Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Small-business owners expectations in 2014

Worries about the economy and how their businesses will fare are dampening small-business owners expectations in 2014, according to a Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index released on Monday.

Of the 605 small-business owners interviewed, 28 percent say they are less optimistic about the future of their business going into 2014 than they were going into 2013. Twenty-three percent say they are more optimistic.

Twenty-five percent expect a worse operating environment for their business compared to 2013.

And the biggest challenge owners expect to face is the economy (12 percent), followed by healthcare/Obamacare and government (both 11 percent).

See the full survey here.

Monday, December 30, 2013

New year brings new careers for these small-business owners

In the New Year's Day edition of ShopTalk publishing on Wednesday, Caroline McMillan Portillo tells the story of a couple undergoing a complete career reinvention.

Amy and Danny Leon both had high-profile jobs as television producers in the New York-New Jersey area when they decided to become small-business owners.

Now they're new North Carolina residents -- and co-owners of a CKO Kickboxing franchise, located off Prosperity Church Road in northeast Charlotte. CKO opens Jan. 11.

(Photos by Jeff Wilhelm/Charlote Observer)

Check out this video by Observer photographer Jeff Willhelm showing the Leons in their new careers as owners and trainers:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A year of challenges for small businesses

In a look back at the year, Joyce M. Rosenberg of the Associated Press writes that small-business owners will likely be relieved to close the books on 2013.

It's been a year of challenges for small companies and entrepreneurs - from questions over the federal healthcare law, to worries over how the government shutdown would affect business.

But Rosenberg writes that 2014 could hold some bright spots, including an uptick in hiring.

Read more here.

Friday, December 20, 2013

In Wednesday's ShopTalk: Nonprofit branches out to the business side

Take a look at what's coming up in Wednesday's ShopTalk:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

'Do It Up in December' at HF Financial

How is your small business getting into the holiday spirit this season? Share your stories for a profile in a future blog post. Contact me at cesmith@charlotteobserver.com.

Hear Tim Flanagan from HF Financial in SouthPark talk about how the company celebrates staff and advisors this month with a 'Do It Up in December' program.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

National VC partners with Packard Place incubator

Early-stage venture fund Sierra Maya Ventures announced Tuesday a partnership and investment with RevTech Labs, a startup incubator at uptown startup hub Packard Place.

RevTech Labs is a 12-week program focused on early-stage mobile, software and web companies. The incubation program provides free work space, mentorship and programming geared toward revolutionary technology startups. The program guides startups as they focus on building their products and defining their business models.

RevTech Labs is preparing to begin its third class, which will culminate with a launch day where startups can connect with local and regional investors and customers.

“We are leveraging our relationships to get top venture capital firms and investors to take a closer look at RevTech Labs' graduates," said Amish Shah said, who founded Sierra Maya Ventures with Boston resident Eric Kagan in April 2013. The pair have since invested in promising startups from around the globe.

Shah says he's committed to helping promising RevTech Labs startups connect with their Silicon Valley contacts, for mentoring and potentially investment.

RevTech Labs is currently accepting applications for their spring class, and will be releasing more information about the program in the coming weeks. For more details and applications, visit revtechlabs.com. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hey, Today Show, it's a Southern thing

A shout-out for a hometown small business making it big: Huntersville- based Southern Nest, an online retailer selling wooden monograms, was part of NBC's Today Show holiday gift guide Wednesday morning. (Watch it here.)

Courtney Ronay
Owner and Statesville native Courtney Ronay, 30, started the business in 2011 by opening an Etsy store, selling the monograms for $12 to $225 depending on the size. And when the orders flooded in – as many as 90 a week – Ronay decided to work at her business full time, using other bloggers’ communities helped spread word of her products around the world.

As a native Charlottean, I've long been a fan of monograms, whether on pillows, purses, key rings, curtains, or family heirlooms. One of my best friends even has the same initials as her younger sister -- a move her parents made so they could share monogrammed gear. Crazy? Nah. It's a southern thing. (See: Southern Nest.)

That why I chuckled a bit when the Today Show introduced the product by saying: "In old-time Europe everybody had a monogram. Now you can have one, too." 

Yes, that's true. And yes, you can have one, too. By perusing the Southern Nest Facebook page, you'll see they're a beautiful addition to a bedroom, nursery, front door, wreath, desk or Christmas tree (yes, people are doing this!).  

But monograms are not just alive and well in old-world families across the Atlantic Ocean. They're wildly popular here in the U.S., as evidenced by Ronay's nationwide success. Retailers from around the nation sell her goods, and she gets online orders from around the world, as far as Australia. 

Ronay's website, however, gets at the essence of her products: "So step in, look around and enjoy yourself," she says. "Don't be a stranger. When you bring a Southern Nest creation into your home, you are welcoming in a bit of the South."

That's the piece the Today Show missed. 

Charlotte startup needs your votes in national competition

You've got until 2 p.m. Wednesday to vote for Charlotte-based International ThermoDyne in a national radio competition called Dream Big America, which pits startup business ventures against one another.

The contestants broadcast their pitches live on nationally syndicated Stephan's Good Day Show at 9:10 a.m Tuesday.

International ThermoDyne, presented on air by co-founder and Charlotte native Tim Risser, aims to revolutionize the way we create and use power. Their lead product, PowerFelt, is a cloth that provides portable, inexpensive, renewable electricity, extending battery life by 15 to 20 percent.

Last week's winner, MANA Nutrition, also is from the Charlotte area. MANA produces ready-to-use therapeutic food derived from peanuts for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. MANA's win last week secured it a spot in the December 31 finals.

Want to vote?
Visit: DreamBigAmerica.us or text DBA to 612-22-DREAM (612-223-7326).

Deadline is 2 p.m.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Giving Tree Realty helps military families this holiday season

How is your small business getting into the holiday spirit this season? Share your stories for a profile in a future blog post. Contact me at cesmith@charlotteobserver.com.

Giving back to the community has been Giving Tree Realty's priority since the Charlotte real estate firm opened in 2010, according to Broker-in-Charge Bruce Bleiman. There's a sign in the East Boulevard office with the firm's tree logo and the tagline, "REALTORS with roots in community causes."

This holiday season, the firm has launched a "Toys For Our Troops" effort to help children in military families facing hardships this season.

It started off last Wednesday with the realty's team hosting 230 military children at Discovery Place for a showing of "The Polar Express."

(Photos by Gene Lazo and William Culp.)

The children met Sir Purr of the Panthers, Rufus of the Bobcats, and the jolly big guy himself.

Next up is Christmas Eve, when the company team will deliver gifts and a holiday meal to the children of three military families who lost a parent in Afghanistan or Iraq.

And continuing through Dec. 31 is a toy drive being held on behalf of Operation Homefront of the Carolinas. Bleiman said the firm is asking the public for donations of gently used or new, unwrapped toys for boys and girls of all ages. Gifts received after Christmas will be saved for next year's event. Drop off gifts during business hours at the Giving Tree Realty office at 1819 East Blvd. Find more information at http://www.givingtreerealty.com/ToysForOurTroops.

Giving Tree Realty credits Military Family Lifestyle Charitable Foundation, The Patriot Charities, Hendrick Automotive Group, HendrickCars.Com, Edifice, First Choice Loan Services and Ameritrust for helping and/or donating to its holiday efforts.

Bleiman said all types of gifts are welcome for the toy drive -- tricycles, box games, crayons, books, There's a storage space on the office property that's designated for toys, and he hopes public donations fill the space "from top to bottom."

Watch this video to hear Bleiman talk more about the program:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Video - In Wednesday's ShopTalk: Entrepreneurship class, monogram maker

Here's a video preview of what's coming up in this week's ShopTalk:

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

So, when is the next one?

Many customers shopping at the Micro Local pop-up store in South End last weekend suggested to organizers they should do this more often.

("They're) hoping that we would do this every quarter or at least every celebrated Small Business Saturday," according to Olive Stewart, one of the organizers behind the first-time, one-day event.

The pop-up was designed to give entrepreneurs without storefronts the chance to promote their products during the national "Shop Small" promotion day. Offerings included food products, pet treats, candles, handmade items, and more. CPCC Small Business Center, Charlotte Center City Partners, and Whiteside Industrial Commercial Properties assisted in the event.

Stewart called the day a "total success."

"People came from the surrounding areas...It was profitable not just monetarily but in building a customer base for all the vendors. Customers found many of the items to be unique, quality and affordable."

Vendors even shopped from each other for gifts, Stewart said.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Small businesses participate in #GivingTuesday

Fresh off of Small Business Saturday comes #GivingTuesday, a day designed to promote charitable giving to nonprofits.

Harrisburg-based JHE Production Group, which produces events, sent out a press release on the company's year-round  "Giving for Good" commitment, where company employees employees select one cause each month to support. This year, according to JHE, the company has donated 788 hours to 11 organizations, including Metrolina Food Bank, Levine & Dickson Hospice House, Wings of Eagles Ranch, American Red Cross  and the company’s signature charitable event, Golfing 4 Good.

“#GivingTuesday is a wonderful way to remind people to get out and donate their time to a cause close to their hearts,” said JHE executive vice president and chief marketing officer Michael Verlatti.

One entrepreneurial venture is asking for #GivingTuesday-themed donations. Queen City Mobile Market, a food truck concept, tweeted for donations to help "purchase a trailer for our truck to roll out our mobile farmers market on wheels which will serve food deserts and build healthier communities."

Also, the Better Business Bureau in Charlotte is offering tips for wise giving.

Is your small business participating in #GivingTuesday? Tell us how in the comments below. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Small-business owners: What are you doing Christmas?

If you're a small-business person working Christmas Day, we'd like to hear from you for an upcoming story.

What does your work involve? What will you be doing, and what types of customers are depending on you?

Tell us about it: Email Celeste Smith at cesmith@charlotteobserver.com. Please include your name, business information, and phone number where you can be reached.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Charlotte foodie entrepreneurs get set for Small Business Saturday

Expect a festival vibe at the Shop Micro Local event on Nov. 30, which will feature several local food and products producers, according to organizer Olive Stewart.

She and other local and regional foodie entrepreneurs are uniting at a one-day-only pop-up store, open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., at 1320 S. Church St. as part of Small Business Saturday. The location is near All Nations Coffee and The Unknown Brewing Company, which Stewart says will also be open on the shopping day dedicated to promoting local merchants. There's free parking.

Stewart is the founder of Bushelle Seasonings, whose homemade marinades are on the shelves at Whole Foods

In a press release, Stewart explains why she's organizing the temporary retail site:
"For this special event, Shop Micro Local will feature local and regional small businesses that sell their goods to stores, online, and at special events. These businesses do not have their own brick and mortar store - yet. They count on events such as these to help build their audience and sales. At this pop-up event, much like any festival, small company owners will display their goods and introduce their product for the first time to many attending. Expect delicious food samples to be available."

"The timing of this event, branded 'Shop Small' by American Express, couldn’t be better. This weekend is famous for kicking holiday shopping into high gear. Shop Micro Local business owners want to help you to put something local under your tree. For the person on your holiday shopping list who has everything, try a gift of something new. Like Sadie’s Caribbean fish cakes, Fresh herb blends by Bushelle Seasonings, Garnet Gals handmade jams, Sweet Neecy homemade cake mixes, Guava Love fruit and butter spreads, All Nations fair trade coffee, Hey Sugar Shop truffles, or a whole array of other wonderful food and gift options. Gift baskets featuring locally made products will also be available for purchase."

Stewart said CPCC Small Business Institute, Whiteside Industrial Properties, and American Express are supporting the pop-up event. 

Follow the planning on Facebook, at www.facebook.com/ShopMicroLocal.

And read more in this Wednesday's ShopTalk about how Charlotte merchants are using pop-ups stores as temporary retail sites during the holidays and beyond.

Monday, November 18, 2013

In Wednesday's ShopTalk: Pop-up shops, a traveling painting party

Watch this video for a preview of what's coming up in Wednesday's ShopTalk:

Friday, November 15, 2013

10 ways to boost your business's holiday sales

As small businesses gear up for holiday sales and Small Business Saturday Nov. 30, retailers should also take a look at the way they're selling -- the storefronts, the curb appeal, the experience for the shopper. 

American Express OPEN and retail expert Patricia Norrins offer their tips: 

1. Spruce up the curb appeal. Research has shown that retailers have thirty seconds or less to attract a customer, and much of a customer's decision to enter the store is based on how inviting the store looks. Before you begin holiday merchandising in earnest, tidy up the outside of your store. Wash the windows. Sweep the outside. Consider adding festive holiday garland and decorative holiday planters.

2.  Think of window displays as billboards for your stores: They communicate an important message about the products you sell. Showcase products you have an ample supply of, use vertical height and width to make a statement, use creative signage or props to tell a story, balance the amount of merchandise you include, and get creative. If your store windows are really clever, customers may even take pictures and share them via social media. That can help you build foot traffic exponentially. 

3. Give your store space a different and distinctive look for the season. Move merchandise around in the store. Freshen displays. Give customers a reason to notice merchandise they may overlooked on previous trips. 
Don't just relegate holiday fare to a small section of the store. Create festive displays throughout the store to give a sense of cohesion. Consider positioning the most popular holiday products as a focal display where everyone who enters the store is sure to see and buy them.  

4. Create themed displays within your store. Group merchandise by theme to make it easier for customers to shop. It also makes for a stronger visual impact.

5. Mix natural and handmade elements in displays: Getting crafty with some of your display props by using Pinterest to learn DIY tips for making garland, wreaths, store props and signs. Add in natural floral elements such as pine and spruce to add fragrance and a warm, inviting feel. 

6. Use bold signs and props: They'll help you communicate what you're selling and attract customers throughout your store.

7. Incorporate fragrances, sounds and tastes of the season: Remember, vision is just one of the five sense. Engage smell, sound and taste and you're likely to sell more products. Fifty-five percent of customers make a purchase when they had not planned to after being able to taste-test a product, according to a recent study conducted by Iowa State University. Also consider playing holiday music, burning holiday scented candles or selling holiday scented potpourri. 

8. Sprinkle in holiday signs throughout the store. Use holiday signs to attracts customers to various displays throughout your store, but make sure they communicate a quick message about the products being sold and contribute to the overall holiday feel within the store.

9. Merchandise your cash wrap. Think strategically about which small stocking-stuffer items, should be sold near the cash register. Prominently display your holiday gift wrap and signage indicating if gift wrapping is free of charge. Create an attractive holiday gift card or gift certificate display, along with adding signage to promote holiday store specials and special events taking place in the store throughout the season.

10. Remember, your holiday merchandising is an extension of your store's brand. Your merchandising strategy should express the essence of your store's brand and personality. This will help you attract customers, keep them shopping longer, and ultimately, encourage them to buy more products. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Small Business Saturday is Nov. 30

Small-business owners and entrepreneurs: What are you doing to attract shoppers on the Saturday after Thanksgiving?

Tell us your plans and show us what you're doing. Tweet your best #smallbizsat photos to #shoptalkclt. We'll publish some of them here on this blog and on our ShopTalk website.

And check out what Charlotte-area retailers are planning for shoppers, here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rep. McHenry touts new crowd-funding legislation at Packard Place

U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina met with two dozen entrepreneurs and investors Wednesday at uptown startup hub Packard Place to discuss the impact of new crowdfunding legislation he helped write. 

The legislation -- part of last year's bipartisan Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which was designed to help businesses grow and hire -- will make it easier for startups and small businesses to gather small amounts of money from non-accredited investors in exchange for equity in the company.

Previously, businesses could only take on investors with a certain net worth, income or personal relationship.

"Small businesses are starved for capital," said McHenry,  a Republican who represents the state's 10th district stretching from Gaston County to Asheville.  "We have to lighten the load so funding can flow." 

Critics worry the new rules could cause small, inexperienced investors to lose money. The Securities and Exchange Commission recently released nearly 600 pages of rules dictating the new provisions. The rules are open for public comment for the next 90 days. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

JCSU students get audience with Federal Reserve

A small group of Johnson C. Smith University students talked education, the power of persistence and what it takes to succeed in today's economy with officers from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond over breakfast Tuesday morning. 

The four students are part of Innovo Laboratory, a nonprofit run through JCSU, a historically black university designed to guide the city's next generation of entrepreneurs. Students who are a part of Innovo Lab meet with business leaders and entrepreneurs, get training on writing a business plan, have webcam discussions with students in other countries and hear lectures from the area's top leaders. 

And though the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President Jeffrey Lacker spoke briefly, these students did most of the talking -- and impressing. 

The goal is to "help young adults understand the possibilities out there," Lacker said, hours before he gave a speech on workforce development to area business leaders at the Fed's Charlotte branch. 

And many of those possibilities are going to be in new areas. There may be fewer jobs for manual laborers in manufacturing, but there are emerging jobs for people skilled enough to operate the computerized technology, he said. 

Communications major Dineo Seakamela, 21, is from Johannesburg, South Africa, and left her home for the first time in 2010 to study at JCSU. She says her experience at the university has equipped her to spread her wings even more -- possibly to other areas of the U.S., Europe or to Asia.

 "When you look in history, a lot of the upheavals were student-based," Seakamela said. "We have a voice and mind and power in unity."

Lacker praised the students' ambition and desire to get a bachelor's degree. He said people who graduate from college make, over a lifetime, 80 percent than people who have only a high school degree. People who complete just a couple of years of college make 15 percent more, he said.

"The societies that succeed and grow unlock more potential from young people," Lacker said.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sycamore Brewing to open along light rail in South End

The growing Charlotte brewery scene is still hoppin'. Joining the ranks is Sycamore Brewing set to open in spring 2014 in SouthEnd, according to a press release sent Tuesday. 

Founded by husband-and-wife team Sarah and Justin Brigham, the craft microbrewery  will be located at 2161 Hawkins Street, along the Charlotte Lynx Rail Trail, in a building formerly used as an auto garage. 

Courtesy of Sarah Brigham
The owners plan to renovate the building into a production brewery and taproom, and transform the 210 ft. of pedestrian trail at the back of the nearly 1.5-acre property.

Sycamore Brewing will begin production on an American-made brewhouse and pilot brewhouse for more creative, experimental beer styles.  A large selection of "premium ales" will be available on draft in the tap room, with a line-up that's regularly changing.

Born and raised in Charlotte, co-owner Justin Brigham, had his first encounter with the brewing industry while attending the University of Colorado. During his summer breaks he worked for Coors Brewing, in the company's grain elevator, purchasing barley from farmers.  Soon after, Justin began home-brewing and has been hooked ever since. Sarah is an avid cook and the two have been perfecting their recipes for the last few years.

Their goal: use the freshest ingredients available, including local whenever possible, and brew all-natural, tasty beer. 

Once open, the brewery will offer fresh beer on draft in the tap room, growlers to go, and brews in kegs throughout the city's bars, bottle shops and restaurants. 

Sycamore Brewing will have a patio, space for outdoor events and a large amount of parking.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Matthews-based startup named finalist in national competition

From a field of 283 applicants, Matthews-based startup MANA Nutrition was selected as one of eight finalists in the "Get in the Ring: The American Startup Clash" competition, hosted by the The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

MANA, which makes ready-to-use food designed to treat severe malnutrition and its effects, will compete against the other finalists Nov. 18 in front of a panel of judges and a live audience.

MANA has a 30,000-square-foot production facility in Georgia that makes a therapeutic peanut butter for aid groups such as UNICEF, the U.N. World Food Program, World Vision and USAID.

The top U.S. finisher will get $10,000 and travel to the global finals in the Netherlands Nov. 22. The worldwide winner will get a change to secure up to $1.3 million in angel investments.

"We are thrilled to make the final eight and will go to Kansas City planning to win it and show the country that Charlotte is an up-and-coming city for innovative entrepreneurs," says Mark Moore, CEO of MANA Nutrition. 

The panel of judges includes: global fashion mogul Marc Ecko; Dell president Steve Felice; serial entrepreneur, investor and author Lisa Gansky; consumer brand “turnaround” CEO Matthew Rubel; and broadcast and digital media guru Denmark West.

Get in the Ring was founded in 2009 by the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship in the Netherlands to bring the world's most promising entrepreneurs together with those who can help them succeed and to inspire others to start their entrepreneurial journeys. The international finals are held each November during Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Video of the event will be livestreamed at www.kauffman.org/GITR.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

RuffleButts founder gets $600K on ABC's 'Shark Tank'

Charlotte-based Amber Schaub, CEO and Founder of RuffleButts appeared on ABC's "Shark Tank" Friday, Oct. 18, where "shark" Lori Greiner offered her a $600,000 investment for 9 percent equity in the company.

Schaub, who founded the children's apparel company with a signature baby bloomer in 2007,  has since grown her collection to include dresses, tutus and accessories, as well as RuggedButts, an extension of the original line for boys.

The "frilly girly" apparel has been featured on "American Idol" and the "Ellen Degeneres Show." They've been a favorite of some Hollywood celebrities, including Jessica Alba and Tori and Dean Spelling.

The company is ranked No. 166 on the Inc. 500 list, a list of the fastest-growing privately owned companies in the U.S.

The show involves a panel of "Shark" investors who hear business pitches and product ideas from some of America's brightest entrepreneurs. If they hear a great idea, they offer cash in exchange for equity in the company. Sometimes a fight between sharks will break out.

Schaub pitched to the sharks along with her husband and Chief Operating Officer Mark Schaub, and her two young children, Aubrey and Jonas.

"A new round of funding will help Schaub take RuffleButts to the next level by adding on a strong and experienced executive team, as well as expanding the marketing budget to attract new retailers and customers," according to a press release.

Greiner, who decided to invest in RuffleButts, is known as the "Queen of QVC."

“Being allowed the opportunity to appear on Shark Tank and share RuffleButts on a national platform was a dream come true,” said Schaub. “I am thrilled to be partnering up with the brilliant Lori Greiner and excited to see what is in store for RuffleButts’ future.”

Schaub isn't the first Charlotte-area entrepreneur to be featured on SharkTank. In July, ShopTalk featured Ballantyne resident Gary Gagnon (as well as other local reality TV entrepreneurs) who was featured in the Season 3 finale of "Shark Tank" for his line of sneakers made from recyclable materials.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/07/23/4184339/what-reality-tv-taught-me-about.html#.Umb4z_m1E_8#storylink=cpy

SiriusXM to launch "Business Radio," powered by The Wharton School

SiriusXM Radio and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania recently announced a new 24/7 business radio channel called "Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School," to launch in early 2014. 

"From hiring and motivating staff to creating a business plan to raising capital and financing businesses, the channel will be delivered directly by the world's top business experts and leading minds in business education at The Wharton School," a press release said. 

Business Radio -- which will air via satellite on SiriusXM Channel 111, and through the SiriusXM Internet Radio app -- will feature world-renowned and distinguished professors and alumni as regular weekly hosts, plus executives, entrepreneurs, innovators and other experts as special hosts and guests.

Programming currently in development is expected to include:
  • Market Update with Jeremy Siegel: a weekly, in-depth analysis of the dynamics of the stock market.
  • Launch Pad: New ventures go live on Business Radio and listeners weigh in. 
  • When Things Go Wrong: Listeners share customer service experiences gone awry and Business Radio gets to the bottom of the situation. 
  • Sports Business: listeners are invited behind-the-scenes to explore the business issues underlying the multi-billion dollar sports industry.
  • The Business of Retailing: understanding and managing retailing, the economy's largest sector. 
Visit www.siriusxm.com and www.wharton.upenn.edu for more information.

“Our listeners will get direct access to some of the brightest minds in business today," said Scott Greenstein, President and Chief Content Officer, SiriusXM. This channel will offer information to a range of listeners, "whether they are first-time job candidates, managers, entrepreneurs or even CEOs.”

SiriusXM Radio Inc. has more than 25 million subscribers.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Entrepreneurial event attendees split on Cannon-Peacock race

Last week, mayoral candidates Democrat Patrick Cannon and Republican Edwin Peacock III -- as well as a fleet of candidates for Charlotte city office -- made their pitch to a group of entrepreneurs gathered at Packard Place, an uptown startup hub. 

A straw poll taken that night showed Cannon and Peacock were neck and neck in votes among attendees. (The poll is not intended to be representative of the greater electorate.) Of the 32 people who took the poll, 16 voted for Cannon and 16 voted for Peacock. 

Here are the vote tallies for the other candidates: 

City Council at-large race: 

Vi Lyles: 15
David Howard: 14
Michael Barnes: 13
Vanessa Faura: 12
Mark Frietch: 9 
Dennis Peterson: 8
Eric Cable: 6
Claire Green Fallon: 5
Ken Harris: 3

District winners:

District 1: Patsy Kinsey
District 2: Al Austin
District 3: LaWana Mayfield
District 4: Greg Phipps
District 5: John Autry
District 6: Kenny Smith
District 7: Ed Driggs

ShopTalk co-sponsored the event. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

NFIB: Shutdown of E-Verify 'problematic' for N.C. small businesses

When the state law E-Verify kicked in for N.C. small businesses in July, thousands of employers became required to verify that new hires are eligible to work in the U.S.

Under the state law, every business with more than 25 full-time employees are required to run new employees' information through a federal system known as E-Verify. An employer enters an employee's name, Social Security number, address and date of birth into a system that matches it with other federal data. Businesses that don't comply are fined $10,000 by the N.C. Department of Labor.

But the U.S. government shutdown that started Tuesday morning could place small businesses required to use E-Verify at risk of violating the law. That's according to Gregg Thompson, North Carolina state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, the national advocacy association. 

"The shutdown of E-Verify is problematic for small businesses that are required to participate in the program," Thompson said in a statement released Wednesday.

"In addition, the government shutdown, combined with the country's massive debt and rollout of a deeply-flawed health-care law, exacerbates the uncertainty that small-business owners have been feeling for too long. There's no doubt that Washington is making the small-business community nervous, and small-business owners aren't going to grow or create jobs if they're nervous."

NFIB/North Carolina has over 8,000 member businesses, according to the group.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Movie theatre mogul Herman Stone gets 'Big Heart'

Herman Stone, founder and CEO of Stone Theatres and lifetime film industry entrepreneur, recently was awarded the 2013 Mac McAfee Big Heart Award by Atlanta-based children's charity Variety Tent 21 for his funding and support for thousands of children affected by physical and mental disabilities.

“This award isn’t just for my own efforts,” Stone said, in a statement. “I have worked with some dedicated people during my years in the business. I might have been the face of the business, but it’s their extraordinary work and their commitment to quality that has helped make what we do a success.”

Established in 1939, Variety Tent 21 is a nonprofit in Atlanta and part of Variety Clubs International. Variety of Georgia’s mission is to aid and enhance the lives of children in need who may be challenged by
physical and/or mental disabilities, poverty, abuse or neglect.

A North Carolina native, Stone has spent more than 40 years in the film industry. After graduating from Pfeiffer College in 1965, he joined Consolidated Theatres to handle booking, film buying and business development.  He worked his way up through the ranks of the company to become president in 1986. After
selling the business to Carmike Cinemas, Stone founded Consolidated Theatres, Inc. in 1990, which became
the ninth largest theater chain in the U.S., operating 421 screens in 30 locations in South Carolina, Maryland,
Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. 

Herman Stone formed Stone Theatres in 2008 and now operates locations throughout the Carolinas. 

Stone has been recognized for his philanthropy and financial support of many organizations over the years. Stone has also donated to the Charlotte Regional Film partnership, the Make‐a‐Wish foundation and Multiple Sclerosis Society, and many local churches and charities.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Survey: small business optimism in the doldrums

SURVEY: Small Business Optimism in the Doldrums; Owners Not Hiring, Expanding
Small businses optimism is in the doldrums, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses' recent Small Business Optimism Index.

Small-business optimism remained flat in August, dropping 0.1 points from July,

The total reading showed little change over the prior month, but some details appeared "incongruent," an NFIB press release stated. Job creation plans went to pre-recession level and sales expectations improved, but quarter-to-quarter sales and profit trends deteriorated. And expectations for improved business conditions were negative.

North Carolina data isn't available, but Gregg Thompson, state director of NFIB/North Carolina, said small-business owners here are just as discouraged as those in other states.

“I think the survey shows there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there,” Thompson said in an emailed statement. “You’re not going to invest in new employees or new equipment or a bigger space unless you’re pretty sure the investment is going to pay off. Right now, though, small-business owners don’t know what the health-care law is going to do to them. They don’t know what their taxes will be. And they don’t know what new regulations the government’s going to throw at them.”

Here are highlights from the August survey of 759 randomly sampled NFIB members and small business owners. (Download the complete survey here.)

JOB CREATION: August marked the fourth consecutive month of negative job growth for small-business owners. The average increase in employment for small firms surveyed was negative 0.3 workers per firm. Dramatic employment reductions have ceased but hiring has not resumed at normal levels.

JOB OPENINGS: Sixteen percent of all owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period (down 4 points), and 9 percent reported using temporary workers, down 6 points from July. Most new jobs being created are likely to be in the part-time category, according to the NFIB.

SALES: The net percent of owners reporting higher nominal sales in the past three months compared to the prior three months plunged 17 points to a negative 24 percent — the second steepest monthly decline in survey history. The net percent of owners expecting higher real sales volumes surged 8 points, to 15 percent of all owners, a new high for this recovery period.

EARNINGS AND WAGES: Earnings trends took a hit in August with the major softening in sales, falling 13 points to negative 35 percent. Five percent of owners reported reduced worker compensation and 21 percent reported raising compensation, yielding a seasonally adjusted net 15 percent reporting higher worker compensation (up 1 point). A net 12 percent plan to raise compensation in the coming months, up 1 point.

CREDIT MARKETS: Credit continues to be a non-issue for small employers, 7 percent of whom say that all their credit needs were not met in August, up 2 points from July. Twenty-nine percent of owners surveyed reported all credit needs met, and 49 percent explicitly said they did not want a loan.

CAPITAL OUTLAYS: In August, the frequency of reported capital outlays over the past six months rose 3 points to 57 percent. The percent of owners planning capital outlays in the next three to six months rose 2 points to 25 percent.

EXPANSION PLANS: In August, only 7 percent characterized the current period as a good time to expand (down 2 points). The net percent of owners expecting better business conditions in six months was a net negative 10 percent, 4 points worse than July’s reading.

INVENTORIES: The pace of inventory reduction continued in August, with a net negative 11 percent of all owners reporting growth in inventories, 1 point down from July. For all firms, a net negative 1 percent (up 1 point) reported stocks too low, unchanged from July. Plans to add to inventories were up 3 points to a net 2 percent, in line with an improvement in expectations for sales growth.

INFLATION: Seventeen percent of the NFIB owners surveyed reported reducing their average selling prices in the past three months (up 3 points), and 18 percent reported price increases (up 1 point). The net percent of owners raising average selling prices was 2 percent, down 2 points. As for prospective price increases, 21 percent plan on raising average prices in the next few months (up 5 points), and 3 percent plan reductions (unchanged). A net 20 percent plan price hikes, up 5 points.

Monday, September 9, 2013

NoDa Brewing Company releases 16 oz. cans of pale ales

NoDa Brewing CompanyNoDa Brewing Company's Todd and Suzie Ford -- who were recently profiled in ShopTalk for starting the business with 401K funds -- announced they'll be rolling out 16 oz. cans of Jam Session, their pale ale, and Hop, Drop 'n Roll, their signature IPA, in late September 2013. 

“Jam Session and Hop, Drop ‘n Roll are two of our most popular beers and having them available in a portable form (can) is the next logical step for us,” Todd Ford said in a statement. “Instead of the traditional 12 oz. cans, we have opted for a 16 oz. can. If you are going to drink a 16 oz. pint in restaurant or pub, why accept less from your can?”
Initially, NoDa Brewing cans will be available at bottle shops, specialty markets, bars and restaurants in the Charlotte metro. The cans will roll out to supermarket chains within the year. In addition to NoDa Brewing Company's current drafts available at Panthers games within the Bank of America Stadium, the canned version of Jam Session and Hop, Drop ‘n Roll will be available at the stadium starting in October.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Jewell Treats to move from SouthPark kiosk to uptown storefront

Jewell Treats Natural Cupcakes announced Tuesday they have opened a a storefront location on the second floor of the Hearst Tower uptown, at 214 N. Tryon Street.

The current kiosk at SouthPark Mall will close Aug. 31.

“We are very excited to be moving to The Hearst Tower,” says owner Mimi Jewell in a press release. “In addition to our new in-store kitchen, this move enables us to better reach our customers and provide them with a new, fresh and improved customer experience.”

Jewell says she'll also be rolling a new menu with an assortment of baked goods, in addition to the natural cupcakes.

The new location will also allow for curbside delivery for all orders, as well as after-hours and weekend deliveries on orders for a dozen or more cupcakes.

Jewell Treats will maintain a limited presence at Southpark Mall through its partnership with Crunch Salads, located in the Southpark Mall food court, Jewell said.

Crunch Salads will sell limited quantities of cupcakes, and customers who have placed orders larger than one dozen cupcakes will be able to pick-up orders from Crunch Salads during regular mall hours.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cloud computing 101: How your business can use it

Charlotte-area small business owners will gather from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Aug. 21 at Industry Charlotte, a co-working spot in South End, for a discussion on the basics of cloud computing and how you can leverage it for your business.

Four local professionals will share their experiences with cloud software and work through a personal cloud assessment with a local tech professional.

The seminar, sponsored by Formstackis free and includes breakfast; however, there may be a fee for parking.

More info and registration here

Industry Charlotte is located at 305 W. Morehead St.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

New N.C. tax law cuts small business deduction

Recent changes to the N.C. tax code stand to impact many small business owners, according to the North Carolina Association of Certified Public Accountants.

An article by Observer reporter Eric Frazier this Sunday outlined the new changes.
Beginning in 2012, small business owners who filed their business income with their personal income could deduct the first $50,000 in business income from their taxes.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, they'll no longer get that deduction.

Here's how the deduction worked: A small business owner who made $100,000 in business income in 2012 was only taxed on $50,000 of that total in North Carolina. (The federal government would still tax the income at the full $100,000.)

At the 7.75 percent tax rate, the deduction saved the small business owner about $3,700.

Are you a small business owner who will be affected? Let me know your thoughts: cmcmillan@charlotteobserver.com; 704-358-6045.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/08/11/4228287/nc-tax-changes-where-you-stand.html#storylink=cpy

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Startup veterans, developers launch coding academy

Startup veterans, software engineers and developers Jim Van Fleet and Grady Peterson recently unveiled their latest venture: a coding and programming education center called Launchpad Code Academy

Their inspiration? Constantly being approached for help by startup technology companies whose growth, they said, was hindered because of a lack of coders, programmers and software developers in the region. 

The immersion program, which starts Sept. 9, is a commitment of nine hours a week for 10 weeks. Van Fleet says it will offer training in: business prototyping, .NET development and web development with Ruby on Rails. 

A semester at Launchpad Code Academy is $5,895. 

"Our goal is to prepare students for a $40,000 to $60,000 salaried position in these 10 weeks," Van Fleet said in the press release. "In the software programming industry, some three-day training programs cost several thousand dollars." 

Founders and instructors have experience working with and for industry giants, such as Google and Microsoft. 

Van Fleet said LaunchPad also has partnered with prominent businesses in the area, such as AvidXChange, Edison Nation, Skookum and Virtual Race Bags. 

Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg are all coders and programmers, said co-founder, Grady Peterson, in the release. “It's time Charlotte started growing our own." 

For details: Contact Grady Peterson, grady@launchpadcodeacademy.com; 704-448-2502. 

Apply here

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Directors of documentary on decline of U.S. manufacturing jobs will stop in Charlotte

A film crew for  "American Made Movie," a documentary about U.S. manufacturing, will roll through Charlotte this Friday as part of its 30-cities-in-30-days tour. 

The feature-length documentary explores the decline in America’s manufacturing workforce, and the tour promotes small and large companies that have had success with American-made products. 

The documentary's directors, Vincent Vittorio and Nathan McGill, will be at several events in conjunction with the Charlotte Chamber. Only Chamber members can attend. 

Here's the day's agenda: 

Ayrsley Grand Cinemas 14 (9110 King's Parade Blvd.)

  • 9:30 a.m.: a meet-and-greet networking event with Vittorio, McGill and local community leaders.
  • 10 a.m.Guest panel with moderator Richard Zollinger, CPCC's vice president for learning. Panelists include: Vittorio and McGill; Thomas Barnhardt, president and CEO of Barnhardt Manufacturing Co.; Mark Rohlinger, technical plant manager at Bosch Rexroth Corporation; and Greg Flickinger, vice president of manufacturing at Synder's-Lance, Inc. 
  • 10:30 a.m.: Filmmakers discussion with Vittorio and McGill.
  • 10:40 a.m.: Advanced screening of "American Made Movie." 

Central Piedmont Community College (1201 Elizabeth Ave.)

  • 2 p.m.: Tour of CPCC's apprenticeship training program. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Local salt business moves from online to storefront

Ionic Salts, a local small business selling Himalayan salt lamps and products, recently opened its new showroom at  at 6630-A East W.T. Harris Boulevard, in the Hickory Grove Business Park. 

Until now, they've run their business (legal name is E-Klectix, LLC) completely online. 

Lamps from Ionic Salts.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Chelko 
"We've had people for years say, 'Can I come and see them somewhere?'" says Patricia Wright, who runs the business with her son, Darrin. They used to have to say "no." 

The Wrights celebrated the grand opening for their 5,000-square-foot warehouse July 4-6. 

Their salt wares -- including salt grinders, bath salts, candle holders, salt lamps and cooking slabs -- range from a few dollars up to $200, Wright says. 

In recent years, Himalayan salts have grown increasingly popular as a homeopathic remedy to various health problems.  

Photo courtesy of Kevin Chelko 
Wright says Ionic Salts is a preferred vendor for a national spa association and has dealers nationwide. 

Wright says her road to running a specialized salt business started when she began experiencing the same symptoms of genetic lung disease as several of her family members had. 

As a last-ditched effort to improve her lung function, she bought a few salt lamps. For her, they worked wonders, she says. 
For details: 704-451-4290. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ellis Jewelers celebrates 60 years in Concord

Ellis Jewelers, located at 29 Union Street South in Concord, celebrates 60 successful years in downtown Concord this month. 

A week-long celebration will kick off with from 6-8 p.m. July 24 with the Cabarrus County Chamber of Commerce for a ribbon cutting ceremony, Mayoral Proclamation and Meet The Founder segment with Ellis Levinson.

Here's a list of other festivities:

July 25: open house with special anniversary sales.
July 26: giveaways every hour on the hour.
July 27: A birthday bash with free pearl earrings for the first 60 patrons that day. 

I am so proud of the legacy my Dad created and I am honored to carry it on," said owner Dan Levinson said in a press release. "We really wanted to create a big celebration to give back and say thank you to all the people who have supported us for so long."

Ellis Jewelers, which opened in 1953, sells engagement rings, wedding rings and loose diamonds, and also does custom designs and repairs. The shop also buys gold, silver, precious diamonds, estate jewelry and rare coins. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Hunger-fighting mobile app will launch during Charlotte Restaurant Week

PlateShare, a Charlotte-based social enterprise startup, will launch its mobile micro-giving app at the start of this summer's Queen's Feast: Charlotte Restaurant Week July 19-28.

The app - designed for use in restaurants, coffee shops and grocery stores - makes it easy for users to round up restaurant bills to the nearest dollar, donating the difference to help feed the hungry.

After setting up a profile and linking a PayPal account to the app, users can enter a bill total into the app, which will calculate the roundup donation and completes the transaction.

The app is designed for iPhone and Android devices.

Participating Charlotte Restaurant Week establishments will encourage their guests to download PlateShare and donate to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, according to a release sent Tuesday.

Plateshare was founded in 2012 by Katie Levans, a local yoga instructor and popular blogger who made headlines when she left ABC's reality-competition show "The Bachelor" of her own accord.

The micro-giving platform advanced as a finalist at Charlotte Startup Weekend 2013, and then Levans completed a three-month business accelerator program through Rev Tech Labs, an incubator at uptown startup hub Packard Place.

"I'm so proud to say that PlateShare was born and bred in Charlotte," Levans said in a statement. "Nothing was outsourced because we have the resources and talent to pull this off right here at home."

Levans says PlateShare is currently filing for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mary Jo's Cloth Store offers free sewing classes

For the first time in 62 years, Mary Joe's Cloth Store in Gastonia is offering sewing classes. For the remainder of June, the classes -- including ones on quilting, skirt-making and the sewing machine -- will be free. They vary in size and difficulty. The last free class is June 30. 

Starting in July, there will be a $20 fee for beginner classes, and participants will get a Mary Jo's voucher to help with class supplies and other materials. 

The 32,000-square-foot cloth store, one of the region's largest, offers a large selection of drapery, buttons, trims, upholstery, quilting, and patterns for using bridal, formal and fashion fabrics. 

The goal of the new classes is to make sewing and quilting accessible to everyone.  

"We really want to be able to cross the age gap and excite new individuals with the love of sewing, and to have them experience the feeling of fulfillment you get after you create your very own masterpiece,” said sewing director Aimee Griffin in a press release sent Tuesday. 

Classes will be held at the store, 401 Cox Road in Gastonia, and schedules are posted on the Mary Jo's website

Monday, June 24, 2013

Local small business touted in New Balance marketing campaign

Harrisburg-based 2nd Story Wood Co.'s own story is making an appearance in New Balance's new "America is for the Makers" marketing campaign touting domestic manufacturing. 

Started by father-son duo Carl and Scott Miller, the small business sells handmade furniture from reclaimed wood. The Millers designed New Balance's in-store wood fixtures and is currently featured on the athletic wear retailer's website. 

"We deliver...a high-quality product we believe in," Scott Miller says in the video. 

One-fourth of New Balance's footwear is produced at five New England facilities, according to a company press release. 

New Balance reported sales of $2.4 billion in 2012. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Shopping bus tour to depart Saturday

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of National Small Business Week, Charlotte-area clothing boutiques are joining forces for a shopping bus tour, Observer's news partner WCNC-TV reports

This Saturday, a bus will pick up shoppers in the Lake Norman and Dilworth areas and take them to Fifi’s Fine Resale in Cornelius, The Cheeky Bean in Ballantyne, The Junior League Wearhouse in Plaza Midwood, JT Posh in Dilworth and Summerbird in Dilworth.

“I’ve been on several of these across the country," Fifi’s Fine Resale owner Julia Austin told WCNC. "We wanted to bring this to Charlotte.” 

Jennifer Malone and Jessica Horton of J.Leigh Events who helped plan the tour say the goal is to introduce Charlotte-area residents to great shopping around the region.  

“In this day and age, especially in Charlotte, there are so many chains," Horton says. "I live in Davidson, and I would never know about the Cheeky Bean, there down in Ballantyne."

Tickets are $45 each and include transportation, lunch from locally owned Sunflour Bakery and CafĂ©, drinks, a gift bag of treats from other local retailers and a percentage off your purchases. 

Buy tickets here.