It pays to give ‘local’ business a chance

This is the time of year when – depending on the day’s weather – I like to open windows at my house and let in some fresh air.

 

But the annual ritual was complicated this year by several large gashes in the screens covering my windows. The downside of a cat with claws.

So I went to the nearest home improvement store, we’ll call it “Big Blue,” and bought everything I needed to replace the screens. Or so I thought.

I soon discovered the little clippy things that secure the center bar in the frame were prone to falling out. They also had a way of irretrievably sliding deep inside the support bar. So back to Big Blue I went.

The little clippy things were nowhere to be found. After spending 10 minutes trying to find an employee knowledgeable about window screen frames, I was told that Big Blue – America’s eighth-largest retailer, mind you – didn’t stock the little clippy things.

“I’d try Culpepper,” the employee said. “They can even build the entire frame for you.”

A four-minute drive later and I was walking through the door of Culpepper Lumber Co., a locally owned Ace Hardware affiliate. Roughly 18 seconds passed before a friendly face was asking if I needed help.

I explained my predicament and he took me back to the area where his colleague built window frames, cut keys and whatnot. This fella quickly reached into a small drawer and produced a handful of the confounded little clippy things. “These?” he said.

Bingo.

Since I also needed a new window fan, I decided to browse their selection while I was there. Turns out they had exactly what I wanted.

And here’s the point of this home improvement fable: I could have noted the price, drove back to Big Blue (or across the street to its main competitor, “Enormous Orange”) and found the fan – or something close to it – for possibly a few bucks cheaper.

Or I could have went all millennial and grabbed my smartphone (and, ahem, my reading glasses) and went to everyone’s favorite online retailer, “Relentless River,” and possibly found a comparable model whose price undercut both Big Blue and Enormous Orange.

But in that moment, I didn’t do either of those things. This purchase, I declared, would be made on the spot – in “real time.”

Whatever savings I might have found elsewhere couldn’t eclipse the benefit of helping support a locally owned business that not only delivered the goods I needed precisely when they were needed, but did it with top-notch customer service.

Of course, this is America and you’re free to spend your retail dollar however you choose. But you might want to take a moment during the next several days, which incidentally happens to be National Small Business Week, and consider your spending habits. Specifically, whether those habits are helping support your friends and neighbors – half of whom are statistically employed by a small businesses, according to U.S. Census Bureau.

Yes, big companies and national chains employ lots of local people, too. But those big companies don’t always support the community in the ways that homegrown companies do. I don’t know about your kid’s T-ball team, but mine wasn’t sponsored by Big Blue or Enormous Orange, and certainly not by Relentless River.

So the next time you find yourself about to burn your gasoline and your precious time to save a couple bucks, or put in an online order requiring the Chocolate Colored Courier to burn its gas to bring the package to your doorstep, just make the darn purchase. Especially if it’s a local business.

And especially if they can do things the big guys don’t. Like give you little clippy things.

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME, LET’S TALK ABOUT … ME: In case you haven’t noticed, or don’t know the difference, Scuttlebiz is not a straight-up presentation of the news. It’s a column. As such, I often impart business news, information and viewpoints in personal manner (see above).

This apparently rubs some readers the wrong way, including a gentleman who recently left an anonymous voice mail accusing me of being the most “conceited” person since “Barack Obama.”

“You’re all me, me, me and I, I, I,” he said in the lengthy screed. “Buddy, get over yourself.”

Because part of my job is to serve readers, not alienate them, I’d like to know what you think. If you think there’s too much “me” in my column, feel free to call or a shoot me an email. You don’t even have to leave your name – I just want the feedback.

But if you want to get surly, at least have the stones to call during regular business hours, or leave a callback number.

REFORM THAT REALLY ISN’T: I’ve (there I go again!) written before on the topic of underfunded state employee pension funds and how many are destined for insolvency. You may have read that last week South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law the Retirement System Funding and Administration Act of 2017, a law to “reform” the system providing some $24 billion in retirement pay and benefits to more than 500,000 former and current state workers.

Instead of real reform, which would be scrapping the outdated “defined benefit” pension system and moving to a “defined contribution” plan such as the 401(k)s most non-state employees rely on, the bill mostly bails out the underfunded plan by boosting contributions from the state agencies and institutions that employ state workers such as, police departments, school districts and universities.

And where are these state agencies and institutions going to get the additional money to put in the pension plan? From Palmetto State taxpayers, of course.

A proposal by Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, to phase out the taxpayer-supported plan in favor of an individually financed one never got out of the conference committee.

He told Charleston’s Post and Courier: “I do not think it’s equitable to increase the taxpayers’ annual contribution to the pension by $826 million while requiring public employees to pay only an additional $40 million into their own retirement plan.”

Me either.

COSTS ARE RISING EVERYWHERE: Home ownership rates are at all time lows nationwide as the housing crash caused credit to tighten and resulted in lots of folks (who probably shouldn’t have been given a loan in the first place) to get foreclosed on. Plus, a lot of millenials are having trouble affording a home. And many of them would rather rent than own anyway (that whole “sharing economy” thing).

The result has been rents increasing nationwide, including in Augusta, where San Francisco-based ApartmentList.com reports rents have gone up 2.1 percent over the past year. The company’s cross-town competitor, Zumper, reported earlier this month that average rents in the metro area for a two-bedroom unit are now $1,377.

BANK ON THIS: This past week Security Federal Bank celebrated the grand opening of its newest branch office at 5133 Washington Road in Evans’ Riverwood Plantation, just down the road from its existing Columbia County branch at 7004 Evans Town Center Boulevard.

With the bank’s parent company, Security Federal Corp., headquartered in Aiken, it is technically the metro area’s largest “local” bank now that Georgia Bank & Trust is part of Columbia, S.C.-based South State Corp.

Security Federal, by the way, reported first quarter earnings of $1.6 million, or 55 cents per common share, a modest 1.4 percent increase from the previous year’s quarter. The company’s growth, including its new offices in Evans and Ballentine, S.C., is apparently affecting the bottom line.

“While these infrastructure projects put pressure on earnings over the near term,” the company said in a statement. “They are critical investments in the Bank’s delivery model that are aimed at strengthening brand, increasing geographic footprint, and facilitating opportunities for long-term growth and profitability.”

DON’T FORGET THE Q: Security Federal isn’t the only local bank in growth mode: Queensborough National Bank & Trust Co. on May 11 is going to cut the ribbon on its new Queensborough Wealth Management office at 7 George C. Wilson Court in Augusta.

Dagan Sharpe, the company’s senior vice president and director of wealth management says the freestanding wealth division will make the bank “the only financial institution in this area that has the wide variety of local specialists under one roof.”

I’m looking forward to seeing all 3,000 square feet on May 11.

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST: Technically, Atlanta-based State Bank & Trust, is the second largest Georgia-owned bank in Augusta (behind SunTrust). You know the folks at the company’s Augusta area operations as the former First Bank of Georgia. The former First Bank Mortgage, now the State Bank Mortgage division, is still headquartered here and employs about 130.

This past week State Bank released its earnings and announced its new CEO, J. Thomas Wiley Jr., who will take over effective June 1. Current Chairman/CEO Joseph W. Evans will remain chairman of the company.

The acquisition-hungry bank’s first quarter income of $11.6 million was a 7.4 percent increase over the previous year’s quarter.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

 

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