Tuesday, December 5, 2023
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Tanger acquires Alabama mall for $193 million


Greensboro-based Tanger, which operates outlet malls across the country, has acquired the 825,000-square-foot Bridge Street Town Centre in Huntsville, Alabama for $193 million.

It’s the second acquisition for Tanger in the past month. In November, it acquired Asheville Outlets here in North Carolina for $70 million. And it opened a mall in Nashville in October.

The mall is 93 percent occupied, and it includes an Apple Store and apparel, footwear and beauty brands such as Lululemon, Sephora, Lovesac, Dry Goods, Victoria’s Secret, Athleta, Anthropologie, Altar’d State, and Ulta.

Bridge Street also has larger format retailers, including Barnes & Noble, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Old Navy, H&M, and Belk.

“The addition of Bridge Street Town Centre is a natural extension of our capabilities and consistent with our long-term strategy of investing in dominant open-air retail centers in markets which benefit from outsized residential and tourism growth,” said CEO Stephen Yalof in a statement.

Bridge Street Town Centre is located within Cummings Research Park, the second-largest research park in the U.S., and close to Redstone Arsenal, a 38,000-acre federal research, development, testing and engineering military base.

The center is part of a larger mixed-use development that includes more than 500 hotel rooms, over 240 multifamily units with 300 more planned, and a fully leased 144,000-square-foot office tower, which are separately owned by other parties. The seller was Miller Capital Advisors of Skokie, Illinois.

Tanger, which now has 39 malls, said the mall is expected to deliver a first-year return in the mid-8% range. The company has been a public real estate investment trust since 1993 and operates in 20 states and Canada.

Huntsville is in northeast Alabama and has more than 215,000 residents.


Small Businesses of the Year 2023: Small businesses, big ambitions


Selecting Business North Carolina’s Small Businesses of the Year offers an inspiring look at the entrepreneurial spirit that helps the state thrive. Many of 70 or so nominees offered compelling stories of achievement, but these enterprises topped the judges’ list.

  • Dry Otter Waterproofing, a Lincoln County-based company that protects crawl spaces and basements.
  • VPC Builders, a Banner Elk firm specializing in commercial and residential construction and remodeling in North Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina.
  • Taylor’s Wine Shop, a Raleigh convenience store that offers a wide selection of fine wine and craft beer, locally roasted coffees, local products, live bait and gasoline.
  • MODE Consignment Boutique of Raleigh, which enables customers to buy and sell clothing and accessories at affordable prices.

Judges for the contest were Byron Hicks, the state director of the N.C. Small Business and Technology Center; Jennifer Curtis, co-founder and CEO of Firsthand Foods, a Durham distributor for local farms and meat processors, and one of the 2022 Small Businesses of the Year; and Business North Carolina Publisher Ben Kinney.

The judges considered creativity, community impact, persistence and other factors in making the selection. The business had to be in operation for at least five years and have fewer than 100 employees. The four selected businesses employ between 15 and 31 employees. “This was not an easy job to select just four,” says Curtis.

Judges also noted their favorites: “MODE management went through an extensive rebranding and overcame significant obstacles in moving locations, twice, and through all of this was able to increase sales,” says Hicks. Taylor’s Wine Shop rose to the top of the list for Curtis because of “their family owned business model, their connection to place and community, and that they have grown a fixed retail business during difficult times. They have a colorful story to tell and some hard-won lessons learned.”

This marks the 28th year Business North Carolina has published the Small Business of the Year award, sponsored this year by Duke Energy. The goal is to honor smaller businesses that form the backbone of the state’s economy.

The state had more than 157,000 companies with between one and 19 employees in 2022, about 2,000 more than the year before, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. There were also about 816,000 sole proprietorships.

Click on the images below to read about this year’s Small Businesses of the Year.

Demand for mountain getaways propels a Banner Elk builder


When the work day is done, Matt Vincent often goes for walks near his home in Boone. The mountains are serene, particularly in the evenings. “This is the place I love,” he says. “I have three boys and we go on hikes. I grew up here. It’s a beautiful place and you can see why so many other people want to live here.”

As the son of Jay Vincent, owner of Vincent BerkshireHathaway, one of the region’s oldest and most prominent real estate agencies, he’s the echo of his own youth.

Indeed, the lure of the Tar Heel high country is the magnet that has made his VPC Builders of Banner Elk a successful builder of high-end residential, commercial and other properties. Vincent’s business has enjoyed revenue gains of 20% to 30% in recent years, and is on track to top  $30 million this year.

Clients, suppliers and others that deal with Vincent and his 30-member staff every day say that the business reflects values sometimes missing in modern commerce. His company’s name reflects that with letters standing for value, professionalism and communications.

“Matt’s real serious, but level-headed,” says Alex Hooker, executive director of the Watauga Habitat for Humanity. The agency builds homes for the needy and Vincent has been a long-time supporter. “I like the fact that he’s local. A lot of the builders here are from out of town. He comes from a great family.”

Vincent, 41, graduated from Appalachian State University in 2004 with a degree in banking and finance. He admired his father’s work ethnic – up at 4:30, a workout, then his day job – but discovered real estate was “not my cup of tea.”

Matt Vincent and Thor at the VPC Building office and Vincent with his wife Casey and their three children.

Among other things, he laughs, he dug perk holes that enable builders to determine if the soil of a lot will perk, or absorb moisture for septic tanks. That put him closer to the community. “I enjoyed doing things with my hands,” he says. “Here in a small town, you get to know everybody and everybody is somebody you are proud to call your neighbor.”

He obtained his general contractor’s license in 2003 and created VPC in 2010.

“At the time, we were doing mainly residential building but have since diversified into commercial,” he says.  The company has a home products division that does roofing, windows and similar work.

New, high-end residential construction still makes up about two-thirds of VPC’s work, but the company has segued into other ventures such as converting basements into heated living space.

That, Vincent says, can keep employees busy even during the high country’s tough winters, one of the challenges his company faces. Count rugged terrain, sloping lots and high rainfall among others.

“In the flatlands you can take just about any house and put it on any property,” he says, “Up here in the mountains you can’t do that. You have to design the house around the lot.”

The result in VPC houses is often striking. The company has won more than a half-dozen industry awards this year for design originality. It also been recognized as one of North Carolina’s best places to work. That’s notable given the lack of affordable housing in the state’s mountain areas.

Mountain Building Supply owner Tammy Mantooth, one of VPC’s suppliers, says she knows of at least one worker living in a tent because he can’t afford  more permanent housing. VPC has responded by paying higher than national wages and upping other compensation, Vincent says.

Most of VPC’s residential construction is in the $2 million range, while its biggest project exceeded $7 million. It has its own drafting staff, relying on outside architects for design-build contracts.

The bulk of VPC’s clients, says Vincent, are business owners from Charlotte and Raleigh. Absentee owners are still common, though, and covering all bases, VPC offers a home-watch program for seasonally vacant homes.

Increasing costs, material scarcities and high interest rates have hammered even top-end builders, and though easing recently have taken its toll.

“We have had a lot of good friends who went out of business and bankrupt,” Vincent says.

However, more than good market strategy and placement has served the company. Some who deal with it on a daily basis say its professionalism is noticeable.

Mantooth says VPC is a longstanding customer, never missed a payment and that Vincent is known for his integrity. “All I’ve ever needed was his word,” she says.

Vincent concedes that professionalism is important to him. Employees wear what he calls the uniform, and though not formal, it’s effective – knit shirts, same colors, cut. “It looks like in the morning; you got ready to go to work for the day. And the simplest things my dad taught me, many people have forgotten – following up on your emails, returning calls and always doing what you say you’re going to.”

Such measures are more than superficial. VPC routinely sends employees to sales-training courses, seminars and similar exercises. Clients  notice the result.

  “I’ve never interfaced much directly with Matt, but I work mostly with his senior staff,” says Bob Pudney, Beech Mountain town manager.  The town recently awarded VPC a $2.1 million contract to build a city hall and visitor center.  “It’s going extremely well and I would call them the top tier contractor in our area. Their attention to detail is great, and their customer service is impeccable.”

Vincent enjoys his hikes with his three sons, but he’s determined not to push them into following his steps.

“But one of things they most enjoy is going to work with daddy.”

Independent waterproofing company Dry Otter finds its space thanks to owner’s ‘grit’


Kevin Sanders wasn’t mad, but it was time for a change. So without much thought about his Plan B, he quit his job working for a national waterproofing company.

The company treated him well, he says, but at age 44 he didn’t think he earned enough to support his wife, Wendy, and their young son. After 16 years working for someone else’s company, he felt he had hit the top rung of the ladder. That was 10 years ago.

Sanders credits his wife and her parents with giving him the encouragement to start Dry Otter Waterproofing in Denver, a Lincoln County town about 25 miles north of Charlotte. He put the “small” in the term small business, he recalls.

“In October 2013, I got a 1,000-square-foot office in this same area, actually right across the street from here,” he says while seated in Dry Otter’s storefront space off N.C. 16 Business. “I had two offices, a desk, a computer, a truck and zero employees. My name was in every hierarchical box – CEO, accountant, installer – my name was in every single box.”

Sanders survived by hiring hit-or-miss temporary workers and getting people he knew who worked for other companies to help him finish jobs on the weekends.

“At first, you’re doing everything and you’re working all the time,” he says. “But at (his former employer) Dry Pro, I worked 70-75 hours a week, so I was used to that.”

Sanders’ drive continues to push the company forward, says Dry Otter marketing director Erin Blackburn. “He has grit and that’s made this company a success,” she says. “He is generous and is always teaching us important things about business and life.”

Dry Otter Founder Kevin Sanders

A real business

Sanders’ company posted $250,000 in sales in its first year. In 2015, Dry Otter more than doubled that amount to $600,000, then topped $1 million the next year. In 2022, Dry Otter sales reached $3.4 million. This year, the company will top $4 million, Sanders says.

Dry Otter now has 25 employees – almost all of them having been with the company more than two years. To grow real equity, Sanders says, Dry Otter should reach $6 million to $8 million in annual revenue. He thinks the company is poised to hit that mark. Dry Otter leased a Charlotte office in November, and is mulling a Winston-Salem location. For now, the company services a 50-mile radius – an area Sanders describes as being from north to south, Lenoir to Rock Hill, South Carolina, and from east to west, Albemarle to Shelby.

“If you’re not expanding, you’re going backward,” Sanders says.

Sanders hired his first employee in 2014. A year later, Dry Otter had three laborers, including himself, and a salesperson. He hates sales, he says, so he counted that as a win. His wife helped out with the books and ensured everyone got paid on time. By 2016, he hired someone to answer calls and he felt like he had created a real company.

“It took a few years before I could start putting other people’s names in those boxes,” Sanders says. “The real trick is, with all those boxes, you put somebody else’s name in there, and hopefully they’re better than you.

“And that’s what’s helped lead to Dry Otter’s success. We’ve been able to hire some really good people and retain those people,” Sanders says.

Sanders hired Mark Johnston in 2015 to help with sales and installations. The company wasn’t making any money at the time, so Sanders gave Johnston equity as part of his compensation. Johnston later invested in the company and now owns a 25% stake, with Sanders owning the rest.

From Mississippi to North Carolina

Sanders is a native of Tupelo, Mississippi, the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Sanders started playing soccer in elementary school. He was still 5 foot 2 in eighth grade so when his bigger classmates gravitated toward football and basketball, he says he stuck with soccer.

In 1987, he was the state’s Gatorade soccer player of the year. “Mississippi was terrible in soccer back then, so that wasn’t that big a deal.” He was good enough to play soccer at Belmont Abbey College, where he earned a business degree.

After college, Sanders took a restaurant job. “I was making at best $150 a week, living in Pineville, with no furniture,” he says. Two waitresses had boyfriends with jobs for a waterproofing company.

“They were making 800 to 1,000 bucks a week. Digging ditches under houses. It was purely monetary,” Sanders says. “It took six months of me bugging them for them to hire me. I started in January of ‘93 with Professional Waterproofing doing installs.”

The owner of the company had two sons who were helping him, so advancement proved difficult. “Before I knew it, I had been there 10 years, just digging ditches, and I had a college degree,” he says.

Sanders moved to Dry Pro in 2007, and stayed there until starting Dry Otter. At Dry Pro, Sanders worked on the business side, helping him understand the finances of waterproofing.

Beyond his great experience at Dry Pro, he credits Michael Gerger’s book “E Myth – Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work And What To Do About It’ as a big factor in his success. The book attempts to explain the “entrepreneurial myth,” noting that it
takes more than skillful technical work and a good idea to form a business foundation.

“Most businesses start up because you’ve probably met somebody who’s great at making cookies and someone says, ‘Oh, you should start your own business.’ Or you’ve met somebody that’s the best plumber in the business. He’s the one they always call when there’s a problem no one else can solve. So he says, “I should start my own business.’

“But he doesn’t know how to manage. He doesn’t know how to get the leads. He doesn’t know how to sell them and convert them into a job once he gets them. He’s a great plumber, but you learn that business is made up of about 10 other things you’ve got to be great at. Or at least hire somebody who’s great at it.”

Growing a company

Taking advice from Gerber’s book, Sanders transitioned from a person who did everything to someone focused on growing equity. For the past two years, he has emphasized budgets, streamlining processes and moving Dry Otter toward an $8 million-a-year company. He  hasn’t done any of what he calls the “in company” work.

“Once I decided to start a business, I said I wanted to own a business, I don’t want to work in a business. That’s the only way the business will grow,” says Sanders. He still comes into the office five days most weeks, but no longer at 6:30 a.m. or earlier. When he leaves the office, he heads out to watch his son’s sports practices or games at North Lincoln High School.

“If I don’t come in on Monday, Dry Otter’s still going to work all day. Now I don’t do any in-company tasks on the business. No payroll, no marketing. I hire someone to do those jobs,” he says. “The company isn’t me. I have a lot of friends who own their own company, but they are the company. If they go on vacation for two weeks the company stops.”

Dry Otter budgeted $30,000 a month this year on marketing, and Sanders says he’ll bump that to $35,000 in 2024. Chasing leads, he says, is constant.

“The saying is 50% of marketing works, you just don’t know what 50% it is, and I definitely believe that because we struggle,” Sanders says. “You have to keep up with your cost per lead, and last year our cost per lead was $245 per lead. We’d love to drive that cost down.” Dry Otter only does waterproofing, and contracts out other work. Its average job costs about $10,000.

Making it happen

During his talks to high school students about business, he rarely mentions Dry Otter. Instead he tells them what it takes to be a success.

“I tell them, ‘You can really start anywhere and kill it just by showing up everyday with a Get ‘er done attitude and a little pride in whatever you’re doing. Every trade out there is hiring. You guys at 18 can start tomorrow, and you can be running the company by the time you’re 25 if you show up every day for work and work hard. You’re 100 miles ahead of everybody.’”

For Sanders, it was a push from his wife and her parents to start a business.

“It’s worked out really well.”

From merlot to minnows, Taylor’s Wine Shop shifts with the times


When Taylor Cash bought a country store on Six Forks Road in north Raleigh in 1980, it was in the middle of nowhere. The street hadn’t been paved, and Interstate 540 was just a dream, more than two decades away. The nearest residents were miles away.

Cash made the business work by adapting to the times. When construction started on nearby neighborhoods, he did a brisk lunch business selling hot dogs and hamburgers to carpenters and electricians. In the 1990s, he switched to movie rentals and then video games.

Now, the store is called Taylor’s Wine Shop. In addition to the BP gas available at the pumps outside, the spot carries 1,500 types of wine from all over the world, plus a healthy selection of breakfast sandwiches, made by longtime employee “Biscuit” Bill Brown. There’s also typical convenience store fare. Some of Raleigh’s largest residential neighborhoods, such as Sutton Estates and Bridgepoint, now surround the property, reflecting one of the fastest-growing U.S. cities over the past 30 years.

And fish bait is still available for those going to nearby Falls Lake.

The store is now run by Taylor Cash’s son, Ben Cash, and manager Kelli Beck, and it ships wine purchased through its website across the country every day. It also partners with local restaurants on wine dinners and holds wine tastings on Fridays, when customers can sit in a rocking chair on the front porch. Cash and Beck visit the Sonoma and Napa Valley areas each year to check out the latest wines. Taylor’s sells about 140,000 bottles a year, and the best sellers are California cabernets.

Taylor Cash, his son Ben Cash and manager Kelli Beck.

How did the store get into shipping wine nationally through online sales?

Kelli Beck: It mainly came about because of COVID. It really ramped up then because people weren’t able to get wine, or were not comfortable coming in to get wine. They would pick up in the parking lot, and then we just expanded across the country, any state that allows wine to be shipped.

How did your dad get into wine and expanding
the business?

Ben Cash: In the late 1990s, once [Interstate] 540 was finishing, all of the construction had shifted to the north, so the lunch business wasn’t prominent any more. For years, we had movie boxes on the walls, renting videos. We did that for 10 years, and then Blockbuster opened up down the street. So then we had a full videogame arcade with Joust and Donkey Kong, and that was a lot of fun as a kid. But then people started to stay home to play them. So in the late ‘90s, my dad was kind of thinking, we need some kind of profit center that is a draw for people. My dad got into wine, and he started with a little end cap. It quickly grew, and he started making trips to California with this wine group and met these boutique winemakers that pretty much only sold from their location. He convinced them to send him two or three cases a year. Once those wineries sold out in California, the only place you could get it was here. People would come in and say, “Gosh, I can only get this in California.”

Do the wineries now come to you?

Cash: They do. We met with four wineries last week. They’re just coming back to the state post-COVID for distribution and want partners that can give them exposure. Kelli and I try to go every year, or every other year, and my dad goes the year we don’t go. We refer a lot of people when they travel and help a lot of customers set up tours. Wine is just a lot of fun. When I was a kid, it was primarily a bait shop and a convenience store.

Do you still sell a lot of bait?

Cash: Just worms and nightcrawlers. The minnows just weren’t working. Kids would go by and put their hands in, and minnows are communal. If one gets sick, they all die. So almost weekly, you’d lose your whole batch. And crickets are so noisy. It just wasn’t worth it.

Does gas bring in customers?

Cash: Fuel is like an amenity. Since we only have one location, there’s really no profit. You can sell 3 million gallons of fuel, and if you break even, you’re in good shape. We did a pretty substantial remodel, right before COVID, in October 2019, and shifted the pumps from the front to the side of the building. That opened up the front for parking lot parties and wine tastings. With the fuel customers lined upfront before the remodel, it was kind of chaotic.

How have you partnered with others?

Beck: We have great relationships with restaurants around here, and we love supporting other family-owned restaurants. So we would partner with them to do wine dinners and work with the chefs to make custom menus. Our customer base loves those off-site wine dinners. They crave them. We just got creative during COVID, and we’re working with large venues. It’s a way to create more business outside of this footprint. It does take a lot, me, especially, to work it in our schedule.

Have you considered adding another location?

Cash: Oh yeah. I have two picked out.

Beck: We go back and forth on this. My personal opinion is I don’t want to own a bar. Staffing has been an issue since COVID, and we have employees who have been here 10 and 15 years. I feel like if we were having to staff a later evening establishment, I would be stuck working that. If we had another wine shop, that would be fun and most likely not involve a gas station.

How difficult has staffing been?

Beck: It has been extremely difficult. We want people that want to come to work, be reliable, work hard, and return. We will pay well. We want to pay people what they’re worth and are great with our customers. We are such a small family business that it’s important that everyone gets greeted when they come in and gets great service. It’s not a convenience store where you come in and get your coffee and then check out and leave. Every person that comes in here is important. We need someone who can manage the cash register and sell a $500 bottle of wine. We need those kinds of employees. The reason we have weathered COVID well is because we have these long-time employees who are like family.

Mode, a Raleigh resale boutique, keeps coming back stronger


Lauren Elmore was working as a district sales manager for Jones Apparel Group, now known as Nine West Holdings, in 2009 when “everything went sideways for a lot of companies.”

The Great Recession caused retail sales to drop sharply. Plus, Elmore had a 9-year-old son, and the company she worked at wanted her to travel almost every day. So she began looking for a position that would better accommodate her family.

That’s when Elmore says she found a job listing on Craigslist for a small store in south Durham that was looking for somebody to work Thursdays. “And my schedule was wide open,” says Elmore, who grew up in Wilmington and spent her senior year of high school in Raleigh.

Elmore got the job and became friendly with the store owner, who she says didn’t live in North Carolina. The owner was planning to close the store because it wasn’t generating any revenue — unless, Elmore says, Elmore was interested in doing something  with it.

“I was up for the challenge,” she says. “I took over the store, changed locations, eventually rebranded to the name MODE, and then I moved it to Downtown Durham, that was my
first space.”

About a year and a half later, she says, MODE bought a second location in Cameron Village, now called Village District, near downtown Raleigh.

Lauren Elmore has been in the resale trade since 2010.

“And we’ve just continued to expand and grow from there,” Elmore, now 44, says.

The store has faced its fair share of challenges – like when it was forced to relocate to a temporary space as new projects arrived in the Village District last year. The move came on the heels of a major rebrand for the store, Elmore wrote, in addition to the new, permanent site for the store being upfitted.

To ensure customers and consignors continued following the store despite all the chaos, the staff had to think fast. MODE staff got to work on flyers, announcements and banners to alert customers about the shifts, Elmore wrote, and offered incentives for people to visit the temporary location, like a raffle and gift card giveaway.

With the support of loyal customers and dedicated staff, MODE’s sales skyrocketed beyond its record-breaking 2021 numbers and hit almost $2 million.

Why did you select the name, MODE?

When I was rebranding, there was a lot of pressure. I’m like, “Oh, what if I pick a name and everybody thinks it’s stupid, and I think it’s the coolest thing ever.” I have no marketing background, so I was also thinking about how this [name] would look on business cards and on a sign on the front of the store. I wanted to keep it simple. The word “mode” means fashion in French, and I just thought it was fun, easy and relatable. The word looked really cute in print when I was playing around with it. It’s really not much more than that.

What resources did you use when you reopened the store?

I didn’t qualify for the Raleigh up-fit grant because I already had permits and things when the grant became available. I had already started a few things, which automatically disqualified me.

Through COVID, I definitely got some assistance with Paycheck Protection Program loans and Small Business Administration loans, just the general stuff that I think a lot of small businesses used. That definitely helped me get back on track to be able to run my business profitably.

Really, when I did upfits or remodels with my store, luckily I had enough personal capital to fund it myself. But it’s always good to look for any grants you can get. I’m always on the prowl for stuff.

Why did you decide to focus on reused clothing?

For a long time there was a stigma against thrifting, if you will. I remember being a teenager and going to Goodwill — and I didn’t do that a whole lot with my friends, but we always thought it was fun to see what we could find. Finally, through boutiques like mine, we’ve kind of mainstreamed this reuse concept to where it’s not shameful anymore to buy used clothing.

You hear a lot of the older generation talk about their stories. If they came up in poverty, they say, “Well, we never got new clothes.” It was a sad thing, obviously. But this has definitely shifted to where it’s [buying reused clothing] healthy for the environment. It doesn’t have a stigma attached to it anymore and it can really be fun. We have a carefully curated selection of clothing in our stores to make it a really great experience.

What sets MODE apart from other thrift stores?

Logistically, just like operations, we’re different. Plato’s Closet (a Minneapolis-based chain with more than 370 used clothing stores) buys your clothes outright at a really low price, and you never have to deal with them or see them again. I think they also cater a little bit more to the younger, junior crowd.

But we have a huge demographic of people that shop in our store. We have the moms bringing in the high school girls wanting their first pair of designer shoes, all the way up to our old lady friends that need their church outfits, and everything in between.

We cater to every single female fashion out there. Anybody can come in our door and find something because we have so many amazing brands.

What challenges did you face during the pandemic?

We were closed for 56 days, in both locations. During that time, I was in panic mode, not knowing if we were going to be able to reopen or how to reopen. There are a lot of people that work for me who have families.

That really weighed heavy on my shoulders – how was I going to take care of my employees? Am I going to have to let half of the staff go just to keep the store afloat? There were a lot of unknowns that were really scary when we were closed. When we got the order from the governor that we could reopen, we opened that day. I was like, “Let’s go guys.” And we figured it out.

Financially, we had a huge hit. Obviously, there was zero money coming in. Money was still going out to pay the landlord and the electric bill and all the things that you need to just keep a building.

When we closed the store, it was March. We reopened in mid-May. So when we closed the store, we had a bunch of late winter and some early spring items, and everything just sat stagnant until we reopened in May. Then all of a sudden, it was summertime. We didn’t even have the proper inventory to sell, so that was a challenge in itself.

How have your sales trended since then?

We have, since our reopening, continuously had double-digit increases year over year, which is just more than I could have hoped for or imagined would happen.

Have people bought into the concept of MODE as a social-driven business?

Everybody that comes into the store has a different mission. Some people shop at my stores because they only buy second-hand, and we’re one of many that they shop in.

Some people come to my stores because they like really nice things and they’re on a budget – so they like the price points. And they don’t care if it’s used or new or whatever. It’s on sale, it’s the price point that works for them.

Some people like the balance where they can consign and buy, and they use their store credit. It’s almost like a swap they can trade out. That drives a lot of people to come in.

It’s not just one mission that we’re putting out there. It’s amazing that we’re a part of the circular economy – that part makes me feel like I’m doing something really great, not just going to work.

But my personal passion is retail and sales, and the customer-facing part of it. It’s my favorite thing to be on my sales floor. That fills my cup. When I’m in my flow is when I’m on my sales floor, and I’m talking to customers, and they find something that they love that fits them perfectly.

Wrangler’s Texas twist: How the jeans giant is using NIL to attract younger customers


Highly touted quarterback Quint Ewers spent a year at Ohio State before transferring to Texas in 2022. The Longhorns ranked No. 7 in the AP poll in early November.

Greensboro-based Kontoor Brands has used professional sports to promote its Wrangler jeans and clothing for decades. Its relationship with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association dates back to 1948. The denim brand has also been a longtime NASCAR sponsor, and Wrangler recently became the official jeans of the Dallas Cowboys.

But name, image and likeness (NIL) rules for college athletes are allowing it to go after a younger customer base more aggressively.

In the last two years, the company has signed NIL deals with 10 athletes, primarily in Texas, to help promote a collection of licensed collegiate apparel. University of Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers (pictured), Ohio State University tight end Cade Stover and Texas volleyball middle blocker Asjia O’Neal post regularly on social media in their Wrangler clothes, giving the company a bigger presence with the under-35 age group.

Since Kontoor began promoting college athletes, it’s had more than 240 million media impressions for the Wrangler college collection of clothing. Sports Illustrated and The Houston Chronicle covered its deal with Ewers, for example. And it’s seen higher scores when it measures brand awareness and purchase consideration.

“It’s the evolution of sports sponsorships,” says John Meagher, senior director of marketing for Wrangler. “It is the intersection between sports marketing and influencers, engaging with audiences. That’s what we like about it. It feels authentic.”

Ohio State tight end Cade Stover, who has an NIL deal with Wrangler, is expected to be an NFL draft pick in 2024.

While the company is in a “test and learn phase” with NIL, he’d like to see the marketing around colleges and college athletes become a major way it sells Wrangler clothing. He’s looking at adding deals with Southeastern Conference teams for 2024. “This is one part of a range of tactics that look at college sports and a younger audience, where we can to some degree see some sell-through.”

Texas volleyball middle blocker Asjia O’Neal was tapped by Wrangler because of her impressive”professional” social media strategy.

The $70 billion annual denim clothing market is expected to reach $130 billion over the next decade, according to market researcher Fact.MR. Companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch are entering the field, meaning Kontoor needs to find new ways to sell its brands, which also include Lee jeans.

It helps that college football, and other college sports, are especially popular in the South and Southwest, where Wrangler wants to expand its sales. “Quinn Ewers was someone that had reached out to us because he was such a fan of Wrangler,” says Meagher. “He had grown up with the Wrangler logo on his back pocket, and his values aligned with Wrangler.”

Kontoor held photo shoots with Ewers and the other athletes wearing Wrangler clothing, which were then used on their social media accounts. In addition to Ewers and O’Neal, Wrangler also had NIL deals last year with athletes on UT’s baseball, swimming and softball teams. “Texas is the heartland for us,” says Meagher. “It’s the heartland for cowboys, and our brand is strong there. Texas made so much sense.”

This year, Wrangler added Stover and signed O’Neal for a second year. Stover, projected to be an NFL draft pick in 2024, grew up on a cattle farm in Ohio and has done promotional work for the Ohio Beef Council, as well as agriculture company Ag-Pro. (He has said he’d prefer to be paid for his NIL sponsorships in tractors, not money.) O’Neal, a volleyball All-American and a sports management major, has become “professional” in how she promotes the brand on her social media accounts, says Meagher.

Noting the growing interest after the University of Colorado signed Deion Sanders to be its football coach, Wrangler also signed on this year to be the official clothing supplier of students who run onto the school’s Folsom Field before football games with school mascot Ralphie, an 850-pound buffalo. Supplies include a cowboy hat, button-up shirt and jeans.

NIL deals for brands such as Wrangler are smart, says Eben Novy-Williams of Sportico, a Penske Media operation, because they are usually cheaper than signing a professional athlete and because the people who live in many college towns and cities are fans of those teams because they’re alumni. “In a specific city like Austin, the UT athlete is better than partnering with someone on the Mavericks or the Cowboys, and cheaper as well,” says Novy-Williams. “Someone like Quinn Ewers would be a way to reach that fan base.”

To be sure, some companies, particularly those run or owned by success-obsessed alums, are using NIL deals to attract athletes to the university. Miami billionaire John Ruiz has used NIL deals with his company LifeWallet to encourage football players to transfer to the University of Miami, where he’s a longtime booster. Typically, larger universities can offer more extensive NIL packages than smaller programs. After Wake Forest University quarterback Sam Hartman transferred to Notre Dame this past year, he signed NIL deals with UnderArmour, Homefield Apparel, Topps and Beats by Dre.

Kontoor, a publicly traded company that split off from VF Corp. in 2019 and has a market capitalization of $2.6 billion, wants deals with athletes that personify its product’s image. For Wrangler, it’s about grit, confidence, and humility, says Meagher. “It helps us punch above our weight in terms of a media spend and a marketing spend.” Kontoor spent about $140 million annually on advertising and marketing during 2021-22, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

NIL deals are beneficial to the athletes, particularly with potential professional careers, by giving them experience in negotiating contracts and aligning with credible brands, says
Michael McCann, a law professor at the University of New Hampshire and founding director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute. “They’re getting real-life training,” he says. “A lot of them won’t go onto the pros, so whatever they get is something that they will value and could help them with costs.”

Meagher likes how the deals connect Wrangler with teams and athletes. “It makes people connect with them,” he says. “They feel true and down to earth and someone they can root for.”


A Tar Heel linebacker who knows how to deal.

After the first seven games of the 2023 season, UNC linebacker Cedric Gray had recorded 70 tackles as well as an interception and two fumble recoveries.

Gray, a Charlotte native and second-team All-American in 2022, had also recorded a Mt. Olive Pickle commercial before the season opener against South Carolina and taped a commercial for All About Insurance, a Chapel Hill-based Nationwide agency. There’s also the Big Ced burger – topped with bacon, cheese, egg and lettuce – at Al’s Burger Shack in downtown Chapel Hill.

It’s part of the new frontier in college sports, where athletes can use their notoriety to make some money after the NCAA approved name, image and likeness (NIL) guidelines in July 2021. Gray won’t disclose his finances, and the value of NIL agreements are rarely disclosed. But college sports website On3’s algorithm projects his deal-making potential at $429,000 in the next 12 months. By comparison, On3 predicts UNC quarterback Drake Maye could attract $1.3 million in transactions.

Gray works with NIL agent Pet Sumner, an account executive at The Sumner Group in Gastonia. Sumner, who played college basketball at Maine-Farmington, sees NIL work as expanding the agency and using his sports knowledge. “Brands aren’t going to reach out unless you’re making a name for yourself,” he says. “They want a guy who gets on TV and makes a lot of plays.”

Mt. Olive considered a national commercial for its Pickle Juicers, but Sumner suggested they start with a regional ad. He recruited Gray and another client, South Carolina linebacker Debo Williams, for a spot in which the two argue about which university is the real “Carolina.” They agreed that Pickle Juicers helped their workouts.

“I just thought it was a great idea and a good opportunity and related to sports,” says Gray, a sports administration major.

Mt. Olive looked for college athletes who personified the privately owned pickle company – reliable folks who do simple things well. Pickle juice is a favorite rehydration drink for exercise enthusiasts.

Gray says he is interested in NIL deals with companies that are professional and responsive. “If I have a deal in a particular field, I try not to crisscross,” he says. Regulations prevent agreements related to gambling and alcohol.

Sumner says deals with auto dealerships or companies that are run by alumni are good for the athletes. He also struck a deal with Al’s Burger Shack for former UNC basketball player Puff Johnson and a suit deal for former UNC wide receiver Emery Simmons, now playing at Utah.

Gray also works through Heels4Life, a collective for UNC football players, where companies can enter proposed agreements, athletes can accept them, and then the university’s compliance officer can review the deals. Once the work is completed, the athlete is paid.

Few college athletes get NIL deals, despite the fact that NIL has turned some college students into millionaires. On3 says Southern Cal basketball player Bronny James – LeBron’s son – has the highest NIL value potential at $5.9 million. UNC basketball player Armando Bacot has an NIL value potential of $930,000.

Sumner plans to speak at a lawyers conference in January to see if any firms are interested in working with college athletes, particularly those who, like Gray, specialize in defending. He dreams of using the phrase, “You want the best defense,” with a couple of hard-hitters.

Sounds like Gray may have another opportunity for a commercial.

One of Charlotte’s most iconic manufacturers has found the grass greener in the country


Charlotte Pipe and Foundry forged cast iron into pipes near the Queen City’s center for more than a century before moving in September to a new foundry in pastoral Stanly County. Opening the $460 million plant 35 miles from its traditional home was a huge decision for the Dowd family, which has been among Charlotte’s most prominent business owners for generations.

The fact that Roddey Dowd Jr., the company’s vice chair, bought a Stanly County farm 31 years ago didn’t hurt the relocation decision. He passes three stop signs on rural roads on his five-minute commute to the foundry, which sits on 700 acres in the town of Oakboro.

The proximity is mostly coincidence, he says. He moved to Stanly County to get out of Charlotte so he “could shoot and hunt, you know, stuff like that.”

“For some reason, I wanted to have a farm, and so I bought a farm,” says Dowd, part of the fourth generation running the business. ”It was falling down, and we picked it back up.”

To be sure, family members had long discussed the increasing challenges of operating a major manufacturing business so close to a fast-growing center city. “I mean I heard (uncle) Frank and Dad [Roddey] say we needed to get out of Charlotte. That’s been in our DNA since the mid-60s. But I had no idea. That wasn’t even in the filter back then.”

The Dowds have traditionally been extremely private, rarely talking with the press. Financial details are closely held. The name is perhaps most associated with the YMCA near downtown Charlotte.

Hooper Hardison and Roddey Dowd Jr.

“We’ve never pounded our chests or said a whole lot about ourselves over the years,” says Hooper Hardison, who succeeded Roddey Dowd as CEO in December 2021. His father, Ned, was a veteran company executive. “We’ve kinda tried to stay beneath the radar.”

But Charlotte Pipe provided a tour of the foundry and interviews with top officials, reflecting the momentous occasion of opening a plant after three years of construction. It’s one of the state’s largest privately held companies, making cast-iron and plastic pipes and fittings for commercial and residential plumbing.

Charlotte Pipe has more than 2,700 employees spread across 10 plants in eight states, including 530 who work at the Oakboro foundry. Plastics represent about 60% of Charlotte Pipe’s business, the remaining 40% in cast-iron pipes. A July 2022 acquisition added Wisconsin’s Neenah Enterprises, a leading producer of manhole covers.

Hardison, dressed in a button-down shirt, red tie and dark trousers, described the process that led to the company’s move. “When you have a plant that’s 100 years old, you’ve done a lot of adding on and fixing this and fixing that,” says Hardison, who has a bachelor’s degree from UNC Chapel Hill and a University of Virginia MBA. “And while we were very productive and very efficient, there were also a lot of things that could be vastly improved to make us even better, and we needed more space.”

At the interview with Business North Carolina, Dowd’s dress reflects his less formal style. The sleeves of his half-unbuttoned, stained blue work shirt, are rolled up. Two patches – one with his first name, the other with the company name – are above the shirt’s two front pockets. One sleeve of the shirt has a patch that says “safety first,” the other sleeve adorned with a patch of the U.S. flag.

Dowd remains hands-on, having started his morning working with a team on the foundry’s floor. While he never felt city leaders appreciated Charlotte Pipe’s contributions, the relocation decision came down to practicality, he says.

“We always knew we needed to get out [of the Uptown location] because we were landlocked in Charlotte,” says Dowd, whose great-grandfather, W. Frank Dowd, started the company in 1901 with 25 employees.

He wasn’t the only person happy about the relocation, which is benefiting from more than $50 million in state and local incentives. For many years, much of the uptown foundry’s workforce has lived in Stanly or Union counties, with routine hour-long commutes into Charlotte. One employee told Hardison the move to Oakboro would save him $4,800 a year in fuel costs. Some employees now live close enough to drive their golf carts to work. When the company announced the move to Oakboro, employees played Kool & the Gang’s classic funk song “Celebration” over the PA system, Hardison says.

Senior Vice President Greg Simmons and Charlie Ponscheck, Charlotte Pipe engineering manager for the cast iron division, led the planning for the facility.

Charlotte Pipe chose Charlotte-based Barringer Construction as general contractor for the project. While it has worked on company projects for more than 30 years, it had never built a foundry, says Josh Ramsey, senior project manager for Barringer. The development’s size, safety protocols and technology required working together with multiple specialty engineering firms to build one of the world’s most sophisticated foundries.

Over nearly three years of construction, more than 500 construction workers were on the job site each day. More than 1.2 million hours of work were registered. Construction supplies and materials for the foundry were 100% made in the U.S.


Dowd says the new foundry has a “good green story” to tell. Charlotte Pipe invested $58 million in the foundry’s environmental systems and controls. The biggest change: the new foundry uses electricity to forge the iron, while the old foundry used a coal product known as foundry coke.

Workers at Charlotte Pipe’s Oakboro foundry earn an average wage of about $48,000, which is 140% greater than the average Stanly County wage of $34,211.

The change reduces annual carbon emissions by 40,000 tons, which the EPA says is equivalent to a year’s worth of carbon emissions of 32,638 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles. Environmentalists should be pleased, though that didn’t motivate the investment, he says.

“The point of the matter is, Charlotte Pipe believes in doing the right thing,” Dowd says. “You do the right thing environmentally and do the right thing by your people, your customers, (and) safety.

“You just walk the talk and, and to the extent that, you know, whatever kind of arcane argument that wants to be made about the environment, there are environmental laws and, we’re gonna meet those laws and exceed them,” he says. “I mean, if you don’t, you’re gonna be out of business or you’re gonna be in jail. I’m not going to jail for anybody.”

Pivoting to heating by electrical induction over coke made the environmental permitting process much easier with state and federal officials, Dowd adds. An on-site 70,000-megawatt substation for the plant, which is fueled by natural gas distributed by  Union Power Cooperative, produces enough electricity to power 70,000 single-family homes. Charlotte Pipe chose the Monroe-based electric cooperative as its energy partner over Duke Energy following a lengthy analysis.

For workers, the plant is a major contrast to the old foundry, which got extremely hot even on chilly winter days. High ceilings and systems to pump in air and collect dust make the new foundry more comfortable for workers, and make the plant less susceptible to weather extremes, says T.J. Costello, vice president of cast iron operations.


Opening a foundry in Stanly County also aligns with the Dowds’ long-time commitment to North Carolina and battling foreign rivals. “It’s a poor rural county that had a textile base that got wiped out when we were stupid enough to let” the Chinese take the industry away, says Dowd. “This is a real shot in the arm for the county. It’s a rural farming community. Really good people.”

Charlotte Pipe has spent “tens of millions” of dollars fighting Chinese trade practices dating back to the 1980s. Dowd says he went to China in the late 1980s to study competitors, whose products were imported at lower prices than Charlotte Pipe’s.

“We were over there not because we wanted to partner with them, but they were dumping all this stuff. Our goal was to try to find out if they could really do what they were doing,” he says. “We found out that there was no damn way. I mean, these were primitive foundries. They would have looked like Charlotte Pipe in 1915.”

In 2019, the International Trade Commission voted unanimously in favor of Charlotte Pipe in an anti-dumping case involving imports of cast iron soil pipe from China. The U.S. Department of Commerce concluded that Chinese products undersold the fair market value of Charlotte Pipe’s cast iron, prompting new duties of more than 250% to level the playing field. That same year, the company got global attention by publicizing how a Shanghai company has been illegally using the “Charlotte” trademark for its products for more than a decade.

Earlier this year, U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Sherrod Brown of Ohio  introduced the Fighting Trade Cheats Act, which would strengthen U.S. trade law enforcement. “This anti-circumvention trade legislation is critical to holding Chinese and other bad actors accountable when it comes to enforcing lawful dumping and subsidy duties,” Dowd said at the time in a press release issued by Tillis. The legislation is pending.

Neither political party nor any administration has done enough to curb China’s trade practices in the last 40 years, Dowd says. “They are bad people,” Dowd says of the Chinese government. Roddey Dowd Jr. has given almost $73,500 to Republican candidates in federal elections since Jan. 1, 2022. Hardison has given about $54,000 to Republicans in federal elections in that same time period.

“Our job is to make money,” says Dowd, “but it’s also not to let anybody get put out of work. We have a duty to protect our workers’ jobs. This is a family company and most of them have worked for us for generations.”

Charlotte Pipe hasn’t laid off anyone in its plastics divisions since 1982 and no one at the foundry since 1957, Dowd says. When the company lost money in 2009 and 2010, everyone kept working. “We invested in brooms and paint back then,” Hardison says. The plant was kept particularly clean in those lean years, he notes.


Charlotte Pipe still owns its huge land parcel adjacent to Interstate 277 and near the center city and South End areas. It’s in no hurry to make a decision on what to do with that property, says Hardison, who joined the company in 1988. A third of that land was used for production and the rest for storage and warehousing.

A few years ago, Charlotte Pipe secured the intellectual property rights to the term “Iron District” for its valuable property. The company engaged real estate services company CBRE last year to market the property.

For years, popular perception was that Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper would buy the Charlotte Pipe property for a new stadium. Now, the focus is on renovating Bank of America Stadium through a partnership with the city of Charlotte.

Charlotte Pipe has not spoken with Tepper or his colleagues about the property for years, Hardison says. Still, he often runs into people who think the hedge-fund CEO owns the site.

Charlotte Pipe wants to ensure the land will make a positive contribution. “We do have a legacy there that we want to preserve, and we want to do something to make the city and the citizens of the city proud of it. So it’ll be something nice. But who knows what it’ll be? We’re a long ways away from that.”

2023 Top Doctors: A report on the state’s most respected doctors as selected by their peers


North Carolina’s most respected doctors in 65 specialties are presented in this annual report. Those cited were selected by their peers with a goal of saluting the state’s leading medical practitioners.

Methodology and disclaimer: This report was produced by DataJoe Research, a software and research company specializing in data collection and verification. The Lakewood, Colo.-based company conducts various nominations across the United States on behalf of publishers. To create the “top doctors” list, DataJoe Research facilitated an online peer-voting process, also referencing government sources. DataJoe then tallied the votes per category for each doctor to isolate the top nominees in each category. After collecting nominations and additional information, DataJoe checked and confirmed that each published winner had a current, active license status with the state regulatory board. If we were not able to find evidence of a doctor’s current, active registration with the state regulatory board, that doctor was excluded from the list. In addition, any doctor who has been disciplined, up to the time-frame of our review process for an infraction by the state regulatory board, was excluded from the list. Finally, DataJoe presented the tallied result to the magazine for its final review and adjustments.

We recognize that there are many good doctors who are not shown in this representative list. This is only a sampling of the huge array of talented professionals within the region. Inclusion in the list is based on the opinions of responding doctors in the region and the results of our research campaign. We take time and energy to ensure fair voting, although we understand that the results of this survey nomination are not an objective metric. We certainly do not discount the fact that many, many good and effective doctors may not appear on the list.

DataJoe uses best practices and exercises great care in assembling content for this list. DataJoe does not warrant that the data contained within the list are complete or accurate. DataJoe does not assume, and hereby disclaims, any liability to any person for any loss or damage caused by errors or omissions herein whether such errors or omissions result from negligence, accident, or any other cause. All rights reserved. No commercial use of the information in this list may be made without written permission from DataJoe.

For research/methodology questions, contact the research team at

In addition to the list of doctors, here are 6 doctors with impressive stories:

Family Medicine

Brian Lanier was inspired to become a physician after his experiences as a Marine communications officer in Iraq. He joined the Marines shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Pender County native studied music at UNC Wilmington and earned a business degree from N.C. State University. He returned to N.C. State in 2007 to prepare himself for medical school. He earned a four-year, full tuition, merit-based scholarship (John and Kit Latimer Excellence Fund Scholar) to the UNC School of Medicine. He graduated in 2014.

In 2017, Lanier founded Promina Health in Wilmington. The practice uses a direct primary care model, charging a monthly membership fee that covers patients’ primary care office visits and services rather than billing insurance.

General Surgery
Chapel Hill

Anthony Charles followed a well-worn path to becoming a physician. His father is a doctor. His uncles are physicians. His older sister and younger brother are physicians. His grandfather was the first African to head the Public Health Service in Sub-Saharan Africa. “I never thought of anything else than being a physician,” says Charles.

Charles sees patients at the UNC Hospitals Multispecialty Surgery Clinic. He says he likes being part of a research hospital that’s on the cutting edge of medical advancement.

Charles graduated from the University of Lagos College of Medicine. He served with the Nigerian Army Medical Corps. Residencies include North Middlesex University Hospital in London and Saint Joseph Mercy in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

A passion is serving as director of the UNC Malawi Surgical Initiative. The southeastern African nation has fewer than 50 surgeons serving 18 million people. The program works with doctors and trains them to become surgeons.

Internal Medicine

Laura Diefendorf dreamed of becoming a doctor while playing doctor to her dolls. Board certified in both internal medicine and pediatrics, her patients range from the youngest to oldest.

Her specialties allow her to follow patients with chronic childhood illnesses who may have had a short life expectancy, but who now live past their 50s. “I love following my chronic children all the way through adulthood.”

Diefendorf graduated from medical school at Saint George’s University in the West Indies in 2008. Her community involvement includes providing sports physicals and screening mammograms.

Interventional Cardiology

James Tcheng came to Duke University Medical Center in 1986 for a cardiology fellowship and has remained for more than 35 years. In addition to being a professor at Duke University, he treats patients with heart disease, specializing in cardiac catheterization and coronary angioplasty procedures. His passion is clinical informatics, the discipline that centers on the use of computer technologies to help clinicians deliver the best possible care.

Tcheng is a 1982 graduate of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

He has varied interests outside his work. He describes himself as a “closet architect” who has designed and built several homes. He enjoys computer technology and does programming on the side. He also plays several musical instruments, including alto and tenor saxophone, trombone, guitar and piano.

Medical Oncology and Hematology Hendersonville

Part of being an oncologist is building relationships with patients. As the patient deals with a serious diagnosis, the doctor can learn who that patient really is, what’s important to them and then use those insights to develop the best course of care, says Dr. Navin Anthony.

“The best approach in practicing medicine is that when you are treating a patient, you should see them as you’re treating a loved one or family member,” says Anthony. “I think one of the most important things is openness and communication.”

Anthony graduated from the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2006. He did his residency at Providence Hospital and Medical Center in Southfield, Michigan.


Patricia McHale sees patients limited by injury, so she never tires of seeing them getting back to doing the things they love. “When they are able to return to activity, whether that be daily activities at home or competitive sports, it is affirming and reminds me why I wanted to become a doctor in the first place,” says McHale, who works out of the Gastonia and Belmont offices of OrthoCarolina. She’s also head team physician at North Gaston High School.

McHale is a rarity. In 2020, females made up just 6% of practicing orthopedic surgeons, according to the National Institute of Health. McHale is a graduate of Baylor College
of Medicine.

NC trend: A Queen City CEO immerses himself in the red-carpet world of award shows

Pictured left to right at the top of page: The Hip Hop Honors Award, the Academy of Country Music Award, the Billboard Music Award, the SOCAN Award, NBC’s The Voice Trophy, the American Music Award, the iHeartMedia Award and the YouTube Red Diamond Creator Award

During law school, David Moritz had a friend who considered starting a promotional products business. After attending a trade show, Moritz told the friend he was surprised by the dearth of high-end offerings.

There were pens, keychains and koozies as far as the eye could see. But there were few other products.

Moritz, an NYU alum who planned to be an entertainment lawyer, thought about the iconic statues presented at black-tie awards shows. Were executives browsing tchotchke showrooms? Didn’t they deserve a more sophisticated way to source sought-after awards?

The founder and CEO of Charlotte-based Society Awards says high-end awards manufacturers didn’t exist until he created the category.

Moritz aspires for the brand to be known among the award recipients themselves. Yes, that means Meryl Streep, Beyoncé, Garth Brooks and the like.

“A lot of award winners are already aware of us,” he says. “If you’re in advertising, you know about the industry’s Clio Awards, and you probably read in the trades that Society Awards is producing them now. Even in the entertainment industry, some people know us.”

When Steven Spielberg accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2009 Golden Globes, he held it up and said, “Look; it’s been redesigned and everything. It’s beautiful.” 

Society didn’t just redesign the DeMille Award. Over nearly two years, the company redesigned the iconic Golden Globe, too. The globe sits on a marble base, weighs 5.5 pounds and stands 10.75 inches high. Each is presented, with a certificate of authenticity, in a red velvet-lined, leather-bound chest with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association logo stamped in gold.

Moritz understands: Presentation matters.

White gloves, red carpets

Founded in 2007 in New York, Society Awards offers what the company calls “white-glove concierge services.” The company employs about a dozen concierges who are assigned to a client from initial meeting through delivery. They act, Moritz says, as “the client’s command center. They review materials, design options and logistics. They handle quality control and delivery. The concierge makes everything happen.”        

Many of the awards are made in China and finished (plaques affixed, polished, shipped) in the company’s Grove, Oklahoma, facility. It employs about 60 people in Charlotte and Oklahoma.

Moritz and his family moved the headquarters to Charlotte in 2020 seeking “a better quality of life.” He and his wife Charlotte have two children – ages 9 and 6 – and appreciate “the grass, the green space and the weather” in their adopted hometown.

The company maintains two offices in South End, one in Atherton Mill and the other in The Line, a 16-story, mixed-use complex. Atherton Mill offers visibility and is ideal for client meetings, while the larger Line space is more conducive to company meetings.

More than 150 Society Awards designs will be displayed in an exhibit opening Dec. 1 at the Mint Museum in Charlotte.

Starting at the top

Moritz says he started the business at the top. “We were creating a better product than already existed and felt confident going after notable accounts,” he says.

The company’s reach goes beyond show biz to encompass sports, social media, cars and more.

“Within every field of endeavor, there’s a world-class champion,” Moritz says. Whether being honored for acting in a Hollywood movie or for selling more carpet than their colleagues, these champions deserve more than a standard-issue trophy,  he stresses. 

Moritz’s first foray into the awards world was an acrylic memento. The award was small but the client, Billboard magazine, and the honoree, Neil Diamond, are known globally. Society Awards’ client roster now includes the Video Music Awards, the Emmy Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards, NAACP Image Awards, NBC’s “The Voice” and ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”

Impressive, but one award is conspicuously absent: the Oscar. Surely, Moritz wants to manufacture that golden statuette? Nope. 

“We’re already the supplier for the  most prestigious awards show – the YouTube Creators Awards,” he says. “If you have 100 million subscribers to your YouTube channel, you’re eligible for the Red Diamond Award – made of red Baccarat crystal.”

The secret weapons

What made Moritz think he could convince Hollywood honchos to buy his product? It may have been his high-end suits.

“I was exceptionally polished,” he says. “I know what I’m doing. I had a law degree and had read manufacturing textbooks. I interviewed professional artists. I understood the assignment – replicating a series of miniatures that must be identical. It’s an artisan process. Our awards are akin to a high-end, limited-edition piece of art.”

From the beginning, Moritz knew he had to sell more than an award. He had to make the buying, production and delivery process smooth – and even enjoyable.

His self-confidence and swagger are probably his secret weapons:

Business NC: Who are your competitors?

Moritz: They’re all out of business.

BNC: OK, then. Who were your competitors?

Moritz: [Starts to answer, before stopping himself.] No, no. I’m not going to mention them. If they can’t get press on their own, I’m not getting it for them.

Getting in the door

There’s nothing easy about uncovering the person in an organization responsible for buying awards. “It’s often a CEO or someone else in the C-suite,” he says. “But it can be someone in the marketing department who happens to love awards shows.”

Along with Vicky Fotopoulou, the company’s co-creative director of 3-D design, Moritz helps create the awards. Those designs include creative wonders like the MTV Movie Award – a popcorn box replica with golden popcorn piled high and spilling out onto the base of the statue.

Moritz’s design sensibility might be the dictum often attributed to German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: “Less is more.”

An award “needs to be simple,” he says. “If you try to complicate the design, you end up with something fussy.” 

Moritz’s process for creating an award is meant to be painless for the client. There are no thumbnail sketches to review. “If you’re not a sculptor, do you really want to sit around reviewing sketches for sculpture?” Moritz asked rhetorically.

Instead, the team begins with a creative brief, gets buy-in from the client and comes back with what Moritz calls a “Pixar-level photo/illustration” for the client to approve.

The costs for the company’s white-glove treatment varies. Moritz says clients can generally get something impressive in the “ready-to-award” category for between $150 and $1,000 per unit.  A custom award usually starts at $10,000.

“It’s got to be good,” Moritz says. “And it is. What we show up with is a literal work of art.”