The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Life!

December 4, 2013

Village People

A Small Business Success Story

Dove’s Outlet Village founder and owner Mark Dove could summarize his humble formula for success as a three-parter: Listen to your elders, hire people with a work ethic, then be patient.

Follow Route 19 to Fayetteville, W.Va., and you’ll find the signs pointing to the thriving specialty retailer, once an old barn that conveyed with the property, at another time three end-to-end mobile homes sharing a common roof and now a campus of attractive stores and small businesses.

As a young man, Dove took an interest in retail working at the old G.C. Murphy store in Oak Hill. When he was promoted to assistant manager at 19, Dove learned quickly the title came with its share of misgivings. “They’d put you on a salary and work you to death,” he recalled, half in jest. Several transfers later, Dove figured the G.C. Murphy way was not for him. He’d rather do it his way.

After delving into the rental business, Dove might have continued down that singular path, had it not been for a piece of valuable advice. When an opportunity to buy part of the Hinkle Road property presented itself, he was spurred on by sage words from a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks: “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket” — old-time advice for “diversify your portfolio.”

There was plenty to be learned from those peddlers and swappers, as he refers to them, men who, like his coalminer father, could wheel and deal all the livelong day. “Don’t step out on a pond unless you know it’s frozen solid,” was another horsetrader pearl that he always kept in mind. “You have to be solvent,” translated Dove.

Dove’s knowledge learned from the mistakes of others led him to hone his instincts, expanding by about a business per year on his property. He expanded his main business, the home store, from the barn he had once quite literally shoveled out (the manure had also conveyed) to the triple trailers, to a solid and viable construction completed in phases. The latter, what stands today, was built the right way  — as he could pay for it. “It was the first building the contractor said he’d built from the roof down,” recalled Dove.

A place where drop-seat pajamas and grapevined chandeliers comfortably cohabitate, Dove’s has since matured to house items of both country appeal and shabby chic charm. The location’s adjacent and seasonal Christmas Shoppe loft (once Dove’s home for 30 years, big enough for him and not even a cat, he said) has decorations not likely to be repeated throughout neighborhoods and kept at price points most families would find affordable. Rounding out his retail destination are five other small businesses whose owners currently rent space, each in separate buildings, including Pear Tree Arts and Garden featuring painting and ceramics, garden items and local art, newly opened Chika’s boutique with trendy fashions and accessories and Nearly New Consignment.

Dove credits hiring the right people and and expanding within his means for his continued productivity within each of his own businesses.

For those who detect a strong woman’s sensibility about the homey furnishings and accessories at Dove’s, the secret is out. Atop the 18 acres purchased decades ago that he simply “had a feeling about,” Dove’s long-term employees are his buyers, bringing carefully chosen wares from arts and crafts markets in Atlanta and from regional crafters. For the last 38 years, hard-working ladies like Karen Cox and Amy Jones, with their knack for style and salability, have made themselves experts in the Primitive, Americana and lodge-style décor that makes up Dove’s inventory today.  

Dove was the one to take Jones, then a young teenager, for her work permit. She is now celebrating 25 years as a merchandiser with the store. He proved the accuracy of his gut instincts again with assistant Jason Kinser, who started out mowing grass for Dove on the side.  He thought, it’d be a smart thing to keep “… anybody willing to work two jobs these days.” Now Kinser is an unofficial “right arm” — handling everything from grounds upkeep to store shelves he builds by hand.

“Once you get past doing it yourself, you have to rely on the right people,” Dove said. Dove has consistently surrounded himself with those like Kinser who’ve proven their work ethic, allowing him the freedom of steady, sustainable growth. He’ll likely follow the same principles of right people and measured risk with any future expansions, staying true to what he’s established thus far and taking nothing for granted. Considering how long his formula has worked brings another old proverb to mind — “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

— E-mail: lshrewsberry@register-herald.com

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