Small Business of the Year: In the early ’90s, after six years of playing bass guitar for a rock band, Shane Cooper became obsessed with bicycle racing. He didn’t excel as a rider, so he took to coaching, and his team from Hickory went on to win several regional and state championships. He also became obsessed with socks — bike socks.
Small Business of the Year Runner-up: The world turned upside down in late 2008,” says Dan Brooks, president of Rhino Assembly Corp. “All of a sudden, every manufacturer was saying, ‘They’ve cut my budget. I’m not allowed to spend at all.’” Rhino, which specializes in providing customized tools for auto and aircraft manufacturers, was losing $50,000 to $100,000 a month. To survive, Brooks says, “we knew cutbacks had to be made, but we were not willing to cut employees.”
Fine Print: I’ve studied the Occupy Raleigh movement on a daily basis since the protest began but not exactly by choice. I can see the protesters from my desk in downtown Raleigh, and it’s not a matter of my having to take the trouble to look out the window. Thanks to the placement of my desk, I have to go to the trouble not to see them.
Small Business of the Year Runner-up: Jill Marcus and Karen Teed juggled day jobs with cooking at night to get Something Classic Catering & Cafes Inc. going. In 2000, after working out of sometimes rented — and always cramped — spaces for 11 years, they borrowed $250,000. “We took a giant leap of faith and opened an 8,000-square-foot kitchen,” Marcus, 45, says. “We hocked our houses and our firstborn children.”
Capital Goods: Every year, groups of all shapes and sizes rank state legislators. Liberal advocacy groups put together their lists; conservative advocacy groups compile theirs. There are rankings of the most effective, most business friendly, most consumer friendly, most environmentally friendly and so on.
Small Business of the Year Runner-up: In 2008 and 2009, Marvin Mercer scrapped for clients, calling on everyone he knew. Once, he heard two strangers talking about engineering in a restaurant, so he just walked up to the table and laid down his card. Nothing seemed to make a difference. Money was so tight that he and his wife, Wendy, who together own Mercer Design Group PC, were scrimping on paper and ink, and he had taken to nagging employees about turning out the lights. They even considered filing for bankruptcy. “We were probably within a week or two weeks of closing the doors,” he says.
Up Front: Though it barely touched upon business, last month’s column about my dog’s passing prompted the most reader response of any piece to appear in the pages of this magazine. You’ll find a sampling on page 6, but I thought I’d share this one here. It’s from Rufus Edmisten, the Boone native who was deputy chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee, North Carolina’s attorney general for 10 years, the Democratic nominee for governor in 1984 and secretary of state for two terms.
Once touted as a growth industry, the number of Tar Heel fish farms has sunk by a fourth in five years, from 200 to 150, due largely to soaring prices of corn and soybeans, the primary ingredients of fish feed. But vertical integration — controlling every aspect of production — has allowed Carolina Classics Catfish Inc. to keep revenue and profit stable.
“Get the heck out of that bank.”— Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin’s advice to Bank of America customers Oct. 3 after it announces it will institute a $5 monthly debit-card fee. Reason: the Durbin Amendment (named for you-know-who) to the Dodd-Frank Act, which limits “swipe fees” — what banks charge merchants for debit-card transactions — and will diminish the nearly $16 billion a year Charlotte-based BofA and others get from them. He makes his comment on the Senate floor.