Thursday, December 27, 2012

Dilworth shop Maddi's Gallery is closing

A popular Dilworth shop is closing after a decade of selling handmade artwork, crafts and specialty gifts, the owners announced Thursday.

Maddi's Gallery, owned by Madis and Diane Sulg, will close its doors mid-January.

Charlotte-based Rhyneland Inc., which owns the building Maddi’s Gallery has occupied for 10 years, recently decided to sell it. The Sulgs would need to relocate their business.

Maddi's Gallery on East Boulevard
“For about 24 hours, we looked around (for possible locations), thought about it and said, ‘At our age, starting over again when you’re well past retirement – it isn’t in the cards,’ ” Madis, 69, told the Observer. (Diane is 66 years old.)

The Sulgs are calling the closeout their “retirement sale.” It will begin 10 a.m. Dec. 29, and all inventory will be at least 30 percent off.

There will be interim markdowns until the final day of business, Jan. 19. All sales are final, and the Sulgs are encouraging customers to use their store coupons and gift certificates.

All fixtures and furniture are for sale as well.

Maddi’s Gallery opened at 1530 East Boulevard in Dilworth in October 2002. The flagship store is one door down from Lebowski’s Neighborhood Grill and across the street from Cantina 1511.

Two years later, the couple opened a second location at Birkdale Village in Huntersville.

The Sulg’s daughter, Michaelle Dalton, managed the Birkdale store, which was accompanied by a restaurant in 2007, Maddi’s Southern Bistro. The eatery featured Southern favorites on the menu as well as handmade crafts, such as dishes, glasses and check trays.

They closed the Birkdale location in 2010. “The recession up there was more than we could handle,” Madis said. “The reality is, in September 2008, it was like somebody threw a switch in Charlotte. Virtually all retail took a hit.”

Madis estimates that store has more than 40,000 different customers on file and has worked with more than 1,000 different vendors.

The store’s unifying theme was its handmade offerings, nearly all of which were crafted by Americans.

In 2009, Niche Magazine and trade association the Rosen Group selected Maddi’s Gallery from a field of more than 600 nominees to be the nation’s “Top Retailer of American Craft.” The awards competition recognizes top North American craft retailers.

“We’ve had a wonderful run, we’re really enjoyed it and we’ve dealt with one heck of a lot of really good people,” said Madis.

But it will be nice to relax and enjoy retirement, he added.

He saw evidence of that Wednesday morning, when he and Diane were getting ready.

“My wife said, ‘I’d really just like to stay in bed and read a book,’ Madis said. “At some point in your life, that’s not a bad alternative.”

Report: last-minute retail sales, foot traffic down

Last-minute shopping activity drove large increases in retail sales and foot traffic last week, but both sales and foot traffic were down compared to last year, says a retail report released Thursday. 

The data, known as the ShopperTrak National Retail Sales Estimate, reported that for the week ending Dec. 22, sales increase more than 39 percent and traffic increase 32 percent compared to the previous week. 

But retail sales were down 2.5 percent and foot traffic was down 3.3 percent, compared to the same week last year. 

Dec. 22 was the second-busiest retail sales and foot traffic day of the year, behind Black Friday (Nov. 23). 

ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based retail technology company that measures foot traffic in more than 50,000 locations globally, forecasts that day-after-Christmas sales won't be as strong as last year because of the day of the week. 

Last year, Dec. 26 fell on a Monday. This year, it was a Wednesday. 

"Many people were back at work, not in stores," says ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin in a statement.  

ShopperTrak will release its retail sales and foot traffic numbers for the week ending Dec. 29 during its holiday wrap-up news on Jan. 8.

The U.S. Department of Commerce will release its December numbers in February. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Spotlight: Santa edition

Hey, Santa, how is business?

Very good, Santa Chuck Spencer of Matthews said earlier this week.

“I have had to turn away...more business than I’ve been able to take.”

A year-round professional for about five years, Santa Chuck, 58, does office and neighborhood association parties, and home visits, providing ready-made photo ops. Memorable gigs this year included being Santa at the Belk Carolinas' Carrousel Parade. Then there was the home visit with 11 moms and their 13 babies. “I sat with 8-month-old to 13-month-old babies. It was a hoot. They were all able to sit up on their own.”

Santa Chuck also does volunteer work, visiting sick children year round.

This busy work weekend brings more home visits. And today through Monday, he’ll be in the Santa chair at Birkdale Village. “There will be a line this weekend,” Santa Chuck says. “I talk to the children…My job is to listen to the children, and try to calm the ones…that are a little afraid.”

(For more on how Santa Chuck got his start – along with a neat photo of Santa getting in his bike workout at Squirrel Lake Park in Matthews – check out this story by freelance writer Nancy Thomason in the Observer’s South Charlotte News section.)

I can’t remember the season, but I first met Santa Chuck more than a year ago in the parking deck of a local medical complex. If his long, naturally-white beard wasn’t enough of a giveaway – or his license plate, which includes “Santa” in it – his engaging demeanor confirmed his identity.

He’s clearly comfortable with people coming up to him, since it happens all the time. He's also prepared. He handed me Christmas stickers – and his business card. On impulse, I gave him a hug.

Hugs from strangers don’t bother him. But handing out business cards felt awkward at first, and he’s only been doing that for the last two years or so. Santa Chuck says his late mother-in-law encouraged him to adopt more entrepreneurial habits since his face generates immediate networking opportunities.

Like that Fourth of July day at Birkdale Village about six years ago. Dressed in shorts and a shirt, Santa Chuck recalls being at the fountain with his wife, Lori, a musician, to hear a children’s musical performance.

A lady walked up to him. Excuse me, do you play Santa?

“Before I could say anything, my wife said ‘yes,’" he recalls, joking that it was the first time in their lengthy marriage that she answered for him. The lady handed him her business card, and asked him to give her a call.

Then another lady walked up, her five-year-old son not far behind. After the mother asked Santa Chuck’s permission, the boy say on his lap, and talked nonstop for a half-hour, he said. Are you Santa? Is this Mrs. Claus? We’re going on a boat. Do you want to go on a boat? What do reindeer like to eat?

“He was so well spoken, and so excited,” Santa Chuck said. “Then I was sold.”

He started collecting Santa gear, and attended Santa School in Greensboro. Classes included a session on beard care.

His beard, by the way – which Santa Chuck says started growing in white and long following an illness about ten years ago – is now midway down his chest. He’s meticulous about keeping it washed and conditioned so it’s soft to the touch. Kids love touching it -- as do adult women, he says. He expects that will happen a lot this weekend.

“I have a lot of fun,” Santa Chuck says. “But I have to be honest with you, I’m looking forward to this time next week.”

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Charlotte small-business owners urge tax reform

Several small business owners from the Charlotte area are among hundreds who have signed two separate letters to President Obama and Congress urging tax reform.

The letters, both listed as having more than 600 signatures, were sent by the American Sustainable Business Council, Business for Shared Prosperity and the Main Street Alliance. Business for Shared Prosperity is still collecting signatures on its website.

One letter voices support for ending the Bush-era tax cuts for families with income over $250,000. That letter states, in part, that “huge tax cuts for the richest Americans have not trickled down to increase small- and medium-sized business investment, broad based consumer purchasing power or job creation...” Signatures listed include Andrew Chesley of Chesley Morgan Consulting LLC in Concord, and Charlotte-based Roberta Dees, investor; Karin Kish of Growing Love Project, Carole McLeod of Advantage Waste, and Thomas Swanson, small business owner.

The other letter calls for corporate tax reform “that is fair and provides sufficient revenue for the public services and infrastructure that underpin our economy.

“…In our current two-tier corporate tax system, some profitable U.S. corporations pay taxes while others pay little or none – using aggressive accounting manipulation to disguise U.S. profits as foreign profits to avoid taxes.” Listed signatures for that letter include Swanson, and Sally Thomas, retired, tour business.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

No rest for the weary this holiday season

A day off from work is a luxury many people can't spare, according to a recent study on travel habits.

The second annual American Travel Behavior Survey, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of, a discount travel site, shows most Americans will end 2012 with an average of 9.2 paid vacation days on the table this year. That's up from 6.2 unused days in 2011, according to Hotwire. More than 2,000 U.S. adults were interviewed for the survey in October.

And for many small business owners, there is no such thing as taking a vacation. Results from a study conducted earlier this year by Manta, an online community for promoting and connecting small busineses, showed nearly half of 1,200 small business owners polled didn't have time to take a summer vacation.

Almost 60 percent predicted they would work more this year than in 2011, according to the Manta survey.

What about you? Are you taking any time off this year? Or will you work on your days off? Take our weekly ShopTalk poll on the topic, here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A shop local movement makes 2013 plans

Nancy Bradley of RelyLocal Matthews, Mint Hill and Indian Trail - an effort that promotes small merchants in those areas - recently announced Cash Mob dates for 2013.

With local Cash Mob movements, shoppers use social media to pick out a local business, then all go at once to shop. The idea is to help support local entrepreneurs.

“We are coordinating six Cash Mob events in 2013 to give local retail businesses a bit of economic stimulus while fostering a sense of community,” Bradley wrote in a recent Facebook post.

Those dates are Martin Luther King Day, on Jan. 21; President’s Day, Feb. 18; Memorial Day, May 27; Labor Day, Sept. 2; Veterans Day, Nov. 11; and Small Business Saturday, which falls on Nov. 30 in 2013.

RelyLocal also runs a Shift $20 Campaign, encouraging residents to shift $20 of their spending each month to local businesses.

Find Rely Local on Facebook at /RelyLocalMatthews, or on Meetup.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Spotlight 12-14: Small-business happenings

Small business leaders took top honors at last week's awards gala sponsored by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce:

-Express Logistic Services is the 2012 Small Business of the Year. Owner Kojo Sapon started his company with just one dump truck, and grossed just under $100,000 in the first year, according to the Chamber. Today, the company runs 40 trucks, and expects $3 million in gross revenue this year. Sapon’s company was a 2010 nominee for the N.C. Department of Transportation’s small business of the year, according to the chamber.

- Herb Gray is the 2012 Small Business Influencer of the Year. A philanthropist and community leader, Gray is chief operating officer of Charlotte-based Life Enhancement Services, which serves clients with mental and behavioral health disorders. The business also has offices in Georgia, Nebraska, Washington D.C. and Texas.

Also, Glenn Proctor, executive editor of Lake Norman Publications – which includes the Herald Weekly serving North Mecklenburg and Mooresville Weekly – was named CMBCC Member of the Year. Proctor is former executive editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

NFIB: Small business owners' confidence down

In its latest Small Business Optimism Index released Tuesday, the National Federation of Independent Business found small business owners' confidence has dropped in the wake of the November 2012 election, according to the survey.  

The NFIB's Optimism Index fell 5.6 points, bottoming out at 87.5, one of the lowest readings in the history of the survey.  

Only seven readings in the history of the monthly index were lower than November's - and all but one were in the last few months of 2008 and early 2009, during the depths of the recession. 

Prior to 1986, when the survey was conducted on a quarterly basis, there were just two readings lower, one in the first quarter of 1975 and one in the second quarter of 1980. 

The November survey is based on the responses of 733 randomly sampled small businesses that are part of the NFIB. 

To disentangle sentiments about the election and Hurricane Sandy - the two major events in November - the NFIB excluded results from states affected by Sandy

Other findings from the survey: 

-Owner's optimism about the future is down: The percentage of owners who said they're uncertain whether business condition will improve in six months reached an all-time low of 23 percent. Of those who said they were uncertain in October, 49 percent now expect business conditions to get worse in six months (up 30 points). Only 9 percent expect an improvement (down 5 points). 

-Taxes, sales and regulations trump concerns over credit: Only 3 percent of owners reported that financing was their top business problem, whereas 23 percent cited taxes, 23 percent cited weak sales and 18 percent cited "unreasonable regulations and red tape." More than half of the surveyed owners explicitly said they do not want a loan. 

-The percent of owners planning capital outlays in the next three to six months fell 3 points to 19 percent. Only 6 percent of owners said now was a good time to expand facilities (down 1). 

Data for North Carolina-specific data isn't available, but Gregg Thompson, state director of NFIB/North Carolina, said what's happening locally is a reflection of the national trends.

"What's obvious is that nearly half of small-business owners believe things are going to get worse over the next 12 months, not better," Thompson said in a statement. "They don't believe Washington is focused on what's best for small business."

Download the complete study here

Monday, December 10, 2012

La Noticia publisher named "Latina Entrepreneur of the Year"

The North Carolina Hispanic Chamber of Commerce named Hilda Gurdian, publisher of the state's leading Spanish-language newspaper, La Noticia, the "Latina Entrepreneur of the Year" at an awards ceremony over the weekend. 

The Dec. 8 event, the chamber's first Latino Entrepreneur Award Celebration, commemorated the growth of the chamber and the accomplishments of its members. 

A Venezuela native, Gurdian, 58, founded La Noticia in Charlotte in 1997, five years after she immigrated to the U.S.  

The weekly newspaper has since expanded with separate weekly editions in Asheville and Raleigh, reaching an estimated 225,000 people statewide every week, Gurdian said. 

"We have grown, and that is due to the fact that the Latino community is growing," Gurdian said. "We take very seriously our responsibility to act as a communication bridge (between) the community at large and the Latino community. We believe in integration. If we (Latinos) stay in one little corner and don't integrate, we know we won't be successful." 

Gurdian also is President and CEO of La Noticia Foundation, a nonprofit organization that awards at least four $2,500 college scholarships each year to deserving Latino students.

President and CEO of the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Javier Palomarez was the gala's keynote speaker. The national chamber is an advocate for nearly 3 million Latino-owned businesses and more than 200 local Latino chambers throughout the country.

When divorced couples remain business partners

This New York Times story about divorced couples who remain business partners offers guidelines on making the best of the situation.

Among the tips in the article: empathizing with your ex, getting professional help if needed so you can talk to each other, and being upfront with employees about what’s happening.

The story points out that the scenario is more common than many people realize, given the statistics: There's a high rate of divorce in this country, and about 3.7 million businesses are owned by a husband and wife, according to a 2007 Census Bureau estimate.

If you are you a small business owner in this situation, how are you handling it, and how is your business doing? Email me at

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Spotlight: Area small-business happenings

A look at some small-business happenings and announcements in the Charlotte area:

-Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa opened in SouthPark earlier this month. According to the company, spa founder Martin Senell recently resigned as director of oncology services at NorthEast Medical Center to pursue his dream of owning a small business. Because of his background working with cancer patients, Senell wanted to open a business that could provide help and healing. So in addition to regular spa services, Senell is also hiring massage therapists trained in oncology to help clients with cancer. Hand & Stone spa is located at 4310 Sharon Road X11. Visit the website here.

-Scott Kaufmann and Jennifer Willis announce their new business, Affero Cutting Boards, based in Matthews. Scott writes that his invention weds cutting boards and cutlery, using a magnet strip to keep the knives on the underside. He said his board was chosen along with six other new products to debut at the International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago earlier this year. Holiday prices start at $99.99. See more at

-Declaring that “even a furniture store can tailgate,” HGTV “Design Star” Will Smith will park his Interior Motives showroom truck outside the Carolina Panthers/Atlanta Falcons game Sunday. Look for the truck – loaded with furniture, holiday ornaments, accessories and tailgating food – at the corner of Morehead and Winnifred streets starting at 9 a.m. Visitors can also enter a drawing to win a $75 gift card to Interior Motives, located at 2425 South Blvd.

In 2007, Charlotte’s Will Smith was one of 11 contestants on HGTV’s “Design Star” competition, and made it to the final three.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Charlotte small businesses in national magazines

Two Charlotte small businesses are featured in recent national publications.

Larry and Robyn Swayne, owners of Wingzza wings and pizza food truck, are the focus of a “software makeover” in the December issue of Black Enterprise magazine. The two-page tech feature chronicles the truck’s transition to Intuit software, which included adding the GoPayment mobile payment system to process customer credit cards.

A Bloomberg Businessweek story about email scares and annoyances caused by the “reply all” button quotes Carson Tate of Working Simply, Inc., a workplace consultancy organization. Tate is quoted as advising a Wells Fargo sales team on the matter -- which now limits team members’ use of the button.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How can QR codes help market your business?

As the number of smart phone users boom, so does the proliferation of QR codes.

Those quick-response codes you scan with a smart phone are seemingly showing up on...everything.
The Seattle Times has reported on a grave monument maker there, who can include QR codes on headstones. Scan the code with a smart phone reader app to go to a special website with photos and biographical information about the deceased.

The Charlotte Observer’s Joe DePriest wrote last year about Gaston County Museum adding QR codes at historic sites around the county to explain local history.

And Mashable
reports on creative ways to use QR codes for marketing, including using them for customers to find out more about products. What’s the most creative use of a QR code that you’ve ever seen? Let us know in the comments below, and also take our weekly ShopTalk poll on the topic, here.