Start Your Business – First Bank North and South Carolina Community Bank Tue, 21 Aug 2018 14:09:17 -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.

North Carolina’s Key Industries [Infographic] Mon, 05 Jun 2017 14:00:34 +0000

It’s no secret that North Carolina is a hotbed of business and population growth in the Southeast. Its cities are repeatedly chosen as one of the best places to live, work, raise a family, or go to school. We take a look at our home state’s key industries and the economic impact in 2017.

Click the image below to enlarge it.


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.

Independent Pharmacy Overview: Part 3 [Infographic] Wed, 16 Mar 2016 17:44:47 +0000

In this third part of our series on modern, family-owned pharmacies, we created this handy infographic to help highlight some key facts. Catch up by reading Part 1 and Part 2.

Click the image below to enlarge it.


The Small, Neighborhood Pharmacy Prevails: Part Two Tue, 08 Mar 2016 15:35:24 +0000

In this second part of our series on modern, family-owned pharmacies, we identify the factors that allow these stores to survive, even when the chains come to town. Read Part One if you missed it.

Those in the independent pharmacy business offer the following 5 tips for staying in the trade:

1. Seek New Revenue Sources

Jesse Pike Jr., a third-generation pharmacist and owner of Pike’s Pharmacy in Charlotte, North Carolina, says success as an independent pharmacy owner can come down to ingenuity.

For example, to boost revenue his store handles medications for a nearby retirement community with 200 residents. Each morning he picks up refill requests and returns twice more to deliver medication. He also has a partnership to serve the local homeless and women’s shelters to ensure they get the medications they need.

“We’ve created these partnerships and it’s kept us in business,” says Pike, whose grandfather opened the family’s first pharmacy in Concord, North Carolina in 1919. “You have to cultivate new business. If you sit on your haunches as an independent pharmacy, you’ll become a dinosaur.”

2. Find Your Niche

Independent pharmacies offer a wide range of services that many of the larger, chain pharmacies and big box retailers do not.

For example, according to National Community Pharmacists Association statistics, the top services offered in 2014 were:

  • Delivery (78% of independent stores offered)
  • Patient charge accounts (77%)
  • Immunizations (71%)
  • Compounding (65%)
  • Sale of durable medical goods (56%)

By offering specialized services, independent pharmacies can become destination stops for customers in need of these services.

Consider compounding. Back before drugs were manufactured in bulk, a pharmacist created and mixed them by hand. Known as compounding, this process requires skill, experience, and equipment that many larger retailers don’t care to invest in.

It is still needed at times today, says long-time pharmacist Del Cranford, owner of Denton Drug in Denton, North Carolina, and part-owner of several other drug stores in the area, including Asheboro Drug and Randleman Drug. For example, if people are allergic to red dye—an ingredient in certain medications—they cannot use the manufactured version. But a pharmacist skilled in compounding can create the same medication, minus the dye.

Additionally, Pike says medications for animals also often require compounding, since proper doses need to be adjusted for a variety of factors, including breed and weight.

3. Be Convenient

At his stores, Cranford says they have worked to find locations that are easily accessible.

Whether it’s due to aging, illness or simply impatience, many people don’t want to have to walk through a big box store to retrieve a prescription. Cranford says they have picked locations that allow customers to park right by the door, and they keep shop sizes small so that customers can get in and get out quickly. And if they don’t want to come in at all, there’s a drive-thru.

At his store, Pike says convenience is always a consideration. He is always happy to chat and provide information but will not hold up a customer who is in a hurry.

“If you aren’t convenient the customer cannot waste the time to come to you,” he says. “And they won’t.”

4. Educate Your Customers

One misconception that owners of independent drugstores face is that because of economies of scale, chain and bigger retailers can offer lower prices.

But that’s the not case, Cranford says. First, many small pharmacies join with other independents to buy so that they can take advantage of bulk pricing discounts. For example, his stores are part of a co-op that buys for 700 shops.

Second, customers with insurance or prescription cards will pay the same co-pay regardless of which pharmacy they visit.

“Back when I started, pricing was a big thing,” he says. “But with insurance and prescription cards, price is not an issue anymore.”

5. Keep it Simple

While many independent drugstores stock more than just prescription medications, most keep it pretty simple compared to their chain-store counterparts, which can stock everything from a family-sized inflatable pool to a slow cooker.

Cranford offers some over-the-counter medications, greeting cards, beauty products, and a few racks of $1 items. But all these combined only make up 15% of his business, with the remaining 85% prescriptions.

At Pike’s Pharmacy, the product line-up is much the same. Barring a rack of greeting cards, the focus is largely on health products. And prescription, over-the-counter, and old-fashioned medicines are in the spotlight.

Both men admit it’s a vast change from the past. The pharmacies they worked in as younger pharmacists sold a large variety of goods and some even included a soda fountain. Both also admit being a little nostalgic for the latter but say the business model of today’s streamlined pharmacy is a lot more sensible for most pharmacy owners.

“It’s so labor-intensive to have a soda fountain,” Pike says. “Have you ever made a real, old-fashioned milkshake? It takes a considerable time, and the profit just isn’t there.”

The Future

For his part, Cranford thinks the small, independent community pharmacy is here to stay. Now semi-retired himself, he sold his business interests to his daughter and son-in-law, Lora and Michael Griffin, both pharmacists. They run the stores today.

“I guess I’m an eternal optimist,” Cranford says. “But I think the best-kept secret is to go into the business. I think there’s a future in it.”

Pike agrees, saying the neighborhood drugstore is a fixture that won’t disappear anytime soon. His daughter is now the fourth generation of Pike pharmacists and he believes as long as independent pharmacies keep adapting to the changing market they can prosper, even in challenging times.

“Our neighborhood has been through some tough times,” he said. “But all through it—no matter what—there was a need for the corner drugstore.”

The Small, Neighborhood Pharmacy Prevails: Part One Wed, 02 Mar 2016 15:35:23 +0000

In 1960, a teenaged Delbert Cranford got an afterschool job as a stock boy. And it was there at Mann Drug in Asheboro—while lining up shelves of shampoo and aspirin—that he figured out his future.

“I watched the pharmacist help people, and I started to think about what I wanted to do when I was done with high school,” Cranford says. “I already knew I enjoyed chemistry and I wanted to help people, so I decided I’d study pharmacy.”

Cranford went on to run his own drug store, Denton Drug in Denton, North Carolina, in addition to becoming part-owner of several other drug stores in the area, including Asheboro Drug and Randleman Drug.

During his 50-plus years in the business, Cranford has seen the world of pharmacy change. And perhaps more importantly, as a successful businessman he has learned how to adapt to those changes and stay competitive—even when the big box retailers and chain drug stores started popping up around town.

“I think we have been successful because we get to know our customers. They are like family to us,” Cranford says. “We know what they need and we know their situation. And they trust us.”

John Norton, spokesman for National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), says independent community pharmacies play an important role in healthcare and that for many people a pharmacist is the most accessible healthcare provider.

There are currently about 22,500 independent pharmacies in the United States, and these pharmacies dispense nearly half of the nation’s retail prescription medicines, Norton says.

All told, independent pharmacies are an $81.4 billion marketplace annually. They fill 1.38 billion prescriptions a year—about 201 a day, per pharmacy—and employ 314,000 people on a full- or part-time basis.

The History of the U.S. Pharmacy

A hundred-plus years ago, the neighborhood apothecary or drugstore was an important part of a community. Many served as more of general store and meeting place, complete with a soda fountain and diner-style food.

Whether you felt a milkshake, an aspirin, or a shot of cod liver oil could cure your ills, you likely could find it at your neighborhood pharmacy.

Before medication was mass produced, the pharmacists at these stores worked with doctors to create from-scratch elixers, pills, and healing ointments. They also relied on centuries-old herbal remedies.

When Prohibition started, the popularity of the drugstore grew dramatically, according to the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy (AIHP).

Alcohol was illegal and bars were closed, but people still needed a place to gather and socialize. So the neighborhood soda fountain became the place to talk sports, politics and gossip. Plus, with a doctor’s prescription, you might even be able to buy a fifth of whiskey because alcohol was still available for medicinal purposes.

The first half of the 1900s also brought a push for pharmacy regulations, and requirements were set for a pharmacist’s education. In the early days, pharmacy was a trade largely learned via an apprenticeship.

But in the interest of making sure pharmacists were properly trained across the board, states started to require a formal education and degree if a person wanted to be a licensed pharmacist, according to the AIHP.

The second half of the past century brought significant change, too. More and more medicines were developed and many offered actual cures, whereas in the past they often only offered minor symptom relief, if that.

Pharmacists largely stopped mixing their own drug compounds and relied on mass-produced pills and lotions. Consumer confidence in using medications grew as they saw their effectiveness, and they eagerly sought out medicines for a growing list of ills.

Of course, all the progress also changed the business dynamic of the community drug store. In the early days, a pharmacist sold few prescriptions and relied heavily on sales of soda, cosmetics, magazines, cigarettes, greeting cards, etc., according to the AIHP.

But as prescriptions became the big seller, many had to make in-store changes to focus on filling all the scripts. The main casualties seem to have been the soda fountain and café, which required a lot of time-consuming work for minimal return.

Staying Nimble

Prior to the 1980s, small, independent pharmacies were largely the norm, NCPA’s Norton says, and there were more than 40,000 of them in the U.S. But between 1980 and 2000, chain drugstores such as Walgreens and Rite Aid and big retailers like Walmart spread widely across the country.

By 2000, more than 17,000 independent pharmacies had lost the fight against these Goliaths and shuttered their stores.

Interestingly though, as Norton points out, the independent pharmacies that weathered that boom are still going strong. Since 2000, the number of independent drugstores has held at roughly 22,500. Today, 40% of all pharmacies are independently-owned shops.

So how do they survive when the chain stores have been the demise of many small retailers?

Stay tuned for Part Two in our series next week!

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.

3 Surprising Facts About Small Business Loans Thu, 25 Jun 2015 13:55:56 +0000

Image of Southern Pines diorama built by Jim McNiff

When the time comes to invest in new resources, a small business loan can help you stimulate production and grow. But what should you expect when applying for a loan? Is the road to approval quick and effortless, or is obtaining financing a complex, protracted process? The answer, it seems, lies somewhere in between.

According to Greg Britt, a First Bank Regional Credit Officer in Greenville, North Carolina, lenders devote substantial energy to understanding applicants’ businesses. More often than not, that means asking a lot of questions.

“The more willing a business owner is to help us understand their business model, the better the opportunity for a positive outcome,” he explains.

In other words, the more prepared you are as an applicant, the greater your chance of getting a loan. With that sentiment in mind, let’s analyze 3 of the most surprising realities behind small business loans.

1. Banks need lots of information

Evolving economic and regulatory conditions are changing how lending institutions approach small business loans. Compared to the years before the Great Recession, banks must request a much larger volume of information about an applicant’s business.

For first-time applicants, the amount of financial disclosures and planning they’re asked to provide often come as a surprise.

“Applicants need to provide a clear and concise plan about what they want to do,” says Lee Watson, First Bank Senior Vice President and City Executive. “We need to understand what they are doing, how much money is needed, and how they plan to pay it back.”

Basically, banks want to help you, the creditworthy borrower, finance your business activities. They just need a lot of background to confirm your readiness.

As Britt explains, “Many business owners want things to be ‘like the old days, when a handshake was worth something.’ At First Bank, a handshake does still mean something. However, we’re now in an operating environment where more financial disclosure is needed in addition to that handshake.”

Just be aware that lenders will, at the very least, ask for balance sheets, profit-and-loss reports, and cash flow statements. And that’s in addition to the plan for how you will invest and repay the loan.

2. Personal finances matter

Another big surprise for small business loan applicants—and this speaks further to the bank’s request for information—is that personal finances matter too.

Besides financial data related to the need for a loan, expect banks to request:

  • Credit history: This includes your FICO score, credit card balances, and record of on-time payments.
  • Personal financial statement: This document lists all of your assets and liabilities.
  • Tax returns: Access to recent tax returns helps lenders predict your business income for the current year.

Accessing this information gives banks what Watson calls “the global picture” about your financial situation. It helps the credit officer understand how all of your income streams, expenses, and lines of credit interact with one another.

“We’re trying to confirm that an applicant has the personal assets to help secure the loan,” he says. “Typically, we’re looking for a credit score north of 700, and above 720 is ideal. Personal liquidity helps, too, but we understand that it might not always be there, especially with startups.”

3. There are no hard and fast rules

By now you may be wondering whether having existing debts will prevent you from getting a small business loan. After all, the banks are asking for lots of information. They will be able to see if you already owe money to other lenders.

Thankfully, lending institutions rarely require borrowers to have a debt-free financial situation.

Many businesses apply for loans when they have few debts and a healthy cash flow, but others have no choice but to operate with a high debt-to-equity ratio. Every business is different, and banks understand that. There are no hard and fast rules about debt and equity.

“Some companies, like a manufacturer, may have higher fixed capital costs and would have a high debt-to-equity ratio,” explains Britt. “On the other hand, a service-only business would have a lower long-term capital need and should have a lower debt-to-equity ratio. What’s important to understand is that the bank is looking for the owner’s equity position in the business. The larger, the better.”

While debt-to-equity will vary according to the type of business, lenders will look closely at a business’s debt-service coverage ratio (DSCR). The DSCR, calculated by dividing net operating income by total debts, helps the bank determine whether you have the cash to adequately manage borrowing costs. Typically, banks want to see a DSCR of 1.25 or higher.

According to Britt:

“A debt-service coverage ratio of 1.25 shows us that after all debt payments are made, owners would have cash available to self-fund the business. Bear in mind that this number is a target and not an absolute. Everything depends on the overall health of the business, and many factors can come into play.”

Once again: there are no hard and fast rules. A significant strength in one area—for example, your personal credit score—can offset a weakness in another, like a DSCR just above 1. Your outstanding debts do matter, but the fact that you have debts doesn’t mean your loan will be denied outright.

“Have a clear concise plan and be ready to tell your story,” says Watson, adding, “If you can afford to have a CPA prepare your financial statements and projections, even better. It’s always nice for a borrower to say, ‘Would you like to speak with my CPA?’”

Ready to get started? Set up a free consultation with a First Bank business advisor.

Business Location Evaluation [INFOGRAPHIC] Wed, 10 Jun 2015 19:58:04 +0000

The location of your business can be one of its most powerful assets, or not. Let’s evaluate various positive and negative factors. Find the business in the infographic below and see how good its location is.

Click image to enlarge.

Storefront Spring 2015-COASTAL-city


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