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VOL. 125 | NO. 179 | Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Outside the Box

Entrepreneurs get creative during tough times

By Andy Meek

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“We looked at the fact she works at a nonprofit, and we looked at the downsizing that was happening in TV and journalism and said, ‘You know, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a second stream of income and a job to fall back on.’”

– George Brown

The recession has proven to be a time of deep-seated uncertainty among business owners and stubbornly high unemployment that’s crippling consumer spending.

But behind the panic and the gloomy headlines, examples can still be found here and there of entrepreneurs doing what they do best.

Undaunted by the tight economy, some of them still have the pluck and the resources to tackle new risks, invest in existing operations or get new establishments off the ground.

George Brown, the web content manager for News Channel 3’s website, www.wreg.com, is one such individual.

He has emerged from the recession as an inadvertent businessman. And he recently made a game-changing move for the Cordova TCBY franchise location he and his wife bought to supplement their income.

Brown said he couldn’t pass up a prime opportunity to relocate the store from a shopping center with little to no visibility along Germantown Parkway to a better one in the same general area. The new space fronts the busy roadway and includes a drive-through, which added extra convenience for customers.

Brown said 40 to 55 percent of his current business is a result of drive-through customers who pull up to the window for the store’s yogurt treats.

What’s more, the fact Brown even owns the business at all is a testament to the way the seeds of entrepreneurship can flourish despite the downturn.

“It was driven by the economy,” said Brown, whose wife works for the Pink Palace Museum as the head of membership.

“We looked at the fact she works at a nonprofit, and we looked at the downsizing that was happening in TV and journalism and said, ‘You know, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a second stream of income and a job to fall back on.”

George Brown bought a TCBY yogurt store in Cordova in 2008 to help weather the recession and create a second income stream.
Photo: Lance Murphey

Brown and his wife bought the Cordova business two years ago. And they acquired the franchise in a creative way – rather than pay the typically large franchise fee associated with bringing a new concept to an area, they instead paid several thousand dollars to transfer the existing franchise ownership.

Robert Staub, founder of SmallBiz Memphis, said that resourceful approach is a hallmark of a successful business owner.

“That’s what entrepreneurs do. They look outside the box. They draw on all the resources they have around them,” Staub said.

Brown’s wife handles paperwork, money and labor issues at the store. The newsman himself is often behind the counter wearing an apron, scooping yogurt and sprinkling toppings on orders for customers who frequently give him puzzled looks - the “I know I’ve seen you somewhere before” kind.

Farther west in Downtown Memphis, meanwhile, other business activity is percolating.

Neil Armstrong and Amanda King have plans to open The Red Velvet, a restaurant and bakery at 314 S. Main St.

Their eatery will offer treats like cupcakes, wine and coffee. And it’s going before the Center City Development Corp. Wednesday morning in hopes of winning a $35,000 retail forgivable loan for the business.

The CCDC meets at 9 a.m. in the Center City Commission office, 114 North Main St.

Among the big draws it will feature, The Red Velvet points to its location in a prime Downtown neighborhood – the South Main Historic Arts District – as well as the way it will cater to a younger crowd. Not to mention the pairing of cupcakes with wine to make the business stand out.

The owners told the Downtown agency they want the business to become sought out “for getting cupcakes after work to bring home to the family, getting a glass of wine expertly paired with a cupcake, planning a surprise celebration in our private area or getting an event catered with our sophisticated and decadent cupcakes.”

To the north of that location, Seamus Loftus has plans to open The Brass Door Irish Pub in a roughly 5,000-square-foot space at 152 Madison Ave. The pub would sign a five-year lease there.

Loftus hails from Ballina, a small fishing town in the west of Ireland. And his concept also is going before the CCDC Wednesday.

Center City staff has recommended a $40,000 retail forgivable loan for the pub and a $30,000 façade grant.

In describing himself to the CCC, Loftus arguably summarized the classic entrepreneurial spirit.

“Round the world twice as a younger man, because I could,” Loftus said of himself. “No fear of impossible highs or heights. No stranger to tight scrapes or tight spaces.”

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 51 328 20,960
MORTGAGES 58 387 24,132
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 6 54 3,101
BUILDING PERMITS 170 842 43,435
BANKRUPTCIES 50 288 13,468
BUSINESS LICENSES 34 90 6,712
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 16 110 7,899
MARRIAGE LICENSES 32 91 4,734