Ovation 2012: Favorite Retail Establishment
Liz Engel Clark
Friday, Jul 6, 2012
Simonton’s Cheese & Gourmet House
Cumberland County, cheese factory
If you’re looking for a virtually recession-proof business, it’s all in the cheese. Literally.
Simonton’s Cheese & Gourmet House, Tennessee’s oldest family-owned cheese and gourmet shop and one of the top gift basket companies in the country, has more than 75 domestic and imported cheeses to choose from, and between 150-200 different products overall, ranging from coffees and teas to jams, jellies and spreads. And the best part? You can taste-test any of those products during a visit to the store.
“We really look for quality,” said Jim Long, who bought the business with his wife Shelia 18 years ago. “You can walk in our door any day and sample between 150-200 different products. We want people to taste it to make sure that’s what they want. We work hard and, and of course, we always put our customers first.”
Simonton’s Cheese & Gourmet House originally started as Simonton Dairy Inc. in 1947. It was the first plant to produce pasteurized milk for bottling and home delivery in Cumberland County. Over the next 40 years, it grew into one of the largest businesses in the county – the idea of a cheese plant evolved as a way to use surplus milk.
These days, it’s less about the milk and more about Simonton’s legendary cheese balls, which are still manufactured there. The cheese balls, as well as all of Simonton’s products, are available for shipping year-round; Christmas is an especially busy time, when thousands upon thousands of products head out the door, Long said.
And if there’s been a recession recently, nobody’s told them. The business has grown an average of 7-9 percent in the years 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, Long said. Twenty-eleven, case in point, was among the best of them all.
“We attribute that to our faith in the good Lord and our customers, striving for excellence and customer satisfaction,” he said. “That’s just what we do.”
2280 Highway 127 South, Crossville
Sweet Pea Boutique
Putnam County, apparel and accessories boutique
All women should feel comfortable and fashionable – at least that’s Sweet Pea Boutique’s motto.
Opened in 2009 in Cookeville’s historic WestSide district, the store was the first women’s all-clothing boutique in town. Sweet Pea recently expanded its sales floor – by taking out a back stock room for dressing rooms – and continues to add to its ever-changing inventory.
Owner and long-time fashion lover Tamera Duncan wanted to offer cute, affordable items that were different than what can be found in your everyday department store. The boutique’s offerings include dresses, skirts, tops, jeans, outerwear, handbags, jewelry and other specialty lines.
“We keep a small selection in each style so it’s different for all the customers,” Duncan said. “That way, since Cookeville is a smaller town, people don’t have on the same clothes when they go out to dinner or to a party. That’s been a big thing for us.”
Duncan said her business continues to grow and evolve, and that’s a testament to her customers.
“It always takes time to establish a business, but we’ve had really good customers. We have a lot of people who travel from out of town to come here. That’s really neat,” Duncan said. “We have grown in just three years, and we can tell a difference every single year. We foresee that will continue.”
41 W. Broad St., Cookeville
Putnam County, toy store
Who doesn’t love toys? Judging by the success of one of the region’s most special retail shops selling all the latest games, gadgets and all that, the non-lovers seem to be very few and far between.
Discovery Depot, now located on traffic heavy Jackson Street in Cookeville, was a store started in 1995 by Frank and Cheryl Vickers. Its history dates 17 years, includes the addition of the Candy Caboose, and a bold move from the city’s WestSide in 2010 that poised the store for even greater growth, said Sherrie Cannon, who now owns it with her husband Andy.
“It was one of the most difficult decisions we have ever made to move from the downtown area, but it was a great move for Discovery Depot,” Cannon said. “It has provided more opportunities with new customers and allowed us to combine the toys with candy (and have everything under one roof).”
The Discovery Depot staff makes sure to stock the store with non-traditional products that will last. And customer service is always top notch.
“Customer service is critical to Discovery Depot’s success,” Cannon said. “I want each customer to have an experience. The choices are limitless on where you can go to buy items these days. However, you go to Discovery Depot if you want personal service. We will help you select the right toy, we will provide you with batteries, if needed, we will wrap it, we will ship it, and we will be more than happy to carry it to your car.”
408 W. Jackson St., #C, Cookeville
White County, furniture store
For the Shaffield’s, furniture is a family business.
Shaffield’s Furniture in Sparta, which celebrated its first year in business in January, stands at the same location where owner Jacob Shaffield’s granddad once had a store – Hickory Valley Outlet. And even part of the premise behind its opening is relative related.
Jacob’s wife Danielle had been running a website, selling some of the custom-made barstools manufactured by The Lord’s Table Inc., a business owned by his dad and uncle, when that outlet building came open. The timing was right, Shaffield said, and the furniture store has quickly made locally produced products its focus – from Upper Cumberland brands like Livingston Furniture in Cookeville, Dutch Craft in Celina and Premier RTA in Doyle, to Tennessee signatures like Franklin-based Jamison, one of the store’s top brands, and Cleveland’s Jackson Furniture.
“From a delivery standpoint, our product gets here quicker, we have a closer relationship with the factories because they’re local and it’s seeing our suppliers face-to-face. It’s worked really well,” Shaffield said. “It’s getting harder and harder to find those manufacturers as the jobs are going elsewhere, but you don’t have to go to North Carolina or Mississippi to find quality furniture.”
Shaffield says they will continue to focus on the Sparta and Cookeville market, and, while expansion is eyed for the future, they are working to grow at the right pace.
“That is a possibility down the road, but we want to make sure our customers have a good experience and that we don’t jump too quickly,” he said. “Our store has a hometown feel and it’s (more about) quality products at a low price than just a low-priced product. We’re just trying to carry on the tradition that my granddad had.”
140 Churchill Drive, Sparta
Potter’s Ace Home Centers
Fentress County, home improvement store
Potter’s first entered the retail market as a small grocery store in Jamestown in 1946. It wasn’t until Bill Potter, whose father was Elmer “Hot Shot” Potter, the business’ namesake, decided to transition away from groceries and into the hardware and building material business that Potter’s Ace Home Centers was born – with the premise of offering great products at competitive prices with legendary customer service to folks all across the Upper Cumberland.
Today, Potter’s Ace Home Centers prides itself in that mission, and the company now has stores in nine Upper Cumberland counties, including Cannon, Cumberland, Fentress, DeKalb, Overton, Putnam, Smith, Van Buren and White. Between the 20 hardware/home center locations in Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky, there are approximately 250 employees total.
“Our people are our number one asset,” said Brandon Smith, vice president of operations, part owner of Potter’s Hardware and Bill Potter’s oldest grandson. “We have some really good employees. Our staff is friendly, knowledgeable and (they) try to treat the customer right every day. All of the Potter’s locations work together to provide great customer service by selecting convenient locations and offering the right product mix, tailored for each market, based on the needs of the local residents in that area.”
Potter’s is large enough to compete with big box retailers on price, Smith said, but the stores are also positioned to exceed the customer service offered at those larger locations.
“We feel very blessed to have been able to survive these last three or four years as our economy has been slow to recover,” Smith said. “Retail is simple, you keep your costs down, you keep an efficient inventory, and you give the customer a great experience every time.”
210 Livingston Ave., Jamestown
The Screen Door
Cumberland County, retail store
Start with a historic downtown building – with hardwood floors and tin-pressed ceilings – add a pop of color and, voila, you’ve got The Screen Door, a Crossville boutique owned by Cumberland County native Carla French.
The boutique carries a mixture of products, from antique and vintage pieces, linens, jewelry, clothing and gifts. And since UCBJ readers were first introduced to French in February, sales continue to grow. The Screen Door celebrated its second anniversary in April. There are now additional product lines. And a recently added feature, wedding registries, is picking up steam.
“Most everybody says it takes three to five years” to establish yourself in retail, French said. “I’m very happy with this year’s growth, we’re moving in the right direction.”
The Screen Door will continue to target the town’s tourist population, as well as residents living just a few miles away in growing Fairfield Glade.
“It’s just a matter of keeping our name out in front of the public, reminding them that we’re here,” she said.
What are her other words of wisdom?
“The biggest thing is learning how to balance the inventory against the demand and keeping it ever changing, to keep it fresh for our customers,” French added. “I’m still learning, but I’m much better than I was.
“We really strive for quality, and it’s really important to me that people are happy.”
117 N. Main St., Crossville