Grow Your Business – First Bank North and South Carolina Community Bank Thu, 19 Jul 2018 17:32:54 -0400 en-US hourly 1 First Bank and Community Housing Solutions – “Dream It. Do It.” Thu, 04 Jan 2018 18:58:19 +0000

First Bank has partnered with Community Housing Solutions for the third quarter of its “Dream It. Do It.” contest.

Community Housing Solutions, based in Greensboro, N.C., is a nonprofit that works to eliminate substandard living conditions in low-income neighborhoods by providing home rehabilitation, maintenance, and repairs, as well as modifications for accessibility for Guilford County families in need.

First Bank has donated $10,000 to Community Housing Solutions, which will go towards helping some of the families on their waiting list.

First Bank and Kids Making It – “Dream It. Do It.” Thu, 04 Jan 2018 18:57:39 +0000

First Bank has partnered with Kids Making It for the second quarter of its “Dream It. Do It.” contest.

Kids Making It, based in Wilmington, N.C., is a nonprofit that utilizes woodworking to teach key life and entrepreneurial skills to at-risk youth.

First Bank has donated $10,000 to Kids Making It, which will go towards a new trade school and expanding their space.

First Bank and Mountain BizWorks – “Dream It. Do It.” Thu, 25 May 2017 19:57:33 +0000

Our Spring 2017 non-profit partner is Mountain BizWorks. This Asheville-based business lending and learning organization helps locals launch the companies of their dreams.

Kimberly Hunter:  Mountain BizWorks is a community development financial institution that caters to people who have ideas around business or already in business, and want to do something big in our region.

Sara Landry:  Really, our role is to create a community of entrepreneurs.

Matthew Raker: We’ve got the honor I guess of helping make dreams happen every day.

KH: We support people, by really giving them the framework to explore what it is they wanna do from a professional level in terms of creating jobs and creating businesses.

MR: First Bank’s a great partner for Mountain BizWorks. They’re a community-based bank. They really care about local businesses being successful.

KH:  We both represent what it means to live and breathe and grow in a community.

SL: All of our funding goes directly back into investing in these entrepreneurs, to make our community a better place.

KH:  Ten thousand dollars from First Bank is not just a drop in the bucket. It is actual feet on the ground, to entrepreneurs who mean to do well and to create businesses and jobs that will change their life.

SL:  You have to be somewhat of a dreamer to be an entrepreneur. It takes a tremendous amount of risk, it kind of incorporates your whole life. There’s an entrepreneur lifestyle really when it comes down to it.

KH: We expect in the future to really grow our partnerships in all of our regions. And to really make sure that entrepreneurs are supported with our partners everywhere we go. So our presence is strong, and we’re clear that we’re here to stay. Thank you and goodnight.

Give Customers an Experience, See Retail Sales Grow Tue, 09 Aug 2016 14:25:45 +0000

Stop in at Hudson’s Hill in Greensboro, and you can do more than pick up some beard balm or denim goods.

You also can plop down on the leather couch in the store’s retro-styled “living room” and watch a movie—The Goonies, Home Alone and O Brother, Where Art Thou? are among the choices—on the throwback VCR.

“We wanted a place where our customers could sit down with their friends and relax a while,” says William Clayton, president and co-owner of the North Carolina business. “So we put a living room in the middle of the store, set up an old TV, and play VHS movies.”

While some retailers might scoff at the idea of dedicating space in their store for things without a price tag, many shop owners today know that their customers want more than a simple exchange of money for goods or services.

Customers crave an experience, a sense of belonging, exceptional customer service, and brands that are in step with their passions, politics, and lifestyle. It’s what retail and marketing experts call “experiential retail.”

Nationwide, this year is expected to be a good year for retail, according to the National Retail Federation, which projects that retail industry sales (excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants) will grow by 3.1%, an increase from the 10-year average of 2.7%.

At the organization’s recent annual convention, several top CEOs discussed experiential retail and how continued sales growth is dependent upon retailers providing standout customer service and an oasis of sorts for their customers—a reprieve from life’s otherwise rushed pace.

A Sensory Experience

In fairness, the idea of experiential retail is not new, says Roger Beahm, marketing professor at Wake Forest University School of Business. But given increased competition from online retailers, better-informed consumers, and our busier lifestyles, it’s become more critical to success for brick-and-mortar stores.

“Smart merchants were always looking for ways to get shoppers in their door,” says Beahm, who is also executive director of the Wake Forest University Center for Retail Innovation.  “And they are always looking for ways to provide value. Experiential (retail) can add value. After all, a retailer can only have so many SKUs (products) and only discount so much.”

Gone are the days when most shoppers had the time to walk aimlessly around a mall to browse or visit multiple stores to comparison shop, Beahm says. When we enter a store today, it’s usually no accident.

“We have done our research online, but we come into a store because we want to touch and feel the product, we want a sensory experience,” Beahm says.

A Sense of Community

Sally Brewster, owner of Park Road Books in Charlotte, believes we also seek a social connection and sense of belonging when we shop.

“It’s very easy to sit in your underwear at home and click a button to buy something,” Brewster says. “But people need community. And we are trying to make our store an extra living room for the community.”

At Park Road Books, which will celebrate its 40th year in business in 2017, that means you can settle into a comfy chair and stay awhile, have a cup of coffee with a friend, or take part in one of several ongoing book clubs.

And since many people’s living rooms aren’t complete without a dog, the bookstore has Yola, a 24-pound Corgi-Carolina mix who dozes off unapologetically during a lot of her shifts and doesn’t mind if you bring your own dog to the store.

In Greensboro, Clayton also sees his shop as a part of the community. They work to highlight the history of the area and focus on selling locally-made denim, leather goods, and other items.

They also host events that highlight other business ventures in the area or things that are of interest to their customers. These can range from a workshop that shows customers how to use the clothing wax the shop sells to another on brewing beer at home, even though the store doesn’t sell brewing gear.

“We have been very cognizant of the fact that with these events there’s not always an immediate financial impact to us,” Clayton says. “We are creating relationships and a sense of community. And social currency goes a long way.”

A Focus on Customer Service

“Experiential is not just entertainment,” Beahm says. “It’s added value and that value for many customers is added services.”

Customer service is a priority at Park Road Books, Brewster says, adding she tells those who apply to work at the store that, “It’s not enough that you like books. You have to like people too.”

Most of her employees have been there for years and know exactly the type of books that will appeal to their regular customers. The store also will search for rare and out-of-print books for customers. And if a customer doesn’t come into the shop for a while? Brewster said they are truly missed.

“We’ll make a call or send them a postcard just to let them know we are thinking about them,” she says. “If we hear a customer has been sick, we’ll send a ‘get well soon’ card.”

At Hudson’s Hill, Clayton says they are always looking for ways to stand out, customer service-wise. To that end, the staff loves to work with shoppers to create custom leather goods, and customers can get any piece of denim clothing they purchase at the shop hemmed or repaired for free, for life.

Since finding a place to repair denim isn’t always easy, the shop will, for a fee, hem and mend denim bought elsewhere unless it’s too far gone.

“We try to offer those extras for our customers because we care, and we want them to know we appreciate their business,” Clayton says. “We always focus on service and meeting their needs.”

Appealing to a Mindset

Consumers today often want more than just the best deal or most convenient option. They want a brand or product that they believe in—a personality that matches their interests and shares their concerns, Beahm says.

Clayton agrees and says he’s well aware that offering complimentary repairs for store-bought items fits both the company’s mindset as well as its customers’.

“We are selling products that are made with purpose and integrity in the U.S. and will last for years to come,” he says. “We are promoting mindful consumption when it comes to clothing. And our customers appreciate that, they believe in that.”

At Park Road Books, most customers believe in the importance of setting aside technology now and again and reading words on paper rather than a screen. That’s why you shouldn’t worry if your iPad or laptop isn’t connecting to the store’s Wi-Fi signal.

“We intentionally do not have Wi-Fi in the store,” Brewster says. “It’s peaceful in here, and people can relax, read books, and talk to others. Most of our customers are grateful for a break from technology.”

The Future

As online shopping has grown in popularity over the years, so have the predictions that most brick-and-mortar shops will be shuttered as a result. But as much as the Internet has changed everything about our lives, including how we shop and buy, Beahm says he has no fear that storefronts will be abandoned en masse.

For example, he points out that online giant Amazon— which is often named as the behemoth that will kill retail stores—is now building brick-and-mortar stores to better meet customer needs.

The company earlier this year opened its first Amazon Books store in Seattle and is reportedly considering opening stores that sell a variety of other goods.

“It’s not going to be either/or when it comes to online shopping and brick-and-mortar,” Beahm says. “It will all meet in the middle, and a lot of what we go into a store for will be these experiential things:  the service, the relationship, the sensory experience. We will always want that in some way.”

Amazon Now vs. Local Businesses: The New Goliath and David Saga? Fri, 01 Jul 2016 16:17:06 +0000

Jennifer Martin doesn’t subscribe to Amazon, so she initially had no idea why, on a day in early February, she saw two men dressed in Amazon Prime Now polos enter her Raleigh office building and hand a paper bag to a receptionist.

She later learned the Seattle-based online retail giant had opened a new warehouse in Raleigh, selected the area as the nation’s 25th metro to receive Amazon Prime Now, which provides free delivery within two hours of items bought through a mobile app, or delivery within one hour for $7.99.

The service is only available to Amazon Prime subscribers, who pay a $99 annual membership fee and receive free two-day delivery on a huge array of products.

When Martin got back to her desk and looked at her computer screen, her Facebook feed was full of people raving about the service after they had placed orders to try it out.

Martin, executive director of Shop Local Raleigh/Greater Raleigh Merchants Association, wasn’t so excited. On social media that morning, she urged people to remember to shop with locally owned businesses.

“Quickly I received tweets back saying that Prime employed local people and that I was being overly critical,” Martin recalls. “At the same time, local businesses were texting and messaging me saying thank you for your support.”

How Raleigh is Reacting

If Raleigh businesses are worried, they haven’t yet communicated that to the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, says Vernessa Roberts, the business advocacy group’s vice president of communications.

“In Raleigh, companies from across the globe make their home here,” Roberts says. “We welcome everyone and haven’t heard any complaints.”

Amazon launched Prime Now in December 2014 in Manhattan and has rapidly added metro markets. How did it choose Raleigh to be next?

“We select our locations for a variety of reasons and one of the most important is the proximity to our customers,” says Aaron Toso, communications manager for Amazon. “We have a lot of great Prime members in Raleigh and we want to get them the things they need as quickly as possible.”

Toso says daily essentials have been the most popular items, such as bottled water, paper towels, and gummy bears.

Wait, gummy bears?

Indeed, they are the most-ordered item in Houston, Atlanta, and Nashville. Bottled water is the top seller in Chicago, Austin, and Miami. Paper towels lead the list of Prime Now deliveries in Los Angeles and New York City.

Martin worries not only about the effect on local businesses, but she noted the city loses out on sales tax when things are purchased online instead of from the corner drug store.

“Every time you use Amazon Prime Now, that’s one more sale that didn’t happen in a store here that’s paying rent, paying to make the space visually attractive, paying to be here when no-one else was,” Martin says. “Think before you click as there are real impacts in our own backyard. For better roads, for better schools, for better community, buy local and independent.”

Adoption Grows in All Metros

Whether Raleigh consumers will heed such a plea remains to be seen. Amazon Prime members elsewhere seem to like the service, with about a quarter of the estimated 41 million-plus subscribers having tried it, amounting to “extremely impressive early penetration,” according to a recent survey and analysis by Cowen & Co., as reported by Marketwatch.

Toso says Prime Now does offer a “selection of regional products.” The Cowen & Co. survey found that 26% of purchases were from local grocery stores selling their products through Prime Now.

Breaking that down further, the survey found that 33% of consumers age 18 to 34 used Prime Now to buy things from local stores, compared to 25% of the 35-54 age group and 6% of the 55-plus demographic.

Martin was asked whether locally owned stores in Raleigh and elsewhere will try to add or enhance their own fast home delivery, or do the opposite by accentuating personal contact and customer service in their brick and mortar stores.

“Many of the businesses we currently work with are already offering free delivery, pick-up, next-day service and so much more,” Martin said, “but as a community, we aren’t seeking out these options.”

State of Small Business and Entrepreneurship in North Carolina Tue, 09 Feb 2016 15:02:01 +0000

The Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) publishes an annual report on the state of small business in North Carolina. This is definitely worth a read for any current or aspiring entrepreneur.

Here are just 5 of the highlights from the compelling data they collected:

  • SBA (US Small Business Administration) lending topped more than $579 million in North Carolina in 2015
  • Small businesses make up nearly 98% of all businesses in the state and employ 1.6 million people
  • Nearly 53% of North Carolina businesses are owned by men, and just over 10% are veteran owned
  • Forbes recognized the state as the #2 Best State for Business in 2015
  • There’s been consistent job growth since 2009

Download the whole report from the SBTDC website.

Storefront Magazine 2015 Wed, 08 Jul 2015 19:13:33 +0000

Download your FREE copy of the Spring 2015 issue of Storefront magazine. This issue is bigger and better than ever with content to help you start, manage, and grow your business.

Learn from local experts and discover helpful articles including:

  • The Changing Face of the Retail Experience
  • Help Your Customers Find You on Google
  • Why Data Is Good for Business
  • Bring In More Locals with Location-Based Marketing Tools

Click here to get your FREE magazine.

Here’s Why Data is Good for Your Business Wed, 13 May 2015 15:59:20 +0000

Wondering how to re-energize customers who haven’t stopped by in a while? Start thinking of them not as customers, but as alumni.

According to Todd Walter, Scout Executive for the Central North Carolina Council of the Boy Scouts of America, reconnecting with former scouts is a key part of the organization’s marketing approach.

“The National Eagle Scout Association keeps a list of every Eagle scout from our council,” Walter explains. “Eight times per year, we send letters inviting them to participate in upcoming events and activities. We also maintain an alumni database, so we can reach out to as many former scouts as possible. They’re often eager to re-engage, even if they never advanced to Eagle.”

Storefront businesses can use similar methods to engage their “alumni.” All it takes to build a customer database is a willingness to ask buyers for contact information in the form of an email or mailing address.

But the potential of customer data isn’t limited to mailing lists, nor are databases full of names and addresses your final port of call. Customer data can deliver manifold benefits to your business, and beefed-up marketing is only the beginning.

Improve Efficiency

Business performance depends on several factors, and buying patterns are among the most significant. For example, many retailers capture sales data in their point-of-sale systems to monitor the buying patterns of customers listed in a database. They can use this data to distinguish between short- and long-term buying trends and gain a clear picture of who buys what and how often.

That’s how it works at Carolina Sports in Morehead City, North Carolina, where business owners rely on purchasing data to devise accurate projections for the company’s screen-printing, embroidery, and trophy sales. “Point-of-sale information helps us figure out what people are likely to buy,” explains Phil Panzarella, owner of Carolina Sports. “We use the data to stock only what’s necessary to meet demand,” he says.

Aligning inventory purchases with actual buying patterns affords tremendous gains in operational efficiency. For businesses like Carolina Sports, it’s the next best thing to predicting the future.

However, point-of-sale data isn’t the only way Carolina Sports acts on information provided by customers. Panzarella also pays attention to feedback people leave on the company Facebook page and considers that social network an important tool in his efforts to optimize another performance factor: the customer perception.

Enhance Perception

A customer’s perception of your business will influence her decision to purchase something, but how do you know what she thinks of you? Gauging customer perception can be difficult, if not impossible – unless you ask customers what they think, which is surprisingly easy to do!

One local business that actively monitors customer perception is Lee-Moore Insurance, an independent agency with offices in West End, Broadway, and Carrboro, North Carolina. According to Alex Maiolo, an agent at Lee-Moore, information about customer perception plays a significant role in the agency’s client interactions. “We actually combine direct feedback and buyer demographic information to tailor policies to the needs of our clients,” Maiolo says. “It’s about going the extra mile to link client perception to how we conduct ourselves.”

Of course, you don’t have to sell insurance policies to take advantage of customer feedback. Retailers, eateries, and professional service providers can ask customers to fill out surveys (“baiting” your customers with coupons can help here) or monitor customer reviews on websites like Yelp and Urbanspoon. This is becoming a big deal for restaurants, in particular. Candid reviews from customers can help you get a handle on things you can improve, not to mention capitalize on strengths to make an already brilliant experience even more illustrious.

Mobilize Your Alumni

As we’ve seen, customer data isn’t just another nebulous business concept of questionable value to your day-to-day operations. It’s a tool businesses all around you are using to fine-tune marketing efforts, boost efficiency, and provide better customer experiences.

And with so many others taking advantage of data to gain a competitive edge, there’s no time like the present to gather more information about your alumni. Start small by assembling a customer database. Then expand your data collection efforts to optimize every business process you can control.

It’s like Todd Walter tells it: “The more people the Boy Scouts engage, the greater our impact in the local community.” You can have a bigger impact, too. It all starts with getting to know your customers.

Find this and other articles in the Spring 2015 issue of Storefront magazine.

In it for the Long Haul: How the Most Successful Businesses Innovate Tue, 05 May 2015 15:30:05 +0000

Have you ever wondered how some businesses manage to keep growing and thriving through the last 10-20 years, or even over centuries?

Certainly, longevity and success require flexibility and of course, close attention to what customers want and need. To learn more about how time can significantly drive growth, we spoke in depth with two small business owners who have been doing all of these things, and so much more, for decades.

Local to Global Growth

“When we started in 1983, the only way to do business was local,” says Thomas G. Scheve, who with wife Niva Kittrell Scheve, runs EquiSport Horse Trailers of Southern Pines, North Carolina. And consequently, all of the company’s marketing was done on a local scale as well.

“All of our trailers were out on the lot,” Scheve says. “Customers came into the lot, you talked to them, you showed them the trailer, and then they decided whether to buy or not. That’s how you did business,” he explains.

However with the spread of the Internet, Scheve says, his emerging company in the relatively small market of horse trailers became one of the first of its kind to create a website.

“From there, our market changed from a 100-mile radius to the entire world. We now are able to sell our trailers, sight unseen, to people all over,” Scheve says.

Technology and the expectations of customers have always dictated the  direction of so many businesses, with the most successful continuing to be those that flow with, rather than resist, change.

A New Focus: Products to People

“Twenty or 25 years ago we had 40 employees, and today in our busiest times, we have more like 100 to 125,” explains Jonathan Steinberg, who is Vice President and Industrial Relations Manager for Charleston Steel & Metal Co., a scrap metal processor based in Charleston, South Carolina.

Steinberg joined his family business in 2012, following in the footsteps of his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather who founded the company in 1893 as an immigrant from Eastern Europe.

“Back then,” Steinberg says, “many of the businesses were immigrant businesses, born and built out of necessity.” Over the years, his family’s business has continued to shift with market demand both in the local community and beyond, matching its customer service and offerings to the expectations of its peers and customers.

Steinberg attributes this growth, in part, to adding key jobs in departments such as customer relations and strategic marketing, areas of focus that didn’t even exist in this sector more than a decade or two ago. In the earlier days, he says, most of the duties were manual, with people operating cranes and buying and sorting metal while today so much of the corporate focus is on relationships and service.

“Ours has always been a competitive business,” Steinberg says. “We put a lot of focus on customer service and on forming real relationships, whether it is an individual bringing in cans from his church, a large mill in the region, or an international contact.”

Always Adapting, Diversifying and Listening

Over the years, Steinberg says, the scrap metal business has moved from one that was born out of necessity to one that reflects and caters to what the market both wants and needs in the future.

“Obviously, in the U.S., recycling and the environment are hot topics right now,” he explains. “In 1893, although the business was more about survival than other concerns, we were the original recyclers, doing it before it was about the environment.”

Scheve of EquiSport Horse Trailers also focuses on being nimble and looking ahead. “We are constantly adapting to what the market wants.” To that point, over the years, the theme of safety for horses and their owners has become a guiding principle—and a driver for growth— that informed every direction the business took.

Along the way, he and his wife authored books and are regarded as experts in the areas of horse and trailer safety. “When we started writing our books on horse trailers, the market really opened up for us,” he explains.

What’s Next For These Ever-Evolving Businesses?

Charleston Steel & Metal’s Steinberg says that his business will continue to grow in large part due to international business that wouldn’t have been available to them even a decade ago.

“With certain metals, there is a huge global market that has developed over the last 10 to 12 years,” he says, citing China, as well as India, Turkey and Brazil as countries with growing demands and additional infrastructure-related needs.

“Countries that are still building their infrastructure have really helped our growth,” he explains. EquiSport’s Scheve says that going forward, the economy will continue to drive and shape the horse industry, which is based on a relatively expensive lifestyle choice that most people don’t make.

“We will continue to lead the way in horse trailer safety,” he says, adding that they will likely write more articles and books to offer as resources for customers, and ultimately, as ways to increase traffic to the website.

And what else? Coming up with new innovations, new designs and new ideas for trailers. “That’s our real fun,” he adds.

Find this and other articles in the Spring 2015 issue of Storefront magazine.

Thinking of Sponsoring a Local Event? Tue, 28 Apr 2015 17:32:20 +0000

As a small business situated within a close-knit community, chances are you receive requests to donate to and sponsor—whether it be your time, money, your name or something else— local events, drives, sports teams, schools and more.

To be sure, you’re always looking for great opportunities to increase visibility, connect with your target market and build goodwill in the community. And event sponsorships can be great when they’re done for all the right reasons. But it helps to evaluate all of these opportunities and offers before making any commitments to move forward.

“Determining whether to participate in any kind of event, especially a local event, needs to be looked at as a business decision,” says John Lusher, a media and marketing consultant based in Roanoke, Virginia

“Instead of giving an immediate answer, I tell businesses to ask themselves, ‘Does it make sense from a business perspective to take part in this event?,’” adds Lusher, who works closely with many of his small- and medium-sized business clients to evaluate sponsorship offers.

“Depending on the structure and size of the event, it could be as simple as writing a check,” he says. “But typically on a local level, participation involves more time or manpower than just donating money.”

Beyond Buying and Selling

For some businesses and their owners, participating in these events is less about decision-making and more about business as usual.

“If it is in our community, and it is a fundraiser that a client of ours or a prospective client of ours brings to our attention, then we are going to help,” says John Hiester, owner of three North Carolina auto dealerships, John Hiester Chevrolet in Fuquay-Varina, John Hiester Chevrolet of Lillington and John Hiester Chrysler Dodge Jeep of Lillington.

“We do it unconditionally. We aren’t expecting something back for it,” Hiester explains. “We feel like we have a vested interest in making a difference in the lives of people in our community,” he adds, listing kids’ sports teams, breast cancer awareness efforts, golf sponsorships and school auctions as just some of the events to which his family of dealerships is proud to lend its name and time. All of these events occur within a 15-mile radius of his locations.

Lusher agrees that there are many potential benefits inherent to event sponsorship and participation. “A business that gives back to the community or is involved in the community receives more PR than it could ever purchase,” he says.

There also may be financial benefits, Lusher explains, especially if the sponsorship involves a non-profit organization. (Always consult your accountant or financial advisor with specific questions or scenarios.)

Don’t Sponsor Just To Sponsor

Lusher reminds businesses of all sizes to consider the practical aspects of taking part in these events and activities. “Don’t sponsor just to sponsor,” he says. “And don’t say ‘yes’ just because you’re inundated with requests. I have seen many a quick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ given without ever looking at this as a marketing decision.”

The ROI Question

To that end, Lusher says that he tells his clients to have a clear idea of what kind of ROI—return on investment—they seek before they move forward with any event-related activities.

Some ROI goals may include increased foot traffic, email acquisition opportunities, general brand awareness or many other factors. “A business has to decide at the outset what it wants its ROI to be,” he explains. “Of course, some of these factors are intangible, but that doesn’t mean they can’t track them.”

Auto dealer Hiester knows that ROI is important, but he is less concerned about specifics and more interested in being a consistently active member of the community. “After events,” he says, “People come in and say, ‘I appreciate what you did for this cause, and that is the reason I am here.’”

In addition, Hiester explains, he and his team of general managers set an annual budget that’s designated for local sponsorships and fundraisers. “We are checking and reevaluating this regularly,” he says. “It’s part of the fabric of our mission. And as our business grows, our giving will grow.”

Find this and other articles in the Spring 2015 issue of Storefront magazine.