Indian Trail companies bring optimism in the face of challenges
Randy Simpson’s family has sold produce in Indian Trail since his father returned from World War II, starting the business along with Simpson’s grandfather. In addition to fresh local produce, including some organic, Simpson sells pumpkins and Christmas trees in season. “Dad always made us carry pumpkins and (Christmas) trees to the line of cars parked along the highway,” he said, “so customers didn’t have to carry it themselves.”
Simpson said Christmas tree sales at his lot on US 74 this year were about half of the previous year. According to Simpson, job losses in construction, and other areas, brought pricing pressure from new competitors trying their hand at selling Christmas trees. “When they don’t get their money back in two weeks they panic and cut prices, which hurts everyone,” he said. “We compete on quality. All our trees are fresh cut; that’s the way our family’s done it all these years.”
Simpson and other business owners came out to Bonfire Bar and Grill July 14 for the first meeting of the Indian Trail Business Association, talking about their questions and looking for ways of keeping their companies afloat during the recession.
Simpson said he was pleased with his new Indian Trail location, which opened last fall across from the Stallings Fire Department. “This lot did very well this year with pumpkins and Christmas trees,” he said. “I’d like to keep it open from April through December 23, and then reopen for collards (greens) for New Years.” He said another restaurant owner who heard about him at the recent ITBA meeting has already approached him about supplying produce. Simpson said the town has worked with him on the permits he needed to operate and that he would be approaching them with his plans to expand his new location.
Companies needing a hand
Indian Trail town council members Robert Allen and Darlene Luther led the meeting – but Allen pointed out that there was no affiliation with the town.
“Long before we took the oath of office we recognized that there’s a problem,” Allen said. He recalled that both he and Luther had businesses that were frustrated, along with over 40 other businesses, over Indian Trail’s oppressive restrictions on signs and banners. “We have much more strength as a united body,” he said. Allen said he and Luther ran on a pro business platform and worked to make the town more business-friendly, including pushing for changes to the sign ordinance.
Luther lauded local businesses for working together to form strategic partnerships and encouraged attendees to use the ITBA as a catalyst to connect with each other. She proudly pointed to Bonfire Grill’s partnering with Simpson’s produce stand. “They get fresh produce from them… that’s a great relationship that they’ve developed to support local business,” Luther said. She encouraged business owners to use Facebook and host charitable fundraisers to engage with each other and the community. Luther said she supports local businesses by interacting on their facebook pages.
Bad economy boosts some businesses
Not far from Simpson’s tree lot on US 74 is Flowers Baking Company near the intersection of Sardis Road. The store moved there about two years ago from its location on Unionville-Indian Trail Road. “Businesses like this do well when the economy is bad, said Martha Vojtas, who was stocking product at the discounted baked goods store.
“We’re the place people go because of the economy,” agreed Nancy Brigman, store manager and operator. But Brigman said the signage restrictions had been a challenge and was not aware that they had been changed. “A lot of people don’t know we’re here,” she said as west-bound traffic backed up at the nearby traffic light on Monday afternoon. “I’ve had my daughter dress up in a hot dog suit and walk near the entrance to help us get noticed,” she said, “because we weren’t allowed to put signs or flutter banners near the road.”
Road access is another barrier for customers driving east on US 74. “Our older clients have trouble with the turnaround across from Dale Jarrett (Ford),” said Shelley Valdez who rang up customers behind the counter at Flowers. “They plan their visit here for when they’ll already be on this side of the road,” she said.
“A turn-in would help us, and the other businesses in here,” Brigman said, adding that she thought the coming Monroe Bypass project would actually help them by reducing traffic to make it easier for customers to negotiate the turnaround at the Dale Jarrett dealership. Other businesses at the location include a body shop and Morningstar Ministorage, which beckoned passersby to “Beep if you’re boiling” on its trademark message board sign.
Banks bashful with business borrowers
People love to hang out at Just Chillin’, a family owned, self-service frozen yogurt business in The Shops at Sun Valley, next to Harris-Teeter, according to Bob Klemas, a Navy Sea Bees veteran and former carpenter who co-owns the shop with his wife, sister and brother inlaw. The shop opened on April 15 and offers an open venue for families and students – as well as youth Bible study groups – to relax and enjoy a cold treat. But the bank nearly dashed the dreams of Klemas and his family.
Klemas said they were negotiating a lease for the space and had a solid business plan to open under a small franchise. “The bank called, and said: ‘we’re not going to be able to help you with the loan.’ “ Klemas, who attends Elevation Church with his family, said the blow tested his faith. “I said, ‘okay, God, what are you going to do now?” Klemas said he was inspired to move ahead with his plans but as an independent business instead of a franchise, which saved on fees and royalties. Without the loan, Klemas said he and his wife were forced to mortgage their home and use credit cards to open. He also did the design and carpentry work himself after quitting his job as a carpenter to run the shop full time. Klemas added that the self-service concept reduces the number of employees he needs to run the business. “We’ve put everything we have into this shop,” he said, “We’re hoping the movie theater they’re building across the street will bring more people here.”
But Klemas isn’t just waiting for something to happen. He heard Luther’s call for businesses to reach out during the ITBA meeting and is already taking steps to make Just Chillin’ a place for the community. A youth group already meets there for a Bible study on Sundays and he’s hosted several fundraisers to help area charities. The shop will host a fundraiser for Barry Dale Price, Jr. and his family on July 27. The former Matthews police officer is fighting cancer and the family faces mounting medical bills and reduced income. For details on how to help, call the shop at 704-635-8538.