Brown’s 30-years of experience as a career professional in the furniture industry, while examining her new business path and its success in the High Country.
Blue Deer Cookies – Quickly established brand recognition as a High Country dessert destination since opening the business in 2018. In just their 2nd full year of operation, they opened a second location in Downtown Boone, adding a coffee bar and indoor space that caters to tourists and Appalachian State students. A third location, centered in Downtown Blowing Rock, is scheduled to open in the summer of 2021.
The Horton Hotel – This Downtown Boone Boutique hotel has experienced steady growth, despite pandemic-induced travel uncertainty experienced over the last year. Since opening in Feb. 2019, the property has maintained a strong occupancy, and from June - December has established profitable average daily rates, in one of the most challenging types of business to have during a pandemic. Their innovative ways have continued since opening their doors, creating a Snow Bar in their rooftop space during winter months along with establishing a New Year’s Eve Ball Drop, inviting community members to enjoy the festivities from downtown King St. The business worked closely with AppHealthCare during the onset of the pandemic to establish clear and separated work patterns for hotel and restaurant/bar staff to help reduce exposure.
ServiceMaster by Cummins – Since opening its doors in 2019, the business has expanded by 12-employees and has more than quadrupled its annual revenue. They were quickly able to deploy services that helped area businesses establish COVID-19 cleaning protocols. They use local vendors, like WJ Office and Appalachian Innkeeper Janitorial for purchasing supplies and continue to use their social media influence to positively promote other High Country businesses.
SteakAger – Company launched its product line in September of 2019 and established its production headquarters in Boone. In 2020, the company aligned it’s top-selling product (specialty beef dry-aging refrigerator) with a major appliance manufacturer. This strategic move saw a “Made in the USA” product, manufactured in Boone, see mass distribution in the retail market in November 2020. They used connections through Mountain BizWorks and the SBTDC to help supply their business foundation and solidify their Boone-based production facility.
White Blaze Marketing – Marketing and video production company has established itself as a full-service creative partner for many High Country businesses and organizations. They saw a 92% revenue increase over the previous year, spending considerable time helping local businesses revamp their online platforms. The company has also worked non-profit support into its culture and plans to expand that outreach in the coming year.
Bald Guy Brew
Sole Impact Studios