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CONNECT 2018 Sparks Passion For Garner Business

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August 05, 2018
Alaksha Surti and Jessica Throneburg were stay-at-home moms with a passion for entrepreneurship before they discovered their niche. Kentrell Perry was a businessman seeking a business before he found his opportunity.

Their startups were featured recently during the Connect Conference sponsored by the Garner Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Garner. More than 200 government officials and business people took part in the day-long conference that focused on business opportunities and the changing face of business in the community.

The stories of Surti, Throneburg and Perry were part of a segment on minority store owners following their passion to begin businesses.

Throneburg’s store, Little Details, started when she saw an opportunity to pursue what she had dreamed of after she was laid off from her job at N.C. State in 2011. She started her own on-line company in 2012 to sell items that she embroidered.

“I quickly realized that my sales were going to be limited by what I could produce, which wasn’t going to be that much. I started adding some other items on my site,” she said.

The business was growing until it came to an abrupt halt when her special needs child was born in January of 2015.  The on-line site sat frozen in time for six months.

“I had no idea if my customers had moved on, but I wanted to get it going again,” she said. “Because I had such loyal customers, I was able to get back in business.  I matched my revenues from the previous year although I was only open for six months.”

The revenues of the e-commerce venture expanded so quickly that she opened her brick-and-mortar store at Garner Town Square in April 2017.

“This is my passion,” she said. “I’m doing something that I love.”

Surti’s tale is similar, but different. She grew up in India and for as long as she can remember, she loved to cook and to share her cooking. She went to school in Australia and worked in the hotel industry around the world before ending up in Wake County.

Cooking was more hobby than vocation, although sharing foods of her native land was a passion.  She went to the Garner Chamber to learn about business opportunities in the food industry and Neal Padgett, the Chamber President, suggested she provide the food for a Chamber event.

That exposure led to catering jobs, which led to the Curry in a Hurry food truck. The success of the truck has inspired Surti to open a permanent Indian and Thai restaurant nearby.

Perry, who graduated from Garner Senior High in 2005, returned to the community after graduating from North Carolina A&T with a business degree. He knew he wanted to own his own business and eventually decided to follow his mother into the hair-styling business.

“In business, you have to pay attention to the three Ps – people, product and process,” he said. “My mother had mastered the people and the product, but the process needed improvement.”

He enhanced the styling experience by tweaking the process as he created Locs, Naturals and More, a shop in the historic downtown Garner district.

“I am a business man who happens to be in the hair styling business,” Perry said.

The three business people told the conference that the key to their success has been community. Throneburg said her early customers’ loyalty saved her. Surti said other Garner business people nurtured her and helped teach her how to run a business.

Asked what she would do differently if she was starting over, Surti answered, “Funding.”  The main thing she wishes she had known more about is financing for start-up businesses.  If we could do it again, we would identify sources of funding other than personal.

Perry said he had no idea of the camaraderie among the merchants downtown.

“It’s like a family,” he said. “We do a lot of things together. We are very close, and it shows.”

The sense of community in the Southern Wake County town was an underlying theme of the conference.

A trio of newcomers, including Charlie Brignac, who has moved 17 times, talked about being surprised by the small-town feel.  Brignac said the first time he drove down a Garner street, he knew he wanted to someday live there.

Asked if there was a surprise learned after he moved to Garner, Darnell replied, “Garner’s cool factor.”  As examples of what makes Garner cool, Eric listed Garner’s The Beerded Lady bottle shop, Full Bloom on Main Street, and Garner’s Independence Day celebration at Lake Benson Park.
Jihan said she was surprised that she loves Garner so much that she started marketing to her friends.  “Several of my friends have joined me in Garner and I’m working on several more. I’m meeting with one of them this weekend!”

Cathy Moore was impressed when she was invited to the conference the day after she was named the Wake County Public Schools superintendent.  Her husband, Tommy Moore, once taught and coached at North Carolina.

“It is always surprising what emerges at Connect,” said Padgett, the Garner Chamber president. “Sometimes you go for a theme, like the changing faces of business, workers and the community this year.

“And you get here and a new theme emerges. Today was all about passion. That’s something you can’t plan. That’s something that people bring with them. Today turned out to be a day about passion for Garner.”