Archive for February, 2014


Delaplane Cellars: Elegance in glass

Posted on Feb 20 2014 | By

Stylish tasting room pouring velvetly wines 

IMG_8395As you drive slowly up the steep entrance way—framed by vineyards—one is struck by the wall of glass windows at Delaplane Cellars.

Upon entering the sleek and tastefully decorated tasting room, a stunning artist-like mural of the Virginia countryside unfolds with waves of rolling hills stretching to the western horizon.

And you haven’t even tasted the wines yet. This is going to be fun.

Such are the impressions when visiting one of Virginia’s most respected wineries. Owners Jim and Betsy Dolphin opened their winery just five years ago, but accolades on what they’ve achieved are heard whenever quality Old Dominion wine is discussed.

“We want to be first class. We want to be at the ‘top of the mountain’…right up there with the big dogs,” says Jim Dolphin smiling. Whoof. Whoof. Goal achieved.

Passion is an overused word in the Virginia wine business but no term better describes what the Dolphins have brought to bear in creating their vision.

Jim Dolphin spent the better part of his career working for a real estate investment trust. When he joined the embryonic company in 1979, it had three employees. When he left nineteen years later, he was chief financial officer and the company had grown to 3,200 employees.

Betsy Dolphin was a portfolio manager at the same firm managing 12,000 apartment units. This couple knows from success.

Love of wine
As a young college student, Jim Dolphin fell in love with wine, especially Bordeaux from the Medoc region. “A fellow college student got me interested in quality French wine. Back then it cost four dollars a bottle,” he recalls fondly.

“By the time I opened the winery in 2009, I had a 1,500 bottle wine cellar. I know what good wine is and I don’t want to waste my time making plonk.”

So how did a man who carried one of the sharpest pencils in the financial trade become a vintner and winery proprietor? Enter passion, stage right.

After years of enjoying wine he asked himself “How’s this stuff made?” The question drew him to Jim Law, owner of Linden Vineyards. Law has a reputation for making some of the best wine on the East Coast. Several of the budding vintners who studied under him later went on to open their own wineries.

“I didn’t know anything about making wine. I took every winemaking and viticulture seminar Jim gave. Twice. In 2005, he let me help out with his harvest. I couldn’t get enough of it,” says Dolphin, while he continued to refine his home winemaking skills.

“I also enrolled in a UC Davis online winemaking course and began meeting many of the leading figures in Virginia wine.” The university has the most prestigious wine curriculum in the US and its graduates include some of the biggest names in American wine.

At the height of his home winemaking ventures, Dolphin had as many as 28 different wines in various stages of aging in the basement of his Maryland home. It became obvious turning professional was the next step and he launched his search for ideal winegrowing land, which is often steep and rocky to stress the vines and produced the highest quality fruit.

“In 2005, I started looking for land. I looked at more than a 100 properties finally settling on a 32-acre site in the northwestern part of Fauquier County, off Route 17. “I wished I had brought three times that amount of land so I could have put in more vineyards. I’m looking for more acreage now.”

In June 2009, he started construction on the winery and opened in November of that year; total investment in land and faculties ran to $2.5 million. He lives in a home nestled next to the winery and says, “I have a 150 yard commute.”

The wines
IMG_5664Given the influence of French wines on his palate, it comes as no surprise his focus is on reds, although his white lineup is impressive, including a medium bodied, lightly oaked Chardonnay.

Dolphin’s red wines are often blends that typically emphasize a single vineyard where the grapes were sourced from. The emphasis on the French concept of terroir—the somewhereness of where the fruit is grown—dominates his offerings with names such as, “Spring Lot” and “Williams Gap”, referring to the name of the vineyards producing the grapes.

In reflecting on the state of Virginia wine, Dolphin says, “A lot of people in the business have no business in the business. But that’s not news to anybody.

“Some people have gotten into the business who realize pretty quickly ‘This is not the romance I thought it was.’ There are twenty or so wineries that are always seeking to improve and get better and wines from those places will continue to get better and better.”

For those interested in tasting one of those producers’ efforts, a visit to Delaplane Cellars will enlighten.

For hours of operation, special events and more, visit

 John’s Pick of the Month  

Delaplane Cellars 

2010 Left Bank Reserve 


OK, we’ll all agree the price tag on this beauty is steep. So let’s have no less an expert than the wine director at The Inn at Little Washington, Jennifer Knowles, provide us her take on it. “More Merlot than Cabernet, it has a core of rich cassis and crushed blackberries tempered by cocoa powder tannins and balanced acidity. Meaty and powerful.”

Gotta love the way those folks talk…and the wine. 


Published in the February 13, 2014 edition of the Culpeper Times.


Categories : WINE ARTICLES

When it’s time to sell the dream

Posted on Feb 03 2014 | By

Winery sales often lengthy and complex

There are 259 wineries in Virginia producing 511,000 cases of wine annually. The industry has achieved dramatic success in both growth and reputation since the first tasting room opened in 1975.

Today, the quality and repute of Old Dominion wine is recognized nationally and around the world. Last year, Steven Spurrier, a renowned international wine authority said, “Virginia is a solid competitor in the global wine industry.” Such high praise is a commonly heard refrain.

And yet, there is an anomaly to the sanguine picture of a robust and healthy wine culture: Few wineries are profitable and most are difficult to sell.

Cabernet Franc Grapes

Cabernet Franc Grapes

Indeed, notwithstanding advances in vineyard plantings and winemaking skills resulting in a commensurate increase in the production of fine wine, it still remains a challenge to actually make money in the business. If a winery isn’t turning a profit, potential buyers can be hard to conjure up.

With many of the state’s winery owners entering their retirement years, it is expected an increase in properties will go up for sale, especially if adult children do not share mom & dad’s dream. But selling even a marginally profitable business is a challenge. Typically, it takes three years or more to find a qualified buyer.

Rick Walden, owner of Virginia Estates, a Charlottesville real estate firm that specializes in selling farms, estates, vineyards and wineries says, “I’m just about the only guy in the state handling winery sales. How many are making money? I’m gonna go for zero.” He bluntly points up the narrow margins earned in a difficult business.

“There are probably thirty wineries for sale in the state but a lot of people do not want it advertised. They think its hurts their business. Last year, I wrote every winery in Virginia asking them if they were interested in selling,” says Walden. “I got twenty-five responses and now have $100 million in winery listings. I expect to sell five wineries in the next few months.”

While that prognostication seemingly runs counter to Walden’s profitability assessment, it does speak to the romance and lifestyle attraction of the business.

Others well placed in the industry, however, would disagree with his assessment and even plain speaking Walden later acknowledges some wineries do turn a small profit. “I had one guy call me and wanted a 20% return on his investment but from what I’ve’ve seen it’s more like one percent.”  Other knowledgeable sources put the figure in the 5% range.

But profitable ventures are in the minority, with most industry observers saying less than fifteen percent of state’s wineries are making money.

When asked about the difficulty of growing wine grapes in Virginia, Walden responds with a quick, “Do you have a few days?”

“First, owners are biting their nails that bud break happens before a late spring frost comes along, like this year (2013), and cuts them off at the knees. Then, the stuff that survives gets beat to death by endless rains, and whatever does survive is ravaged by raccoons, turkeys, bear and deer.Black Bear

“This year all of those animals were hungry because their food got frozen by an early frost so they came in and ate every last thing. The crop last year was hardly anything.”

Indeed, it was a tough 2013 harvest with frost and animal depredation taking its toll. But wineries across the state are making wine and it promises to be a decent vintage.

Walden closes with, “I don’t want to be a doomsayer, but buyers need to be aware of the real situation or sell $100 bottles of high quality wine.” 

Romance, lifestyle & hard work
IMG_5664For anyone visiting a winery, the lure of owning one is understandable. Verdant vineyards framed by mountain or lake views and decks on which to enjoy the serene settings. Such scenes are alluring to buyers who hail from congested urban areas.

In reality, potential buyers must pony up at least a million dollars—at a minimum—and then commit themselves to an inordinate amount of work to grow the fruit and make the wine. Perhaps the most demanding part of the business is hospitality. Weekends are spent greeting customers, pouring wines and extolling the virtuous aromas and flavors in the glass.

When reality clashes with the dream, the property goes up for sale.

Stephane Baldi, owner of Hume Vineyards in Hume, placed his winery on the market early last year after only three years in operation. His wine is produced off-site, a process known in the industry as “custom crush”.

He’s asking $2 million for his large home, a vineyard and a tasting room. It doesn’t include his small inventory or brand name which would need to be negotiated separately. At 44, Baldi is among the younger owners in the industry.

“I grew up in the Loire Valley in France surrounded by vineyards and wineries and I am a huge wine fan. I saw what was happening with Virginia wine and thought it was the right time to make a move and open a winery.

Stephane & Andrea Baldi

Stephane & Andrea Baldi

“But my wife and I still had full time jobs in DC. Then, two years ago, we had a child and the winery is now more of a constraint,” he says. “The challenge of living in Hume is difficult. I run two businesses—one based in DC—and need to drop off our child at daycare every day. It really doesn’t leave us time to do anything. We are still young enough and we’d like to have a life but it seems we spend our entire life in the car.

“This is something we wanted to do at a point in our lives. Now, it’s time to move on.” He admits he has not gotten much interest in the property, saying, “The bottom line is nobody knows how to sell a winery.”

Bob Schenkel, owner of Altillo Vineyards, runs a small operation in southwest Virginia, and is asking $1 million for his winery that opened in 2010 and produces about 700 cases a year. “I’ve invested about $1.4 million but I’m selling it for a million. We have never shown a profit. It’s an inordinate amount of work. I think there is going to be a lot of turnover in the industry. A lot people would like to sell.

“The profit seems to be in events and entertainment. Many of the wineries that seem to make a buck are doing events. There is an ocean of wine out there but down here the quality seems to be a race to the bottom,” he laments.

“South of Charlottesville, the wine is abysmal. It’s sweeter and cheaper. Wineries see that it sells at festivals and they cater to younger folks who simply want to get a buzz and listen to a rock band. I’d like to see a better effort to improve the quality and the reputation of Virginia wine. The state talks a good game but their actions are tearing down the long term reputation.”

Strong words from an owner who has been unable to make it in the industry.

Schenkel goes on to say, “Rick Walden is my agent but most of his buyers are interested in the Charlottesville or Northern Virginia area. I’ve had next to no selling activity. Only one person has looked at my property and it was not a serious inquiry. They knew nothing about winemaking.”

The market
Schenkel’s lack of enthusiasm that he will soon find a buyer is understandable. Mark Malick is a real estate agent in Leesburg that focus’ on winery sales and is co-owner of the winery, Maggie Malick Wine Caves, in Purcellville. His wife Maggie is the winemaker.

“Less than one percent of the population can afford a winery costing a million dollars or more. And what percentage of those people are actually looking for one? It’s a tough sell. Not many of these businesses are profitable.

“I try to talk people out of buying a winery before I talk them into it. I always try to get them to come out and see my winery and let them see everything that’s involved before we proceed. I basically try to pre-qualify them.”

Malick believes the number one factor in selling a winery is the owner’s age. The sellers “realize it’s time to move on, that it’s consuming them in both time and money.”

It’s common knowledge that virtually every new winery will labor for five to seven years before it begins to see a profit. But if committed and hard working owners stay the course, eventually some modest return on investment will likely emerge.

Parade Formation

Parade Formation

The Virginia viticulture extension service states two people can operate a five acre vineyard on a part-time basis. “Technically that’s true,” explains Malick. “But they will have to work every weekend during the growing season.” And that does not include making or selling the wine.

Over time, the emotional glow of plump grapes hanging heavy in a vineyard can begin to fade.

One model that has a better than average chance for failure is a multi-million dollar operation that opens its doors and immediately begins making tens of thousands of cases of wine a year. Finding a home for such exuberant growth is not easy.

Two over-the-top examples of this wine hubris were the Kluge and Sweeley estates. Both ventures envisioned producing vast quantities of wine and selling it quickly.  Both ended in foreclosures, costing the owners tens of millions of dollars.

But even businesses that have grown slowly and produce good quality wine are not ripe for a quick sale. Naked Mountain in Markham was on the market for over a decade. The owners eventually got $3 million—the original asking price—but patience played a role in finding a qualified buyer.

Malick explains successful people start small and grow slowly. “A lot of people bootstrap their winery, doing things as cheaply as possible and buying used equipment. They do all the work themselves in the early years,” he says.

Malick cites Fabbioli Cellars in Leesburg as a model for success. Doug Fabbioli is a respected vintner and consultant who built a small, thriving business producing quality wines. His success was the result of his winemaking skills and his understanding of the industry and sound business practices.

“If owners stick with the business and get above 3,000 cases a year, then they will begin to see profitability,” says Malick.

Seasoned professionals
Chris Pearmund and John Delmare have several decades of combined experience in the wine industry. Pearmund owns Pearmund Cellars in Broad Run and Delmare is the proprietor of Rappahannock Cellars in Huntly. Both wineries are profitable.

In trying to understand why a large percentage of the state’s wineries struggle to make money, Delmare’s analysis helps lift the veil of confusion. Start with the basics: 259 wineries statewide producing 511,000 cases.

“I estimate the top five producers together are making 200,000 cases. The next twenty wineries bottle an additional 150,000. That leaves 234 wineries generating some 160,000 cases, or an average of about 700 a year each,” says Delmare.

Conventional wisdom says it takes 3,000 to 5,000 cases to operate in the black. When you consider the financial investment, hard work and time the wine business consumes, those numbers are “frightening for the smaller producers” says Delmare.

If a small owner decides to back away from the business and sell out, he or she is faced with the hard reality of marketing a profitless business.

Last year, Pearmund tried unsuccessfully to sell his winery for $5 million but took it off the market. Today, it is back up for sale at for $4.5 million. Sotheby’s, a luxury real estate firm, is handling the sale. “The winery has been profitable every year it has been opened,” says Pearmund. Nonetheless, no buyer has yet come forward.

When asked how long it typically takes to sell a Virginia winery, Pearmund humorously replies, “It takes three bites to get to the center of a tootsie pop.” So how many bites does it take to get to the center of a cluster of grapes and see a buyer pop out?

Chris Pearmund

Chris Pearmund

Even when a serious prospect does step forward, it doesn’t always go smoothly. A case in point is Pearmund’s sale of the Winery at La Grange in Haymarket to a Chinese corporation.

The sale was valued at $5.6 million but was a rocky real estate deal.

Shortly after the June 2012 transaction, Pearmund said, “My experience at La Grange has been the most difficult of my professional career. I devoted six years to its success and have little to show for it.”

He estimates that today, there are ten wineries for sale. “In Virginia, I would guess 95% or more of the wineries opened since 1980 are still opened, how fantastic! What other business category has that track record?”

But the statistic also points to a pending wave of winery sales as original owners approach their late retirement years and may have lost both the passion and energy to continue.

 John Delmare

John Delmare

John Delmare believes the commonwealth’s industry is maturing beyond something more than a hobby. “As long as we are hobbyists, there are no sale opportunities per se. There is no business rationale for buying a winery,” he states.

He observes that many sold to date have been distress sales, sold for pennies on the dollar, such as Kluge and Sweeley. “It’s hard to point to sales that were true market transactions. Some sales are really real estate sales. The buyer simply wanted the property, not the winery.”

Delmare states his business is profitable but doesn’t believe a buyer would purchase it solely on its financial return. “There is a quantifiable return in buying a winery that is an emotional return on top of a modest financial one that makes such a deal worthwhile.”

He goes on to explain wineries have always been that way regardless of where they are located. He cites California as an example. For years that state’s wineries have had a 5 to 6% return on assets. “That’s a lot of risk for just 6% return. If you take fully loaded costs—not an owner working for free—I’ll take a stab and say maybe ten percent of Virginia wineries are legit businesses.”

In addressing the issue of Virginia wine being expensive, he says, “When someone comes out and buys a $30 bottle of wine you have sold them an experience. They are buying more than the wine. We are selling experiences in our tasting rooms. If we were just taking orders, we would all be in trouble.”

Moving on to the more controversial issue of hosting events, he says he doesn’t share the disdain some people voice over the practice even though he does not pursue that type of trade.

Wedding at Old House Vineyards

Wedding at Old House Vineyards

Often weddings, parties, fundraisers and the like are what enable heavily mortgaged wineries to make a profit. Some larger businesses have weddings booked three years in advance, ranging from twenty to over seventy a year. Given the significant capital investments in these wineries, entertainment and hospitality are important revenue streams.

Delmare thinks many of the larger operations think their wineries are worth $8 to $12 million but he doesn’t see buyers out there to command such prices. “We are just starting to scratch the surface on having a market that produces those kinds of sales.

He underscores that aging owners wanting to move on will be especially hard pressed to find takers. “True legitimate buyers are hard to find.”  

Delmare thinks a bank would be skeptical fully financing a potential buyer of his own winery, even though he has not personally had a problem securing capital. A bank may look at the borrower’s capability to service and pay back a loan outside of the actual business itself.

Inventory and equipment loans are not that difficult to get, he states, with banks lending up to 80% of their value. For example, if he were to sell his winery, a borrower might be able to secure an 80% loan based on the underlying value of the land, wine inventory and equipment but may still have to come with a substantial amount of cash, upwards of 50% of the total purchase.

“If a winery is making a five percent return on assets, but the bank interest rate is six percent, you are losing money on your loan,” Delmare explains. “In addition, the higher the loan-to-value goes you get to the point there is not enough cash in the business to support the loan.

“In today’s market, a 6.5% loan is typical. A 75% loan-to-value will result in every penny the business is making going to service the loan. Banks won’t loan that way. Banks look at asset value—collateral that secures the loan. Then they want to know ‘Where is the cash coming from to pay us? If you are making $1 a year, we want your payments to be 75 cents so you have a little cushion if things don’t go well,’ ” says Delmare, explaining how banks think.

He goes on to say, “Any business is similar, and in some ways a winery may be easier to finance because it is so asset driven. We have a lot of real estate, a lot of inventory and a lot of equipment; all things a bank can use to secure their loan.” Rappahannock Cellars

The banking discussion brings into relief that in addition to growing grapes, making wine and entertaining guests, potential buyers should have a custom fitted green eye shade hanging in the winery office. Sharp pencils are as important as sharp palates in this business.

The future
With the current growth rate of wineries, it is projected within five years there could be more than 400 tasting rooms dotting the Virginia landscape. While such proliferation seems questionable given the challenges of opening one, it also speaks to the intense romance and lifestyle involved.

Creating flavorful wines and earning accolades from guests while living in picturesque rural areas is a powerful draw to pursuing a less than viable business. But romance is not a bedmate to logic and numerous winery owners would not trade their chosen endeavor for a conventional business.

More future owners will likely follow their lead. Delmare underscores the increasing challenges ahead. “When I started my winery in the late nineties, it was the sixty-second one in the state. I paid $2,000 an acre for land that today is going for $10,000 to $20,000.

“My business grew twenty to twenty-five percent a year initially. Today, it’s about seven percent. It’s only gotten harder. Everything is more expensive and the barrier to entry is harder.

“There is both a looming grape and labor shortage. All of these things will make entry a little higher. Small operators will be scared out of it so growth will maybe slow in the next five years,” he says.

One path to sustainability for his winery is securing permanent control over his grape supply. To that end, he is working toward purchasing and planting additional vineyard acreage. “I’m not doing it to grow but to secure the future of my winery.”

“Construction costs and getting wine into a bottle are fifty percent higher today than when I started. I hit it at the right time when I got in.”

Perhaps the legendary Dale Carnegie unknowingly summarized the pursuit of the Virginia wine business when he said, “When dealing with people remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic but creatures of emotion.”

And a cadre of emotional winery owners may be in Virginia’s best long term interests.

   Published in the Winter 2014 edition of the Piedmont Business Journal.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

 Amissville firm caught wall-to-wall trend early on 

In 1951, when the post-World War II housing explosion was beginning to surge, the carpet industry sold six million square yards of wall-to-wall. Seventeen years later, almost 400 million yards adorned homes nationwide.

Among the first businesses to spot the consumer trend from hardwood floors and area rugs to foot comfy wall-to-wall was John Early. Forty-seven years later, the thriving family business is an icon in Culpeper, Rappahannock and Fauquier counties.

In 1954, Early began his career as a flooring installer and commuted daily to jobs in Northern Virginia to make a living. Even back then, the traffic was bad. He eventually decided to work out of his home in Amissville and spend less time on the road. At the time, there were only two furniture stores and one lumber company in the tri-country area selling carpeting.

Early began working for them. But he soon realized those businesses did not see the rising popularity of wall-to-wall. He quit the job and opened Early’s Carpets. “When we started out, everyone thought we were crazy because there was nothing out here but those three firms,” recalls his wife, Lorraine, who provided a succinct history of the company. “John couldn’t make a living on that income and in less than two years on our own we had our building up and grew from there.”

Three years later, the store was expanded to include a warehouse. In 2014, there are plans to expand again with a 3,500 square foot facility dedicated to its rug cleaning business. Starting a business from scratch in the rural Piedmont region—and consider how rural it was forty-seven years ago—had its challenges.

“Back then, we hand addressed and mailed 42,000 flyers twice a year” to help build the business, says Lorraine Early. Hand cramps must have been a common aliment during those early marketing efforts. Today, the successful business generates $2.5 million in sales annually, employing twelve people, including five family members and a fleet of a dozen vehicles.  

Local touch
As the company grew, it became evident that John Early’s take on changing consumer demand was not his only ace on building the business. “Both John and I attended local high schools. We grew up with our customers. It was an asset to personally know a lot of them, including our teachers, friends and people in the banking business,” says Lorraine Early.

“It was a nice experience to go into the homes of these people. It was fun decorating and seeing the finished product. “When we started we didn’t have but seventeen dollars and some change in our savings. It was all done by hard work and faith in our local banks,” she says, explaining how bank financing worked in a gentler time.

As the business succeeded, carpet installation grew along with sales of oriental and area rugs, hardwood and ceramic flooring, window treatments, and carpet cleaning services. “Anything to do with flooring,” says Early. Trends tend to be cyclical, and today home decorating is moving back to hardwood floors and area rugs. Early’s is again well-positioned to capitalize on the shift.

Over time, it became obvious carpet cleaning could also generate additional income. For years, it was performed with small machines carried into the home. With the emphasis on today’s “Green Scene”, the Early’s purchased “mounted trucks”; a vehicle with high-power, environmentally friendly cleaning motors. Sucking up dirt and odors with these mechanical stallions made for happy homeowners. Remodeling does not readily come to mind with carpet installation, but when water damaged is encountered, Early’s will tear out and replace floors, walls, door jams and ceilings. However, getting homes dried quickly is critical to avoiding such expensive restoration work.

“Our technicians go to school in Georgia to learn how to completely dry out a home. During training, the company floods an entire house and the students learn how to dry it out. If you don’t get to it quick, mold will set in. We have even refinished guns that were water damaged,” she says.

When hiring a new employee, the Early’s emphasize they are embarking on a career, not just a job. “We tell them it’s like going to college, but longer. There is a lot of product knowledge and studying to do. A person needs to stay up with it. “John and I use to do all the training ourselves but now we depend on our daughter and son-in-law to do it. Once trained, we want our employees to stay in the business. It takes five years of on-the-job training to become proficient in the flooring business,” Early explains.

When the company was in its early years, it was typical to get just two or three customers a week. “We’d have customers push the buzzer on the store front door. My children were just a few months old and people would have to wait till I got there from our home out back,” she remembers. Today, those few of customers have grown to several hundred visits a week.

The clientele is still primarily local people, but increasingly the Early’s are seeing buyers from the Gainesville and Hay Market area. “While we do some commercial work—mostly local churches, banks and other businesses—the bulk of our business is still centered on residential.” The firm does not pursue track housing contracts.

One couple who are relatively new to Culpeper County heard about Early’s reputation and chose them to install hardwood flooring and carpeting. “Oh, we were very happy with them. The workmanship was great and we were very satisfied with the product,” the homeowner commented.

The Early’s could, no doubt, fill several volumes with similar testimonials. While the internet is changing how business is generated these days, Lorraine Early doesn’t see it as a growing force in the family shop. “Yes, we do have some online sales but in this business you still have to measure and touch things. For the most part, our customers want to see us,” before making a buying decision.

“This type of business requires a lot of personal attention. You need to stay on top of things. Everybody wants to do computers but our work is a little different. It’s hands on but rewarding. The personal touch is important to our success.”

What has also helped the small firm grow is its depth of inventory. The warehouse has over 75 large rolls of carpet, 400 area rugs, 100 rolls of vinyl, and selections of hardwood and ceramic flooring to chose from. “When customers are working on a project and want to complete it, they can come in and often find what they need without having to order it.”

Recession’s impact Money

In reflecting on the last six years, Lorraine Early says. “It’s been hard. There hasn’t been much improvement. I feel very fortunate our buildings are paid for but young people need to be trained and they need the jobs. Business comes in spurts and you get excited but then it drops back.

“We’ve had to do away with a lot of our employee benefits, except health insurance. We have kept it for all our employees. But paid holidays and vacations have had to go in order to afford the insurance.” While remodeling is often viewed as a bright side to a depressed economy, the Early’s don’t see it.

They do more advertising to keep their name in the market place. The benefits of growing a business when you are young and living in a rural area is the ability to attract customers you grew up with. Today, both the owners and their faithful customers are aging and younger newcomers moving into the area. “We need to keep our name our there so people know who we are.

There has been influx of new people and they don’t always know us.” One benchmark of the quality work provided by Early’s is repeat business. It’s not unusual for them to perform work on floorings that were installed thirty or forty years ago. “The quality of our work has really held up,” Lorraine Early says.

The family
At this stage of his career, one might call John Early, Installer Emeritus. He acts as the public face of the company, handling public relations and work site visitations, while monitoring customer satisfaction and quality control. At 79, is well positioned to know when a project needs a bit of fine tuning. His depth of experience also serves to train and mentor his younger employees.

Lorraine Early speaks with respect when she shares that her husband is a two time cancer survivor. “He’s had health issues that he shares it with people who are going through a lot of turmoil. He is still active and is a very determined man,” she says with pride.

Lorraine Early managed the sales force and the decorating side of the business for decades and still oversees it. However, back in 2000 she turned much of the daily in-store work over to her daughter, Sonja, who is the store manager and project scheduler.

Sonja’s husband, Solon Betts, is head installer. Son John handles in-home measuring assignments, and grandson, Ted, heads up cleaning and restoration. Grandson Cody, attends the itt Technical Institute in Chantilly, preparing for a career in computers. Meanwhile, he oversees the company’s computer applications. The Early’s have no plans to sell their business but if they ever did, the buyers would be family members. What they have built together will stay together as the family flagship.

For hours of operation and a full description of the company’s product line and services, visit    landscape   Published in the Winter 2014 edition of the Piedmont Business Journal.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES