Be There When Lightning Strikes

Business

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GENERATION NEXT: Apples, C-stores, home decor

EDNEYVILLE — Apple trees dot the landscape below the Nix family home on Peaceful View Lane as far as the eye can see. Jerred Nix, 26, can look out on the trees, some old and some new.

What Jerred seldom sees is a farmer his age.
NixesJerred and Jeff nix. After graduating from N.C. State University in 2008, Nix farmed for a year with his father, Jeff. He got a job selling agriculture chemicals before coming home to the apple valley slopes.
"It's what I want to do to begin with and we saw real quick we couldn't take care of as much orchard as we had without working fulltime," he says.
He is active in farming organizations: president of the Blue Ridge Apple Growers, vice president of the Henderson County Farm Bureau and president of the Young Farmers and Ranchers for Henderson, Buncombe and Transylvania counties.
In the past three years, Jeff, 49, and Jerred have expanded from 80 to 120 acres of orchard and nearly doubled production. The Nixes are in the vanguard of a movement toward a new approach. The tall spindle trellis technique requires expensive trees, labor intensive trellising and aggressive pruning. The payoff is tight spacing, determinant growth trees producing a crop that workers can pick from the ground and precisely managed yields.
"This tree costs $10," Jeff says, pointing to a sapling that won't produce apples until next year. At 800 trees per acre, it's an investment most farmers won't make. "Our goal for each of these trees is to produce an exact number of apples," Jeff says. That would be 125 per tree, and 1,200 bushels per acre.
Jerred joined a small group of Henderson County farmers who flew to upstate New York to see the trellising system. Every farm he rode by had adopted it, he says, except one.
"I asked them why and they said he's an old man with no one to leave his farm to," Jerred says.
He worries that too few twenty-somethings have the passion for farming that he shares with his dad, grandfather Wayne Nix, and great-grandfather Will Nix.
"I can name 10 people that's my age that are farming," he says.
Two generations ago, Jeff notes, one family produced almost as many.
"Six of my dad's brothers and sisters were apple farmers," he says.

WHAT DEPRESSION?
Sometimes the second time is the charm.
"Hall Reaben went broke in the tire business over in Asheville," says his grandson and namesake, Hall Waddell.
WaddellsHal Waddell and Beau Waddell pose in front of portraits of J. Hall Reaben (left) and Dan Waddell.Reaben formed J.H. Reaben Oil & Supply Co. on Nov. 20, 1929, three weeks after the stock market crash that ushered in the Depression. It worked despite the audacious timing of its founder. The company distributed Texaco gasoline to six service stations and sold Texaco asphalt shingles, motor oil and kerosene.
Young Dan Waddell, a bomber pilot in World War II, married Reaben's daughter, Claire Belle. Waddell opened a grading business next to Reaben Oil on Ashe Street "and over time began to dabble in the oil business as well," a company history said. In 1960 Dan and Claire bought the business from Claire's father.
Their son Hall worked at the company during summers. After a hitch in the Air Force he came home to the family business.
Dan Waddell had been shot down over Brussels in World War II; he was a man who wasn't averse to taking a chance. After the Arab oil embargo of 1973, he and Hall formed a new business plan that transitioned the company from wholesale to direct sale through convenience stores.
ChristaWaddellTaylorChrista Belle Waddell Taylor is in front of a portrait of her grandmother, Claire Belle Reaben Waddell. The configuration of the original store, at the northern point of Church, Main and King streets in Hendersonville, gave rise to the name — Triangle Stop. The chain has grown to 10 stores — six in Henderson County, three in Transylvania and one in Polk. When his son, Beau, was a teenager, Hall figured he'd put him to work in the stores.
"My thought was just to offer him something to do in the summer and if he liked it and wanted to continue it that was sort of his choice," Hall says. "Both (Beau and his sister, Christa) chose that they wanted to sort of piddle in this business."
Christa Belle Taylor, a Clemson graduate, is an operations manager, and Beau Waddell, a Wake Forest man, is vice president. The fourth generation Reaben Oil siblings say they'd welcome their children in the family business — if they choose to take it on.

Weaving a future
But for losing his job in the Great Depression, Tommy Oates would never have created Manual Woodworkers.
He started selling at a young age. He had a roadside stand called Tom's Springs where he sold cider and crafts to the OatesFamilyLemuel and Sandra Oates, Molly Oates-Sherrill and Travis Oates toast the family's new winery. Molly and Travis now run Manual Woodworkers and Weavers. tourists traveling on U.S. 64 through Bat Cave, then one of the main east-west roads in a newly mobile America.
The epic flood of 1916 wiped out Tom's Springs. Oates worked in Asheville until he lost his job in 1932.
"He said being out of work gave him a lot of time to think," says his son, Lemuel Oates. He thought about the river and its power, and the Rocky Broad nearby and he came up with a factory that would harness its power with a waterwheel. So at the high-water mark of the Great Depression, Tommy Oates started turning out wood novelties, and he and his wife, Queenie, opened a gift shop called Manual Woodworkers.
"During the 1950s souvenirs were the main thing," Oates says. "Then they added woven rugs and bonnets. It continued to grow through the '60s and then Dad was 72 and he wanted to retire."
Lemuel and his wife, Sandra, had left the mountains for Richmond, Va. He worked for Reynolds Metals and she worked for the FBI.
"We came back and took it over," he says.
He and Sandra attended wholesale gift shows all over the country. Buyers "loved the woven items and the jacquard throws," he says. "We started buying our own jacquard looms and weaving our own jacquard throws."
Passing on the company to the next generation was a natural course. Lemuel and Sandra sold the company to their children, Travis Oates and Molly Oates-Sherrill, in 2008. They became co-CEOs. Molly heads product development; Travis is in charge of sales.
"Travis and Molly had done everything from sweeping the floors to loading trucks," their dad says. The company is growing. It has 500 employees, 139 more than it had a year ago.
"I think you have to adjust to the times," Lemuel says. The novelties his dad made lost favor over time. "As we came through, it changed from souvenir-ish to more gift oriented. We were shipping to 20,000 gift shops in the U.S. A lot of them are not in business now. I think you have to reinvent yourself every generation."
Now the company sells custom-made throws and other woven products, much of it ordered through the web. Lemuel and Sandra devote a lot of time now to their new winery, Burntshirt Mountain Vineyards.
Like a lot of the other Hendersonville business patriarchs transitioning from fulltime work to a senior statesman role, Oates says he's ready to guide but no longer lead.
"I spend every day here but we're not on anybody's payroll," he says. "We're just advisers. I come in and sit in meetings and give advice. Sometimes they take it, sometimes they don't."