2022 Watauga County Business of the Year Winners Announced
The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce its winners of the 2022 Watauga County Business of the Year Awards.
The winners will be formally recognized Thursday, January 19, 2023, during the sold-out 7th Annual High Country Economic Kickoff Event, presented by Peak Insurance Group.
The annual Business of the Year awards are sponsored by Carolina Mountain Title.
Nominations were submitted by Chamber and community members with winners selected by the Chamber’s Business Development committee. The Chamber received nominations for over 30 different High Country businesses. Organizations 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.
“This year’s recipients have all recently invested in new or enhanced facilities that have added jobs in important sectors of our community,” said David Jackson, President/CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “These businesses see strong customer service and support as the foundation of their sustained success. They each prioritize purchasing goods and materials from other local businesses and they all have community engagement built into their business models. We are excited to honor these three special businesses and appreciate them for serving as great examples of what so many of our High Country businesses strive to achieve.”
Small Business: Alray Tire and Automotive
A staple in the automotive repair industry for nearly 20 years, Alray Tire and Automotive has grown its business yearly thanks to its operating strategy of providing honest repair with an unmatched customer service experience.
The business started 18 years ago with three employees and three service bays. Today, Alray employs eight full-time service technicians as well as one part-time staff member through a job placement with Watauga Opportunities.
Five years ago, the business implemented an expansion plan that included the purchase of a next-door building that was renovated to become an office and customer lounge. That allowed Alray to expand its garage to now include five service bays, with additional exterior space for work and vehicle storage.
Alray has developed customer loyalty based on honest evaluations of repairs, fixing only needed problems and prioritizing customers in need of emergency service. They have built strong relationships with the local law enforcement, fire and rescue agencies, teachers, and App State students and staff, working to give them the best possible service at an affordable price. They also contribute to numerous community fundraising events and silent auctions each year.
Customer retention has kept the business strong over time and they gain "first time" customers based off consistent 4.9-star Google reviews and word of mouth type advertising.
Large Business: AMOREM
AMOREM enters its ninth year of service to the High Country as its non-profit hospice agency, currently serving over 250 families throughout the region.
In 2022, AMOREM deepened its roots in the High Country, constructing a new palliative office building on Moonstruck Lane in Boone. The facility serves as home to its clinical and administrative teams and features a community meeting space that hosts staff trainings while also serving as a low-cost option for community events and committee meetings for various non-profit organizations.
As 2023 begins, AMOREM is rolling out the public phase of an $8 million capital campaign to build a patient care unit in the High Country, adjacent to their palliative office. They have already raised more than $4.7 million towards the capital campaign through corporate and private donations.
AMOREM sought to build a patient care unit in the community because, without one, patients and their families must drive one to two hours to reach the closest patient care unit, taking away precious time that could be spent with loved ones. AMOREM’s Legacy Caldwell opened the first hospice patient care unit in the state in 1989, granting them the most experience in hospice in-patient care in North Carolina.
The planned 8,460-square foot patient care unit will have seven beds with a full-time local staff dedicated to providing compassionate end-of-life care for residents of Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties. The home-like environment will provide large patient rooms and comfortable family areas in a peaceful setting just off Archie Carroll Road at its Moonstruck Lane campus.
AMOREM was named best hospice provider in Avery County’s “Best of the Best” awards and AMOREM Nurse Practitioner Donna Tate was named the best Nurse Practitioner in Avery County. In addition to their patient services, they offer free virtual advance care planning classes and hospice 101 virtual classes to its High Country community.
Startup Business: 180 Float Spa
After years of careful planning, Angela and Brad Heavner were ready to move forward with enhancing the space that would become 180 Float Spa. In February 2020, they started an ambitious facility renovation that would see them transform a 2,500 square-foot office space into an environment that mixed luxury with a calming and inviting atmosphere.
One month into their project, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic created a series of challenges that would have been daunting for any start-up business, especially for one amid a space transformation while also starting their operation from scratch.
The Heavner’s worked with Ioncon and Spring Green Building and Design to keep the project moving, and provided most of the renovation labor themselves. They overcame numerous space-related obstacles, such as cutting a large hole in the side of their building to place a float chamber into the space after it would not fit through their door. After a salt delivery, the Heavner’s moved 4,000 pounds of the product into a store facility by hand.
Their incorporation, 180 Float Spa, was not eligible for many of the federal stimulus products that were available to businesses during the pandemic. The Heavner’s operated as lean as possible during their renovation and used local crowd-funding investments as a portion of their start-up income. They also qualified for the ReEnergize Watauga loan program, which provided needed cash-flow assistance through a partnership between Mountain BizWorks, the Watauga County EDC, and the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce.
Supply delays and pandemic realities delayed their planned opening for five months. 180 Float Spa officially opened its doors in October 2020, providing an innovative and natural solution to healing pain, anxiety, and stress. The Heavener’s collaborated with AppHealthCare to implement policy and procedures for newer water therapy with limited policy guidance, and a need to adhere to evolving public health guidance that at the time was changing almost weekly.
Just over two years into their journey, 180 Float Spa has helped support the needs of a community that united to help their business get started. In 2022, they facilitated 1,110 floats and 256 saunas to validate Float Therapy as a holistic treatment for pain, stress, and anxiety. They have partnered with Appalachian State athletic teams to provide float therapy for student-athlete recovery. They have also donated over $2,000 worth of services to help raise funds for 15 local non-profit organizations and school-related fundraisers.