The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce is pleased to announce its winners of the 2021 Watauga County Business of the Year Awards. The winners were unveiled on Thursday, January 20, 2022, during the 6th Annual High Country Economic Kickoff Event, presented by Peak Insurance Group, with additional sponsorship support from Allen Wealth Management, Appalachian Commercial Real Estate, The Horton Hotel, and Skyline National Bank.
The awards were sponsored by the Watauga County Economic Development Commission. Nominations were submitted by Chamber and community members with winners selected by the Chamber’s Business Development committee. The Chamber received nominations for 24 different High Country businesses.
Organizations were awarded based on criteria that includes staying power, growth in sales and/or workforce, innovative products and services, strong response to adversity, contributions to community-oriented projects, and use of local resources in business operations.
“This year’s award winners are reflective of the strength of businesses in our community that have been locally grown,” said David Jackson, President/CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “The common thread that ties these three businesses together is strong local roots, especially in terms of customer impact and staffing. All have been lauded for their positive customer service experience and each have gone the extra mile to provide support to the surrounding community in their own unique ways.”
Small Business: Mane Habit Salon
A staple among the Boone Mall business community for going on three years, Mane Habit Salon has established itself as one of the most trusted salons in the High Country. Owned and operated by Jezabel LeBatard, Mane Habit works within the mission of helping people discover the beauty within themselves. Since opening the doors, the staff has grown from a team of three to now eight stylists and two front desk staff, striving daily to provide consistent results for customers, while creating a positive and relaxing experience.
Like every salon in the State, Mane Habit was dealt numerous operational hurdles as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon reopening, the staff excelled on communicating expectations to customers and followed through in developing an environment that prioritized safety for clients and employees alike.
“I am fortunate to have a staff that has thrived despite recent challenges,” said LeBatard. “I’ve been able to add to my staff at a time where workforce has been hard to come by for many businesses. I even have an employee that is a graduate of Watauga High School that has advanced in our business and recently bought a house. That is no easy feat in this market.”
Since opening their doors in August 2019, Mane Habit Salon immediately sought opportunities to impact the local community. During the holiday season, they closed their doors early and a staff of seven stylists provided free haircuts to residents and volunteers at Hospitality House.
The staff has lent its professional expertise to the Cosmetology Program at Watauga High School, providing guest lectures on building a successful business, customer service goals, and consultations, while also addressing fears and concerns students have about entering the industry. Mane Habit is currently working to establish an apprentice program to provide local students a direct path toward careers in the industry upon graduation.
“I’m proud of the way we’ve been able to give people a sense of normalcy and respite in such strange times,” said LeBatard. “Sometimes we are the only people they get to see for weeks at a time if they are staying home to stay safe. I am most proud of where I came from and where I plan to make an impact with my business in the community that has supported me from the beginning of my career.”
Large Business: Mustard Seed Market
Celebrating its 30th year as one of the most successful garden centers in the High Country, Mustard Seed Market has built a sustained, customer-focused business thanks to a highly trained staff and carefully maintained relationships with growers and cultivators from across the country. Owned by Danielle and Robb Stewart, this local landmark serves as a hub of inspiration for gardeners of all skill levels.
Mustard Seed Market utilizes a network of over 60 growers that provide more than 15,000 unique products in addition to servicing both residential and commercial landscape clients. One of the few remaining independent garden centers, Mustard Seed Market has added a variety of services over the years to best serve needs directly identified by their customers, such as custom container gardening, design and planting services, and local product delivery. They continue to offer free horticultural advice, walking customers through their elaborate grounds and greenhouses to find the perfect plant to match available space.
When asked about the backbone of their business, co-owner Danielle Stewart quickly pointed to their staff. “We could not nor would be where we are without our ongoing incredible team we nurture every season. They are our lifelines. We are always asked where we get such great crew and we are very blessed by word of mouth. We really work on our “shop culture” and identify people who want to work here. They are surprised though that it is very hard work, in all weather conditions. The faint of heart gets weeded out quickly.”
Mustard Seed Market stays true to its roots as a locally established business by connecting with dozens of local organizations and projects.
The Stewarts have donated product and consulting services while providing floral arrangements to elderly residents and “any young kid who has the guts to ask for a donation.” They have supported the Middle Fork Greenway and Blue Ridge Conservancy by donating thousands of dollars in native plants to beautify their ongoing projects, including commuting to their long-term walking nature trails, office buildings and connections to the Greenway in Blowing Rock. They have also grown unique fundraising events over the years, such as their annual yard sale, which recently raised $2,000 for Faith Bridge Church and its Casting Bread Food Bank ministry.
BACC 2021 WATAUGA COUNTY BUSINESS OF THE YEAR AWARDS 3-3-3-3
As with any family business, the Stewarts lifestyle is centered around their operation. They water their gardens on their “off days,” cultivate and grow their brand, unload trucks at all hours, continuously educate themselves on new products and techniques, and work daily to grow their design and landscape offerings.
“We love being involved in every aspect of our business and we are so fortunate to have a hard working and dedicated staff that makes it all happen.”
Startup Business: Appalachian FC
It took one short walk for a Sasquatch dribbling a soccer ball, and an icon was born. This catchy social media launch of the Appalachian Football Club brought instant notoriety to the startup National Premier Soccer League soccer franchise, and millions of eyeballs focused on the High Country in the process.
The viral video of the brand rollout captured over a million unique views helping to bolster over $200k of merchandise revenue across all 50 states, over half of which was earned before the franchise played its first match.
Its first season was a success on and off the pitch. A regular season record of 4-2-4 qualified Appalachian FC for the semifinals of the NPSL Southeast Conference playoffs. The team played to an average paid attendance of 1,100 fans at Ted Mackorell Soccer Complex, all made possible thanks to a partnership between Watauga County, Appalachian State University, High Country Soccer, and the Boone Area Sports Commission. Stamping its unique signature on each home match, the Squatch Guard fan group marched through the woods from neighboring Booneshine Brewing Company and took over the center section of Ted Mack, providing the most raucous atmosphere in the league.
“We’re humbled and honored by the support of amazing fans and sponsors in the High Country. Our goal was to build a legendary soccer club that everyone in the High Country could be proud to support. The response since Day One has exceeded the BIG expectations of our Chief Marketing Officer and self-appointed General Manager Bigfoot!” shared Appalachian FC Managing Partner, Michael (Hitch) Hitchcock.
Appalachian FC worked quickly to establish local partnerships, connecting with over 30 High Country businesses in its initial sponsorship rollout. The franchise teamed with Booneshine Brewing Company to create Squatchy Ale, a seasonal beer that helped bring instant awareness to the team and its neighborhood partner. Booneshine co-owners Tim Herdklotz and Carson Coatney were among over 10 local investors that helped provide stability and recognizable High Country faces to the organization in its formative season.
Appalachian FC exceeded its revenue expectations in its first year and quickly vaulted itself to one of the most successful franchises in the NPSL. Since the conclusion of the 2021 season, the team has started the sale of local ownership shares, engaging over 150 fans with the team through a unique investment option, making Appalachian FC the Green Bay Packers of the NPSL.
“While 2021 was a good year, we’re excited for 2022 and our Sophomore Season. Appalachian FC has ambitious plans, on the field and in the community, to go from “good to great”; which starts with expanding our Ownership Group with passionate High Country supporters and local leaders. It has been special to see engaged fans become engaged owners. This year is a World Cup year and Appalachian FC is well positioned to help grow the World’s Game in the High Country.” Hitch added.
For more information regarding the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce, please contact David Jackson at [email protected] or 828-264-2225.