BY CAROLYN R. WILSON SPECIAL TO THE BRISTOL HERALD COURIER
ABINGDON, Va. — The American dream is alive and well for an Abingdon business owner who has won the opportunity to expand her footprint in a brick-and-mortar space outside of town.
Cassie Rowe, who owns and operates Abingdon Gifting Company on West Main Street, will open a new pop-up store in the Fort Henry Mall in Kingsport, Tennessee, from October, continuing a unique entrepreneurial journey that looks to be getting better with age. .
With just $300 on hand and “really big dreams,” Rowe opened the Abingdon, Va., store in 2018 because there was nothing else like it here, she said. .
“Gifts are a thing of the past. For someone who actually takes the time to put together a gift basket, that doesn’t seem to happen much anymore.
The company has grown by leaps and bounds, selling over 700 personalized gift baskets last year.
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Seeking to grow her business, she entered a competition in late 2021 offered by the American Dream Project, an annual pop-up competition run by Hull Property Group, the real estate company that owns the Fort Henry Mall, to encourage successful small businesses across America by connecting entrepreneurs with physical spaces.
“I was thinking about throwing my hat in the ring, but at the same time I was wondering how I was going to do it all if I won,” Rowe said.
Told this spring of the good news, Rowe was cleared to go public with the announcement just a few weeks ago.
The Abingdon store owner was among many other local businesses who took part in the competition designed to support local businesses that need space to grow.
“We really liked Cassie’s business because it was a business concept that we hadn’t had a chance to work with before,” Korde Jones, marketing specialist for American Dream Project, said in an email. e-mail this week. “We were inspired by Cassie’s drive and desire to grow her business. Her passion for running her business came through during her interview and we knew she would be a perfect fit for Kingsport and the Tri-Cities area.
According to Jones, Hull Property Group picked winners in 11 markets this year, including Hendersonville, North Carolina, the next closest market to the Kingsport area. Kingsport is the only Tennessee location where the company has held a contest.
“Our program was started on the idea that small business owners are the future of retail. We love working with so many inspired and driven entrepreneurs and small business owners from around the world,” Jones said. .
Rowe will run the pop-up store from October 1 to December 31 before having to decide whether she wants to enter into a rental agreement after the three-month rent-free period ends.
“Hey, if we get it out of the park, we can just stay and operate in both Kingsport and Abingdon,” she said. “We don’t know what to expect, but we’re really excited.”
The pop-up store is nearly 3,000 square feet, twice the size of her storefront in Abingdon. The signs of his new store “Kingsport Gifting Company” are already in the windows.
“When I went to the mall to check out the space, I could visualize where all my inventory would be placed. That’s how I knew I was where I needed to be,” Rowe said.
As the holidays approach, Rowe typically increases her inventory—ribbons and wraps—however, this year she is doubling her inventory in anticipation of the opening of Kingsport.
Rowe said her biggest goal is to meet new people and build new relationships in the Kingsport area.
She plans to connect with potential clients while doing business at Kingsport — even if it’s only for three months. “If we’re not staying at Kingsport long term, customers can still order from Abingdon Gifting Company,” she said.
She credits her determination to “pound the pavement” for helping to grow her business in Abingdon since it opened almost five years ago. “I love meeting my new clients in person so they know and trust who they are working with throughout their giving journey with me,” she said.
Several client companies represent the majority of its activity.
Rowe expects profits to continue to grow, especially after becoming a supplier to major accounts like Ballad Health, Delta Airlines and Bristol Casino.
“The executives and CEO of Hard Rock Casino Bristol received one of my gift baskets when they were in town,” she said. “I’m now known as the gift basket lady there.”
When Ballad Health recruits a new physician to the area, one of its gift baskets is left in the visiting physician’s hotel room as a courtesy.
Rowe also serves many area real estate agents and banks with its personalized gift bags.
Before Rowe opened the Abingdon store, she worked for years in retail management.
When she quit to pursue her dream job, it was “the most freeing and terrifying thing,” she said.
Rowe came across a virtually untapped business venture in the area.
The uniqueness of personalized gift baskets is what sets this company apart from others.
Customers can visit or call the store and specify the items they wish to include in the gift basket. Rowe collects items from her store’s shelves, and if she doesn’t have them, her customers are encouraged to bring items to the store to incorporate into gift baskets.
Baskets can be covered with shrink wrap or topped with a bow. The basket is either delivered or the customer can pick it up. Her customers range in age from teenagers to seniors who cannot come to the store. “I have a few older customers who don’t go out anymore and they call me for gift baskets and I deliver the baskets to them,” Rowe said.
“I often think of this quote that says, ‘I didn’t want to work 9 to 5, so I started my own business and now I work 24/7,'” Rowe laughed. “We have a flexible budget for our clients. We can create a giveaway for as little as $5-$10 or up to hundreds. We want to personalize the gift as much as possible.
Some customers leave it to him to create the perfect gift basket.
She recently built a large gift rack including a camping chair and a large umbrella, filled with all kinds of camping supplies.
“We even used fire pits to fill them with things like s’mores, popcorn, and hot chocolate.”
But, most gift baskets aren’t that extreme.
One of its bestsellers is a deli platter packed with food items like honey, fig spread, crackers, sausage and cheese, nuts, and popcorn. A relaxation basket can hold bath bombs, soaps and lotions, many of which are made by local vendors.
“A sympathy gift basket can contain gourmet food or a blanket and a candle,” she said.
Most of the gift items in her store come from local sellers or small businesses.
She has generously stocked the store with locally made items that are customer favourites. She sells honey from Abingdon Bee Company, Photos by Whitney and barbecue sauce from Bristol Garden & Grill. It features lavender products from Midfield Farms in Bulls Gap, Tennessee, Little Joy Flowers and books by local author Greg Lilly.
“Just because it’s not made nearby doesn’t mean it’s not made by a small company like mine. We appeal to many companies that support causes such as animal rescue and turtle and bee research. Not only do you support us, but you also support these causes.
Rowe arranges to donate merchandise from Fetching Apparel, a local pet lover’s business that donates a portion of its profits to animal rescue efforts.
Abingdon Gifting Company, located at 266 West Main Street, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Monday. Hours of operation for the new pop-up store in Kingsport, Tennessee are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.