A top manufacturer of cleaning solutions, an innovative store in downtown Cartersville and the Bachelor of Business Administration's program coordinator for Georgia Highlands College’s Cartersville Campus. Each "deserving" of distinction in their own right, combined they are Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce's award winners for 2020.
"Recognizing the accomplishments of the people who make a difference in the well-being of our local economy and business community is a highlight of my year," said Cindy Williams, CEO of the local chamber. "Businesses of all sizes and the people leading them are consistently working to create exceptional products, services and experiences for their neighbors. The awards are presented each year to recognize these outstanding efforts that might otherwise go unnoticed or unappreciated."
Representing Bartow's finest, the award winners included Zep, Manufacturer of the Year; It's About Time Boutique, Small Business of the Year; and Mecole Ledbetter, Volunteer of the Year. The accolades were presented Feb. 9 during the chamber's virtual Quarterly Luncheon and Annual Meeting.
"The 2020 recipients are most deserving and represent the elite of Bartow County," Williams said. "Obtaining this award in a normal year is a great accomplishment.
"However, receiving an award for success in 2020 is even more meaningful because of the creativity, innovation and exceptional amount of time and energy each person and business contributed to make the year a notable one."
Manufacturer of the Year
Zep captured the Manufacturer of the Year award, which the chamber’s Facebook page noted is presented to a manufacturer with exceptional “technical innovation, outstanding business practices, leadership in the industry and commitment to community.” The award's winner is chosen by the chamber’s Manufacturing Appreciation Week Committee.
“We are truly honored to receive it,” said Jessica Mahan, Zep’s human resources business partner. “It is an even greater honor to be placed in such distinguished ranks as those of the past honorees, most of whom have been colleagues at one time or another, all of whom have made important contributions to life in our community.”
In Bartow, Zep operates the Emerson manufacturing facility at 350 Joe Frank Harris Pkwy S.E. and its Georgia Distribution Center, 71 Business Park Court in Cartersville.
“Zep is a leading innovator, producer and distributor of maintenance and cleaning solutions for retail, food and beverage, industrial and institutional, and vehicle care customers,” Mahan said. “Zep brings a large portfolio of premium brands built over an 80-plus year legacy of developing the most effective products trusted by professionals and consumers to get the job done right the first time.
“Helping customers is at the center of everything we do. In response to the outbreak of COVID-19, we at Zep Inc. are committed to helping provide a cleaner, safer environment.”
In his comments during the chamber’s Annual Meeting, Chris Thomas commended Zep for its response to the pandemic and “long-standing presence” in Bartow County.
“Since the start of the pandemic, Zep ramped production … in the Emerson facility to increase the availability of disinfectant products contributing to the safety of valued customers and consumers,” said Thomas, project manager of the Cartersville-Bartow County Department of Economic Development. “Even making a generous donation to GEMA, which distributed these products to local nursing homes, fire stations and EMS.
“Zep's continued success and commitment to operations in Bartow County included the build out of a 600,000-square-foot distribution center in 2017 located in Cartersville Business Park. At this facility, products are packaged and distributed globally. Zep also continues to be one of Bartow's Top 20 employers. Zep's long-standing presence in our community and continued growth is a testament to their corporate work ethic and vision for the company's future and the community they serve.”
Small Business of the Year
Considering the accolade to be a “huge award,” Dan Kramer was “stunned and honored” for It’s About Time Boutique to be named Small Business of the Year.
“We have been a finalist the last two years and have not won, so to actually see our name being called was thrilling,” said Kramer, owner and operator of the downtown Cartersville store. “We sat around a computer watching the virtual announcement and cheered.
“2020 was such an uncertain year for small businesses. To have overcome the many obstacles that the pandemic created and to have thrived despite the adversity, and then to be honored for that resiliency is a wonderful feeling. All the small businesses in Cartersville should be proud. While many other towns and cities struggled, Cartersville put its game face on and persevered.”
With the opening of It’s About Time Boutique in 2013, Kramer continued his family’s legacy in the jewelry business. Now in its second location, 9 E. Main St., his store features a wedding and gift registry and specializes in jewelry — such as Trollbeads, Southern Gates and the latter’s Cartersville Collection — watches and giftware.
Kramer’s shop is no stranger to awards, with It’s About Time Boutique being selected as the People’s Choice Awards’ Best Shoppe in Bartow County for the past six contests — 2014 to 2019. Established in 2005 by the Cartersville-Bartow County Convention & Visitors Bureau, the accolades highlight Bartow County’s nonfranchised restaurants, shops and attractions and are presented annually at the Arts Festival at Rose Lawn in September.
“I wanted to recreate the neighborhood style jewelry store that has long since gone,” Kramer said. “A place where you could go and find a quality gift for any occasion, have great conversation and be embraced by the historic charm that is lost in so many austere retail settings. We hope that is the feeling people get when they enter It’s About Time Boutique.
“We love our customers and going to work every day knowing we will get to see countless friends is such a blessing. There are not many careers where you can bring your dog to work and then spend the day loving life. We are very lucky.”
Even though COVID-19 forced the business to temporarily close in 2020, It’s About Time Boutique reopened stronger than ever. Instead of scaling back inventory, Kramer expanded the store’s merchandise and experienced its most successful year to date.
“When the uncertainty hit in 2020, we knew we needed to stay our course,” Kramer said. “Cartersville is such a strong and supportive community and we were certain that if we put our best foot forward and continued to stock our store with a huge inventory of beautiful things then the people would come and support us.
“We worked diligently to [ramp] up our online, curbside and delivery options so that shopping experience was easy and available for all those [who] wanted it. Instead of holding back on product, we added new inventory and made sure that our store looked the best it ever had. We kept the faith and thankfully it paid off. Sales kept coming and despite the fear 2020 turned out to be our best year ever.”
In selecting the Small Business of the Year award, the chamber’s panel of five judges assessed the chamber/community involvement, growth, innovation and sustainability of each enterprise being considered. Along with It’s About Time Boutique, the accolade’s finalists consisted of Denim Marketing, Georgia Local Search and Open Roads Complete RV.
“2020 caused a significant amount of uncertainty for many industries including retail,” Williams said. “However, It’s About Time Boutique pushed forward, invoked their creativity, and made 2020 their best year to date. When the business was forced to close for several weeks, Dan and his team quickly responded with a stronger push for online sales and began a local delivery campaign, which became a huge success.
“Instead of losing revenue during March and April, the online campaign netted $60,000 worth of revenue above average that would have otherwise been left untapped. Upon reopening in May, the following months were record setting. In only seven months, It’s About Time Boutique added nearly $500,000 to the local economy.”
Volunteer of the Year
In winning the Volunteer of the Year award, Ledbetter shared she is “truly blessed to receive such an honor.” A Cartersville resident, she helmed the chamber’s Leadership Bartow Committee for 2020-2021.
“My passion for serving the Cartersville-Bartow Chamber of Commerce has always been present, but increased when I was accepted into the Leadership Bartow class of 2017,” Ledbetter said. “Each class session provided a new prospective on not only leadership, but on the richness of Bartow County itself.
“I toured areas that I did not know existed. I learned the operations of many businesses and organizations and saw how those same businesses contributed to the overall well-being of Bartow County’s economic structure and its citizens. From here, I knew I wanted to use any talent or ability that I could to help serve this cause.”
After participating in Leadership Bartow, Ledbetter became a member of its committee in 2018, then served as the chairperson as the pandemic soared in 2020.
“My first task was to make sure that those I lead with, the committee, had an opportunity to express their concerns and fears, early on,” she said. “We sat in our first meeting and really just spoke truth to all of the challenges we each faced during the pandemic. From here, we began to give each other the support and words of encouragement needed to strengthen one another for the task ahead.
“If we were going to move forward, it was important for us to be the ‘calming force’ for all of our 2020-21 participants, who also may be experiencing challenges from the pandemic. There was one thing that was certain amongst all of the uncertainty that we all faced, and this was that ‘leadership does not stop, because of a pandemic.’”
Selected by the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce’s staff, the Volunteer of the Year accolade was based on a person’s chamber service throughout 2020.
“Chairing our Leadership Bartow Committee in a normal year takes great dedication and a willingness to sacrifice on behalf of others,” Williams said. “But, in 2020, with the challenges of safely hosting an in-person program, the amount of time and energy that Mecole committed to ensuring the program’s success is truly remarkable.
“In my estimation, Mecole likely contributed over 100 service hours to the chamber in preparation for our Leadership Bartow class sessions and in planning for the endless twists that we experienced in light of the pandemic.”
While the number of hours she has contributed is impressive, Williams noted it is “more importantly the manner in which she leads,” which made her an “easy selection” for the Volunteer of the Year award.
“Mecole is devoted, reliable, caring and inclusive,” Williams said. “She is the first to offer her time in service to others and takes great pride and responsibility in the tasks to which she dedicates herself.
“In 2020, she committed to the mission of the chamber, worked diligently within the parameters set forth by the organization and led an exceptional program, which will greatly benefit the current and future leadership of Bartow County. Mecole’s impact is far-reaching and she is an exceptional volunteer.”
This is the second award Ledbetter received from the chamber for her service last year. She was one of five accomplished young professionals to win an IMPACT Award at the close of 2020. To be eligible for this distinction, adult candidates needed to be younger than 40 as of Sept. 30, 2020, and be either a chamber member or employed by a chamber member.