The Lowcountry is home to a number of businesses that started on local grounds, but have expanded upwards and outwards to open locations outside of their Beaufort County homelands. Here are just a few.
The Cypress: Continued caring
If those pesky winters weren’t quite so long, Cypress Group founding president Jim Coleman says he’d open another Cypress continuing-care retirement community in his beloved Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
“But it’s a little too seasonal here,” Coleman said from his mountain retreat in Blowing Rock, N.C. “You know THE blowing rock? I’m looking out at it right now. But I had to put on a sweater this morning.”
Coleman and his partner, Marc Puntereri, started The Cypress of Hilton Head in 1992 and have since opened high-end continuing care communities in Charlotte, Chapel Hill, (where Coleman graduated from UNC) and Raleigh. (The Chapel Hill community is called The Cedars.)
But when he first launched The Cypress of Hilton Head, Coleman didn’t foresee the success of the company outside of Beaufort County. “I had been involved with other developments, including Hilton Head Plantation, Indigo Run, Main Street and a few golf courses, but I realized that the continuing-care retirement field was enjoyable, so I shifted my focus” he says.
Coleman joined the Sea Pines Company in 1972 and became a senior vice president for Hilton Head Plantation; later, he joined a group that formed the Melrose Company on Daufuskie Island. In 1988, he ran with a germinating idea for a luxury, resident-owned continuing-care retirement community in Hilton Head Plantation, and The Cypress was born.
Coleman said one the keys to The Cypress Group’s success are location, top-notch employees — about 250 at each community — and good timing in the housing market. The communities are unique in the wide range of housing options they offer — from apartments and villas to cottages and waterfront bungalows — plus on-site medical facilities that offer rehabilitative and long-term care programs, short-term recuperation and respite services.
He believes the company will continue growing, depending on the housing markets. That’s because the Cypress model, Coleman says, provides seniors with unparalleled lifestyles, wellness and health-care alternatives, recreation, clubhouses, social and cultural activities and independence in some of the South’s most beautiful and culturally vibrant locations. Residents own their own homes, and myriad financial options are available. And, of course, in the end the company is helping people. “I like this business immensely. It’s extremely rewarding,” he says. Mark Kreuzwieser
Le Cookery: Tending the heart of the home
If the kitchen is the heart of the home, then Laurel Greif’s habit of befriending the customers who come into Le Cookery makes perfect sense.
Laurel, who with her husband Chuck has owned the Wexford Village kitchen specialty store since 2007, can often be found dispensing hugs along with hellos. She meets customers-turned-friends for lunch. She keeps in touch with those who are seasonal residents.
“We just have the nicest customers. You just start talking about your families, the things we have in common, and pretty soon you’re having dinner with them,” Laurel says. “It’s funny — when I go into a store I don’t really form relationships with the people who work there. But it’s not the case for us.”
When Laurel and Chuck bought the store, neither had ever owned their own business or had much experience with high-end kitchen supplies and tableware. Still, they knew the store was ripe for some changes. “It had been turned into a gift store versus a kitchen store. There was very little kitchen inventory in it,” Chuck says.
Today more than 60 percent of the store is dedicated to kitchen items, with upscale tableware options rounding out the bulk of the inventory. The tableware items, like the kitchen offerings, span most budgets but are a step away from what large retailers have in stock, Chuck says.
“What you’re not going to find in our store is the box set of a 10-piece place setting for $39.99. But whether you’re going to spend $6 for a plate or $30 for a plate, we try to cover that range,” he says. “We really try and set ourselves apart from what you can get in the big-box stores. One of the hard parts is to decide what not to get.”
Their choices seem to be working, as in just four years they’ve built a solid customer base, started a growing bridal registry and have now expanded to Charlotte.
"The opportunity came up when our son, who lives in Charlotte, said, ‘If I leave the job I’m currently doing, I’d love to manage the store,’” Laurel says. So Le Cookery Charlotte opened in October 2010. Clinton Greif and his wife, Carson, manage the store, which includes a full kitchen where a chef teaches a weekly cooking class.
“We get a lot of tourists into our Hilton Head store, but in Charlotte we’re after homeowners,” Chuck says. “So we started that store as more about what people might need in the kitchen versus the dining room.”
While the Hilton Head store doesn’t have a full kitchen, the Greifs have offered classes — like knife skills and salad dressing-making — that are scaled for the space.
They say their goal is to continue to meet the needs of customers in both cities. And on Hilton Head, that includes a lot of friendly hugs and hellos.
“I think Laurel’s ability is unique in the fact that she builds these relationships with customers,” Chuck says. “And they keep coming back.” Robyn Passante
The Greeenery: Green thumbs
When it comes to growing a business, the Edwards family, has those proverbial green thumbs.
Lee Edwards, president of the Greenery, whose parents started the Hilton Head landscaping business in 1973, has seen the company sprout from a seedling into a multi-state firm that now counts 415 employees, including landscapers, horticulturists, landscape architects, hardscape construction crews, irrigation technicians and field and office supervisors and managers.
“We started out on Hilton Head and branched out to Bluffton and Beaufort. Now, about 40 percent of our business is outside of Beaufort County,” said Edwards, who was recently elected to his first term on Hilton Head Town Council.
The Greenery offers custom design and installation of residential and commercial landscapes, irrigation and lighting systems, stone, brick, granite and stucco construction of walls, gates, bridges, entryways, walkways, bike paths, outdoor fireplaces, and maintenance programs for residential and commercial turf and plant fertilizing, pruning and mowing.
The company, with its green and white trucks and trailers, first broke loose with a subsidiary in Charleston. “We had done a big job there in 1996 or ‘97, and we felt the time was right to open up there,” he said. “We now have satellite operations in Seabrook and Summerville.”
The Greenery, which is 100-percent employee-owned, now has operations in Beaufort, Hardeeville and Savannah. Edwards says the only fertilizer the company needed to begin branching out was ensuring that the home office was stable.
“The market demand was there for full-time operations (outside Beaufort County), and in 1999, I moved to Charleston to oversee a new subsidiary there. Up until then we just wanted to make sure that we had the personnel to step up and keep the business strong here. Having the right people in place (was key) in enabling us to expand.” He’s long since moved back home, as the Charleston area continues to boom.
Like most businesses, the 2008-09 recession hit the Greenery, Edwards said. “It was painful, but in 2010 we grew and we look forward to better times this year and next. We had anticipated some rough times, so we tried to prepare and stay positive, and now the outlook is good.”
But as The Greenery continues to bloom it retains its deep roots on Hilton Head, with headquarters at the company’s retail garden and landscaping center on the south end of the island. Mark Kreuzwieser
Wild Wing Cafe: Spreading its wings
At the risk of sounding corny, let us just say that Wild Wing Cafe, perhaps the most extravagantly successful restaurants to ever rise out of the Lowcountry, was launched in 1990 on a wing and a prayer.
Dianne and Cecil Crowley wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“When we came to Hilton Head, we were successful probably because of the island being so loosey-goosey, laid-back and forgiving of our all mistakes, like running out of food,” Dianne said with a chortle just after stepping from a promotions meeting in Charleston. She’s the restaurant chain’s promoter and Cecil is the business guy.
“We just wanted to move here from Atlanta, kind of semi-retire, have fun and try out some recipes,” she said. “We didn’t race to grow. Our major growth has come just in the last seven years.”
That growth? Pretty major. From a temporary eatery and a business built “from the ground up,” the Crowleys have evolved their Hilton Head-based Wild Wing Cafe into a 34-restaurant, 1,300-employee phenomenon that stretches from both Carolinas to Virginia and south to Texas and Florida. Twelve of the locales are company-owned; 22 are franchised.
“Take Savannah — after deciding to open there, it took us five years,” she says. “We wanted to find the perfect spot, and we did, in City Market.”
The Charleston business, she says, was also an adventure. “When we opened in Charleston, not long after opening in Hilton Head, we weren’t exactly cash-flow rich, so when staff on Hilton Head would say, ‘Where are the knives and forks?’ we’d say ‘Oh, we took them to the Charleston restaurant.’ We’d take a lot of stuff from Hilton Head up there,” she says with a chortle.
Dianne says that Hilton Head’s seasonal nature — and ebb-and-flow of business — was another reason the couple to think outside the Beaufort County box. “For example, of course Hilton Head is busy spring and summer, and then Charleston is always busy fall and winter,” Dianne said.
The original Wild Wing Cafe still rocks on Hilton Head’s south end, and the Crowleys still reside in Long Cove, though the company’s corporate headquarters are now in Mount Pleasant. And business, at the end of the day, is still fun. “So many of our employees have been with us from the beginning. We’re like family. We all take care of each other,” Dianne says.
Oh, and another way to gauge the success of Wild Wing Cafe is to consider that the original Hilton Head restaurant offered seven different barbecue and wing sauces. These days, 34 are available. Now that’s winging it. Mark Kreuzwieser
Also on the move
Original location: Village at Wexford
Where they went: Opened a new location at the Haywood Mall ?in Greenville in May.
Original location: Sea PinesWhere they went: Truffles opened two more local locations — one on Hilton Head and one in Bluffton — and last fall announced a franchise agreement with Ruby Tuesday, which is planning to put Truffles in cities nationwide.
Original location: Main Street
Where they went: The Chicago-themed restaurant/speakeasy opened a second location in downtown Asheville, N.C.
Original location: Shelter Cove
Where they went: The island-born pizza and pasta restaurant has opened locations in Bluffton and Mt. Pleasant.
Original location: Main Street
Where they went: Expanded in March to the high-end furniture store 24e at 24 Broughton St. Savannah.
J. BANKS DESIGN
Joni Vanderslice has grown her interior design firm, J Banks Design, from Hilton Head into an international company that now numbers 34 associates and projects throughout the United States, Italy, Ireland, Mexico and the Caribbean. J Banks is one of the few interior design firms outside of a major metropolitan area consistently named one of Interior Design magazine’s “Top 75 Hospitality Design Giants” and “Top 200 Interior Design Giants.” Its most recently installed project, The Sebastian-Vail A Timbers Resorts Hotel & Residence Club, is part of what’s being called “Vail Renaissance.” It’s been visited by numerous public personalities, including Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama.
Photos by Thomas Love