Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Baker Furniture Co. going out of business

Baker Furniture Co., a large retailer of furniture, bedding and accessories in Gaston County, will soon close its doors after 64 years. 

According to a press release, the current owners, Sandra Baker VanPelt and her husband, Jim, are retiring. 

Floyd “Red” Baker started the business in a garage in 1949. Located about 14 miles west of uptown Charlotte, the store now occupies a 40,000-square-foot brick building at 225 Market St. in downtown Cramerton. 

The store carried wares for the living room, dining room, home office and bedroom. Everything in the store is on sale.

The store owners could not be reached by phone, but a store employee said the Baker Furniture doors won't close until all furniture is sold. 

Sandra and Jim have shared the day-to-day operations with their grown children, Greg VanPelt and Holly Hite. 

The Van Pelts and Bakers are lifetime residents of Gaston County. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

From gang member to multimillionaire entrepreneur: a Q&A with Ryan Blair

Ryan Blair, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller "Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: How I Went From Gang memer to Multimillionaire Entrepreneur," will be in town at noon today at the Concord Mills Books-A-Million, 8301 Concord Mills Boulevard, for a book-signing. 

His book chronicles his unlikely path to entrepreneurial success. He grew up in an L.A. gang, lived with a meth-addicted father, went to jail, dropped out of high school and yet, thanks to the help a mentor-turned-stepfather, Blair was able to transform his life. 

Blair, 35, is the co-founder and CEO of ViSalus, a lifestyle and health company that just announced a total of $1 billion in revenue. Even at ViSalus, he experienced big mistakes and great gains. 

ShopTalk spoke with Blair about his former life on the streets and his new life as an entrepreneur. 

Q: Tell me about your life as a gang member on the streets of L.A. 

A gang is simply a group of illegal entrepreneurs. They don't have the formalized training, but generally the way it works is there are individuals at the top of the economic tree, determining how the gang profits and where it focuses its time. 

I was young when I was involved. I was forced in when I was 13 years old. Eventually I went to a continuation high school, essentially a school for kids that get kicked out of school. I'd hang out with the gang members, try not to get arrested. I ditched school, started to get arrested, was put on probation and was forced to start modifying my behavior. 

Ryan Blair 
It was really when I wrote a letter to a judge begging for leniency and the judge told me I should be writing in college, not in jail. I'd had no career counselor, no probation office, police officer, anyone who said "Ryan, you could go to college." And no one had told me I could write. I'd always journaled, but never shared them with anyone. That was the seed of an idea that I could one day be a writer, one day go to college. And as a result of my mentor, I ended up getting my high school diploma through a GED program and I went to community college. 

Q: What did you journal about? 

I still have a lot of those journals. I wrote fantasy stories about living a different life, about being wealthy, rescue stories. When I was in juvy, I would write letters to my mom and grandma. Writing was my favorite thing to do. My only outlet. It still is. 

Q: There's one part in the book where you mention having to fire your friend Michael because the venture capitalists financing your company told you to. What is it like walking that tight rope between running a company and being beholden to the people writing the checks?  

One of the chapters I I wrote about was on raising money, and I share all the provisions and little compromises I said yes to that I shouldn't have. If you don't have money, you need it, so you have to do your best to get it. But you have to be extremely smart. You can't trust anyone. Trust your gut, your instincts. And the best way to keep the sharks at bay is to perform well. I learned the hard way. That's why I was so transparent in my book about the bad deals, the million-dollar mistakes. I was swimming with the sharks and was so green. 

Q: In your book, you chronicle a number of difficult business decisions you've had to make. How do you make them? 

It's a skill you have to build. You have to assess your own decision-making tendencies, the cost and consequences of each. You have to put a price tag on the decision you're making. You have to take your time with it. I'll often go away for a couple of days just to think and analyze every different variable of the equation: Is this best for our brand? Is this best for our employees? For our promoters in the field? For our customers? 

Q: Do you speak to at-risk youth who deal with similar issues you dealt with when you were young? 

I speak to kids all over the place. Thursday I was in Orlando at a juvenile detention center. It felt like a flashback. The guards were telling the kids to pay attention, and I'm seeing kids just like me, scrawny little kids who have made dumb decisions, sitting there on lock-down in a bad environment. I was marveling yesterday as I was signing books for them and taking questions because I was that kid. 

Q: What kind of questions did they ask you? 

If you're a kid in "juvy" you're most likely money-motivated. So they were asking me how much money I had, what celebrities I know, what cars I drive, do I live in a mansion -- those are the questions a lot of people have but never ask. I answered their questions because I'd rather show them something entrepreneurial, rather than them watching rap videos and following the instructions of common rap songs that say you can get (rich) through criminal activity. I was showing them that you can have exactly what the rappers have with legal entrepreneurship. 

I have a son now, an 11-year-old boy. I was at that juvy thinking, "I do not want my son to turn into this." I wanted to grab these kids without fathers with bad attitudes and bad role models. They're one mentor away from potential success but they don't have them in their homes. 

Q: Your son has autism. How do you handle that stress?
I have to make sure I'm constantly learning about autism. I'm able to invest in his life. I can't say I'm a pro at it yet, but I will help my son take his disadvantages and turn them into his advantages. I'll help him find the gifts he has as a result of it. 

Q: What's your day-to-day life look like now? 

Well, right now I'm on day 80 of my book tour, so my day-to-day routine is quite dynamic. I get on a jet, go to a city, a charity event, a book-signing and various events in the evening. It's almost like I'm running for president. 

Q: So all the proceeds of your book go to charity. Which one? 

A bunch of different charities: Big Brothers, Big Sisters, churches, Urban Born (an L.A.-based education nonprofit devoting to making a paradigm shift in urban communities nationwide). We specifically funnel all proceeds to charities that focus on at-risk kids. I've added a charity event on each of the book-tour stops. 

Q: You say your best advice for entrepreneurs is to find a mentor. How should they do that? 

That's the key to the success I've had. They're all around us. It's easier to create a relationship now than ever before. Leverage social media. Connect with people on Facebook, Twitter and a variety of social outlets. There are hundreds of potential mentors out there who want to help people. I reach out to people all the time on social media. 
For example, I'm studying martial arts and I've created relationships with some of the greatest online. Now they're teaching me a thing or two. 

Q: There's a chapter in your book when you talk about a dream-come-true, when you were invited to speak at a church in Detroit, at the same pulpit where Martin Luther King Jr., President Barack Obama, and President Bill Clinton had stood before. What was that moment like? What did you talk about? 

I shared my testimony, my path to getting where I am. Praying. I share specific stories about how we can make an impact in the community. My grandmother was a Christian and she gave me a lot of lessons. I didn't start applying them until later on, after I got on my feet, and I realized the adversity I'd been gifted with was a blessing, not a curse. 

Jeweler Ernest Perry gets national award

Ernest Perry, president and owner of Perry's Fine, Antique and Estate Jewelry, recently received a national 2013 Communitas Leadership Award that recognized him for "changing the how (he) does business to benefit (his) community."

For more than 30 years, Perry has been an auctioneer for charitable events, helping raise more than  $30 million for local nonprofits, according to a company press release. He averages about $50,000 raised per event.

The release says that in 2012, more than $115,000 worth of Perry’s jewelry was donated and sold at auctions for various local and national charities, such as Make A Wish Foundation, Second Harvest Foodbank of Metrolina, Allegro Foundation, Fight Night for Kids, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Dress for Success and more.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Alexander Michael's snags "2013 Settler's Award"

Uptown mainstay Alexander Michael's Restaurant & Tavern received the "2013 Settler's Award" by Charlotte Center City Partners during the 2013 Vision Awards Thursday evening. 
The Settler's Award "honors the pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit of Center City businesses, institutions or retailers who have been key contributors to Center City's quality of life," the award description says.
The award coincides with Alexander Michael's 30th anniversary next week. 
"I'm grateful to my staff, to the Fourth Ward community for being great neighbors and good customers, and to everyone who walks in our door every day from all over," said owner Steve Casner, who bought the restaurant in 2005 but has run it since it opened in 1983. 
Alexander Copeland III and A. Michael Troiano Jr. (hence "Alexander Michael's") opened the store in 1983 in the newly revitalized Fourth Ward neighborhood. The building is the former Crowley-Berryhill Store that originally opened in 1897. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

NFIB: Small-business confidence headed in wrong direction

National Federation of Independent Business says small-business confidence is "heading in the wrong direction."

Results of the group's latest Index of Small Business Optimism, released Tuesday, show that after three months of sustained growth, small business confidence declined in March.

Since the beginning of the recovery in July 2009, there have been 44 months of economic expansion, and index has averaged 90.7 points. The March reading decreased by 1.3 points.

The greatest declines were in labor market indicators, inventory investment plans and sales expectations.

More than 75 percent of business owners said they expect business conditions in six months to remain the same or worsen.

Though state-specific data isn't available, Gregg Thompson, the North Carolina director of NFIB says small business owners here share many of the same struggles as owners in other states.

"The fact that small businesses aren't hiring, aren't borrowing and aren't expanding, tells us that what's really hurting the economy right now is uncertainty about where things are headed," Thompson said, in a statement.

A near-record-low percentage of small-business owners said credit is their top business problem (three percent). Almost a quarter of respondents said taxes and regulations were their greatest concerns, and 21 percent cited red tape.

Other highlights from today's report:
  • Job creation. Job creation in the small-business sector was practically the only bright spot in the March report. In the fourth consecutive month of positive job growth, owners reported increasing employment an average of 0.19 workers per firm in the month of March. This is the best reading NFIB has recorded in a year, although NFIB economists don't expect the trend to continue. 
  • Hard-to-fill job openings. For the 47 percent of owners who hired or tried to hire in the last three months, 36 percent (77 percent of those trying to hire or hiring) reported few or no qualified applicants for open positions.
  • Sales. The net percent of all owners (seasonally adjusted) reporting higher nominal sales over the past three months was negative 7 percent, an improvement of 2 points and the best reading in eight months. However, firms are still reporting more declines than gains. Seventeen percent of small employers cite weak sales as their top business problem, a one point improvement over February.
  • Earnings and wages. Though positive earnings trends improved three points in the last month, they're still at a negative 23 percent, "a very poor reading," according to the NFIB. However, a seasonally adjusted net 16 percent of owners reported higher employee compensation (up 2 points from last month). 
  • Credit markets. Credit demands stayed weak in March. Forty-nine percent of small business owners said they did not want a loan.
  • Capital outlays. Owners are still in “maintenance mode” when it comes to business investment. The frequency of reported capital outlays over the past six months rose 1 point to 57 percent, rising steadily since January, though by very small amounts. The percent of owners planning capital outlays in the next three to six months was unchanged at 25 percent.
  • Expansion. Only four percent of owners surveyed said the current period was a good time to expand facilities (down 1 point), historically a very weak number. The net percent of owners expecting better business conditions in six months was a net negative 28 percent, unchanged from February, one of the lowest readings in the 40-year history of the NFIB survey. 
  • Inventories: A net negative 6 percent of all owners reported growth in inventories - 3 points better than in February - but there are still more owners reducing stocks than adding to them. 
  • Inflation: There are few opportunities for small-business owners to raise prices. Seventeen percent of the NFIB owners reported reducing their average selling prices in the past three months (up 1 point), and 18 percent reported price increases (down 3 points).

The March report is based on the responses of 759 randomly sampled NFIB member small businesses. Download the complete study here.

Charlotte's gender gap: $3.1 billion in income

A new study, released for "Equal Pay Day" April 9, shows that women who work full-time jobs in the Charlotte area are paid 76 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual gap in wages of $11,906.

That translates to more than $3.1 billion in lost income for local women every year, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group National Partnership for Women & Families, which conducted the analysis based on U.S. Census Bureau data. 

If the Charlotte-area gap were eliminated, the analysis says, each full-time working woman could afford to: pay for food for two more years, buy more than 3,200 more gallons of gas, pay mortgage and utilities for nine more months or pay rent for 15 more months. 

The Charlotte-area average of 76 cents for every dollar paid to men is lower than the North Carolina average (80 cents) and the national average (77 cents). 

The Paycheck Fairness Act, reintroduced in Congress in January and supported by the National Partnership, is designed to fight against wage discrimination and establish stronger workplace protections for men. 

More key stats from the study:  

  • African American women and Latinas fare worse. African American women are paid 64 cents for every dollar paid to men, and Latinas are paid 55 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. 
  • Since the Equal Pay Act in 1963, the wage gap has been closing at a rate of less than one-half a cent per year. given that rate, the study says, women will not reach equal pay for more than 40 years. 
  • More than 92,000 Charlotte-area households are headed by women. More than 31,200 of those women-headed households are below the poverty line. 

See the full Charlotte report here

The analysis spans all 50 states and country's 50-largest metropolitan areas. Check other city and state rankings here

Friday, April 5, 2013

City contractors, hopefuls: Attend this forum

If you're a small business owner who currently does work with the City of Charlotte - or one who hopes to in the future - consider attending the Contractor's Forum 8 a.m to 4 p.m. April 18 at the Street Maintenance Administration Building, 4411 Northpointe Industrial Blvd. 

The forum, put on by the Charlotte Engineering and Property Management Department, will highlight upcoming projects and new policies and procedures. 

Other discussion topics include: a Blue Line Extension update, revised City of Charlotte Small Business Opportunity Program, city and county environmental update and the city's construction process.  There also will be a Q&A session. 

Cost is free and lunch is provided. 

For details, contact Edward Mobley, the city's contract specialist, at jmobley@charlottenc.gov or 704-336-6739. 

Click here for more information on bids and contracts with the city. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Women-owned businesses nearly double in N.C.

The number of woman-owned businesses has nearly doubled in North Carolina over the last 16 years, says a report released Thursday, commissioned by American Express OPEN. 

The "State of Women-Owned Business" report, which relied on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, also shows that North Carolina ranks third in the nation for its growth in number of women-owned firms - 90.9 percent - since 1997. 

Nationally, the number of women-owned businesses has increased 59 percent since 1997.

North Carolina state has an estimated 267,000 women-owned firms, employing 268,100, and the firms are expected to generate $35.8 billion in revenue this year. 

The report includes data across industry, revenue and employment size at the national and state levels. 

Access the full report here.