The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce announced its winners of the 2019 Business of the Year Awards during the 4th Annual High Country Economic Kickoff Breakfast Thursday morning at Meadowbrook Inn.
The awards were sponsored by the Watauga County Economic Development Commission and Skyline National Bank. Nominations were submitted by Chamber and community members and winners were selected by the Chamber’s Business Development committee.
Businesses 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.
Small Business: Los Arcoiris
Since opening its doors in September of 1991, Los Arcoiris has built a loyal following of customers seeking authentic Mexican cuisine combined with a cozy hacienda style décor. Owner Alfredo Alverez built the business on the premise of providing menu variety and consistency along with an engaging staff that displays quality customer service.
Los Arcoiris serves a mixture of audiences, but Appalachian State students have provided the foundation of loyalty within the customer base. “Our former App State customers always come back,” Alverez said. “Sometimes they mention to us that they haven’t been in town for many years, and when they return, they say they had a hard time finding us because we changed location and name. We used to be “Los Arcos” in our first location. That really makes you feel good and proud and that you are doing the right thing.”
Moving three times in 28-years, Alverez’ efforts to maximize space for customers and staff helped the business surpass the $1M mark in sales in 2019. Within the next year, plans include the completed construction of a new bar in their current location, located at 168 Boone Heights Drive in Boone. Over the last several years, Los Arcoiris has expanded outside of Watauga County to include locations in Pineola and Mooresville.
Closing in on their third full decade of operation, Alverez suggests his business success has come in part by adapting to the all-encompassing lifestyle of restaurateur. He frequently offers advice to those seeking staying power within the industry.
“You must be willing and conscious of the fact that there are a lot of working hours that are involved daily to maintain and keep running a restaurant,” Alverez said. “It’s also sometimes hard to find good help. But if you have the passion for the food industry go for it! You will fall in love.”
Large Business: Animal Emergency Clinic of the High Country
When opening a night and weekend pet care service in Boone 15-years ago, Dr. David Linzey sought to meet a market demand. That service quickly expanded to Animal Emergency Clinic of the High Country, a 24-hour emergency care practice. Over time Pet Care Clinic of the High Country and Ridge Runner Pet Lodging were added to complete a trio of businesses designed to meet the growing needs of High Country pet owners.
“I’m not sure that I knew what the long-term plan was when we opened the business,” Linzey said. “I clearly didn’t know we would be where we are 15-years later. The growth just happened as opportunities arose, with most of the credit going to the pet owners of the high country – they love their pets! The growth was managed, our awesome staff adapted to the needs of our customers, and we learned along the way.”
Linzey seeks staff that is eager to treat patients as if they were their own pets. Providing a vast array of services across three distinct business models has put a premium on attracting quality employees to meet the demands of an expanding case load.
“Our location is definitely a draw for doctors and technical staff, but the applicant pool is small, so advertising outside of the area is the only option for recruitment,” Linzey explained. “Emergency clinics nationwide are having a really hard time keeping staff. Overall, we are in much better shape than most and I credit our staff, the work environment, and our non-corporate involvement with creating a positive and professional culture.”
All three services continue to show annual growth and pull from a three-state customer base. A goal to expand staff will only help to increase the capacity and quality of care across all facilities.
“We see every type of pet-owner from long-time locals to students to recent residents to seasonal residents and everything in-between,” Linzey said. “There is the entire gamut of socioeconomic situations which is constantly a challenge to match the best possible care with the owner’s available resources. Our location is crucial – we see patients from the entire high country as well as surrounding counties and states. Boone is ideally located for a regional facility of this type.”
Linzey points to an investment in facility planning and upkeep as a driving force behind his recent business growth.
“I think the expense incurred with constructing modern and appealing facilities has made a big difference, not only in attracting clients but in attracting and retaining quality staff.”
Startup Business: Foggy Pine Books
Downtown Boone offers an eclectic collection of restaurants and businesses that serve as a magnet for the region’s economy. Mary Ruthless looked to add to the menu of locally owned, independently managed King Street shops when she opened Foggy Pine Books in a quaint, 425-square foot space in May of 2016.
Just 19-months after opening her doors, Ruthless was presented an opportunity to relocate to a larger King Street storefront. The timing of moving a young business into an expanded space required both calculations and faith.
“(Larger space) was something I’d wanted from the start but there just wasn’t anything available that fit my needs,” Ruthless recalled. “When something opened, I felt that not taking the chance would’ve been short sighted. That said, a lot of planning, organizing, and spreadsheet work was required before I felt comfortable taking the leap. Now we’re here and the Boone community has been more supportive than I ever imagined.”
With more than four times the available floor space in her new facility, Foggy Pine Books has developed an atmosphere where customers are encouraged to take a more relaxed approach to the retail experience.
“Our typical customer is someone who loves to read and who wants a personal touch to their book shopping experience,” Ruthless said. “Our store enhances their experience by providing a safe space to explore their interests, meet with friends, or just pass an afternoon reading. By having cozy furniture, a meeting space, and booksellers on hand to chat, make book recommendations, and special order books, we’re giving our community a place to connect with one another and to feel recognized in a world where our daily interactions can be faceless and dehumanizing.”
In building the initial business model, Ruthless established customer curiosity, and ultimately loyalty, through diversity.
“Inclusiveness is the cornerstone of everything we do at Foggy Pine Books. Home to all sorts of folks over the years, the mountains of Western North Carolina have often housed much more diversity than the rest of the world would believe exists here. It’s been incredibly important to us, from the beginning, to represent that diversity. When you walk into Foggy Pine, no matter who you are, our hope is that you can find books on our shelves that reflect your experience and/or identity. We think that being seen, being validated in your existence, is one of the greatest things we can do when supporting community members and creating loyal customers. That’s why we work so hard to build a business that reflects all the beautiful facets of our little piece of Appalachia.”
Foggy Pine Books established community outreach as a core value early in their business planning. Partnering with OASIS to begin a holiday book drive and supporting The Children’s Playhouse Storytime series has attracted new customers through increased brand recognition. These efforts helped Foggy Pine Books surpass revenue projections in 2019, breaking their daily sales record three times in the month of December alone.
“Make sure your community feels like a part of your business,” Ruthless said. “Without the Boone community’s support, no amount of work that I or any of my staff could do would mean anything.”
A standing room-only crowd of nearly 200 attendees celebrated the honors during the 2020 High Country Economic Kickoff Breakfast. The event was co-hosted by the Boone Area and Blowing Rock Chambers of Commerce.
If you have questions, please contact the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce at 828-264-2225 or email [email protected].
You must be logged in to post a comment.