With less than a dozen weeks to get all the Christmas shopping done, shopping locally is more convenient than ever before. Instead of traveling long hours to go to the nearest shopping malls and fighting the hustle and bustle of the holiday crowds, consider visiting locally owned businesses for the same products. The hottest ticket items during the Christmas season, and the most sought after types of gifts typically fall under the electronics category. Children always want the newest phone or computer gadgets, dads always want that perfect TV to watch the game and women always enjoy the newest tablet to get lost in a magazine or watch a movie with candles by the bathtub.
Regardless of who you are shopping for, electronics are always a safe bet, and Franklin has several stores that specialize in electronics and electronic maintenance and repair.
One of the oldest electronic stores in Franklin has been serving the area for nearly 50 years. Originally opened in the Palmer Street Shopping Center in 1965, Curtis TV was founded by Verlin and Marvel Curtis with the intention of bringing an appliance and refrigeration repair shop to Macon County. Soon the Curtises started to expand and began selling television sets.
“They moved the business to East Franklin Shopping Center in 1972 and expanded to carry more electronics,” said Tony Curtis, son of Verlin and Marvel and current owner. “Eventually we focused more on electronics and getting a RadioShack franchise, then moving into our own building at 644 West Palmer Street in 1982. My parents have since retired and I am now at the helm.”
Tony Curtis has been with the business for more than 33 years and runs the business along with his wife, Monica. “So for over 47 years our family has been serving the great folks in the Franklin area,” said Curtis.
Over the years, the store has changed and expanded to meet customer demands and fill a retail void in the community.
“We are an electronics retailer selling all forms from TVs, stereos, computers and accessories, DirecTV, Verizon Wireless cellular service, phones and accessories, cables connectors, pieces and parts,” said Curtis. “I think our customers know us for our service and support of the product. We install and service DirecTV satellite systems and also sell and service Sony TVs. We are a Verizon Wireless Authorized Agent and offer the same prices as corporate stores do. Most people that walk into our store for the first time are amazed on how much we stock compared to like stores.”
According to Curtis, with the addition of new products, the business has been able to grow a little each year. “From the time we opened back in 1965, business had been great and the store grew every year and we added more product and employees for over 44 years of the 47 years,” he said. “My belief is that the economy in and around Franklin will prosper again as we start up the ladder once more.”
Like so many other small businesses, Curtis has felt the heat of the recession and has had to make crucial business changes in order to remain competitive in an ever-changing market. “Business in today's economy has its ups and downs but we have managed to adapt and we have been trying to evolve by overcoming the various challenges brought upon us by this down turn,” said Curtis. “In today's economy I think every business has been affected in one way or the other because of these more trying times.”
One of the most successful strategies Curtis has found to continue bettering his business has been to add new products. Electronics are always changing and upgrading, which has helped keep his products new and sought after. “We are always looking for new products and new ways to show them and the store off,” said Curtis. “Networking with other business and promoting the town as a whole will always be something all businesses should do.”
Curtis noted that a way of networking and promoting Franklin that he has found useful is engaging groups within the community who are working to better the economic state of the area. “We do support the local Chamber of Commerce and Venture Local group,” said Curtis. “I think any organization that wants all the businesses in our area to grow needs our support and praise. Through networking together all of us can learn from each other and what is working for other businesses that could apply to yours.”
Approaching the 50-year mark, Curtis said he has no plans to stop soon and hopes to continue running his business for years to come. “I believe that anyone who owns or operates a business wants it to grow and prosper,” he said. “We are striving all the time to make this business one that is growing, evolving and to be successful.”
In order to continue being successful, Curtis noted that the local community has to make a commitment to shop local. “The local businesses need your support. These people are your family, friends, neighbors and you probably sit beside them at church,” said Curtis. “They are friendly, courteous, and understanding of the customers’ wants and needs. When you do not support your local businesses everyone loses. The retailer and their employees, all the schools, civic groups, etc. The town loses the tax dollars that the businesses generate so that makes your taxes go up ... Around 82 percent of all the money spent in small business stays in the same town whether through employment, dining out, entertainment and such. That’s huge! Shop local!"
While Curtis specializes in televisions, Phil and Sharon Drake opened TechPlace, 13 years ago, right when computers were becoming a household item. “We were already a large purchaser of computer hardware, and found that we could get good pricing on computer hardware for other folks,” said Phil Drake. “TechPlace was originally a division of our DNET internet service until it began to stand on its own.”
After opening in October 1999, TechPlace has expanded over the years, to add more products such as cell phones, PDAs, iPads, and iPhones, to the existing product mix of computers, laptops, and other “Techie” gadgets. “We wanted to bring cutting edge technology products to Western North Carolina so Macon County isn’t behind the curve on getting our hands on the newest gadgets,” said Drake. “We strive to be a place people feel comfortable coming in and asking any question they may have on how to use technology to help them stay connected with family, friends, their work and play.”
TechPlace does not just offer customers the latest trendy gadgets, but they also offer classes on how to use the products as well as a repair service when devices break. “Some of the exciting things we exclusively offer at TechPlace is computer repair cell and cell phone repair,” said Audrea Burch, store manager. “TechPlace is the only certified cell phone repair center in Western North Carolina and we love being able to help people fix their broken phones since its become very difficult to go without one anymore. We have two locations one here in Franklin and also one in Hayesville, N.C.”
TechPlace networks with the Chamber of Commerce to promote the Verizon Training Classes that allow people to become more familiar with Verizon devices.
With new gadgets coming out almost monthly, TechPlace has found it easy to expand just while keeping up with the latest trends. “The largest area of growth for us has definitely come from the explosion in mobile phone usage,” said Burch. “In the last 10 years we have seen mobile phone sales triple in the United States. Could you imagine ten years ago hearing someone say they were getting rid of their traditional home phone and just using their cell phone or an internet based phone system? Now we are seeing it become commonplace.”
According to Burch, the recession has forced the store to rethink their marketing strategy and how to appeal to different customers. “People have become savvy shoppers. They know they need to stay connected for work and home life but want to make sure they can stay within their budget,” said Burch. “We used to start the conversation with, ‘Here is the coolest new phone on the market,’ and now we start with, ‘Tell me about your typical day so we can find a plan and phone solution that fits your needs and budget.’ We also have a lot of customers take us up on our account analysis offer to see if there are ways we can save them money each month by adjusting their phone plan to meet their specific needs.”
When the recession hit and people started rethinking extra spending, TechPlace found themselves inventing new approaches to the store's operations.
“We have shifted from simply advertising the newest devices to making sure we are trained technology experts who can help you find the right products to save you time and money,” said Burch. “We have really enjoyed using Facebook to talk to our customers instead of simply talking at them. Another strategy has been to go where the people are to talk to them instead of waiting for them to walk into our store. We attend local college events, fairs and other local happenings so we can answer questions and show people the cool new things phones, tablets, laptops and computers can do while enjoying a relaxed setting.”
One of the greatest challenges small businesses have encountered in the last few years is that fewer and fewer people venture out into the stores and instead do the bulk of their shopping online. Some businesses have moved to also offer online products, but according to Burch, TechPlace had to find ways to bring customers into the store. “We have seen a major shift in how people shop in the last few years,” she said. “Between the recession and internet shopping we have really had to adjust our thinking. We have not only had to become very competitive on our pricing but we also need to be much more than a convenient place to try out a new phone or computer. We have to give customers a reason to come to us instead of going online for their devices. We now offer free training classes both in-store and at the offices of local businesses along with one-on-one training with customers to help them use technology to simplify instead of complicate their everyday life. It’s really the relationships we build that make the difference.”
Burch believes that more and more people are understanding the need to keep money local. “The community is realizing the importance of shopping local,” said Burch. “We really appreciate how many people come to our store because they know we give back to our community every chance we get though fundraisers, food drives, cell phones for soldiers and other sponsorships to support causes we all care about.”