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Business Pulse - Examining 2020, predicting 2021

Why should you never try to eat a clock? It’s too time-consuming.

When we think about 2020, the year of the imaginary virus that was going to disappear after the election, the general consensus seems to be thank goodness it’s over. Few people act like they want to turn back the clock and relive 2020.

From a personal assessment, I’d have to say either 2020 or 1994 are the least favorite years of my life. Things were tough for me in 1994 because I’d recently graduated from college and was struggling to make it on my own.

I was doing the backstroke in student debt, I had my car catch on fire as I was driving down the road, I was working two jobs, and my TV could only pick up one channel. I thought one day I might look back at 1994 and smile, but nope.

Despite all the negativity surrounding 2020, it was a pretty strong economic year for businesses that don’t rely on large gatherings. If your business has anything to do with home sales, the automotive industry, or general retail, the consensus from people I talked to last week is that it was a successful year.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for businesses that depend on large gatherings. If you rely on crowds – everything from weddings, to movie theaters, to company picnics – then chances are last year was not a banner year for your business.

When talking about the good news and the bad news, I can never remember which I’m supposed to tell first. So I’ll start with the good news.

Home sales surging

In talking to local realtors, the line is very consistent. Homes in Warren County are selling fast and they’re selling for their asking price. This isn’t the time to work a deal.

Ryan Lorance of Ryan Lorance Custom Homes told me he’s been “very, very busy this year.”

“I have six homes going on right now with three more customs to start,” said Ryan. “I also have eight lots where I’m preparing to build spec houses and I have no fear that they won’t sell.”

Ryan said three of the lots he has are on Laws Road and five are on Old Well Road. He said 1,500 to 1,800 square feet works well for a spec home, which is a house built to place on the market without a specific buyer in mind.

“The one negative is building materials are at an all-time high,” said Ryan. “They were high in July and August, then they settled down a little, and now they’ve shot back up higher than they’ve ever been.”

Ryan said the homes he’s building are selling well and added that even his own home sold quickly when he placed it on the market.

“We had a signed contract with a full-price offer after just a couple of weeks,” said Ryan, who said the family buying his personal home is moving here from Minnesota.

Ford sales Are rolling

Reddick Brown Ford owner Greg Brown was extremely upbeat when I talked to him Wednesday about the automotive industry.

“Car sales are fine and the economy is doing great,” said Greg. “We’re coming off a third quarter where the national economic growth was 33%. That’s absolutely unheard of. Usually 3 to 4% is good growth for a quarter, but we had 33%. The economy is doing great. Real estate is setting records every month.”

Examining government figures over the past five years, economic growth never exceeded 5% in any quarter. It dipped in the first two quarters of 2020 due to COVID shutdowns before soaring in the third quarter by 33.1%. Figures have yet to be released for the fourth quarter, which just ended.

“I sold 28 vehicles myself in December and I’m not even a full-time sales person,” said Greg.

There’s reason to believe more good things are coming in Ford country in 2021. Greg said a redesigned F150 is on its way this year, along with the re-release of the popular Ford Bronco.

“We’ve already pre-sold over 60 of the Broncos,” said Greg. “It’s an amazing vehicle. There’s also a redesign coming for the Super Duties and those are big sellers for us.”

Chevy sales Gain steam

At Champion Chevrolet, owner Alex Nafe said sales have picked up the second half of this year with vehicles like the Silverado truck and the Equinox and other mid-sized SUVs leading the charge.

“In 2021, I’d like to get back to growing our business,” said Alex. “It was a challenging year in 2020, but in a lot of ways it was a very rewarding year. When things got tight and other businesses shut down, we never had to lay anyone off and we never had to cut hours. When things are tight like that, it challenges you even more as a business owner.”

Alex said the first round of stimulus checks were a benefit to his dealership.

“It was like having back-to-back tax seasons,” said Alex. “It certainly didn’t hurt our business. Even if people weren’t using the money to buy a new vehicle, they were using it to catch up on their service so our service department benefitted. When people don’t have money, they’re not going to rush out and buy a new set of tires.”

Alex also mentioned the new Trailblazer as a vehicle that’s in demand.

What about Retail?

I was curious about traditional retail sales so I decided to turn to a local jeweler that’s been in business for more than 60 years. Diamond Jewelry Co. on Main Street is that business.

“For about two weeks leading up to Christmas we were very busy,” said owner David Stinson. “Christmas was good and two of the things that I noticed are that a lot more people paid with cash than they have been in recent years, which tells me people have money, and we sold some bigger-ticket items this year, things that were over $1,000, so that’s another positive sign.”

David is happy for the strong Christmas season but he says he won’t begin to speculate about what might happen in 2021 with coronavirus still surging.

“I think people are terrified with this whole coronavirus thing,” said David. “So much of my business depends on the price of gold. If gold goes up, my business will slow down. All I can say is I hope the momentum from Christmas carries over and that’s what I’m hoping for.”

Banker eyes Optimism

The Federal Reserve has maintained its dedication to low interest rates as a way of invigorating the economy. Thus the benchmark for most interest rates is below 0.25% and the Fed announced in November it expects interest rates to remain unchanged.

That’s one of the reasons Security Federal representative Michael Griffith is thinking thumbs up for this year.

“The outlook for Warren County is very promising in 2021,” said Griffith, who stressed our community remains attractive. “Warren County has a lot of features that many people find appealing, high-speed internet, low cost of basic necessities, convenient to many major cities. This has increased demand for homes and land, which also increases demand for new and existing businesses. I see solid growth in 2021 with interest rates at historic lows.”

A new business Begins to shine

At this point last year, there’s one business no one could have predicted as being a shining star in 2020. That’s the business of COVID cleaning.

Jeffery Green started A Green Clean Team in Warren County over the summer and since that time he’s grown his business from two employees to over 20. The reason? The demand for COVID cleaning.

“When I drive around town and see restaurants that have been shut down for three or four days due to COVID, I wish they would have called me,” said Jeffery. “I can get them up and running in about an hour and a half. We’re slammed and we’re crazy busy, but we’ll show up the same day that you call. When you think about all the money a business loses by being shut down for days, calling us can save you a lot of money.”

Jeffery says he’s been so busy that he’s in the process of moving into a new Nashville office on Marriott Drive and he’s also purchased an RV for his crew to stay in when they travel around Tennessee for jobs.

“This is beyond anything I ever could have imagined,” said Jeffery. “Probably 90% of my calls are for COVID, but we still do VIP cleaning.”

Jeffery said his team will clean businesses and homes for COVID and says, “Anybody can afford our prices.” He said in spraying for COVID, they use machines with a very fine mist so all surfaces can be thoroughly coated. Then all surfaces are wiped.

“There’s nothing that’s going to survive it,” said Jeffery.

To give him a call, his business can be reached at (931) 841-8439 or visit

Catering Takes a hit

In trying to get a feel for how restaurants fared in this COVID environment, I gave Gary Prater a call. Gary told me traffic at his restaurants in Morrison and Manchester remained steady, but his catering business took a swan dive.

“People just walking in to the restaurant for a meal, that stayed pretty much the same,” said Gary. “What killed us is we lost pretty much all of our catering. We lost all our Christmas parties. We lost a lot of our catering for weddings. We lost catering at the Nissan and Infinity plants in Decherd and that was twice a year for about 3,600 employees. We lost Bonnaroo, which included catering a meal for 2,200 before the festival and holding an after party the Monday after it was finished. I figured it up and we lost a huge amount of money from the catering business.”

Gary said he’s hopeful for a better 2021 on the catering front when people feel more comfortable congregating.

“Once people get the vaccine, and I hope they get it, maybe things can start to return to normal and there will be more company picnics and more big gatherings,” said Gary.

Flowers Anyone?

The floral business relies on large functions too, things like large weddings and large funerals. The lack of those things in 2020 made business tougher at All-O-K’sions, according to owner Pam Wilson.

“We’re doing a wedding this weekend at First Baptist but after that we don’t have another wedding on the books yet,” said Pam on Wednesday. “We’ve talked to a couple of people but nobody is willing to make that commitment because there’s so much uncertainty.”

Pam said funerals are much the same way. Where it used to be common to have a day or two of visitation at the funeral home, many services now are just graveside only, which reduces the amount of flowers which are purchased.

“A lot of people ask me, ‘They’re just having a graveside service. What do I do?’” said Pam. “You can still get them something to let them know you’re thinking about them.”

On the retail front, Pam said she managed to have a pretty good Mother’s Day 2020, even with COVID. She said she doesn’t know how the virus will affect Valentine’s Day sales since this will be the first time for that holiday during the pandemic.

“A lot of guys like to get flowers for their wife so she has something nice at the office,” said Pam. “I don’t know how that might change this Valentine’s Day with so many people working from home. There are a lot of what-ifs and a lot of unknowns.”

Pam says she’s continuing to operate at full speed and she’s anxious to go to market in Atlanta later this month to see the new styles that are unveiled.

“The main thing is we hope to stay healthy,” said Pam. “And when it comes to running this business, we’re going to be smart.”

That’s all folks

I’d like to say amen to Pam’s closing statement. I hope everyone stays healthy in 2021.

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