North Carolina gives small business the tools to thrive in the future

Eamon Queeney | The North State Journal
Cashier Kierra Perry swipes a customers card as she rings them out at the Seaboard Ace Hardware store in Raleigh

MOORE COUNTY — “In a franchise we weren’t interested in how many slices of ham you have to put on a sandwich. With ACE we could make it what we wanted. We knew what wasn’t here, the brands the level of service that ACE is known for. We could bring it all here.” Randy Saunders and his wife, Jill, enjoyed welcoming their fellow ACE retailers to Moore County this week to celebrate the recent opening of their 20,000 square foot hardware store, situated between Whispering Pines and Pinehurst in Moore County. Layered in outdoor fountains, high-end T-shirts, flip flops and pottery, the Saunderses hope the store fills a void in the shopping of the area beyond just tools. Importers since 1998, the couple said they were ready to take the leap into retail.”It’s a lot of fun and our numbers are running better than we anticipated,” said Randy Saunders. “Moore County has been great for small business for some time. Its proximity to golf has kept it semi-recession proof.”That sense of optimism and willingness to take risk draws thousands of North Carolinians into small business each year, and the state has increased resources to help them get started. CNBC recently ranked North Carolina the fifth best state for business measuring access to capital, business friendliness, and workforce among other factors. Those figures are reportedly growing, with estimates showing there are more than 800,000 small businesses that call North Carolina home, employing more than 47 percent of the state’s employees. ACE is a cooperative, as opposed to a franchise, meaning the store owners own the ACE corporation. “We’ve been growing. There are about 180 new stores nationwide last year and we are tracking closer to that number again this year.” said ACE’s Eastern N.C. District Manager Jon Herrin, who works with 49 stores across the area. “A lot of [store owners] have been in the corporate drive and now want to be their own boss, others are repeat entrepreneurs and willing to take those chances. It’s not cheap and a lot of people put their entire life on the line to do it.”Also a Moore County commissioner, Saunders said in general the state has proven to be good for small business owners, and its location along the Eastern seaboard between Atlanta and Northern states is good for importers. Eastern N.C. has benefited from the growth of Fort Bragg as the Army moves more units into the area. “The number of officers and high ranking enlisted has changed the demographic here,” said Saunders. “In 1998 when we moved there, the area of Whispering Pines was around 90 percent retirees, now it’s about 50 percent retirees. School growth is exploding.”Saunders hopes eventually grow to 10 stores across the state.