Written by Toni Sherwood | Photos by Anthony Harden
Hopey & Company, a local grocery chain with three locations and a warehouse in the Western North Carolina area, is preparing to expand. The building they currently occupy at 45 South French Broad Avenue in downtown Asheville is getting a total makeover. Troy and Charlie Ball of Asheville Distilling Company purchased the building in 2014. Rumor has it that plans for a ‘green’ hotel, additional parking, and a Thai restaurant are among the improvements. Hopey & Company’s expansion plans include a restaurant, additional seating, a butcher shop, and expanded retail.
Danette and Troy Hopey have been married for 33 years. They’ve been dreaming of a store like this one since their early days selling coffee beans at the flea market with kids in tow. The downtown location has gone through many transformations since they began selling there in 2009.
“The former owners of this property were doing a public market idea, just open on the weekends,” co-owner Troy Hopey recalls. “We had a spot in the middle for six months, and then they asked if we wanted to expand.”
Finally occupying their own space in the building, the Hopeys were able to open seven days a week. They went about getting their license to sell beer and wine while trying to meet the needs of the downtown clients. “The community kept asking for different things,” co-owner Danette Hopey says. “We carry the staples so you can come in here and make a meal,” Troy says, “and yet we also try to carry some organic, natural, and gourmet items. We’re sort of a mixture.”
Just as the diverse downtown community embraced a local market they could walk to, the building went into bankruptcy, leaving the Hopeys in limbo for the past two years.
“We haven’t wanted to do anything other than cosmetic,” Troy explains. “You don’t want to put in a bunch of equipment or try to expand, and then the bank sells the property and says this is going to be a roller derby.”
“There were so many stories of what the building might end up being,” Danette recalls.
At the same time the bank was grateful to have some expenses deferred, so the Hopeys took a leap of faith and kept the downtown location open on a month-to-month lease.
Just a Dream
“We started out at Dreamland,” Troy recalls.
Some Asheville locals may remember Dreamland, a drive-in movie theater at the corner of River Road and Tunnel Road where Lowe’s and Walgreens are now. During the day a flea market operated there. “We sold coffee and groceries,” Troy recalls. “My daughters would stand there and grind the coffee.”
“Some old preacher told us our dream was going to become a reality,” Danette says. “Then Dreamland closed and we were like, okay, how is that supposed to happen?”
Troy’s friend, Doug Hipps, would play a pivotal role in the Hopeys finally owning their own store.
In 1997 Hipps opened Bargain Max on Sweeten Creek Road in Asheville and hired Troy to manage it for him. “I ran it like it was my own,” Troy says. In 2004 Troy purchased Bargain Max from Hipps and was thrown into the learning curve of owning a store, cutting his teeth on the business of business. “I had to learn a lot about workman’s comp insurance, taxes, and payroll,” Troy recalls.
As business owners, the Hopeys formed Shoppers Nirvana LLC, which they continue to operate under. “Somebody gave us the wise advice to use a DBA (doing business as),” Troy says, “so when we bought the business in 2004 we changed the name to Amazing Savings right away.”
The same day they purchased the Sweeten Creek location, they opened up a second Amazing Savings in Black Mountain.
Although in the state of North Carolina no one else was doing business as Amazing Savings, after their website went up in 2011 they got a surprise. Simply Amazing LLC in New Jersey said Amazing Savings was encroaching on their federal trademark, regardless of the fact that the North Carolina Secretary of State had issued their DBA. Not wanting a legal debate, the Hopeys took the website down immediately. The signs at the brick and mortar stores remained for a while as they debated what to do.
Although they had worked to make Amazing Savings a familiar brand in the area, the store itself had gone through a metamorphosis.
Change In Perception
When Bargain Max became Amazing Savings, there was not a huge change in the merchandise. “When we started, we were strictly salvage,” Troy says. “We’d buy close date stuff that had less than 60 days on it. We’d bring it in frozen. We did have produce but not much else. But as we progressed people came in and said we really need bread.”
Over time their customer’s request list continued to grow; they wanted milk, eggs, and local produce from the farmer’s market. Customers still wanted competitive pricing, but that wasn’t the only factor driving their demand.
“In the economic crisis of 2008, as tight as things were financially, people were time-leveraged,” Troy observed. “There were not enough hours in the day. I mean we have all these devices and we have less time than we’ve ever had before.” Customers wanted a one-stop shop where they could purchase everything they needed, from food items to staples like laundry detergent and toilet paper.
To entice customers to come in regularly, they needed to reinvent themselves. The name Amazing Savings was not the best representation of the changes already in motion.
The family debated things, with the kids strongly against using their own surname.
“They were like, we’ll never be able to go anywhere Mom,” Danette says. But Dad uncovered one very good reason to convince them. “I found out you can’t trademark a family name,” Troy says, “so I’m not going to get a letter from somebody one day that says: ‘We’re the Hopeys; we’ve trademarked it.’” After the last store name debacle, a sense of security was appealing.
“New Year’s Eve we decided,” Danette recalls, “before the ball fell we said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
So as 2012 dawned, Hopey & Company was born.
But even today they continue to educate the public regarding what their new store name is all about, with some wondering if they sold the business or if some negative thing spurned the change.
“‘Oh, they sold out,’ that’s the easiest one to dispel,” Troy admits, “but it’s, ‘Oh, you changed, what happened?’ People don’t like change. We are creatures of habit. If anything changes it does tend to freak people out.”
As the company has moved away from the salvage market, many things have changed, including collaborating with local farmers to get eggs, honey, fresh produce, milk, and meats. “When we first started out we’d get three or four trucks a week,” Troy says, “and now, if you count all the small deliveries and the local vendors that come, we get 50 or 60 deliveries. So we have changed that. And now the thing of course is to change the perception.”
In fall of 2014, the Hopeys signed a lease for the downtown location, and now their expanded vision can fully kick into gear.
Dividing Up The Work
Their son-in-law, Joseph Abousaid, is the district manager, handling the day-to-day operations. He calls the repairman when equipment breaks down and also handles the weekly flyer, deciding what to put on special.
Each of their three daughters, Rachel, Heather, and Esther, manage a store in conjunction with a non-family member who partners with them. Danette’s brother, Matt Dantone, manages the warehouse with another non-family partner. They also have two sons, Daniel, 25, and Joseph, 14.
“If I had to describe my job,” Troy says, “I would say I work more with the numbers, the insurance, the accounting, the bookkeeping.”
“He does all the things I hate to do,” Danette adds. Danette handles marketing and design aspects of the stores. Troy admits if it were up to him the shelves would be full but probably not very attractive. Danette’s focus is the feeling people have when they come into the store and their ability to flow through the space and find items easily.
Many couples would find working together to be difficult, but the Hopeys thrive on it and obviously they’ve found a system that works. “We just choose to keep working at it,” Danette says of their relationship.
Both admit their personal life is a tapestry deeply interwoven with the business, and the key to making it work is mutual respect and trust, and a sense of humor. “Danette has her area of expertise and I respect that,” Troy says. “When she says, ‘This is the look we’re going for and this is what I really want,’ I say I trust you. And then when I say, ‘This is what our budget is for advertising,’ she says, ‘I wish it was twice as much, but I trust you.”
They also admit to some impassioned ‘spats,’ but see conflict as the natural result of two people looking at problems through different angles rather than as a sign of trouble.
“I love working together. We love to fight and work together,” Danette says. “But you have to fight for the right things.”
On a typical day at the store, Danette can be spotted stocking shelves, and Troy unloading a pallet of frozen goods as it arrives. In this way they hope to inspire employees and make them feel like part of a team.
“When you have happy employees that translates to the customers,” Troy says. “That’s the thing that gets under my skin more than anything: making a customer feel like an intrusion. I want our customers to feel welcome and appreciated.”
The key to great employees could be choosing the right people in the first place. “It’s got to be somebody who likes retail, somebody who likes the public,” Troy says.
[quote float=”right”]But one type of employee they hire may surprise people. The Hopeys cooperate with a work-release program run by the State of North Carolina that helps female inmates transition back into society.[/quote]Over the years the Hopeys have attracted many different types of employees. Some decide to move up in the company, while others approach it as a bridge job while working their way through nursing school, culinary school, or other training, eventually going on to fulfill their passion.
But one type of employee they hire may surprise people. The Hopeys cooperate with a work-release program run by the State of North Carolina that helps female inmates transition back into society. Through this program, the inmates are allowed to work in the public sector while still incarcerated. Typically, the inmate crewmembers are within a couple years of their release date when they enter the program. They are transported to and from work and must follow all the rules to participate, such as no smoking and no cell phone usage. Although inmate’s salaries must first go towards paying off any restitution, the benefits of holding a job exceed financial compensation for these ladies.
The Hopeys thought very carefully before deciding to participate in the program three years ago. While some business owner’s first concerns would have been, ‘Is this worth the trouble?’ Danette and Troy had other questions. ‘Are we just puffing ourselves up?’ Danette remembers asking herself. “Yeah is this just something you add to a resume, ‘Hey I volunteer,’” Troy says, “or even worse than that, is this something that exploits these folks?”
But Danette felt these women deserved a chance. “Some of their domestic situations were not that good,” Danette explains, “and some of them took the fall.” The Hopeys could relate to the idea of second chances. “We’re kind of a second chance store anyway,” Danette jokes. “We feel like we have a second chance.”
The downtown store signifies a new start for the Hopeys. For the first time ever they are applying for a loan with the Small Business Administration. Formerly they’ve self-funded as they grew. But the downtown location is a much bigger commitment, and they need money to purchase equipment and do the construction needed. Yet even as they continue to expand, they have never forgotten the struggle it took to get there.
“When you compare yourself to other people of course you can always find a way to say ‘I’m better than’ or ‘I’m not as good as,’” Troy says, “but when you compare yourself to yourself, and say hey, we started living in a single wide trailer just working two hourly jobs, you see where you were and how far you’ve come.”
They were both preachers’ kids, and coincidentally their grandfathers were both in the grocery business; Danette’s in Ohio and Troy’s in Key West. They grew their business out of necessity while raising five kids, and yet their passion for the business is as vibrant today as if they were just beginning.
“This is a big step for us,” Troy admits. “It may not be a big step for everybody, but for us this is big.”
On The Horizon
The building at 45 South French Broad is situated between the River Arts District and the bustling downtown tourist section. The Hopeys foresee plenty of future growth potential as Asheville continues to expand. Both their Black Mountain and Sweeten Creek locations have attracted new businesses to open nearby.
“We said if we could put something similar to what we have in Black Mountain at the downtown location—a butcher shop, a café, and a grab-and-go, then a lot of folks would be able to come in and eat lunch or dinner,” Troy says. A pizza oven, beer and wine tastings, and expanded seating are among the plans for the downtown location.
With shelves already stocked with over 400 beer labels, including local microbrews, fresh local food items, like Roots Hummus, honey, meats, and artisan Walnut Creek cheese from Ohio, Hopey & Company are gearing up for long-term success.
But Troy knows they may have some bumps in the road as they expand. “You know the change, the construction, it’s going to take some time,” Troy says. “It’s going to be a work in progress. But we are trying to stay open during the construction and continue to serve the community.”
Danette says, “we’re kind of like Christmas everyday to a lot of the customers who say, ‘I could never afford this, I could never try this at other places, and now I get the luxury of keeping my budget and I get to try all of these amazing different foods.’”
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