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Couple finds small-town retail challenging, rewarding

noxapater — Doing business where everyone knows your name has its challenges. Small-town entrepreneurs face a limited customer base from which to pull and usually limited means to reach out to new markets. And, people talk, thus making customer service key. Dissatisfied customers can hurt small-town business owners both professionally and personally.

However, the returns can be immensely rewarding on both a professional and personal level. Lack of competition makes for a steady, loyal clientele. And, small-town business owners enjoy the satisfaction of offering a service to their community, improving the quality of life for their friends and family.

Tuck and Beverly Wilkes know these challenges — and rewards — well. They have been successful entrepreneurs in the small town of Noxapater they call home for years now, and recently opened a second business in the community they care so much about. It’s meant a lot of hard work, but the couple wouldn’t want to live or work anywhere else.

“It’s all about improving the community, raising the quality of life here,” Beverly said. “It means people in Noxapater don’t have to drive for miles to eat barbecue or buy a gift, and we bring people into the town that otherwise may have never come here. It’s definitely a higher calling.”

Honey Bees buzzes

The Wilkes’ career as small-town entrepreneurs began in 2003 when Beverly, a native of Noxapater who was formerly in the funeral industry, partnered with another local to open a small store called Honey Bees. The shop originally offered merely purses, jewelry and accessories, and was housed in a tiny, 300-square-foot building.

Honey Bees proved an instant success. Within a year, Beverly and her partner had outgrown the original store. In August 2004, they moved into an old home built circa 1911 on Mississippi 15 and completely renovated it, bumping up their space to roughly 2,500 square feet.

In March 2005, Beverly bought out her partner’s share in Honey Bees, which has steadily added to its offerings. In addition to purses, jewelry and accessories, the store’s inventory now includes Tyler and Cotton Creek candles, pewter, BellSouth cookbooks and collegiate items (Mississippi State University, Ole Miss and University of Alabama).

Its most recent addition is flowers. Honey Bees now provides an in-house florist. Beverly said Noxapater lacked a floral shop, and the local response has been outstanding. Now, Honey Bees, which employs two workers, is getting a steady stream of wedding, funeral and special occasion business.

“We have tried to support the community, and the community has supported us,” Beverly said.

However, Honey Bees has enjoyed success in winning customers from well outside Noxapater’s borders. Beverly routinely journeys to towns and cities across Central and North Mississippi to promote Honey Bees to wider audience. This has obviously proved successful as the store routinely serves customers from as far away as Jackson and Tupelo.
But, Beverly continues at heart a local girl. A good example is Honey Bees’ small inventory of baby gifts. The items aren’t high demand, nor are they seen as potential big moneymakers. But, Beverly stocks them as a community service.

“If I didn’t carry them, people would have to drive 20 or 30 miles to find them,” Beverly said. “I like people, like to help people.

“If I was focused on the bottom line, I would have quit this long ago. This is more about giving back to the community.”

Tuck’s BBQ cooking

It’s this love of community that has led Beverly and Tuck to open their second business in Noxapater — Tuck’s Barbecue. And, if early returns are any indication of what the future holds, the success of Tuck’s could outstrip even Honey Bees.
Tuck is also a native of Noxapater and spent a long career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service, retiring in 2004. When not at work, Tuck could often be found standing over a barbecue grill.

“I’ve been tinkering around with barbecue for years,” Tuck said. “Noxapater is really limited as far as places to eat go. Beverly is the one who started saying I should open a barbecue place.”

Tuck finally decided to move on the project back in the spring of this year. He erected a 12-foot by 24-foot pre-fabricated building on Mississippi 15 and built an eight-foot-long grill. (A second, similar grill was being built at press time.) Tuck’s Barbecue is take-out only, and Tuck purposely limited the business’ hours.

“I decided to open on Fridays and Saturdays only because I was worried that people around here would get tired of eating my barbecue,” he said.

It turns out Tuck’s concerns were unjustified, primarily because his barbecue is pulling hungry customers from as far away as Philadelphia and Louisville. Tuck’s Barbecue first opened for business August 18. Since then, it is serving 300-400 people a weekend in a town of only 500 citizens.

“It’s been incredible, unbelievable,” Tuck said. “We’re generating business I hoped to see eight, 10 months down the road. The response has been overwhelming.”

Tuck’s Barbecue offers briskets, ribs, butts and chicken, as well as the usual lineup of sides, with everything made in house except the potato salad. Like the eatery’s hours, Tuck is purposely limiting the menu.

“It’s all about offering a quality product,” Tuck said. “We’re only going to offer the best. Product quality is everything.”

Beverly agreed, and touched on the challenges and rewards of small-town business.

“It keeps you on your toes,” she said. “Your customers are friends, family, people you go to church with. If someone wants to exchange a purse, let’s say, I’m going to do it even if it’s a year old. It’s more than just about business. It’s about serving your community. It’s about family.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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