Asheville, NC… I have heard stories of the lush, green hills that make western North Carolina so special, but alas, the wind was cutting with bitter force, and after driving from New Jersey to Nashville, TN to work with the good folks at Hoover Paint, I had decided to back-track through Asheville to rendezvous with a long-time Target Coatings customer—or a few!—with whom I have never personally met. While driving on I-40 through the great Blue Ridge Mountain passes, with the sun setting to my back, I marveled at the majesty of the surrounding terrain, but was equally anxious to make it to my destination as the snow continued to chase me eastbound. I was looking forward to getting out from behind the wheel and into a warm bed.
It was snowing, again, in downtown Asheville the following morning when I met with Chris Spoerer of Union Woodworks and with Joe Archibald of Narwhal Designs. Nestled in a clean, well-lit woodworking studio underneath a brew pub, Chris and Joe extended a warm, friendly welcome to me as we exchanged the age-old “Long-time acquaintance/First-time meet” handshakes and bro hugs—and proceeded to discuss ten years of business relations with each other without ever meeting face-to-face. It was a great way to chase the snow squalls away. While listening to Chris and Joe shed light on their businesses and how they became customers of Target Coatings, it became obvious that the sharing of stories, ideas, options, successes and failures remains the glue that binds an artisan community. Joe had used Target Coatings products and passed the experience on to Chris, and Chris passed his experiences on to others in the Asheville area—the artisanal bonds are strong in Asheville, and they proved so during my visit. With fresh coffee consumed and more calls to make I thanked Joe and Chris for their hospitality and hope to see them again, soon.
There was another long-time Target Coatings customer I wanted to meet. The only interactions I have had with him are brief phone calls and his online orders via our website, friendly but non-descript. So, when I asked Kris Forward and his dad, James, of Forward Construction, if I could pay a visit the text reply was, “Absolutely – love to have you!” So off I drove up the twisty switchback roads on the outskirts of Asheville. I found the Forward Construction shop on the slope of a laurel and cedar hillside. As third generation custom home builders, the Forwards take pride in promoting alternative energy options and low environmental impact products for the safety of their own health and the health of their clients. Not to rest on their years of custom home building, Kris Forward is a burgeoning luthier, with quite a few exceptional examples of his work now under his belt. What I had thought would be a quick visit turned into one that spanned two hours of talks about the environment, the changing ways of small business ownership, guitar building and, of course, beer!
Granted, early March is probably not the best time to experience the Blue Ridge Mountains—with fickle weather and poor light conditions the mountains look ominously monochromatic. However, low angles of light can illuminate hidden gems—my customers, who shared their warmth and knowledge in the manner that makes the folks of Asheville so special. I plan on visiting Asheville, again, when the hills are green and the birds are singing.