Table of Contents December 2013
Appearances mattered to this Fayetteville ad man and his agency. But amid lawsuits and allegations, he and his son decided to depart from the seen.
By Edward Martin
Appearances mattered to Gary Smith, from his attire to every aspect of his ad agency and the clients it attracted. Since the ’70s, he and, later, his son had built Smith Advertising & Associates into one of the Southeast’s largest. And he had done it in a place known more for GIs and generals than marketing geniuses. Moving among Fayetteville’s elite, the Smiths made quite an impression. Then — amid lawsuits, investigations and allegations of a Ponzi scheme — the image they crafted crumbled. But what really happened? Were they perpetrators or victims? Ad men know how crucial it is to control the message. But for Gary and Todd Smith, the medium became the message when they dropped out of sight.
Show up at the headquarters of Dry Corp LLC in Wilmington and you might think you’ve gone to the wrong place. The outside of the drab gray, boxy (read: remarkably ugly) building, once a Progress Energy truck-maintenance shop, is nearly bereft of ornamentation. No need to knock. The garage doors are wide open. Just walk right in. The interior décor is tiki bar meets frat house, with some ratty sofas and potted plants and a mannequin acting as sentry. It’s like you’ve stumbled into your favorite joint on the coast, the dive with a sketchy sanitation rating but killer shrimp and ice-cold beer. Everybody is dressed as if they’re headed to the beach, only a couple miles away. Shorts and sandals are the norm.
Don’t let the laid-back vibe fool you. The Dry Corp team plays hard — Friday cookouts, canoe and bike outings — but works harder. Over the past few years they’ve transformed the company from a one-product medical manufacturer into a diversified outfit that is booming as it caters to protecting from moisture what matters most: our injured body parts, our medical equipment and, yes, our electronic gadgets.
Small Business of the Year runner-ups:
Taking its Boughs
Christmas trees have won it acclaim, but Peak Farms, like many Tar Heel growers, didn't have to go out on a limb to branch out.
Years ago, Rusty Estes learned that Christmas trees grow on a man. “I was a superintendent at a golf course, and a guy working for me gave me about 200 fir seedlings he had left over. I planted them more or less as a hobby.” That was in 1979. Peak Farms and partner River Ridge Farms now have about a million trees in the ground, from foot-tall seedlings to 24-foot ceiling scrapers. They’re part of what makes Ashe County North Carolina’s Christmas-tree capital, the green patches that, seen from the sky, turn its rugged terrain into a patchwork quilt.
How the economy turns.
Free & Clear
UNC system does more with less.
Setting sites on an auto plant.