By Bailey Faulkner
It isn’t hard to see that the High Country has grown significantly over the last few decades. New businesses open, buildings are constructed and visitors from around the country make the trip up the mountain each year, but few have seen the High Country evolve quite like “Lil” Jack Anderson and his family at Banner Elk’s Resort Real Estate & Rentals, which just reached its 35th anniversary this May.
The company got its start after Anderson’s father — also Jack — suffered a broken leg in 1982. Needing an outlet to spend his time, the racing enthusiast decided to open a family-run real estate and rental business focusing on the lightly-developed area on and around Sugar Mountain. That decision would lead to a lifetime of unforgettable stories, snowy winters and time spent growing as a family and company.
“I was involved here from day one when I was 16. I would help out with maintenance and other jobs,” Anderson said.
Eventually owning his own construction company, Lil Jack returned to the family business after his parents retired over four years ago. At the height of the business during Anderson’s parent’s time running the company, RRR operated more than 400 units, solidifying itself as the go-to real estate and rental company for Sugar Mountain and Banner Elk. Although the company has scaled back in recent years, RRR remains one of the most well-known realty companies in the High Country, recently selling over $20 million in real estate alone for one calendar year.
Numbers like that weren’t possible when the Andersons first moved to Banner Elk from South Carolina in the early ’80s. Picking up from peach country and heading to the mountains of North Carolina back in those days was a bit different than what nationwide visitors and seasonal residents undergo today. Ask Anderson what Sugar Mountain was like when he first arrived and you’ll get the picture.
“On a Saturday when we first moved here, my dad and I were up at the top of Sugar building a stairway up through the rocks. That stairway is how the people who bought the property for Sugar Top walked up to see the view,” Anderson recalled.
The Andersons have come a long way since that early project on top of Sugar. If you think that reaching 35 years as a local realty business is a feat, you’d be right. Anderson credits much of the company’s success on his father’s background in the military.
“My father was a sergeant in Vietnam and that’s where he picked up on a lot of mechanical skills and discipline. That all helped in starting the business,” Anderson said.
Returning from overseas, Anderson’s father picked up where he left off before his military years: continuing his love for racing. Before long, the senior Anderson owned a condo near Atlanta Motor Speedway. That business endeavor would help make Jack Anderson a well-known name in the racing world.
After years of developing a keen sense of what it takes to be successful in the realty industry, Anderson, with Lil Jack tagging along, was invited to Bristol to attend a board of directors meeting during a race at Bristol Motor Speedway. With condos rapidly sprouting around racetracks across the country at the time, Bruton Smith (NASCAR Hall of Famer and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc. with an estimated worth of $1.5 billion in 2005) was interested in building condos of his own around Bristol. But before he made his decision, Smith knew there was one person who could give him the right advice.
“Bruton said, ‘Jack, you’re an expert in real estate. You’ve been in real estate for years. You own a condo in Atlanta and know how it works. Should I build condos around Bristol?’” Lil Jack recalls. “My dad looked him square in the eye and said, ‘no sir; do not do that. You will make a lot more money having suites than having condos.”
Lil Jack’s father went on to explain that once a realtor sells a unit, the seller loses control of that unit, which would not be the case when renting out suites. Smith seemed to understand Anderson’s reasoning.
“Bruton got up and said, ‘you’re a good man, Jack’ and walked out. He never built those condos,” Lil Jack said.
Now 51, Lil Jack recognizes that memories like that would have never been possible without his family’s company. He also realizes that RRR would not be a reality without a reliance on family. Taking the wheel where his parents left off, Anderson now runs the company with his wife Janet and his two children Joshua and Jayme, now both in their early twenties. Still a bit too young to help out with the business, the Andersons’ ten-year-old twin boys will surely become involved with RRR in the coming years.
“I couldn’t do it on my own, and dad couldn’t have done it on his own. It is definitely a family business and that’s how I base the company now,” Anderson said.
RRR may still run on collective family efforts, but that is one of the few aspects of the company that have remained the same since its opening in 1982.
“Moving to the Internet is a tough transition, and that’s why I surround myself with young people. Advertising is totally different now,” Anderson said. “When we first started, you used to walk in, and there was a board,” he chuckled. “That was all there was back then.”
Anderson’s strategy of utilizing his young, more tech-savvy children to help advertise for the business seems to be paying off. When he took over operations, RRR’s computer system resembled those of the ’90s more than those of today. With youthful input from Lil Jack’s son and daughter, the company has added around 60 units in the Sugar Mountain and Banner Elk area.
That’s a good sign for RRR. But recent warm winters have certainly impacted the business. Even a great summer season can’t make up for a winter with little snow and fewer visitors on the slopes. But since marrying Janet, a devoted Christian, in 2003 and becoming even more involved in church, Lil Jack knows that sweating what is out of one’s control isn’t worth the time.
“We’re leaning on faith, and God will provide,” Anderson said. “We try to interweave that with the business.”
With that faith and a shared family work ethic sparked by his father, Lil Jack isn’t worried about the future; he is excited to implement some of the most recent developments in the realty field in his own company. RRR is planning to make the move to coded locks on its doors, which means that guests will never have to show up to the rental office or interact directly with anyone from the company in order to enter their property. Anderson said he got the idea from his frequent travels to Gatlinburg where companies use the coded-lock system.
“I don’t even know where their office is. I think that’s so cool!” Anderson said.
Fortunately for RRR, Lil Jack will have some help making that transition and keeping family at the center of his business.
“I tell my kids ‘if you are willing to use a shovel in life, you’ll be able to run the world one day.’ Luckily I have a great family,” Jack said lovingly.