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Chamber luncheon to honor Small Business of the Year
Nine local businesses nominated
Stephanie Howard, left, fills an order for Matt Moseley, 20, and a carload of his friends during a visit to the Sonic restaurant at Buckhead Plaza.
    Wednesday's presentation of the 2008 Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce's Small Business of the Year Award may just have a little more meaning than it has in the last several years.
    Economic uncertainty and financial turmoil made 2008 a very difficult year for many companies, and small businesses in Statesboro were no exception. Several of this year's nominees for the award are facing stiff challenges in their respective industries, and are working very hard to meet them.
    "You wouldn't believe how many contractors from other areas are coming in to bid on work in this area," said Earl Dabbs, co-owner of Dabbs-Williams General Contractors founded in 2000. "We used to go to bid meetings and there would be a few contractors there. Now there are anywhere from 20 to 40 at each meeting. They are coming from Atlanta, Augusta, South Carolina. We never used to see these guys."
    Dabbs said the competition is so intense that prices are being driven down very low resulting in razor thin margins. "It is really challenging right now," he said. "You certainly want to be competitive and win jobs, but you have to be realistic at the same time."
    Brandon Blair, co-owner of 180 Fitness, said the downturn has presented his business with somewhat of a unique challenge.
    "When people are watching every penny, they begin to look at how they are spending their discretionary income," Blair said. "We have to show people that health and fitness isn't really a luxury. Being healthy can pay off in the long and short term. Exercise is a very important component to one's overall health."
    Blair's partner Angie Hitchens said she has been overwhelmed by the support the gym has received by the local community.
    "When we opened in 2006, we started with the membership of the Gold's Gym on Fair Road which was closing," she said. "We have been able to keep a great number of those folks, and have added a lot more memberships. We are really grateful. And we are very honored that we were nominated for this award."
    Courtney Mills is in charge of this year's event. Mills said the nominees are nominated by chamber members and must be a member of the chamber.
    "Each nomination is presented to the small business committee, and it is that committee that decides the winner," she said. "We have approximately 960 members. This year there are nine nominees."
    This year's nominees are Dabbs-Williams General Contractors, Free Spirit Pottery, Gnat's Landing, Joiner-Anderson Funeral Home and Crematory, 180 Fitness, Pladd Dot Music, Pope Construction, Split Ends, and Valli's Precision Collision Center. The chairman of the chamber's small business committee is local businessman Russell Rosengart. Rosengart owns 14 Sonic Drive-In restaurants across the state of Georgia and is the largest Sonic franchise owner in the state.
    "If you look at the statistics regarding businesses in this country, 75 percent of businesses are small with less than 100 employees," Rosengart said. "The economy is made up of small businesses. It is a pleasure for us to be able to honor companies with one hundred employees or less for the contributions that they make to this community. By creating jobs, they are giving back to this community."
    Rosengart said that a new award will be given out this year as well.
    "In addition to the small business of the year award, we will be giving an entrepreneur of the year award," he said. "We thought it was very important to recognize those who are willing to start from scratch with an idea, a vision, something they really believe in that is a risk of sorts. To illustrate the difference, when I bought these Sonic franchises, the operational procedures, marketing, etc. were already in place. An entrepreneur creates all of that themselves. That is what we want to recognize."
    Chris Mitchell, co-owner of Pladd Dot Music, opened his business's first "store front" in 2005. He feels that diversification has been the key to his company's success.
    "First you have to find a niche," he said. "You're not going to compete head-to-head against Wal-Mart and win. Once you have a niche, and ours is music lessons and recording, then you diversify a little bit so that you aren't so dependent on one area."
    In addition to music lessons, Mitchell has retail musical instrument operations, does commercial installations, produces cd's for local artists, and just published a guitar instruction book.
    "This year to date, we have done 65 percent of what we did revenue wise all of last year," he said. "You just have to work as hard as you possibly can at something you really love. I am having fun. It should be illegal how much fun I am having."

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