Making it big in small town Canton

By DeeAnna Haney | May 10, 2013

CANTON — David Singleton greets the majority of customers in his Canton store, Hometown Hardware, by name. And if he doesn’t know the customer, it’s likely he knows one of their family members.

“Well hello, Jeffrey, how you been? What can I help you with?”

With a pat on the back and a little bit of small talk, Singleton guides his customers, who are also his friends, around the store.

For Singleton, that’s the appeal of owning businesses in his small, hometown of Canton.

“I pretty much know everyone that comes in here,” he said with a grin.

As a high school football star, he didn’t really know where he was going in life. But he knew whatever he did, it wasn’t going to be in Haywood County — or at least that’s what he thought.

Singleton grew up in Cruso, where his parents and his grandparents grew up as well.

After playing for a championship football team two years in a row, Singleton graduated from Pisgah High School in 1977. From there he attended UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in industrial relations, a degree dealing with business economics.

When he graduated college in 1982, he invested in a company with some friends who managed several nightclubs in Myrtle Beach, Fayetteville, Asheville and Greenville, South Carolina until 1996.

When he and his wife Kim found out they were going to have a child, they decided it was time for a career change, so he spent some time working in the grocery store business. Then, he worked for Northern Tool in Greenville before making the decision to move back home, where he finally found his true career.

Growing up, his mother ran two Canton businesses — Center Pigeon Grocery off U.S. Highway 110 and Long’s Texaco in Bethel. Looking back, he thinks maybe he took after his mother when it came to his business savvy.

One day, Singleton stopped to visit his brother, who owned some land adjacent to where Black Bear Café is now located. At that time, the building was a convenience store and gas station.

“By luck, the owner of the store walked out and asked if I wanted to buy it from him,” Singleton said.

Until that moment, he had never considered owning or operating gas stations.

“I’d never thought about doing anything like that,” he said.

But once the opportunity presented itself, he couldn’t shake the idea and asked some advice of a friend in the banking business.

“He told me, ‘At one time that store was a goldmine.’ Then I realized it still had a lot of traffic,” Singleton said.

That’s when he decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurism in his hometown.

His brother, Mike Singleton, partnered up with him to open several stores. It wasn’t long before they purchased another convenience store and gas station, and then another, eventually growing his business to 10 stores.

He’s since whittled his convenience stores down to four — Frank’s Grocery in Bethel, Southside on U.S. Highway 110, Single Stop on Radio Hill and Single Stop in Clyde.

But his business savvy is not limited to gas stations.

Drawing on his background working with Northern Tools, Singleton began selling a limited amount of tools and equipment at Frank’s Grocery. After a suggestion from a field rep for international hardware supplier, Orgill, a feasibility study was conducted to consider whether a hardware store would fare well in Canton.

When the results from the study came back, it didn’t take much more convincing for Singleton to begin his next entrepreneurial venture.

“It showed that a lot of people were leaving Canton to buy their hardware needs at Lowe’s and elsewhere,” he said. “It had been 25 years since Canton had a complete hardware store.”

So, last October, Singleton opened Hometown Hardware in the building where Maxway was located for several years at 127 Plaza Loop. Since then, business has boomed.

“Everybody that comes through are shocked at what all we have here,” he said.

Coming back to his hometown to live and work has turned out to be one of the best decisions Singleton ever made, he said. And he has faith that others could do the same, as long as it’s done the right way.

Old timers remember the town bustling with life during the heyday of the paper mill in the 40s, when residents never had to leave town for shopping needs. Over the years, business has begun to wane.

“It seems like Canton has been neglected. There’s no clothing stores and there’s not a lot of retail in Canton,” Singleton said.

If opening his hardware store has taught him anything, it’s that Canton residents are hungry for places to shop.

“There’s enough business in town to support stores, but customers are just going somewhere else to get what they need because it’s not here,” he said.

His best advice? Find a niche.

“You’ve got to fill a need in the community. You can’t just open anything. If you do your homework and figure out where people will be willing to shop, Canton could be a great place to start a business,” Singleton said.

And if starting a business is out of the question, simply shopping local also helps the economy. For every $100 spend at a locally owned store, $45 remains in the local economy, according to research by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Texas-based consulting firm Civic Economics.

For Singleton, sticking to his roots has paid off in more ways than one. Aside from creating lucrative businesses, he was able to support the town he loves.

“Just being close to family and knowing everyone in town has made it the best decision,” he said.

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