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Asheville business gets MSNBC makeover

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7/27/2011 - Asheville business gets MSNBC makeover
by Dale Neal - Asheville Citizen Times

ANOTHER Asheville area business getting some national attention!  Kudos to Evelyn Anderson and good luck in your adventure!!

                 ASHEVILLE -- When Evelyn Anderson emailed her favorite MSNBC show, "Your Business," for advice, she wasn't expecting a team of experts to completely retool and rename her company.

 But after two months of production and two long days of filming at Just for Fun Playgrounds, an MSNBC crew and team of experts have given Anderson and her husband, Jerry Hajek, a new boost for their business, and a new name -- Asheville Playgrounds.

"I have been blown away by the amount of effort they have put into our business," Anderson said Tuesday in her offices in between scenes shot by the television crew. "It's been overwhelming."

"Your Business" correspondent Mike Michalowicz, author of the best-selling "The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur," coached the couple on basic tips like learning to say "no" to business that didn't fit their company. Anderson and Hajek, for instance, spent time and money to design and build a bridge for the Montreat Conservancy. Michalowicz urged them to stay focused on their niche of building architecturally themed playgrounds.

"All these businesses are stuck in the same pattern. They think they need to work longer hours and sell more. They just need to work smarter," Michalowicz said.

Anderson and Hajek moved to Asheville in 2006, eager to be closer to her family in North Carolina. They shopped around for a business to buy and found Just for Fun Playgrounds in a classified ad in the Citizen-Times. The 10-year-old company, on Short McDowell Street, specialized in playgrounds for churches, homes and suburban developments that mimic the surrounding architecture. They built, for example, the playground at First Baptist Church of Asheville, which features a miniature of the landmark dome designed by Richard Sharp Smith.

Business was booming through 2008, and the couple had four employees and two salespeople. Then the Great Recession hit, and the phone quit ringing. Through 2009, they shed their staff and saw two-thirds of their business dry up.

They needed help.

On a whim, Anderson emailed Lisa Everson, producer of "Your Business," asking for advice -- how does a business that can't depend on repeat customers find a new stream of clients?

"It was an interesting question," Everson said. She went to work, lining up a series of local suppliers and experts to help out Anderson and Hajek. They covered everything from website redesign, new signage and market analysis to branding and marketing.

But it was the new name that initially shocked Anders on. She knew a name change was in order since a Just for Fun Playground company existed in Charleston, S.C.

Branding expert Denise Blasevick offered two new options -- Asheville Playgrounds or Gray Squirrel. Anderson's heart was with Gray Squirrel, but she knew Asheville Playgrounds was the better choice, building on the woodcrafting expertise associated with the area.

Anderson appreciated the assistance volunteered by Phyllis VanHoy, executive director of business development and incubation at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. Working with graduate students at Western Carolina University, VanHoy promised a detailed market analysis of the playground industry, and where Anderson and Hajek could hope to compete.

Ed and Arlene Sullivan had just opened their own company, Sign-A-Rama, in May. The company was contacted to offer their services to the playground company. "I wish I could have a crew come in and help me clean up," said Ed Sullivan, who had to slip away from the filming to attend his own grand opening.

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