What some businesses are doing

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By John Barnhart

Two years after the end of the worst recession in decades, the economy remains tough. Here’s a look at how a number of Bedford County businesses have been able to navigate the rough waters and, in a number of cases, thrive.


Still developing
    Real estate was an area that took a heavy hit when the real estate bubble burst a few years ago, putting a stop to a number of development projects. Locally, Downtown Moneta and Mayberry Hills developer George Aznavorian is bucking that trend.    
    “We are only building what we will take a lease for,” Aznavorian said, commenting on construction in Downtown Moneta, his business development.
    Aznavorian said that, in the past, developers could build a shell building and put up a for-lease sign. Now, it’s important to only build when you have tenants to fill it, and to tailor the structure according to their needs, he said.
    Development is going better than he expected. A Sears Hometown Store is coming in    at   Downtown   Moneta  and   they   are building the structure that will house it to suit them. He also has another building planned and is lining up tenants to fill it. Aznavorian said that he has had no problem getting bank backing.    
    On the residential side at Mayberry Hills, flexibility has been the key — with Aznavorian modifying his plans to accommodate changes in the housing market. This year, he got approval to do that in order to build patio homes in one section of Mayberry Hills. These houses have a different floor plan from what he originally intended to build there but will still be detached houses with the look of a traditional house. All the living space in a patio home is on one level and the houses will be maintenance free. The original lot sizes will stay the same.
    “You have to be willing to go out there and open your eyes,” he said.
    Maintaining good relations with your neighbors is also a plus for a developer. In fact, Aznavorian said that input from people living in the area gave him several ideas. One was to bring in a medical facility. He said neighbor input alerted him to the fact that people living in that area had to go to Lynchburg or Roanoke for specialty medical care. As a result, Centra Health operates a heart center there now. People who have had heart procedures now no longer have a long drive for regular maintenance visits.
    “They are doing things that even big cities don’t offer,” Aznavorian commented. Among the businesses located in Downtown Moneta is one owned by Jody Lyons.
    Lyons, an experienced realtor, opened his own real estate business in 2009, probably the worst possible time to have done that. A major factor for him has been diversification. He sells real estate, handles bank foreclosures and does property management.
    “The property management has been tremendous,” Lyons commented. “The rental market has been tremendous.”
    Lyons said that he has always heard the saying that a person shouldn’t have all his eggs in one basket, but he has a variation on that.
    “You have to have more chickens laying eggs,” he said. “We have diversified every way you could think of.”
    Lyons said that his agency is managing 100 properties right now and he said that he is working with a number of businesses that should do well in a down economy. Condos and apartments are also doing well right now.     Aznavorian is one on his major clients and Lyons mentioned that Aznavorian just broke ground on patio homes. He’s also handling work on the 9,000 square foot Sears store that will open there.
    Lyons is also seeing some positive developments in real estate in general. “I’ve never seen interest rates this low in my lifetime,” he said.
    Furthermore, he said that he’s seeing a pick up in interest in real estate as an investment. Lyons said that he’s had inquiries from a couple of million dollar customers. “They are starting to park money in real estate,” he said.

Adjusting to change
    Mayberry Early Learning opened as a day care center in Downtown Moneta on Aug. 25, 2008.
    “We’re doing all right,” said Neal Hoback, who along with his wife,  Jennifer, own and operate the business.
    They have, however, had to take steps to cope with an economy in which, in many cases, one parent is now out of work. The family, therefore, has less money to spend and has somebody to stay home and watch the kids.
    Hoback said that enrollment has slacked off by 20 percent from what it was last year. In order to cope, they had to eliminate extras in order to cut back on expenses. One step they’ve had to take is to eliminate their bus. He and his wife are now putting in more hours of their own in order to reduce staff.
    “But we don’t take [anything] away from the children,” Hoback commented.
    They are cutting expenses to avoid a fee increase. Hoback believes that charging more would be counterproductive.
    “If you go jacking up the prices, you are going to lose five kids and you will lose more than you gain,” he commented.
    They currently care for 49 children.
    “We’ll make it work,” he said.

Recession resistant
    Hair Designs by Whitney and Brandy, located in Downtown Moneta, has expanded.
    “We went to high school together,” said Whitney Wuergler, explaining how she knew her partner, Brandy Smith. “We’ve known each other for years.”
    Wuergler had operated her business out of her house for 13 years. Then, she and Smith got together and opened up a shop. After six years, George and Michelle Aznavorian recruited them for a slot in Downtown Moneta.    
    Wuergler said that having reasonable prices and being loyal to customers is the key. Flexibility is also important. They have regular hours, but if a client can’t make it in during those hours, they will come in early or stay late to meet the customer’s needs.
    “Keep your customers happy, keep them looking good,” Wuergler said.
    Smith and Wuergler are in a recession resistant business. Wuergler said that getting her hair done makes a woman feel better. And, this isn’t something that a woman can do well for herself. Wuergler said that a woman can damage her hair trying to do it herself and this sort of do-it-yourself effort can send her to a professional in an effort to get it fixed.
    “Color correction is a lot more expensive than if you came to me in the first place,” Wuergler said.
    Their Lake area location is also helpful. Wuergler said that a lot of her clients moved down here from up north and were used to paying $75 for a haircut.
    “[They] can come in here and pay half the price for a better haircut,” she commented.
    Both she and Smith stay booked and they’ve hired a third licensed cosmetologist.

The economy
even helps some
    The down economy has actually helped some businesses.
    “Our sales are up over 50 percent over last year,” said Michelle Aznavorian, owner of The Antique Mall at Mayberry.
    Aznavorian said that a number of customers are not antique collectors, they are looking for furniture. Furthermore, she said that younger people are discovering that the old furniture is made better along with being less expensive. One positive, the older furniture is made of real wood.
    “Sometimes [new furniture] is just a picture of wood,” she commented.
    Aznavorian said that a lot of what she gets in is in top condition and recently received some late 19th and early 20th century items that are in pristine shape. Even if the furniture isn’t in pristine condition, the wood is good, so it can be reupholstered. And, antique furniture has a history.
    Variety is another factor. Aznavorian said that she has multiple vendors who have space there and she works with customers to put them together with what they are looking for. Some of her vendors have stores in other locations, such as Peddler Antiques in Forest. She said that, after learning what a customer wants, she can check with these vendors to see if they have something along that line.
    Aznavorian said that she can also assist vendors with pricing.
    “We look for what something is going for on e-Bay and encourage them to price it lower,” she said.
    Not everything there is an antique. SER Art sells original stained glass art at the store.
    Affordable Home Outlet  is another business that Michelle Aznavorian owns. She looks for high end vendors that are closing out a line of art lamps, home decor or clothing and buys the closeout.
    “We are giving people high quality merchandise for a low price,” she said. “I’m buying it inexpensively, so I am passing on the savings to customers.”
    Buying closeouts means that the merchandise changes. Something that’s in the store now may not still be available later.

The construction market
    The construction business has been hit hard by the recession, but businesses that provide construction materials can still prosper. Masonry Mart has been in Bedford County since 1998 and at its current location at the intersection of U. S. 460 and Pisgah Road since this past June. It’s a satellite of Blue Stone Block, of Roanoke, which has been in business for 69 years.
    “We are poised and ready to go,” said Keith Jennings, who manages the facility.
    Jennings said that the key for the business is in the nature of what they sell. Along with building materials, they also sell what Jennings calls “hardscape” material. This is decorative gravel and the stuff people need for projects like patios and retaining walls. People buy this material because they have decided to improve the place they have, rather than moving.
    “More people are buying it because they are staying put,” Jennings said. “Most reputable pool people are booked up through next year.”
    Jennings said that this diversification, combined with having a knowledgeable staff is a key to success. People can ask the staff questions and get answers. He said that they also have videos, CDs and how-to sheets available. Furthermore, they have a list of reputable landscape contractors to whom they can refer customers. Diversity plus keeping customers happy works for them, he added.