- 1 of 4
Oscar Wong, President
Highland Brewing Co., Asheville NC
Oscar Wong, President of Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, NC has been named the 2012 North Carolina Small Business Person of the Year. After selling his engineering business and retiring to the North Carolina Mountains, he opened the first brewery in the Asheville, NC area in 1994. Highland Brewing Company now employs 34 people. Wong recently built a new state of the art production facility and tasting room. With the help of an SBA 504 loan of $813,000, from Avista Business Development Corporation, Oscar was able to get needed equipment including giant stainless steel tanks. Combined with a loan from BB&T, the finance package total was $1.9 million.
Wong grew up in a family business in Jamaica. His parents emigrated from China and started a mom and pop grocery store.
With his engineering background, he recognized that commercial dairy tanks would be excellent for the fermentation and storage of his ales. These could be acquired cheaply and re-designed for beer production.
Wong started the brewery with three employees in 4,000 sq. ft. of leased space in the basement of a tavern. Highland then could produce up to 6,500 barrels of beer per year. At that time, the beer was sold in kegs only. The basement had no room for a bottling line.
In their current location, they now can brew over 35,000 barrels annually. Highland offers ten varieties of Ales, Porters, Stouts, Lager and Wheat beers which are sold in seven Southeastern states.
Oscar is exploring new markets for his product. His plans have evolved to offering beer as a component of other products made by small local independent manufacturers. These include mustards, ice cream and shampoo.
Wong has had a tremendous impact on the region. Eight other local breweries have opened in the area. This led to Asheville’s being recognized in 2011 as “Beer City USA” by the National Beer Examiner for the third year in a row. Competing cities for this honor include Milwaukee, San Diego and Portland.
In 2011, The Asheville Chamber of Commerce awarded him the William A.V. Cecil Tourism Leadership Award.
This award recognizes a leader in the hospitality industry who has helped guide the tourism industry for Western North Carolina. The Cecil award named after the owner of the Biltmore Estate and Winery, the largest privately owned residence in the U.S. that brings a million visitors a year to Asheville.
Oscar routinely gives back to his community. He supports organizations like the local ARC (previously the Association of Retarded Citizens and the Manna Food Bank. Oscar is also active in the Rotary Club and the Asheville Chamber of Commerce.
Highland offers tours of the brewery complete with a tasting for a donation to the food bank or a contribution of non-perishable food as the price of admission. Highland provides a venue for several non-profit fundraisers and also actively supports the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, The Blue Ridge Parkway, Trout Unlimited and more. Oscar and his wife Anna have two daughters.
Leonard USA is creating jobs in rural Surry County where unemployment was as high as 13% in recent years. The firm builds portable storage units and trailers at its plants in Mount Airy. These and truck accessories are sold from 51 factory outlets in and around North Carolina. Leonard was approved for it's second $1,000,000 SBA Loan through Surrey Bank & Trust in December 2011.
The recent economic downturn hit Leonard Buildings hard. In 2009, sales in their retail locations were down 30%. President David O’Neal knew the company had to revisit how it does business and figure out how to cut costs. Marketing Director TJ Glover was looking for solutions and learned about the North Carolina Small Business & Technology Development Center (SBTDC). The SBTDC is a free counseling service funded by SBA and the University of North Carolina.
TJ contacted the SBTDC Winston-Salem Office, and worked with Director Blair and counselor Bion Schulken. SBTDC helped the Leonard management team assess the company’s strategic needs. Counselors started them on a course to increase sales through effective use of the internet and selling to state and federal government agencies.
The SBTDC advised the firm about a North Carolina Workforce Development Board matching grant to provide technical training for management skills. This grant enabled the firm to initiate a Rent to Own business model and expand product lines which greatly increased sales. This enabled them to hire 57 additional employees, a 22% increase. Leonard now employs 310.
“The business expertise provided by the SBTDC has been invaluable,” said O’Neal. “They assisted in clarifying our goals and developing action plans to execute.”
As a result of this assistance Leonard doubled its building sales from 2009 to 2010. In 2011, the firm saw a 50% increase the new Rent-To-Own program. Leonard also established a government sales strategy with a full-time person assigned to manage this program.
In need of additional capital to implement their new strategy, they obtained their first $1,000,000 SBA Guaranteed Loan from Surrey Bank & Trust in January 2011. This loan enabled them to support and expand the Rent to Own Program.
Whether you are starting or expanding a business, preparation is key. This is true both for the success of the business, and approaching a lender for financing. The Secret Chocolatier in Charlotte, NC is one such example. The chocolate shop is owned and operated by Andy and Robin Ciordia and Robin’s parents, Bill and Karen Dietz. This family of chocolate artisans began their business in 2008, selling their confections at various farmers’ markets and specialty shops around town. They sold both retail and wholesale. They specialize in handmade truffles, enrobed brownies, cakes (including wedding cakes) and all types of favors.
After two years of operation at different markets, the company sought a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan to build its first retail location. They wanted to increase their professional look to match their products and to grow professionally, personally, and as a family.
Andy observed that potential landlords and banks focused on minimizing risk. They took a good look at their operation and did just that. Before applying for the loan, the company waited until it demonstrated two profitable years of operation, it kept meticulous records, retained the professional advice of an accountant, acquired the proper licenses and brought in experts for advice and feedback; including an MBA, a chocolate consultant, a former building contractor, capital equipment leasing specialist, and an industrial production manager. He also met with Charlotte SCORE counselor Chuck Sawicki. Andy worked with Chuck to expand his one-year projections to five years.
In 2010, after a year of creating a business plan, the firm got a $99,000 SBA Express loan from SunTrust Bank. With about 60% of this loan, the family leased space to open their first retail location. They used the remainder of the loan for equipment and expenses. With funding in place and a signed lease, the company turned its attention to getting building permits so that the contractor could get to work on its Providence Plaza shop.
Andy says “it was our success with the markets and retailers that proved to the bank that our chocolate had a niche and our management team had the mettle to pull off a retail location of our own.” The Secret Chocolatier through local distributors created wholesale and retail opportunities that will improve their potential for success.
The family is “incredibly excited” about being able to open a location that will be the base of their operations. They hope to add more employees to the team, but want to take it step by step. “We really desire a long lasting and healthy business” says Andy.