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Windows of Opportunity: Entrepreneur Greg Seiz heads in a new direction

By Jan Todd

For the past 25 years, Greg Seiz has pursued opportunities to build a successful business in the High Country. At the end of 2022, he sold his company, Appalachian Blind & Closet Company, to follow his heart — with plans to help nonprofit organizations.

Greg Seiz, former owner of Appalachian Blind & Closet Company in Boone, stands in front of a painting by Jim Crompton, on display in the company’s reception area. The artwork, depicting a scene in Foscoe, caught Seiz’s eye a few years ago while visiting the Carlton Gallery in Banner Elk. “I visualized the painting hanging in this spot, two years before I was able to purchase this building,” Seiz said. Photo by Jan Todd

In 1997, Seiz moved his family from South Florida to Banner Elk, where he worked for a carpet and flooring store. When building his house, he talked to various designers about plantation shutters for his home but found there weren’t any places to purchase them nearby. Realizing an unmet need, Seiz got a sales job for a plantation shutter company in Charlotte in order to expand their market into the High Country.

“It was an easy sell,” he said. “It wasn’t long until I buried the company with work — so much they couldn’t keep up with the orders.”

He realized very quickly that to address the demand and have more control over production and delivery, he’d need to open his own plant. He hopped on a plane and traveled to Lubbock, Texas, and consulted with the O’Hair Shutters company, a fourth-generation manufacturer of plantation shutters. He returned to the mountains and opened the Carolina Shutter Company in Newland.

For a year or so, Seiz operated as a wholesaler to interior designers and builders in the area, then decided to grow his business by opening a retail store, expanding his line to include blinds and window treatments. “I found that simply showing up and having integrity was the key to success,” he said.

His retail operation, Carolina Window Fashions, grew robustly, and with the efficiency of his own manufacturing plant for the shutters, it was difficult for others to compete. “I was doing installations in Charlotte, Greensboro, Eastern Tennessee and even down to Florida,” he said.

A large showroom at Appalachian Blind & Closet is dedicated to designing custom closets, with cabinetry options to fit different budgets and styles. Photos by Jan Todd

As motorized shades and automated window coverings became more popular, Seiz opened a dealership for Hunter Douglas, the leader in the industry. However, Hunter Douglas limited their “Gallery” level distribution — which featured the full product line along with premium displays — to just one retailer. In Boone, Appalachian Blind & Closet, a business opened in 1993, was a Gallery distributor, so Seiz’s Carolina Window Fashions had to settle for a smaller line from Hunter Douglas.

“I really wanted a Hunter Douglas Gallery, though, so I made an offer to purchase Appalachian Blind,” Seiz said. “But the owner wasn’t ready.”

Five years later, after the housing recession took its toll on the High Country, Seiz and the previous owner came to an agreement in 2014 and Seiz purchased Appalachian Blind & Closet. He then rebranded his business under that name a few years ago.

Since the pandemic hit in 2020, Seiz said his company has doubled its business. “Waves of people realized they could work from home and have flexibility in where they live. They decided to move to their second home in the mountains, or purchase a new home where they always wanted to live. It was a reset for everyone, getting away from the cities and crowds,” Seiz said.

The housing industry in the High Country exploded, with a spike in demand which drove up housing prices and squeezed inventory of available listings, Seiz said. New and existing housing sales meant more demand for window coverings and closet designs.

While his company revenue grew, Seiz said his awareness of the needs in the community also increased the tug on his heart. “We have a serious shortage of affordable housing in the area, and the issue is one I want to devote some time to,” he said.

Greg Seiz addressed donors and supporters at the Western Youth Network (WYN) “Wish Upon a Star” fundraising gala in 2022, sharing his own story of childhood trauma, addiction and recovery. His personal history drives his passion to support WYN and other nonprofits in the High Country, he said. After selling Appalachian Blind & Closet Company, a business he spent 25 years growing into a successful venture, Seiz plans to devote his time and energy to helping nonprofits grow and operate efficiently, enabling them to make an even bigger difference in the community. Photo by Jan Todd

A Heart for Change

Seiz is no stranger to a path through struggles. A difficult childhood led him down the road to substance abuse, addiction and desperation. In his early twenties, the intervention of a stranger helped him turn the corner to recovery.

“Life is hard,” Seiz said. “But one person can make a huge difference in another’s life.”

As Seiz reached sobriety, he developed a desire to help others. Prior to moving to Banner Elk, Seiz and a partner started a nonprofit organization, Empowering Directions. They worked with incarcerated adolescents — who had been convicted as felons within the adult system — in South Florida’s Broward County jail system.

“Trauma triggers patterns of behavior. If we can create a break in that pattern, to allow the person’s brain to go in an empowering direction instead of a negative direction, it can change lives,” Seiz explained.

“I understand the relationship between trauma and incarceration rates,” Seiz continued. “It is so hard for someone age 25 to heal and turn around after enduring childhood trauma. The earlier you can address it with children, the better you can prevent them from turning to to alcohol, drugs and other bad decisions in their future lives.”

Greg Seiz and his staff at Appalachian Blind & Closet after their ribbon cutting ceremony in June of 2022. Photo courtesy of Appalachian Blind & Closet.

In the High Country, Seiz has supported and become involved in a few nonprofit efforts, including the Western Youth Network (WYN) — an organization that seeks to transform the community by nurturing and empowering children so they can live healthy, engaged and fulfilled lives.

A large showroom at Appalachian Blind & Closet is dedicated to designing custom closets, with cabinetry options to fit different budgets and styles. Photo by Jan Todd

Many of the children served by WYN have endured Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), such as poverty, abuse, hunger, parents with addictions, domestic violence and other adversities.

“I’m very passionate about WYN, because of my own history,” Seiz shared.

His support of WYN began with regular monthly donations, then he stepped up his involvement and volunteered in the organization’s community-based mentoring program. WYN trains adults to work directly with middle-school youth. Mentors meet weekly with their mentees, serving as role models and nurturing stable relationships that help children heal and build resilience.

Adjacent to the main showroom is a garage and office area with custom cabinetry on display for the ultimate home garage. Photo by Jan Todd

Seiz said he has had a “sort of awakening” in the past few years. “I’ve been letting go of some of my possessions and things I thought would bring me closer to people — but had actually been taking me farther away,” he said.

Part of that journey led him to the decision to sell his company he’d spent the quarter of a century building. He hired a broker in 2022 and found a buyer for Appalachian Blind & Closets, closing the sale in late November.

What’s next for Seiz? He plans to pour his energies into helping nonprofits from a business perspective.

“Most nonprofit startups fail, because people start out to do good things, but don’t realize they are going into a business. You have to have sustainability, different revenue streams, and people to do the work. With every venture there is an entrepreneurial equation,” he explained.

Reception area of Appalachian Blind & Closet Company, located at 8599 NC Hwy. 105 in the Foscoe area. Photo by Jan Todd

“I’d like to help people with the business side of running nonprofit organizations. That is my purpose right now. I feel guided, and I trust in God to lead me. I know it’s going to be a fun adventure,” Seiz said.

Jennifer Warren, executive director of WYN, said she has had some early conversations with Seiz about the organization’s operations.

“He has given me some advice about what he has done with his companies, how he made them a success,” Warren said.

Warren acknowledged that many times nonprofits are led by people with backgrounds in social work or counseling — not necessarily those with experience in running businesses.

“Greg and I talked about building a model for our programming and planning for future growth. Before a company can really expand, you have to be clear about what you do and how you do it, and identify your formula for success,” Warren shared.

Appalachian Blind & Closet Company is a Gallery location for Hunter Douglas, the leading manufacturer of blinds. They carry a complete line of manual and automated blinds and shades, plus awnings and shutters. Programmable automated window coverings can be programmed to adjust automatically to protect interiors from UV rays, manage heat and cooling loss, and provide appropriate lighting for different times of the day. Photo by Jan Todd

Warren said Seiz gave her tips about operating from a managerial standpoint. “Sometimes leaders act more as day-to-day staff members. As we expand, I have to concentrate more on leadership instead of the activities of the day,” she said.

Warren said the demand for WYN’s services has doubled from last year — with increased needs resulting from the pandemic, inflation and growth in the community. She relies on WYN’s Board of Directors, Advisory Board and community leaders such as Seiz as WYN expands in new directions to better serve the area’s youth.

New Management for Appalachian Blind & Closets

Meanwhile, there is a new face at the helm of Appalachian Blind & Closets. Eric Currence, a newly retired U.S. Army officer with 27 years in the service, seized the window of opportunity opened by Seiz.

Eric Currence, new owner of Appalachian Blind & Closet Company, is a retired officer of the U.S. Army. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and was stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In addition to his military career, Currence has extensive experience as a commercial real estate investor. Photo by Jan Todd

Currence, who grew up in Brooklyn, New York, was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

“As I prepared to retire from the Army, I began looking for a business to buy. I started researching about two years ago, took some online courses and assembled a team with an accountant and a lawyer,” Currence said.

He had extensive experience in commercial real estate investing, and wanted a business related to the industry, he said. He considered opportunities in plumbing, HVAC, septic and other businesses related to the home.

“When I saw the ad for Appalachian Blind & Closets, things moved fast. I made the decision within a week,” he said. Meeting the people, looking at the numbers and seeing how the business was run guided his decision.

“They have systems and processes which are orderly, something I’m used to from the military,” he said. The company’s reputation and the friendliness of the staff were also important factors, he said.

Appalachian Blind & Closets employs twenty people. Currence plans to host a Business After Hours event with the Boone Area Chamber in February to introduce himself to other businesspeople and show off the company’s new location at 8599 NC Hwy. 105 in Foscoe, which Seiz opened in June, 2022.

“I like the small town feel of this area,” said Currence. “I’m looking forward to this phase of life.”